Unveiled in 2008, the 18-hole layout at The Rise Golf Club spans a peninsula over a thousand feet above two arms of the Okanagan Lake, offering stunning views of the sparkling waters and the surrounding valley. It’s a Fred Couples Signature course, co-designed with veteran architect Gene Bates, with five tees on every hole to cater for golfers of all abilities.
The front nine sits on a sage-covered plateau, with the par four 6th featuring as one of the most memorable holes on the property. Accuracy off the tee is demanded here before an approach can be played across a small lake onto an island green.
The back nine is carved out of a forest of Douglas Firs, with elevation changes that offer a flavour of coastal golf in British Columbia. Toughest hole on this half is the long, uphill par four 11th, where a multi-tiered fairway provides a very stern challenge.
A multitude of wetland areas have been preserved and incorporated into the routing, such as at the 12th where Moose Pond is brought into play. The signature hole is considered to be the par three 15th, where tee shots plunge more than a hundred feet from an elevated tee position to a pond-protected green.
The Rise Golf Club has had a ‘rocky relationship’ amongst the media since it opened. This is pure golf at its’ finest without the fancy clubhouse, expansive pro shop and fine dining. If your golf experience needs to include all of these then you might have to wait a couple of years. If on the other hand a yurt for a clubhouse with minimal facilities work for you as long as the golf course is excellent then consider The Rise.
Impressive would be an understatement as we climbed over 1,000 feet to a plateau overlooking Okanagan Lake. It afforded us an opportunity to witness spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding valley. Carved out of a mountainside, this is only one of only two Fred Couples Signature Courses to be built so far in Canada. There are seven different tee block options on this par-72 that start from 4407 yards and extend out to 6843 yards, so it is playable for all caliber of golfers. However, with a slope of 137 and a course rating of 72.8, you will need to bring out the ‘Boom Boom’ in your game if you attempt this course from the tips.
The opening hole is a par-5 and one of my favourite designs. From an elevated tee block area, you are faced with a narrow fairway. This hole may be reachable in two for some, but the green is very narrow and perched just behind a rocky runoff area. As well there is a large bunker on the left and a rock faced wall on the right. This is definitely a three-shot hole unless you are playing in a scramble format and one player in your group has hit a safe shot.
When I played it in August 2019, the second hole was by far the toughest hole on the course and quite possibly the toughest in the entire Okanogan Valley. This uphill par-4 requires you to hit a booming draw drive far enough to have any chance of seeing the green on this sweeping left hole. However, they were just in the early stages of renovating the hole to turn it into a par-5. Great decision in my mind.
The 6th is a short par-3 with the green perched on the edge of cliff. It was playable but under renovation as they were in the midst of adding a pond and a man-made water falls that will eventually spill down the existing rock face. When completed this may end up being their signature hole and that is saying a lot since there are many to chose from.
The front nine is not as picturesque as the back nine as there are a lot of uphill blind tee shots. It was a huge advantage to have played with a local who had the inside knowledge on where to place your shots because the power carts were not equipped with GPS.
I found the layout to have two different personalities from front to back. The back nine starts a little easier. The 10th is a short par-4, 11 is a par-3 and the 12th is an uphill par-5 that is reachable in two with fantastic views of Okanagan Lake.
The 15th is a short par-4 that is possible to drive however the green is located on a peninsula surrounded by water. Another great scramble hole.
The 17th hole maybe the most dramatic – straight downhill resembling a ski slope to the lake. A word to the wise, everything off the tee will funnel to the left.
The 18th is a par-5 where your second shot on this dogleg left is straight downhill to a putting surface that seems to hang over a point that overlooks the lake. To boot, this maybe the toughest green on the course with two large plateaus and two big swales.
My first thought after our round was, they should flip nines since I found the back nine a little more player-friendly to start with to ease into the game. However, after speaking with General Manager Ian Rankin he told me “the current first hole is his favourite design and 17 and 18 are so dramatic that we want to start and finish with a lasting impression”. Colour me wrong.
I found the greens to be extremely fast, but the bunkers have some stones in them. This course is impossible to walk so power carts are mandatory. With a little more tweeking this course maybe one of the most unique mountain designs that you may ever experience.
The Rise is aptly named because the terrain -- 1,000 feet above the beautiful Lake Okanagan -- is anything but flat. The main issue when confronting such significant movement is getting a routing that makes sense and does not regularly feature contrived situations.
The opening hole presents a fine par-5 -- flowing downhill from the clubhouse -- plenty of movement in the fairway and the green banked nicely so that only the best of shots can get to the green for those who dare to do so in two shots. The next two par-4's can be charitably called inventive creations from architect Gene Bates and his PGA Tour consultant Fred Couples.
The 431-yard 2nd rises noticeably in the drive zone. Often times many architects will eschew such situations because uphill holes are always going to be more demanding for those players who lack serious pop in their tee games. That's the reason the back tees are appropriately called, "Boom boom" in honor of the nickname Couples was called when playing.
Fairway bunkers are the aiming point when standing on the tee at the 2nd. The turning point for the hole is one to be respected because only the longest of players can attempt to play down that side. The green is also elevated and requires at least 1-2 more on the club side. Whatever you may have earned at the 1st you can be sure to give it back at the 2nd.
The 3rd at 443 yards is one of the best holes at The Rise. The hole features a scenic Alpine look -- with large trees flanking the drive zone but far enough apart to avoid an undue claustrophobic situation. The hole turns slightly left in the drive zone and for those fortunate to achieve that, the approach is no less challenging -- a pond hugging the left side of the green with the putting surface diagonally angled. Anyone able to par the 2nd and 3rd in order has truly done something to talk about at the 19th hole!
The rest of the outward half is a pleasant mixture of holes and concludes with a fine downhill long 590-yard par-5 at the 9th. Players have options in whether to be super aggressive in challenging the left side which is protected by tall fir trees or opting to play down the safer right side. Those choosing prudence will not be able to see the green until their 3rd shot. Those successful at cutting the corner can get to the green in two shots but the watch word is caution as a single bunker guards the left side.
The inward half offers the better combination of holes and is not as cluttered with flanking trees as the front. There's enough differentiation between the holes and much of that is because of the terrain changes one constantly faces. The uphill par-4 14th is listed at 391 yards but plays a good bit longer. At the 15th you play in the opposite direction and a menacing pond fronts the green. The 16th, a mid-length par-3, goes back the other way and uses that same water hazard in front of the green.
Unfortunately, the Rise concludes with two holes that fail to do much beyond the scenic component they each provide. The par-4 17th is listed at 438 yards but plays considerably shorter because of the massive downhill nature of the terrain. The green is also simply a pedestrian effort. Anything over it will likely mean a reload from where you hit your approach.
When completing play at the 17th you must double-back via a pathway to get to the 18th tee. Why this was done is hard to say with certainty but getting Lake Okanagan in a postcard vantage point seems to be the reason. The hole also goes downhill and turns left in the drive zone with the green situated considerably below the top of the fairway. After you play the hole you then have to take a considerable ride back to the clubhouse area.
The Rise has its moments - no question on that front. But, the convoluted nature of the routing means a course that goes through its ups and downs -- no pun intended. The view from the clubhouse area is intoxicating but one has to realize The Rise is a mandatory power cart course. For traditionalists who reject such things it's likely best to skip playing here. For those who are a bit more elastic, a round at The Rise will have its share of entertaining and frustrating moments.
by M. James Ward