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Golf and Wine – a perfect blend

by Andrew Penner

When it comes to the catch phrase, “A match made in heaven,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Cake and ice cream? Beer and nachos? Peanut butter and jelly?

Personally, considering I’ve just visited a number of the best golf destinations in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve got this particular heavenly match on my brain: golf and wine.

Call it what you want – birdies and blush, pars and pinots, fairways and Franc – but a glorious getaway that includes great golf and wonderful wine can be an unforgettable experience. And, in the Pacific Northwest, there are numerous destinations that fit the bill.

As many connoisseurs will tell you, the wine-rich regions in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia can hold their own against the best wine destinations in the world. From Kamloops (British Columbia) in the north to the Rogue Valley (Oregon) in the south, there are dozens of well-known wine regions that are ideal for sipping and swinging.

Indeed, wherever vineyards are found, rest assured you can bet that fairways will not be far away.

I’d like to say I’ve visited all of the region’s best golf and wine regions, but I’ve only scratched the surface. I’ve got many more roads to wheel. So, with only a smidge of trepidation and a gratifying glass of Gewurztraminer in hand, I consider the following three areas my favorite golf and wine touring regions in the Pacific Northwest.

The Thompson Okanagan

So, here’s what you really need to know about the Thompson Okanagan: If your priority is to seek out the best golf possible, focusing on the Kamloops area is an excellent call.

Tobiano, a dynamite Thomas McBroom design that tumbles and rolls on aerie bluffs above Kamloops Lake, is the showstopper in the region. When in Kamloops, you can also play Talking Rock, a lakeside gem that wanders through the wilderness on the shores of Little Shuswap Lake, and Rivershore, a Robert Trent Jones Sr. layout that finishes along the South Thompson River.

In terms of wineries in the area, the must-stop is Monte Creek. It’s perfectly positioned between Talking Rock and Rivershore and features gorgeous views from the elegant restaurant and tasting room. Nearby Harper’s Trail Winery, with its laidback and grassroots charms, is another winery here worth checking out.

If exceptional wine is your main focus, you won’t go wrong by sipping and swinging in the South Okanagan. The Golden Mile (located near Osoyoos) serves up, arguably, the best string of wineries in all of Canada. My favorite wineries in the area include Road 13, Burrowing Owl, and Hester Creek. But you’ll find over 40 wineries in this region. And, with plenty of heat and arid south-facing hillsides, this is where you’ll find powerful, full-bodied reds including varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Another outstanding sub-appellation to explore is the Naramata Bench, which is located a little further north near Penticton. This is an idyllic little bench – it rolls along the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake – and features over a dozen picture-perfect wineries that boast some of the best views in British Columbia.

Not surprisingly, many of the golf courses in the South Okanagan are also rich with superlative views. The somewhat under-the-radar Fairview Mountain Golf Club in Oliver is an outstanding mountain course that won’t disappoint. The Osoyoos Golf Club (36 holes) and the sneaky-good Nk’Mip Desert Canyon Golf Course are also worth playing.

While I prefer these quieter, more off-the-beaten-path areas, the cities of Kelowna and Vernon also offer a treasure trove of wineries and excellent golf courses. (Play Predator Ridge, Tower Ranch, and The Harvest Club.) But do expect more traffic and busier tasting rooms in those areas.

Chelan Wine Valley

It doesn’t take long for the drama to unfold at Gamble Sands. The short-and-sweet second hole – a daring, downhill, and drivable par-4 that features a sublime lake-and-mountain backdrop – is easily one of the prettiest golf holes in the entire Pacific Northwest.

But this course, a David McLay Kidd design located in Brewster, Washington, isn’t just a one-trick pony. The entire layout, which parades atop a treeless bluff overlooking the Columbia River, serves up one scintillating hole after another. And, without a doubt, it’s the No. 1 reason why a golf-and-wine trip to Chelan Wine Valley is so rewarding.

The most exciting aspect of Gamble Sands? More golf is on the way! Currently, besides the original Sands course, the resort features the 12-hole QuickSands par-3 course as well as beautiful lodging overlooking the lake. However, in the spring of 2025 another full-length Kidd course will be unveiled.

