Discover Sagebrush – How Golf was Meant to be Played

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to play a round of golf the way Old Tom Morris did back in the 1800˙s, long before the constraints imposed by modern golf clubs (e.g. pace of play) were introduced to the game?

Well, you don’t need to wonder anymore. Just drive 3 hours north east of Vancouver to Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club nestled in the Nikola Valley and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to the Old Course at St. Andrews in the 19th century.

The View Of The 9th Hole At Sagebrush Golf And Sporting Club Gives You An Idea Of What ‘Old Tom Morris’ Used To Look Out At When He Teed It Up Back In The 1800’s In St. Andrews, Scotland – Photo Courtesy Sagebrush

You’ll feel like you˙re at the “home of golf.”

Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club was the vision of Canadian PGA Tour winner Richard Zokol, who together with Rod Whitman and Armen Suny designed a golf course that will take you back to the origins of the game.

Awarded Best New Canadian Course in 2009 by both Golf Digest and ScoreGolf magazines, Sagebrush isn˙t just a great golf course it’s a unique and memorable golf experience.

Its minimalist design is what inspired other award winning courses like Sand Hills, Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes and Ballyneal.

But unlike those courses, which still rush people off the first tee to pack in as many rounds a day as they can, Sagebrush gives you the freedom to enjoy 390 acres of links style golf without the pressures imposed by today˙s modern golf clubs.

Photo Credit Gayle Moss

Sagebrush maxes out at 60 golfers a day, but 25 is more typical.

You won˙t have a marshal come up to you on the course asking you to keep up to the group in front of you.

You can play as many holes as you like and even take a break in the middle to have a bite to eat and maybe do a little fly-fishing before heading out for a few more holes. How civilized! No wonder women love it.

There˙s no pressure, no intimidation. Co-founder and President, Terry Donald shared with me a story about a group from Toronto who had flown in to play that day — 4 men and 2 women.

Terry asked if they wanted to play as a 6-some, which would raise most player’s eyebrows. But, I love the woman˙s answer: “No. The girls are going to play as a two-some. We˙re not going to be held up by these guys.”

Overlooking Nikola River, Sagebrush has a rugged beauty that can take your breath away; it forces you to take a moment, step back at the tee and just look around and listen.

Photo Credit Gayle Moss

But what you’ll discover is, you can’t hear anything except the sounds of nature – no traffic, no construction, no airplanes.

At Sagebrush, ‘no’ is a good thing:
– No tee markers. Whoever has the honours decides where to tee up the ball on the 4 choices of tee boxes.

As a woman golfer I love the fact that 2 out of the 4 tee boxes are women-friendly. The “White Tees” (at 5413 yds; Slope 123 & Rating 70.9) and “Red Tees” (at 4872 yds; Slope 112 & Rating 67.5) play significantly shorter due to Sagebrush’s higher elevation and fast & firm conditions.

I played from the White tees and truly enjoyed the challenges offered on so many holes, my favourite being the risk/reward #11. Take a short cut over trouble or go around to the right; how lucky are you feeling today?

Photo Credit Gayle Moss

I also paid attention to what the Red Tees had to offer and was pleased to see that for newer players, the Red Tees didn’t require any long carries, but still offered challenges suited to more of a novice golfer.

– No rakes in bunkers. Sand traps are supposed to be hazards and are treated as such. I spent my fair share in them during our round and you do NOT want to go there.

The fairways are very generous, averaging 80 yards across, so just hit the fairways and avoid the bunkers. Simple! Why didn’t I think of that?

– No par. Sagebrush uses Standard Scratch Score (SSS) on the score card rather than ‘Par’. It is believed that the term ‘Par’ typically has a detrimental affect on the psyche of golfer.

– No multi-coloured flags. Every flag is red and there’s no pattern to their position of front, centre or back on a series of holes, so don’t even try and to figure that out. Par, oops, ‘SSS’ is a good score here, just like at St. Andrews; so aim for the centre of the very generous, immaculate and fast greens (some are over 20,000 sq/ft) and don’t get greedy.

I made the mistake of getting a bit cocky on the first hole (my 6th of the day) and decided to go flag hunting. On the par 5, I was on the fringe of the very undulating green after my 3rd shot, feeling pretty good about myself.

Bunkers At Sagebrush Truly Define The Term ‘Hazard’ As Gayle Can Heartily Attest To – Photo Credit Gayle Moss

Until I went to chip up to the flag 10 feet away. I missed by ‘that much’ and found my ball rolling backwards down the fairway about 60 yards.

