By: Andrew Penner
I’m standing on the 14th tee box – a par-3 that measures a whopping 270 yards – on the Links Course at the Wolf Creek Golf Resort near Ponoka, Alberta. A 30 km/hr wind is whipping out of the west and, to be honest, the only club that might give me enough firepower to get to the green is my driver. I select the weapon, steady myself over the ball, and make a passionate swipe. The ball gets up in the wind, floats there like a beach ball, and comes up fifty yards short! I can’t believe it. But this is links golf…in Alberta. And anything can happen.
When golf first began on the sandy, wind-blasted shores of Scotland, it was an adventurous, against-the-elements form of recreation. The bells and whistles of today’s high-end clubs and resorts were non-existent. It was you vs. nature. Indeed, the timeless Scottish saying “nae wind, nae rain, nae golf” succinctly sums it up. Interestingly, in Western Canada, a place far removed from the “authentic” Scottish game, there are a number of places where the timeless qualities of links golf can be experienced.
Wolf Creek, by many accounts, is the best example in Alberta of this brash and brawny version of the game. Designed by talented Alberta architect Rod Whitman – a true visionary of the “timeless” game and one of the best golf course architects working today – Wolf Creek speaks volumes about the compelling nature of the old world game. Firm and fast fairways bolt through wild, unkempt grasses, deep pot bunkers and massive sandy waste areas guard playing corridors, and there is a rustic, windswept feel throughout the property.
Interestingly, if you look at some of the most successful stories in golf during the past decade or so, it’s places similar to Wolf Creek – Bandon Dunes on the Oregon coast is perhaps the best example – that have created the most noise. These are places – Chambers’s Bay in Washington, Cabot Links in Nova Scotia, Sand Hills in Nebraska, and The Links of North Dakota near Williston are other examples – where the grassroots benefits of golf have not been sabotaged by developers married to typical residential and resort models. The game at these places is much more adventurous, aligned with the “out there” elements that gave golf life in the first place.
“I’ve always been a bit of a romantic when it comes to golf,” explains Wolf Creek designer, Rod Whitman. “To me there is nothing better than walking, carrying your clubs, and enjoying a challenging golf course that melds into the natural landscape. To me, the weather, the wind, that’s all part of it. At Wolf Creek, and certainly Cabot Links, that’s how the game is meant to be played.”
While Whitman’s Wolf Creek has been turning heads for over 25 years now, his Cabot Links project, which is Canada’s first true links, is already a superstar in the links genre. (Golf Digest recently placed the brand new Cabot Cliffs course in 19th position on their list of the Top 100 Courses in the World). Located hard on the sandy shores in Inverness, Nova Scotia, Cabot Links is one of the newest links frontiers in the world.
However, while Cabot Links offers a true links experience, there are a number of places in Western Canada, including Wolf Creek, where flavours from the ancient seaside game can be experienced. In Alberta, courses such as Speargrass (Carseland), the Links at Delacour (Calgary), Carnmoney (Calgary), and Desert Blume (Medicine Hat) all boast the distinct elements of links golf. And, certainly, depending on the strength of your imagination, there are others.
Interestingly, if you go further east into Saskatchewan – where the sweeping, grass-covered landscapes of the plains can have a striking resemblance to linksland – there are even better examples. Dakota Dunes (Saskatoon), Mainprize (Weyburn), and Saskatchewan Landing (on Lake Diefenbaker) immediately come to mind. And, personally, I’ve always felt that The Links of North Dakota (just over the U.S. border near Williston) is one of the best inland links in the world. It’s a spectacular golf experience with a host of exceptional golf holes routed through barren grassland on the edge of a lake.
In British Columbia, perhaps the most “links-like” experience would be Sagebrush, which is now open to the public. Due to its remote and secluded location high on a windy, rocky, fescue-covered hillside, it also captures the “out there” aspects of the links genre. Sagebrush is now being managed by Troon Golf, and marks their first foray into Canada. Tobiano (Kamloops), The Dunes (Kamloops), and Tower Ranch (Kelowna) are also notable for their inland links characteristics.
So, unquestionably, if the links golf genre melts your butter, you don’t need to take a lengthy trek over the pond to experience its virtues. It may not be the real deal, but the inland links in Western Canada definitely serve up something special.
Andrew Penner is a freelance writer and golf course photographer based in Calgary. You can follow him at www.facebook.com/andrewpennerphotography