It’s appropriate that owner Michael Grenier called this course Tobiano – an equine term for a multi-coloured horse – as the landscape surrounding this golfing thoroughbred is one of extreme visual variety, displaying a multitude of different hues.
Described by one commentator as a “moonscape with turf,” this stunning course is set in a desolate, mountainous desert location alongside the 18-mile long Kamloops Lake reservoir to the north of Vancouver.
It’s certainly one of the best natural settings that anyone has discovered for a Canadian course in many a year and designer Tom McBroom is said to have considered 20 different routings before he decided on one that incorporates a quintet of par three and par five holes.
Tobiano opened for play in 2007 and the course is intimidating to a lot of golfers, especially as many of the fairways demand testing carries across deep arroyos en route to infinity greens that seem to float in mid air above the lake. Sensibly, local rules permit balls that stray into the desert to be regarded as lost in a lateral hazard, allowing a new ball to be played from a drop area.Measuring anything from a gentle 5,358 yards on the forward pegs to a monster 7,367 yards on the tiger tees, Tobiano is a totally unique course designed to enthrall golfers of all abilities who take it on.
The most striking feature of Tobiano is its incredible beauty -- breathtaking is an understatement. The land is abrupt in certain spots but the views clearly catch your eye and it's so easy to be distracted and fail to execute the shots one needs to hit throughout the round.
One of the issues I heard about Tobiano before playing it deals with playability. After playing the course I have come to the conclusion such comments are truly misplaced. Golfers need to play the appropriate tee boxes in order to match their skill level to what the demands are. Too many people take on way too much golf course when their respective game is clearly not aligned to the task. Then these same people scream out the layout is over-the-top.
The only people who should remotely think about it heading to the tip tees are those with 5 handicaps or lower. The tee game is an essential element at Tobiano so players need to be thoroughly honest about their skill level.
The opening hole is a fine starter -- a downhill sweeping par-5 that provides a true challenge. There's ample fairway width on the hole -- like others at Tobiano -- but there is a preferred side to reach for the best playing angle. The next two holes are not backbreakers but ones requiring a deft touch as you face a short par-4 and par-3 combination. What you immediately realize when playing these holes is that the putting surfaces present serious issues for those failing to land one's approach on the proper side. Quick three-putts are not uncommon for those having a heavy hand with the flatstick.
The golf course is served in not being overly cluttered with invasive housing and other such distractions although there are plans to expand on that front near the course entrance. The 1,000+ acre site is also free of interfering trees and the like -- allowing wind to whip through the property -- sometimes at vicious speeds.
The front nine turns up the meter when you get to the long par-4 4th. But I really enjoyed the qualities of the 5th and 6th holes -- both fine par-4's and totally different as the former plays through a valley with a contoured putting surface awaiting and the latter going the opposite direction and calling for a right-to-left ball flight off the tee to a narrowing fairway.
I've heard certain people say the par-3 7th to its plateaued green is too demanding and overly severe. Again, the issue is what tee boxes are used and what handicap level is playing from there. The long uphill par-5 8th is a true three-shot hole -- finding the fairway is crucial because the demands only intensify from that point.
The inward half continues the journey in an up and down fashion. The 10th and 11th are a good combination but I didn't like the boring long par-3 12th. It's simply a very long hole with nothing compelling on the architectural front. The uphill par-5 13th would play better if the yardage were decreased just a tad in order to tempt players to go for the bold tee shot and even riskier second to the green.
One of Tobiano's best holes comes with the par-4 14th. The tee shot is hard to discern as you can't see the landing area. The need to work the ball from right-to-left is rewarded handsomely for those who pull off the shot. The backdrop of the green with Kamloops Lake in the background is truly impressive.
I only wish the course had a better conclusion to it. Two of the final holes are par-3's and they are simply satisfactory -- not bad holes per se but neither really adding to the build-up such a course should rightly have. The long par-4 18th attempts to end the round in a rigorous fashion and it's a solid hole -- just not a great one.
Tobiano has an interesting routing featuring five par-5 holes and five par-3 holes. The reality is that the "extra" hole in each category would likely have been better served with one less each.
The scale of the property is quite impressive and the bulk of the holes is well done. For those venturing to the area it's likely many will include a round at nearby Sagebrush just 35-40 minutes away. The two courses are clearly the leaders in the area for core golfers to play.
Tobiano may not be the course for classical architecture types who favor more subtle elements emphasizing finesse first and foremost. Tobiano is blessed with a grand piece of land -- clearly bold in its overall presentation. Those heading to the interior of BC should certainly bring their clubs for a rousing fun time.
by M. James Ward