From southern badlands to northern forests, Alberta is home to hundreds of places to play. While there are many hyped hacker hot spots, more discerning golfers have come to realize that digging a little deeper can uncover the real gold. In other words, take the road less travelled and you may reap a big reward—and often at half the price! Here’s a handful of lesser-known Alberta golf courses to get you started on a provincial golf journey.
Rocky Mountain House
Thanks to its secluded location on a 160-hectare parcel of forested land, this course has an authentic, untamed aura. Few others in the province can match Pine Hills for its beauty and peaceful ambience. Not surprisingly, wildlife abounds. If there was ever a course worthy of packing a camera—and maybe some bear spray—this is it.
“When I think of hidden-gem courses, Pine Hills immediately comes to mind,” says AMA member Tiffany Gordon, a 27-year CPGA pro and national director of the Alberta PGA. “The minute you drive through the gate you know you’re somewhere special. The course is tough, undulating but fair. And the elevated tees, the vistas, they’re awesome. It’s a spectacular day of golf.”
Pine Hills’ au naturel ambience is a huge selling point, but the quality of play and the experiential finishing touches knock it out of the park. Give yourself time for dinner at Restaurant 19. Order the pulled pork poutine followed by a barbecue bacon cheddar burger—and bring the leftovers home.
When a “play day” opens up on the calendar, most Calgarians think about heading west to much-lauded mountain courses. But if you travel in the opposite direction—where rolling wheat fields give way to the heaving banks of the Bow River—you’ll find the spectacular Speargrass Golf Course.
Designed by Canmore-based architect Gary Browning, Speargrass is a prairie links of the finest order. Though peppered with pot bunkers and lined with knee-high fescue, the gently rolling fairways offer plenty of room to play. The hole configuration adds to the enjoyment, with an equitable arrangement of par-3s, 4s and 5s. Many of the latter are quite reachable, even for medium-length players.
“The greens are some of the best playing surfaces in the province,” Gordon says. “Course conditions are always off the charts at Speargrass. And the sweet finishing run along the Bow River is hard to beat.”
DID YOU KNOW? Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, four-time PGA winner Stephen Ames later settled in Calgary. The golfer’s most memorable victory came in 2006, when he won The Players Championship by an incredible six shots.
Deserts, canyons, coulees, creeks and cliffs: They’re all in play at this course on the outskirts of Medicine Hat. Designed by course architect Harold Pasechnik, it has a beauty and a depth of character that exceeds expectations. There’s truth in advertising when Desert Blume calls itself “a world-class golf course with pristine conditions.” It’s a potent and accurate description.
“It’s one of the best golf courses in Southern Alberta,” says Bob Paley, PGA of Canada head professional at Kananaskis Country Golf Course. “The dramatic elevation changes and the ever-present creek that meanders through the property will keep you engaged throughout. And the turf conditions are always fantastic.”
A past host of both national and provincial championships, Desert Blume isn’t exactly a “hidden” gem. But there are still thousands of Alberta golfers who’ve never laid eyes on it. They should.
A rough and ragged abandoned mining site may not seem ideal for a golf course. In spite of its open pits, deep scars and rusted ruins, Alberta architect Sid Puddicombe made it work. About 90 kilometres southeast of Edmonton, Coal Creek Golf Resort also features a tidy RV park. Bring the trailer and stay awhile. The course is so good you’ll want to play multiple times!
The setting is definitely memorable, with black coal-slag bunkers lined by brilliant gold-tinged fescue, plus exceptional greens that ramble and roll with the adjacent wheat fields. Particular standouts are the 13th and 14th holes—a one-two punch of a beautiful downhill par-3 and a great, gambling par-4.
More than 27,000 rounds were played at Coal Creek last year, so it’s not exactly unknown. But as a newish course (it opened in 2012), it’s still catching on with the broader golf community. “We’re starting to see more and more people from farther-flung places like Red Deer and Calgary,” general manager Jason Rasmuson says. “We’re definitely accruing a loyal following.”
DID YOU KNOW? Born in Cereal, Alta., Marlene Stewart-Streit is the most successful amateur golfer in Canadian history. Throughout the 1950s, her long, sweeping backswing garnered Canadian, British, American and Australian amateur titles—to date, she’s the only woman in golf to do so.
At over 7,300 yards from the back tees, with a knee-knocking 142 slope and 75.3 rating, the championship course at Black Bull is one of the province’s toughest. Make no mistake, very few can “tame the bull!” But even if you can’t keep your game together for the full 18 holes, the golf experience is one of the finest in central Alberta.
“It’s my favourite hidden gem in the province,” says AMA member Wes Heffernan, a two-time U.S. Open participant and a six-time winner of the Alberta Open championship. “Nearly every hole plays through the forest and it can get tight in spots. There are a lot of challenging tee shots and difficult greens. It’s just an outstanding test of golf.”
About halfway between Red Deer and Edmonton, Black Bull is also home to a sweet little executive nine-hole course (perfect for families, cottagers, or those who aren’t quite equipped to fight a “bull”), as well as a seasonal and short-stay RV Park.
TO A TEE
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