Course Reviews – Gallagher’s Canyon – A Brilliant Championship Layout
It is fitting that this review is being written as Kelowna and Gallagher’s Canyon are set to host the GolfBC Championship on the Mackenzie Tour (PGA TOUR Canada). I had the pleasure of playing Gallagher’s Canyon in early May on a quiet afternoon, seemingly having the course to myself which allowed me ample time to appreciate this Les Furber and Doug Robinson designed gem. The course was designed in 1980 and I actually played it over 25 years ago. Staff were kind to point out there has been some routing changes but the prominence of the Canyon remains a focal point.
This mountain course, which one article cited as “rugged yet refined” is walkable but does come with some significant elevation change in places. The front nine begins with a bold start. The Tour tees measure at over 6800 yards and I was able to tee off just behind the pro shop, set very high above the fairway below and providing a majestic view of the hole. Stout, at over 430 yards, this hole will demand players’ attention. However for me the course reflects the intelligence of its design on the next two holes. A shorter par 4 provides an element of risk and reward for players. And while not necessarily drivable, the options of how much of this hole to bite off from the tee provide players decisions to consider early. The third hole is also an attention grabber. Missing short and left is simply not an option as the elevation changes of Gallagher’s shows itself once again.
I love the routing of this course. In fact, the only place where the course seems at all tight is off the first tee but it simply isn’t the case. The layout is masterful and Furber and Robinson use the natural terrain to create appropriate vistas off the tee and subtle uphill holes for players to take on. As one would expect with a Tour-caliber course, the greens were spectacular. They rolled true and consistent. As one may expect, uphill putts needed an aggressive hit whereas downhill putts required a delicate touch. I loved the stretch of holes from 4 to 7; brilliant use of terrain to create a 4-4-5-4 combination which I place up against any public course in the country. The ninth closes off the front with the canyon hole. The drop off left is staggering but fortunately it does not really come into play as the fairway frames the hole nicely.
The course offers four unique tee blocks with a hybrid combination providing five play options. Something which I did not experience back in the early 1990’s was a housing development running adjacent to many of the holes on the back nine. I felt the back nine was not as challenging as the front but still brought the attention to design detail. The subtle doglegs on 10 and the steady uphill challenge of 11 provided further appreciation to Furber and Robinson’s work. I would have liked to have seen more from the closing two holes, but making providing birdie opportunities on a closing hole of a championship course will always create excitement, even from this 10 handicapper.
Add to this courteous and professional staff, a fully stocked pro shop and a sensational clubhouse and my return experience at Gallagher’s Canyon proved to me I should not wait another 25 years to come back and experience this great course. Also, combine the golf experience with a growing food culture, exceptional recreational opportunities off the course and one of Canada’s best wine regions and Gallagher’s reflects all that is excellent in Kelowna.
Aura – 8.5 out of 10 – Playing a course where professionals play is always a special experience. This is one of the more unique and enjoyable courses I had played in some time. Excellent conditions combined with the scenery – in and around the course – made more a memorable golf round.
Value (cost / experience) – 7.5 out of 10. Peak fees are $125 but include access to practice facilities and a cart. However, there is greater value to be had with a later tee time or play in the shoulder season. Membership for a single player requires annual dues of only $2400 after a one time initiation payment. For one of the province’s best courses and a championship layout this is worth a visit.
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 9 out of 10 – This is one of a handful of courses I could play every day. The layout is exceptional and the designers utilize the terrain exceptionally well. Tee boxes were fabulous and the fairways well framed off the tee. As a public course, the rough was not too penal and the greens were in outstanding condition. In rare form, I did not visit the bunkers at Gallagher’s so I cannot offer any comments on their condition.
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – This is an excellent golf course and worthy of its high rankings for public play in Canada. Following a 4.5 hour drive from Vancouver through snowy mountain passes, the chance to walk Gallagher’s and appreciate this mature layout started my quick visit to Kelowna perfectly well. I certainly hope to return again soon – 8.5 out of 10
Highlight (what is great about the course) – Reminiscent of other courses in Canada which bring uniqueness, challenge and enjoyment, Gallagher’s Canyon is truly unique. From the opening tee shot, to the awe of looking down from the 9th and a chance to enjoy time in this relaxed clubhouse following the round, the entire experience was a highlight.
Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – The abruptness of 17 and its strong dogleg design could benefit from some additional work. But I feel I am splitting hairs here as the course is well designed and it is one round I have replayed in my head this year again and again.
My Best Shot – Having spent the first four holes scrambling, the downhill 5th hole allowed me a chance to attack the pin on my approach. My 8-iron almost hit the pin leaving a short four footer for birdie. My only one on the day, mind you. Let’s see the pros match that this week!