Every now and again we are reminded why golf course architecture is an art. In his new masterpiece Tobiano, Thomas McBroom has reminded us once again that the architect must have the eye of an artist, experience of an engineer and all the while remain a golfer at heart.
Situated 15 minutes outside Kamloops, British Columbia, the golf course is part of an $800 million project that will include a lake-side marina, three hotels, over 1000 residential units, equestrian facilities and more. Inheriting its name from the Tobiano painted horse, the course thematic draws upon the site’s ranch land history- from the tee decks to the clubhouse detailing.
Desert courses with their lush green grass contrasting rough and brown landscapes can easily be more eye candy than a test of the game. Fortunately, Tobiano side-steps this trivial design gimmick, boasting both stunning beauty and strategy. Shouldering bluffs situated above the lake, fairways are nestled into the rugged dunes with mountain backdrops. Adding a bunkering style that gently pulls away the surface of fescues and cacti, the result is a test for golfers of all abilities.
Three years ago as a Landscape Architect student, a University project led to my having the pleasure of meeting McBroom. With an unassuming Toronto office that feels more like a one bedroom apartment holding outdated computers from the early ’90’s rather than a design studio which fuels creativity and design, one begins to wonder how this man creates world class golf courses from a selection of air-photos and pencil crayons.
Yet McBroom’s method is tried and proven with more than 60 internationally acclaimed courses. With several more underway, McBroom has risen to the top of the game in golf course architecture in Canada and around the world. In 2006 he had 12 courses ranked among the top 100 in Canada; and in 5 of the last 13 years he’s been responsible for Canada’s Best New Course of The Year.
Open for play in July 2007, Tobiano’s official grand opening was last month and looks poised to earn McBroom another award. Four additional courses in the province planned and underway has made McBroom a clear leader in BC’s golf boom which has several new courses from the likes of Nicklaus, Couples, Player, and shortly Annika Sorenstam. In what will be her debut new course design in North America, Annika is pairing her passion for the game with none other than McBroom himself.
As a new course, the bentgrass fairways at Tobiano are nicer than some of the local Vancouver courses’ greens I’ve played, and McBroom’s innovative white silica sand lends great feel and consistency to the traps. Fairways ripple and wave creating many kinds of lies. And though the front nine’s fescue my seem difficult to overcome its length and density will likely decrease as the course becomes more established, requiring less irrigation. The greens putt fast and true with many opportunities for exciting pin placements. Though the course measured them to 11 on the stimpmeter, they were a pleasure to play.
The course itself displays a routing rich in diversity. The par 72 layout tallies to 36 on both nines, with the back having three par 5’s and three par 3’s. Using wind wisely, at least one par 3 points to each direction of the compass; while the par 5’s capitalize on natural topography and the par 4’s, playing long and short, test all clubs in the bag.
With the wind at your back, No. 2 lets you think about going for the green off the tee, while bunkering at a hundred yards from the green protects against laying up for an easy wedge approach. A well scripted grass swale in front collects any shots short of the small green, also protected by more bunkering. Although one of the easier, and probably less memorable holes on the course, it displays a textbook execution of architecture fundamentals.
Arriving at No. 7 you’ll find a par 3 that plays like a 155 yard island green without water. Into a fierce wind, dropping off into sage and sand, hitting the shallow green perpendicular to the angle of approach is sure to build your confidence.
If there is one thing to be learned from course architecture it’s that retrospect is the mark of a good golf hole. And after playing the par 5 No. 8 it’s easy to look back and recount several different ways to play it next time. Starting with a demanding 220+ yard carry into the wind, a second shot must find the fairway which veers sharp and blindly between bunkering on the left and a steep desert crevasse at right. Finally, the approach is protected by bunkering left and right while falling sharp right and behind into a fescue ridden area you would rather lose your ball than have the unfortunate fate of trying to hit out of. Combined, this three shot par 5 demands appropriate club selection and skillful execution, making it easy to see why it is the number 1 handicap on course.
Along the back nine the plot builds and the beauty increases. Climbing up ranchland terrain, yeilding panoramic views, each hole is a fair test, while retaining potential to score. The toughest is No. 12, a 232 yard par 3 bunkered left and right. As the holes move on the fescue lessens and the required carries diminish making a more pleasurable golfing experience.
If there was one thing to improve upon at Tobiano it would be the way in which the play ends. While there is nothing wrong with any of the holes which form the closing par 5,3,4 sequence, none are what I would call strong finishing holes. Being a modest hitter, and playing from the spur tees, downhill and downwind I hit the par 5, 16th in two with a pitching wedge in hand. No. 17 is a short par 3 at 143 yards, and No. 18 is a matter of one well-struck shot off the tee.
As a golf enthusiast and armchair architect at heart, I can only hope that Tobiano will push the level of golf course design to new heights. Contrasting wisping visual lines with rugged contours, Tobiano is a three-dimensional piece of art expressively instilled with the passions of experienced artistry and golfing brilliance by the McBroom design team. Even with the development planned to take place, Tobiano will remain a core course in its typology; uninterrupted by, all things considered, minimal housing lining the course itself. Though I imagine some of the vistas, in particular those of the lake, will be spoiled in the name of real estate the course is unquestionably a work of art surrounded by a surreal landscape.
Undoubtedly, Tobiano is the best new course in Canada.
For a flyby tour of each hole, check the website, http://www.tobianogolf.com/golf/coursetour.php
Tee Yardage Course Rating/ Slope Rating
Iron 7328 75.2 / 134
Spur 6835 72.8 / 127
Lake 6241 70.2 /125
Sage 5289 65.7 / 111
Tobiano | Hole No. 1, Par 5
Tobiano | Hole No. 6, Par 4
Tobiano | Hole No. 15, Par 3
Tobiano | Hole No. 17, Par 3
Tobiano | Clubhouse Patio