Updated: Apr 13, 2020
British Columbia – Canada’s westernmost province is its third largest, reaching from the Pacific Ocean on its westernmost frontier to the majestic Rocky Mountains towering in the east. Nestled in between is a region known as the South Thompson with Kamloops as its largest city. Named after David Thompson, a British-Canadian fur trader, surveyor and cartographer, the region, grew in prominence, partly as a result of the neighbouring Cariboo which fuelled one of North America’s largest gold rushes.
Just as early prospectors from around the world explored the region for gold, the South Thompson has also become a land of discovery for golf and Tobiano represents a veritable bonanza. We had the opportunity to visit Tobiano last summer, in July 2019, and were impressed with not only the calibre of the golf offered, but the warm and welcoming surroundings that forms the local community. Oh, and the views and vistas were terrific too.
Below is our review of Tobiano. This is a new format that we would like to present to our readers on a regular basis. We will feature a golf course and hopefully, you will find it interesting, informative and helpful.
Overall Rating – (4.5 out of 5)
This course offers a fine test of golf for the more serious golfers while still retaining the ability to provide a fair challenge to the more social golfer. The course has a multitude of tee boxes playing from various lengths so whether it is an individual golfer or a group of golfers, everyone will be able to find a suitable set of tees that will be both challenging and fun to play.
We give this course a high rating of 4 ½ out of 5 primarily for the quality of the golf and playing conditions. It truly is one of the better courses that we have played in terms of how well maintained it is and for the test of golf that it offers. The only weak elements, if it can be said to be weak, is that the course is a bit of a drive from Kamloops, but if you are going to stay a few days in Kamloops, there are plenty of courses to play and Tobiano should definitely be at the top of your list.
Men's – ranges from 66.3 to a maximum of 75.3
Women's – ranges from 71.6 to 76.0
Regardless of which direction you approach Tobiano, it is an impressive drive. We happened to be coming from the East, having traveled by Kamloops. As you drive westward along Highway No.1, the Trans Canada Highway, the road follows Lake Kamloops and the South Thompson river, meandering around creeks and alluvial fans, gradually rising up over a small hill before making its descent down towards the lake again.
As you descend the hill, Tobiano slowly comes into view. Its lush fairways and greens brought into sharp contrast against a backdrop of semi arid land and sage brush. The landscape is dominated by the spotted pattern of green with the radiant blue of the adjacent lake. I don't know if the course is named after the spotted colour pattern often seen in some horses, but regardless, Tobiano would be an appropriate name.
As you turn off of the highway to the course, you are immediately greeted by the Tobiano Real Estate Presentation Centre, before meandering along to the main golf course building. Once we drove up to the main bag drop area, we were greeted by some enthusiastic employees who directed us to a suitable parking lot.
Upon returning to the main entrance of the clubhouse facility, I was impressed with the building and its warm layout – we were greeted by a small lobby area with the Pro Shop to my immediate right, the restaurant and lounge area directly ahead.
Green Complexes – ( 5 out of 5 )
The greens at Tobiano are generous in size, offering plenty of potential hole locations. With its undulations, speed and condition, they can challenge the best players among us. The speed of the greens were excellent; I enjoy quick greens, in the vicinity of 10 - 11 on the stimpmeter and these greens did not disappoint. However, it is not without its own danger. If you misread the pace of your putt, there's a good chance that you could be facing a three putt situation or even the dreaded unthinkable; a four putt – so choose your pace carefully.
Thought must also be given to your approach shots to the green. Because of the generous sizes of the greens, merely hitting the green is not good enough as you could find yourself facing 50 to 100 foot putts regularly. So remember to consider where you wish to land your ball.
The greens were seeded with bent grass and the grounds crew at Tobiano do a great job keeping them in terrific condition. Rest assured, when you pick your line to putt, the ball will roll true without the little bumps and deflections that can often come with poa (or annual bluegrass) which is a naturally occurring grass in British Columbia and much of the west coast.
Tee Boxes & Fairways – ( 4 ¾ out of 5 )
I found the tee boxes at Tobiano to be fairly well thought out. To start with, there are 5–sets of tee boxes, ranging from the 5,293 yard "Sage" tee box to the "Tournament" tee boxes, tipping out at 7,367 yards and three sets of tees in between:
Iron 7,110 Combination Tees
Spur 6,592 Spur/Lake - 6,258
Lake 6,072 Lake/Sage - 5,552
Another feature of Tobiano that I found rather enjoyable was the combination tee boxes, offering intermediate lengths between two of the "set tee boxes". The scorecard at Tobiano has been set up to include the combination tee sets, making it a much easier proposition to play. On our day at the course, I played from the combination "Spur & Lake" tees while my playing partner enjoyed playing the combination "Lake & Sage" tees. At 5,552 yards, she found that to be a good challenge.
Another common feature at Tobiano is that many of the tee boxes are set up in a manner that requires the golfer to carry their tee shots over ravines or natural rough areas, onto the other side, where the fairway begins. It looks incredibly daunting, but once I used my laser range finder to figure out the distance of the carry, it became less daunting. Even armed with that knowledge, I still played some of the par 3 tee shots with one more club than normal.
The fairways at Tobiano, like the green complexes, were in great condition. The South Thompson area is naturally semi-arid, so it tends to dry out in the summer under regular conditions, but the staff at Tobiano have done an amazing job at keeping the turf in great condition. Many of the fairways are designed with some high banks on both sides, providing encouragement to wayward tee shots to return to the fairway on their own. Others are less forgiving, requiring you to bring your "A" game from the tee box as wayward shots will come to rest in the taller fescue and rye grasses that line many of the fairways.
