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ned bell tom weirich sagebrush golf course

Sagebrush Golf Club Aims to Ace Culinary Tourism with the Addition of Ned Bell

ned bell tom weirich sagebrush golf course

Culinary director Ned Bell (left) and executive chef Tom Weirich have ambitions to turn Sagebrush Golf Course into a dining destination in a lightly visited part of British Columbia. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Avid golfers in British Columbia have been aware of Sagebrush for years. Now, with the arrival of one of Canada’s leading chefs, the rest of the tourism world can prepare to take notice of the expansive property that rises from the shores of Nicola Lake.

Ned Bell was recruited by Sagebrush partner and former Intrawest executive Michael Coyle to lead the property as its culinary director. The goal is to dramatically transform the Sagebrush experience, turning it into a destination for food connoisseurs as much as it is for hard-core golfers.

Bell and executive chef Tom Weirich have made the shift from the Okanagan Valley’s Naramata Inn, recognized for its fine-dining focus, to the golf course, where diners still expect excellent execution even if their tastes aren’t nearly as adventurous.

sagebrush 15th hole green panorama

As seen from above the 15th hole, Sagebrush Golf Course offers spectacular views of Nicola Lake and its surrounding mountains. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

“We’re not trying to be one of the best restaurants in Canada, but we’re trying to be the best destination golf course food and beverage in B.C.,” says Bell, who is noted for his TV appearances in Vancouver and charity initiatives across Canada.

With his stature comes immediate attention for Sagebrush.

“He has raised our profile incredibly,” says Sagebrush general manager Chris Hood. “He has built an experienced team quickly, and for me he has been a huge assistance with identifying the right equipment and building out the layout to execute on our plans. He knew what works for the things he wants to do and that allows us to do things properly from the beginning rather than relying on sales people to tell us what they think we should do and then turn it over to a chef and say, ‘Here you go, work with this.’ Instead, Ned is part of those decisions and I think it’s going to pay off tremendously. Especially when you look at what’s going to happen at our mid-course amenity area.”


The new Hideout building at Sagebrush promises to be much more than a pit stop for golfers. The mid-round amenity lounge is scheduled to debut in July 2024. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

That spot is called the Hideout and its renovations will set the Sagebrush experience on a plateau above most other golf courses in the province. Located about 50 yards below the 13th-hole tee boxes, the reimagined space is now more of a relaxing lounge than a grab-and-go stop that is typical of a golf outing. It’s made for lingering. Fly-fishing poles are stationed on a ledge above a lake filled with trout from the same supplier that provides the fish for the clubhouse restaurant. Bell has helped design the Hideout’s new kitchen to have the equipment to turn out custom-made burgers and other popular fare. There will be a well-stocked bar, too, and patio seating. Although the Hideout has been a part of the Sagebrush vision from the beginning, it never had kitchen service or such quality of design.

trout sagebrush

Locally sourced trout is one of the highlights of the menu at Sagebrush Golf Course. It’s served with fingerling potatoes, turnips, and snow peas. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

No doubt golfers who have had a tough go of the first 12 holes will be tempted to cut off the round and replenish their spirits at the Hideout. And for all of those who want to continue to the finish, Hood says it’s no problem for them to drive a golf cart back to the Hideout for some 19th-hole satisfaction.

Such flexibility is an example of Sagebrush’s relaxed pace of play. The course doesn’t get crowded (tee-off times are spaced out at 15 minutes between groups) and there are plenty of opportunities to take in the scenery, including before the round begins. The Double-8 Ranch is a 16-hole, pitch-and-putt course that debuted in 2022, and the large chipping-and-putting practice zone behind the pro shop is dubbed “The Badlands” because of its sand bunkers. (Sagebrush doesn’t currently have a driving range.)


Among the highlights of Sagebrush are the exquisite views of Nicola Lake near the small town of Merritt. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

“For us, 110 to 120 rounds is a busy day,” Hood says of the usual amount of traffic at Sagebrush, which has previously ranked among the top courses in Canada and the most highly rated public course in B.C. “We want people to have space, or elbow room, out there. What we offer is more of a boutique-style experience for golf.”

For his part, Bell is enthused to be connected with the course for the obvious reason that he enjoys the game. He played his first Sagebrush round in June and, like most every other golfer, was impressed with the views and the challenging layout.

Co-designed by B.C.’s Rod Whitman and Canadian golf great Richard Zokol, the course debuted in 2009. It has similarities to Whitman’s most famous project, Cabot Links in Cape Breton. Although not a links course, Sagebrush has a number of holes that run alongside the lake and features undulating hills that can help line drives scoot forward for dozens of yards after they hit the ground. The greens are an optical illusion. You’ll be thrilled that you can reach so many of them within two or three shots but feel your heart sink when you realize the scale of Sagebrush’s scoring areas. The largest are on the seventh green (22,000 square feet) and the 16th (21,3000 square feet). So don’t feel bad when you three-putt these monsters.


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Like Cabot Cliffs there’s a view looking down at wide-open fairways set against a spectacular waterway. In Nova Scotia, those waters are the Northumberland Strait and Atlantic Ocean. At Sagebrush, the pastoral view in the town of Quilchena (population: 5,132) is dominated by Nicola Lake and the Monashee mountains.

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Your best spot to see it is on the open, inviting patio of the Ranch House Restaurant, where Bell and Weirich are already making their mark. The menu at the moment is spare but superb. The highlight for me was the pan-seared rainbow trout, caught locally from a mountain lake and prepared with a tasty lime-miso emulsion. Golfers will appreciate the protein and energy in the carb-heavy First Tee Breakfast Sandwich, with bacon and paprika aioli, and served on a giant buttery housemade cheddar scone.

With the restaurant program taking shape, Hood says Sagebrush is looking toward expanding its accommodations. It currently has eight suites containing a total of 16 bedrooms, with the ability to host a maximum of 32 guests. The rooms are large but in need of updating. A 48-room hotel is among the growth plans, which will combine with the dining packages to transform Sagebrush into a stunningly attractive destination in the western part of the Thompson-Okanagan region.


A group of 20 golfers travelling together at Sagebrush practice on the course’s Badlands chip-and-putt area. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

It’s a remarkable turnaround for a property that has contended with soap opera-esque ownership drama and had to manoeuvre through dire financial straits. Now, it has hit a sweet spot. Golf is increasing in popularity, driven in part by the pandemic. Many people took up the sport or returned to it when it was one of the few outdoor activities that doctors and legislators agreed was low risk for spreading COVID-19. And thousands of remote or hybrid workers are playing the game during the day and getting their employment tasks done at night, according to a Forbes report. Plus, the popular golf trail in the Interior of B.C. that includes Sagebrush and Predator Ridge will become even more notable in 2025, when Cabot opens a course and property in Revelstoke, the brand’s first Canadian project outside of Nova Scotia.

“I think that’s going to help us,” Hood says of the entry of internationally recognized Cabot into the area. “It will be a high-end property that will bring in guests that will travel a bit farther to get here. That means they’re going to visit other courses, including ours.”


marmot closeup

Marmots are the adorable residents of Sagebrush Golf Club. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Location: 6280 Merrit-Kamloops, BC Highway 5A, Quilchena, British Columbia (see map below)
Room Rates: $200 per night. Greens Fees: Fees start at $190 for public players; guests of the lodge can play for $170. For full rates and booking fees, visit the Sagebrush website.

Note: Vacay.ca Managing Editor was hosted by Sagebrush Golf Club. Neither the property or anyone affiliated with it reviewed the article before publication.

Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016.