“It will be like the first course, but on steroids,” says Kidd. “It will be at least a couple shots tougher, with even better views and more technical terrain.”

What isn’t difficult in this region – if you can pry yourself away from Gamble Sands for an afternoon or evening – is visiting the charming lakeside town of Chelan (approximately 35 minutes south) and the many wonderful wineries in this gorgeous valley.

The Lake Chelan Wine Valley, the 11th AVA (American Viticultural Area) in Washington State, is home to over 30 wineries. And most of them hug the gem-blue water of Lake Chelan and are relatively new when compared to other well-established areas. So, yes, expect stunning natural beauty, opportunities to do tastings with the owners and winemakers themselves, and plenty of variety in terms of styles.

A few of my favorite wineries here include Tsillan Cellars, Rocky Pond Winery, and Benson Vineyards. However, the quick growth here and the relatively new energy of this region makes for rewarding discoveries around every bend in the road.

In terms of more golf, nearby Desert Canyon Golf Resort and Bear Mountain Ranch are two additional courses worth playing when in the Chelan area.

The Willamette Valley

Oregon’s Willamette Valley, a vast agri-rich area located southwest of Portland, is home to over 700 wineries and dozens of world-class golf courses. A heavy hitter? Yes, there may not be a bigger player (when it comes to golf and wine) in the region than the spectacular Willamette Valley.

There are 11 distinct AVAs to explore and experience in the valley. So, unless you’ve got a month, or more, you’ll have to narrow things down and focus on a specific area, or two.

Two destinations within the Willamette Valley that offer excellent golf and wonderful wineries are the cities of Corvallis and Eugene.

Home to Oregon State University, Corvallis, which means “heart of the valley,” is a great choice to get a tantalizing taste of the Willamette. You can start your adventure by playing Trysting Tree Golf Club, a Ted Robinson design that cruises along the Willamette River. The course, which is the home of the OSU golf teams, has a Scottish links feel but also embraces its pastoral parkland setting.

For nearby wineries, a visit to Lumos Wine Company, which produces fantastic organic wines in small batches, won’t disappoint. This quaint, three-generation farm boasts a rustic tasting room in a historic barn. It also features fantastic views of the vineyards and the Coast Mountains.

Unquestionably, driving south to Eugene will yield plenty of opportunities to stop and smell the roses…or the rosé. Allow plenty of time and follow your nose! I really enjoyed the beautiful Walnut Ridge Vineyard. But here’s the thing, wineries are all beautiful! It’s just the nature of the game.

Not far from Walnut Ridge you can also play Diamond Woods Golf Course. A family owned and operated facility, Diamond Woods features a beautiful back nine that tumbles through towering pines.

The golden ticket for your trip could very well be a starting time at the revered Eugene Country Club. Although the club is private, some outside reciprocal play is allowed at certain times. Call well in advance. The reward here is one of the finest parkland golf experiences in the Pacific Northwest. Just strolling through the corridors lined with ancient and enormous trees is reason enough to play here. You can also play Emerald Valley Golf Club in nearby Creswell. Home to the University of Oregon golf teams, this club has hosted a number of U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur qualifiers (so, yes, you’ll need your A game).

Certainly, strolling through the vineyards and visiting the tasting rooms in and around Eugene is also rewarding. Make sure you visit King Estate Winery, which is home to the largest Biodynamic-certified vineyard in North America.

Regardless of the roads you take, a golf-and-wine adventure in the Pacific Northwest is going to yield plenty of delicious discoveries and awesome adventures. After all, you’re dealing with golf and wine – a match made in heaven.

Andrew Penner is a freelance writer and photographer based in Calgary, Alberta. For more than 25 years he was a member of the Canadian PGA. His writing and photography appears regularly in publications such as GOLF Magazine, LINKS, Golf Canada, SCOREGolf Magazine, Westjet Magazine, and many others. You can follow him on Instagram here: @andrewpennerphotography