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Take an early-season swing

Friday, March 5th, 2010 | 9:30 am

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Golfers were out under partly-cloudy skies as they got in some early-season rounds at the Michaelbrook Ranch course Tuesday. Temperatures are slated to be above normal for the rest of the week, with daytime highs of seven or eight degrees, but with increasing clouds and some rain in the forecast. (Photo Chris Stanford)

By Chris Stanford

Early-season golf is always “weather permitting”, but this year mother nature has so far cooperated with Okanagan birdie-heads.

With memories of last year’s long, snowy winter fresh in their minds, Kelowna-area golf course operators have been gearing up to get their tracts ready – in some cases a month ahead of last seasons openings.

Three executive-length courses have been open for a few weeks already and have seen a steady stream of golfers getting in some late-winter rounds under balmy conditions. The 18-hole Michaelbrook Ranch layout on the Mission flats in south Kelowna has seen anywhere from “50 to 100 a day” tee off, since opening Feb. 7, according to general manager Don Lisea.

“We’re ahead of the last three (openings) for sure,” he said. In 2009 the course was shuttered until Mar. 22, but on the other hand, there have been years in past where they’ve had rounds played in every month of the year. “That was back in the 90’s, though,” said Lisea.

Nearby neighbours of Michaelbrook, the Mission Creek Golf Club on KLO Road got underway Feb. 10 on their executive layout, well ahead of last seasons mid-March opening, and they have seen a steady stream of swingers getting out on the warmer days.

On the west side of Okanagan Lake, the Two Eagles course hosted their first players on Feb. 20.

And golfers looking to get in some rounds on full-length 18-hole layouts and waiting to test their mettle will get their chance sooner rather than later as well. With both Shannon Lake on the Westside and Kelowna Springs near the Kelowna airport slated to open up Mar. 5, duffers and scratch players alike will have to wait no more.

“This is the earliest we’ve opened, by a little while since I’ve been here,” said Kelowna Springs golf shop assistant Sam Pridham, who has been at his post for 14 years. “Last year at this time we had two inches of ice on the greens and we were using Bobcats to clear it off the greens,” he added.

This will in fact be the earliest opening ever since the course first hosted players in 1990 – well ahead of last season’s early-April opening.

Although courses farther south in environs like Osoyoos have been open since early February generally, most Kelowna-area courses will be up and running by at least the end of March. Besides Shannon Lake and Kelowna Springs this week, several other tracks are slated to open the next at the latest.

Those include public layouts like Shadow Ridge (Mar. 10), The Harvest Club (Mar. 11) and the private Kelowna Golf and Country Club (Mar. 11). The newer course at the Black Mountain Golf Club is scheduled to open Mar. 13, according to dates provided by Tourism Kelowna.

Following closely after those courses, The Okanagan Golf Club will open their BEar course Mar. 19 and the Quail Mar. 26, while Tower Ranch above Rutland opens tentatively on Mar. 25, Gallagher’s Canyon goes Apr. 1 and finally then Predator Ridge complex near Vernon kicks off Apr. 15.

All the courses we spoke with said that winter damage to their layouts has been minimal or nonexistent, but as with any early-season, players can expect some early-morning frost delays, so it might be best to check with the course’s pro shops before booking a tee time.

news@kelowna.com

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