Course architect, Thomas McBroom, did a wonderful job with both the tee boxes and fairways, designing holes that are aesthetically pleasing, with a judicious use of bunkering and rough to challenge the player in all of us. When standing on the tee box looking down the fairway, McBroom challenges you to plot your way around the course, looking for the best line to take on the fairway to setting up your approach shots to the green. Course management takes on extra importance at Tobiano.
Practice Areas – ( 3 out of 5 )
I made a distinct point to arrive at Tobiano at least 2 hours early, partly to give me time to scout the facilities and prepare for taking photos, but also to get loosened up with my swing and even more importantly, to get a good feel for the greens.
The practice range is not overly large, but it can handle a dozen golfers with room to spare. There are plenty of different target greens and flags to aim for; each at a different distance so that you could work on a longer iron or your wedge game. The real bonus of this practice area is that they offer a turf surface for the practice range – not one mat was in sight. Of course, this was also at the height of summer, so turf should be expected for the time of the year.
The practice green was very representative of course conditions, so that there was not much differentiation between the practice green and those on the course. This is a big asset if you can get early and practice some chipping and putting so that you can get a sense of the speed and roll; it could help you shave some valuable strokes off your score and that could mean the difference between enjoying a drink after the round and having to buy the round for your friends or playing partners. Our rating of 3/5 is not an indication of the quality of the practice areas, but rather a reflection on the size of the practice areas. Compared to some of the larger golf resorts and facilities, the practice areas here are simply not designed to accommodate larger volumes so it is a potential constraint on busy days.
Food & Amenities – ( 4 out of 5 )
Amenities play an important role with golf courses, elevating it from a basic, no frills course to an enhanced experience, similar as to what one might envision or expect at a private country club.
Tobiano scores well on this front too. The Pro Shop is a welcoming environment, with tall ceilings and plenty of natural light. It's well stocked with a good representation of apparel for both men and women. My playing partner spent a good portion of her time browsing the selection of apparel and footwear, even though she was not particularly in the market for it. The selection of golf balls and other on course items are also available just in case you forgot to pack something.
Food and beverage service is one of the more important amenities at a golf course. Tobiano does not disappoint. The Flat Iron Grill located on site in the clubhouse, provides patrons and guests with a good restaurant & lounge experience. It offers more of a "bistro" lounge environment than a cafe or cafeteria style of food service.
The vaulted ceiling in the restaurant provides a sense of grandeur for diners, while the roll up "garage" doors provide both additional light and when opened, provide a seamless transition from the indoor restaurant to the outdoor patio area. This was the case for our visit last summer. The warm summer temperatures of the Okanagan and South Thompson area typically reach the mid - high 30's (80 - 100 ⁰ F) in summer months and with the longer days, the patio offers a terrific way of dining or enjoying aprés golf beverages "alfresco".
Our trip to Tobiano was fun – not only was the weather spectacular, the golf was terrific, and the company was very enjoyable. After a long day in the Kamloops sunshine, a nice dinner and drinks were the perfect tonic to finish the day.
The menu at the Flat Iron Grill offered many of the favourites that you would expect from a trendier golf resort or a more urbane eatery. There are tapas style items for sharing or for those looking for more of a smaller fare.
The entrées are well presented and provide a nice, varied selection of offerings. As for me, I ordered the traditional beef dip sandwich. It's a staple in most types of restaurant & lounge environments, but the Flat Iron Grill presented theirs with a little touch of flair adding a horseradish aioli; it was enough to separate it from the usual fare at your local pub or neighbourhood restaurant.
In addition, they offer a small but comprehensive wine list consisting of local, Okanagan and international labels. The prices of alcohol in British Columbia is regulated by the provincial government and includes both liquor tax and a value added tax, so if you're visiting from the United States, you may find a small surprise with the prices.
All in all, if you are staying in Kamloops for golf, it is definitely worthwhile to consider dining at the Flat Iron Grill. Not only will the drive be picturesque and serene, you should also find something to suit your tastes.
Tobiano is a golf destination and will require some travel time to reach it. International visitors have a few options at your disposal. Vancouver International Airport is one of the best terminals in the world having been extensively rebuilt and expanded for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Connecting fights can be had from Vancouver to Kelowna airport where you can rent a car and enjoy the drive to Kamloops. Depending on where you depart from, you may also be able to fly directly into Kelowna from places like Phoenix, Seattle, Mexico and many Canadian places.
Tobiano has been a leader in British Columbia's golf scene for over a decade now. Situated along Kamloops Lake, between Kamloops and Cache Creek, this golf course has elevated the quality of golf in British Columbia and Canada.
We traveled from Vancouver to Kamloops along Highway No.5 (the Coquihalla Highway), being the quickest route to Tobiano. A more scenic route would be to travel along the Trans Canada Highway (Highway No. 1), along the Fraser River Canyon to Cache Creek before turning west towards Kamloops. Tobiano is situated between the rural community of Savona and Kamloops.
When visiting Tobiano, make sure that you book a few days in Kamloops so that you can play this course a couple of times; if you play it once, you'll want to play it again if for no other reason than wanting to score better the second time around!
For the Tobiano Golf Course website and tee times click <here>