Tom McBroom may nibble, but doesn’t bite on the suggestion that Tobiano is the crown jewel among the premier golf courses he has designed over the years, although he admits he visualized something special when he first saw what had to work with in the interior of British Columbia near Kamloops.
That vision is now reality and the superlatives that have flowed since Tobiano’s opening last year would fill Kamloops Lake, which dominates the scenery at this new Canadian classic, and the adjectives are all justified, even if McBroom remains humble about his creation.
“I never rank the things that I do. All I try and do in my business is do the best I can every time out,” says McBroom.
“Obviously, some sites are more blessed than others in terms of their natural beauty, or their terrain, or their scenic qualities and certainly, Tobiano would rank as probably the most naturally spectacular site I’ve ever had — I have said that.
“Every hole is a postcard. The views are incredible, 360 degrees. You’re either looking over Kamloops Lake to the distant mountain range on the other side of the lake, or you’re looking down the lake towards the city of Kamloops, or you’re looking west towards the ranchlands, so everywhere you look, it’s pretty awe-inspiring.
“It’s a desert. That’s one thing people don’t realize about Kamloops. It’s dry and arid there and then you contrast green fairways with the blue of the water and the desert environment. It just all adds up to a pretty spectacular canvas,” says McBroom, who presents a formidable test of golf in this picturesque setting.
A critical decision needs to be made from the get-go, even before admiring the views. If ego rules the choice of tees at Tobiano, prepare to pay the price on a course that stretches from 5,289 to 7,328 yards.
McBroom presents a visually intimidating design and while the forced carries, particularly on the difficult front nine, are not as tough as they may look, a high to mid-handicapper who chooses the wrong tees will experience golf balls rolling down a hill so steep, they aren’t worth retrieving in many cases.
The prevailing wind adds to the difficulty of the tee shot, but that is offset by other natural conditions, according to McBroom.
“At Tobiano, you have to bang out some good, long drives to get in position, but you are in an arid climate, The ball goes five or six per cent farther. The air’s a little thinner and there’s no humidity, so the ball does go farther,” he says.
Assuming you make it over on many of the holes, there is more trouble waiting on the other side with the slope of the fairways threatening to roll the ball down into rough or bunkers.
“You need to know the course,” says McBroom. “I think the fairway width is fairly generous, but it’s bunkered – many holes have fairway bunkers. You do need to play the angles and you do need to play the slope. There’s just a nice rumpled landscape, which really makes for great fairways.”
The fairways are tough, but fair, a theme that can also be applied to the greens at Tobiano. A little local knowledge also helps when you pull the putter.
“All of the greens are designed for speed,” says McBroom. “They’re not radically contoured, but they’re subtly contoured. There are a lot of breaks in there that you can’t really read unless you’ve played it and you know them.
“They’re fairly big greens and I think that’s appropriate because you get a lot of wind on that course. That’s why the fairways are just a little wider than normal and the greens are a little bigger than normal,” he says.
It was suggested on this trip that the nines be switched to put the front nine on the backside to allow players to warm up before they hit the most difficult course, not that the current back nine is easy. McBroom was didn’t think much of that suggestion, saying the current set-up was “just the way it was intended.”
Either way, visitors to Tobiano find out right away that they have a challenging test of golf ahead. “If you look at short fours, I love the second hole. It’s maybe the one hole, you don’t have to hit a driver and then, you come in with a wedge,” said McBroom, who is also partial to the fourth hole.
“It’s got a great rumpled feel to it, a long par four, but again, it’s the angle of your tee shot over the badlands. It you can angle it correctly and take a higher level of risk, then you get it in much better position to come into the green. That’s a nice sequence – four, five and six.”
With that sequence complete, prepare for what is arguably the meat of the golf course. If you made the wrong choice in selecting tees at the beginning, you may want to consider changing your mind for the next two holes, starting with the par three seventh, which ranges from 109 to 189 yards, with trouble all around.
“You’ve got to make sure you get on the right tees,” says McBroom. “It really is an island green, if you will. I guess the comparable would be 17 at TPC Sawgrass although this is Canada in the desert.
“There is no margin for error, although it is a big green and there is bunkering, but beyond the bunkers, there is nothing – you’re into the abyss.”
If there is one hole that describes what Tobiano is all about, it’s the par five eighth, which stretches from 412 to 585 yards, starting with a tee shot over another abyss as McBroom calls it.
“We call it a heroic drive,” he says. “Again, you’ve got to be on the right tee box. It looks harder than it is – that’s one thing that’s important to understand.
“The carry from the back tee to the fairway is really only 180 yards, but it looks like 380 yards. It is intimidating, but it’s a wide fairway on the other side. The forward tee is on the other side, so I don’t ask high handicap players to hit over the canyon.”
McBroom eases up, but only slightly, on the back nine and there isn’t a weak hole to be found over the entire 18. Whether celebration or consolation is needed following your round, the staff back at the clubhouse is professional, if slightly off the wall, an attitude that suits the laid-back atmosphere of golf.
The attitude filters down from president Michael Grenier through general manager/director of golf Miles Mortensen, a graduate of Fairmont hotels and resorts, and the training that staff members have undergone is evident through little touches they supply in their offerings. Try the Bloody Caesar with a touch of horseradish, for example.
That attitude should serve Tobiano well in the coming years as it transforms into a vacation/residential lakeside community with up to 450 hotel rooms, a village centre, 100-slip marina and equestrian centre.
While the course itself is a crown jewel for Kamloops, which is perceived as a blue collar industrial town, the hotel will be one step towards luring visitors from traditional B.C. hot spots for golf such as Vancouver, Whistler, the Okanagan Valley and Victoria, among others.
On our visit, we bunked in at the Four Points by Sheraton, a comfortable stay that was highlighted by the sumptuous fare at Ric’s Grill, but more off-course accommodations and attractions will go a long way to sprucing up Kamloops’ image for visiting golfers.
Certainly, the city’s golf product is impressive, if under-rated, with not only Tobiano, but also The Dunes at Kamloops, Sun Peaks, Rivershore, Sun Rivers and many more courses, including a delightful new layout that taught a lesson in native Canadian history at the Talking Rock Resort and Quaaout Lodge.
Owned by the Little Shuswap band, Quaaout means where the sun’s rays first meet the water and Little Shuswap Lake certainly does sparkle on a sunny day. So did the golf course.
Talking Rock tell the stories of the First Nations through pictographs on rock faces and the story in golf is that all levels will enjoy their day on this course.
Opened in 2007, Talking Rock stretches from 5,437 to 7,129 yards as it winds through mature forest, taking a noticeable rise in elevation on the back nine with mountains and the shoreline of Little Shuswap Lake providing magnificent panoramas.
Talking Rock complements Tobiano as the latest additions to the area around Kamloops that is emerging as a powerful, picturesque alternative to the desirable golf destinations that already exist in B.C.