It took me 3 more shots to get back on to the putting surface as each time I tried, it would miss my mark by inches and roll back even further down the fairway. I want a ‘do over’ on that hole!

– No yardage markers on sprinkler heads. There is only one marker on every hole, a rock at the 150 yard position. Figure out your next club using that one guide because there are no GPS units on the carts.

Even a point and click range finder won’t help you because there are so many blind shots on this very challenging course.

But don’t panic. There is a yardage book you can buy at the pro shop. And remember, there are no ‘pace of play’ pressures on you.

If you don’t know where to aim, just drive up ahead and check out the landscape and then come back and hit your shot.

Or, as Kris Jonasson, executive director at Golf British Columbia told me,”If you don’t like the way you played a hole, go back and play it again.”

I know that’s not conventional, but then again, nothing is at Sagebrush.

– No bag boys. When you arrive at Sagebrush you park your own car, take your clubs and put them on a cart sitting waiting for you in the parking lot. You take care of yourself.

Certainly there is friendly staff around to point you in the right direction if you get a bit lost, but remember, this is a minimalist golf course, from start to finish.

It might take you a few holes to get used to this unique golf experience, but once you figure it out, you’ll be hooked. It’s truly unforgettable.

Photo Credit Gayle Moss

And something else you won’t soon forget is the Hideout at the 13th hole. Executive Chef Scotty Mac will delight you with delicious lunches and dinners in the Mongolian-style ‘Yurt’.

It was a bit cool when we played in September so we really enjoyed our cocktails sitting in front of the wood stove in big comfy chairs watching the Golf Channel on the HDTV.

Photo Credit Gayle Moss

And the steak Chef Scotty prepared for us was probably the most tender and juicy I’ve ever eaten.

I learned from Dick and Terry that they’ve already staked out locations for duplexes, housing 24 suites strictly for use by members and their guests who plan overnight visits.

The last duplex will be ‘supersized’ with 4 bedrooms upstairs and a completely catered lower floor with a full kitchen for the Chef to prepare meals for the guests.

There will be a bar and a deck and spill-out area onto what’s going to be a 150,000 sq/ft putting course like the one at St. Andrews; it will be lit at night so you can grab a cocktail and putter and head out for a last ’round’ before bed. How cool is that!

They also have plans for 34 fully-serviced estate lots up to six acres.

After hearing about their Stay and Play plans, I wanted to learn more about membership options. I was expecting outrageous initiation fees and dues, but like everything else at Sagebrush, Dick and Terry’s answers surprised me.

Photo Courtesy Sagebrush

Although membership is by invitation only, all you really have to do is ask and they’ll be happy to talk to you about membership. They have 3 categories:

1. Corporate annual membership at $15,000 includes 20 rounds a month. After 20 rounds, it’s $100 per person. Interestingly, corporate members can send guests to play at Sagebrush without having to join them.

Now that’s not something I’ve ever seen before. And you can buy a corporate membership as an individual; you don’t need to purchase it as a company.

2. Individual memberships for foursomes. $7,500.00 lets you bring 3 other people with you every day of the season. If you bring more than 3, it’s $100.00 per extra person, per day.

3. Individual memberships are $2,500 per year and your guests pay $100.00 per day.

Now let’s do the math. Sagebrush has about a 6 month season and I normally play 8-10 rounds a month. So let’s say I play 50 rounds a season. $2,500/50 = $50 per round.

The View Of Nikola Lake From Sagebrush Golf And Sporting Club – Photo Courtesy Sagebrush

That’s a pretty good deal, especially when you consider that a day at Sagebrush includes unlimited golf, lunch, cart and fly-fishing in their huge trout stocked man-made lake which also serves as their irrigation pond.

Phase 1 of Sagebrush is coming to an end soon, so there isn’t much time to take advantage of these interim memberships for 2011. The privatization of the club will most likely begin in 2011.

Sagebrush is one of the most memorable golfing experiences I’ve ever had. I think more golf clubs should take a close look at Sagebrush and adopt their philosophy of freedom of play. Golf is a game and it’s supposed to fun. Sagebrush makes golf fun.

Most clubs today have lost sight of that and so too have many of their members. No wonder so many women give up the game.

They get 2nd rate tee times and then have to put up with ridiculous rules and regulations – archaic dress codes, forward tees that look like afterthoughts, intimidating Starters and pushy marshals.

At Sagebrush, there is none of that. Everyone, male or female, is welcome and encouraged to enjoy a relaxing day of golf without being handcuffed by convention.

Experience golf at Sagebrush for yourself and see. And I think you’ll agree, “It’s how golf was meant to be played.”

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