Last Updated on Monday, 18 July 2011 09:29
Sunday, 17 July 2011 20:38
by Gord Montgomery
For years one of the most recognizable signs in the Okanagan Valley in B.C. has been the giant golf ball perched atop a similar scaled tee alongside Hwy. 97 in Peachland, directing people to the Ponderosa Golf Course.
While that hallmark sign will remain in place for only a short while longer, the golf course it sent players to is taking a dramatic turn, likely to live on in the valley for years to come.
The Ponderosa GC was a family run business that opened in 1979 and which many locals called home.
Now, however, the former layout is receiving a makeover from a recognizable gent that could possibly give the valley’s lake-living legend, Ogopogo, a run for his/her money.
Australian Greg Norman, more commonly referred to as The Shark, has sunk his teeth into a re-do of the Ponderosa Golf Club and what he’s come up with is going to be a treat to both the eye and the golf game, says general manager Scott Dawson.
While not revealing any specific costs of the on-going construction, Dawson did agree it was over $10 million. And that’s because, he continued, this isn’t a simple cosmetic makeover.
This idea began to percolate back in 2008, Dawson explained. At that time, Treegroup Developments Corp., who took control of the area in the recent past, agreed with the local city council to keep a golf course on the property.
At the same time, they decided to turn the property into more than just a golf course, adding significant amenities to their plan. Above all though, it will be a signature golf community and that’s where the Norman name came into play.
“The city wanted to maintain the golf course,” which was expanded to 18 holes from the original nine back in 1990, Dawson said.
“Since Treegroup had committed to maintaining the golf course they began to look at different designers.
“They talked about Mike Weir and a few others but I know Greg Norman was one of the favourites of the owner (Norm Porter) for the name and the brand he’s created.”
It took a while to land the Shark but Norman eventually came on board with Treegroup and he is keeping his finger on the pulse of the rebirth of the old Ponderosa.
This design, Dawson explained, is totally new and they’ve bumped the size of the original layout from around 90 acres to where it now sits at 400 acres of land.
Dawson noted, “The land that was acquired to make the brand new course was on Crown Land. In order to acquire that, you need the approval of local First Nations (people).
“What our ownership did, and what I think was the right thing to do, they went to the Westbank First Nations first and foremost and said ‘This is what we’d like to do and we’d like you to be our partner moving forward.’”
An interesting sidelight to the land transfer, and the construction costs, is that this project is fully funded already, so it will be completed without any financial problems.
“I think this is a unique property because it’s been fully funded for the golf course and the infrastructure since Day 1. There are no financial issues and this is funded through private and public vehicles,” the general manager pointed out.
Once the partnership deal with the Westbank First Nations was hammered out, work began on the old golf course site in 2009, with a hoped-for completion date of 2013. At present, a soft opening could take place sometime during the summer of 2012.
Dawson emphatically pointed out this is a totally new design even though there were existing holes from the old Ponderosa that could have been scripted into the new work.
photo credit: Gord Montgomery
Heavy Machinery Goes About The Work At The Ponderosa Golf Club In Peachland, B.C., During June As They Carve Up The Old 18-Hole Course To Make Way For A New Greg Norman Design Course, Scheduled To Open In 2013
“This is a golf course that just happens to be built on the site of an old golf course. They’re not utilizing any of the old or existing holes – it’s a brand new layout,” he emphasized of the renovation.
And what a layout the new Norman design will be. Many of the holes on the new Ponderosa will supply breathtaking vistas of the valley and lake area, or if you turn around, the mountains in the other direction. It will stretch out over 7,200 yards with dramatic elevation changes coming into play.
“Greg Norman has been here several times. He walks the property, takes notes on every hole, so he’s continually inputting on the property as we go forward.
“In addition to that, Greg Norman’s company is actually doing the build of the course (along with local labour). Their tender bid was similar to others that came in and it was a logical decision to make them the builder of choice,” Dawson explained. “It appears they didn’t want to let go of this; they felt it was that special kind of place.”
Treegroup Corp., Dawson continued, is doing far more than rebuilding and re-branding an old golf course. They’re introducing a new way of life for many who will call the area home.
The overall plans call for a development that will include a premium winery, a cultural centre, a skating rink and a boutique hotel, residences for 2,300 people with single family and multi-family homes, condos and townhouses. And of course a golf course, driving range and clubhouse.
Having started working at the Ponderosa in 1984 on the course’s grounds crew and to now being a hands-on part of its redevelopment is invigorating, the GM said.
“I’ve done it all and it’s been exciting to see this from the ground floor. Even my parents (the original owners of Ponderosa) are quite excited to see this going.”
photo credit: Gord Montgomery
With Okanagan Lake In The Background, The Pondeosa's General Manager Scott Dawson Stands In The Area Of The Tee Box For What Will Be The Course's Longest Hole - A 700-Yard Downhill Par 5
One of the first places they could be seeing what’s going on is on their television set. Filming has already begun on a pilot on the construction of this project.
“We’ve got a pilot for a TV show we’re doing in which Greg Norman appears. It covers basically how this has come to fruition. That’s something that will give exposure, along with the Greg Norman name and the Greg Norman brand, to the Okanagan and show how special this region is,” Dawson proudly stated.
So while that old, familiar giant tee and ball combo may soon be gone, the Ponderosa Golf Course and the new Greg Norman brand stamped on it will live on, to the delight of all golfers.
By Gord Montgomery
About the writer: Gord Montgomery is the sports editor of two weekly newspapers in the Edmonton area and is a member of the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. He has written for Inside Golf for the past four years with the majority of his coverage in north and central Alberta. He can be reached at email@example.com.
More articles by Gord Montgomery