As our rented pontoon boat cruised towards the middle of Kamloops Lake, I cracked my local craft beer and took a reclusive moment to soak in the surrounding views. I reflected on the invigorating morning round we had just experienced at neighbouring Tobiano Golf Course and thought to myself, I could sure get used to this.
Every golf destination has its allures. The remote golf resorts growing in popularity, such as Cabot Links and Bandon Dunes, are all about binge golf. You golf as much as possible because the golf is excellent and, frankly, there isn’t anything else to do because you’re in the middle of nowhere. You’re sad when your three-day stay is up, but you come to accept it because these resorts are rough on the wallet.
Then there are well-rounded destinations that not only showcase good golf but offer variety through other activities, culture, and culinary adventure. These places provide a “live like a local” experience and are more conducive to longer, relaxed stays that can be buddies, family or couples oriented. In some instances, I picture myself living in the destination and dream up scenarios that would make it possible to do so. Often, a week or two doesn’t even feel long enough.
This is precisely how I felt during my first trip to Kamloops this past summer. As I took that reclusive moment on the pontoon boat, I let myself believe for a fleeting moment that this was my actual, regular life. Golf in the morning at one of the most scenic golf courses in Canada, followed by a beer on the lake in the afternoon. How could life get much better?
Kamloops is a city of approximately 90,000 people located in south-central British Columbia, which has eight golf courses sprinkled in and around it. It’s located at the confluence of the North and South Thompson River within the Thompson Valley, directly adjacent to the famous Okanagan Valley. It shares a lot of similarities with the Okanagan when it comes to lakes, beautiful mountains, a growing wine region, and a semi-arid climate. Yet, you won’t run into the crowds you might find in nearby cities such as Kelowna.
The golf courses in Kamloops are varied and utilize their unique location well, perhaps none better than Tobiano Golf Course, one of two golf courses most would consider the headliners of Kamloops. Tobiano course architect Thomas McBroom believes Tobiano is the best site for a golf course he has seen from a drama and beauty perspective, and I can’t come up with a well-reasoned argument to dispute that.
With a perched view of the surrounding mountains and Kamloops Lake on nearly every hole, it’s a setting for golf that is fiercely unique. From green sites that make you feel like you could fall into the lake, to quarry-like holes carved through gorges and dramatic bunkering throughout, Tobiano provides both a utopian and frightening golf experience simultaneously. The challenge at Tobiano is no joke though, with a few blind shots and forced carries, green complexes that require your full attention, rolling terrain that produces uneven lies, and distracting views.
I was fortunate to tee it up with their epic head pro, Shannon McGeady, who learned my game quickly and told me exactly where to rip it on each hole. My recommendation for those who don’t have that luxury while playing Tobiano for the first time would be to move up a tee box from what you would typically play to maximize your enjoyment.
To cap off a Tobiano experience, you can’t go wrong with a bite at The Black Iron Club and Grill with a stunning view overlooking the course and Kamloops Lake. Considered one of the top restaurants in the area, it is not your typical golf course grill. This hit the spot before heading out onto the lake for a relaxing afternoon.
The lake vibes don’t end at Tobiano. The second “headliner” in the area, Talking Rock Golf Course, is nestled along Little Shuswap Lake. The lake isn’t a focal point to the same extent Kamloops Lake is at Tobiano, but it is featured on several holes and adds to the peaceful sense of place you get at Talking Rock.
Talking Rock is located east of Kamloops, approximately 30 to 40 minutes away, depending on where you’re coming from, along a scenic portion of the TransCanada Highway, which skirts along the South Thompson River. Talking Rock makes for a pleasant day-trip if staying in Kamloops, or you also have the option to stay on-site at the beautiful Quaaoot Lodge and Spa for a relaxing stay-and-play experience.
Canadian golf architects Graham Cooke and Wayne Carleton did a fabulous job routing Talking Rock, utilizing the natural terrain to make it feel like Talking Rock was discovered rather than built. It’s carved through mature forest, but generous playing corridors make it playable for all skill levels. You’re treated to elevation changes, lake views, impressive green complexes, and plenty of variety, so you can use every club in your bag.
The quality of the golf is well-aligned with the quality of the whole experience at Talking Rock. The rooms at Quaaoot Lodge have recently been updated and are well-appointed, Jack Sam’s Restaurant has an impressive menu, and the staff are amiable and down-to-earth. Talking Rock simply doesn’t get talked about enough in terms of Canadian golf experiences.
Beyond the headliners in Kamloops, you’ll find an impressive array of options to round out a golf itinerary for any budget. The historic parkland layout of Kamloops Golf and Country Club provides an excellent opportunity for those who prefer to walk, or perhaps the adventurous who want to test out a Golf Board. Enjoyable in its simplicity, it’s a course you think you should go low on, but the sneaky challenging green complexes demand touch to score and punish you when you miss in the wrong spot. It’s not a course where you’ll ever lose many balls, but you need to earn your birdies.
Another walkable option is The Dunes at Kamloops, which features fairways carved through rolling dunes. The open nature of The Dunes will be visually appealing to all skill levels in terms of forgiveness off the tee, which makes it feel approachable and fun for everyone. The panoramic views of the mountains don’t hurt this value-play either, where green fees tend to hover around the $50 mark, and I can vouch for the fact that staying for a pizza and beer after the round is not something you’ll regret.
One of the biggest surprises of the trip for me was Eagle Point Golf Course, which I knew next to nothing about going into the trip. The highly varied terrain from parkland-feeling holes to dramatic elevation changes was intriguing, coupled with views overlooking the valley, mountains, and hoodoos. There were mixed reviews in our group as to how they’d rate Eagle Point, and I was probably the fondest of it. I found the variety of holes and terrain fun and memorable, and while I’d probably tweak a few holes in a perfect world, I found the quirks charming. It has the potential to be a polarizing golf course that is definitely worth checking out and judging for yourself.
Even over a jam-packed four-night itinerary in Kamloops, I left much to discover on return trips. Rivershore Golf Links, Sun Peaks Golf Course, and Big Horn Golf and Country Club are other courses in the area I have yet to play. There is more wine tasting to be done, breweries to visit, adventures to go on, and restaurants to indulge at.
What struck me the most, aside from the golf courses, was the sense of community and culture in Kamloops. This became apparent while attending ‘Music in the Park,’ an event that has been ongoing since 1994. It takes place daily during July and August and is free to attend. Local bands get a chance to show off their talent while the community kicks back on the lawn with their families, or grazes the beer gardens and local food trucks with friends. This was a cool way to chill out on a warm summer evening after a big day of golf and chat with a few friendly locals about golf and beer.
When you mix fun golf with a diverse culture, a friendly community and other adventure, it’s a combination that’s tough to beat. Kamloops offers a welcoming small-town vibe with all the amenities and activities you need, and with more flight options becoming available into Kamloops, it’s never been easier to get to. I waited too long to discover Kamloops, but now that I have, I’m already thinking about my next trip.
For more information about golf in Kamloops, and to view their golf packages and specials, feel free to head over to the Golf Kamloops website.
A huge thanks to Tourism Kamloops for hosting me and allowing me to spread the word about another beautiful Canadian golf destination. And a special shoutout to Tastefull Excursions for shuttling our group around to golf courses, restaurants, coffee shops, wineries, and breweries all week!