Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hard drive

Brash and brawny golfing in Alberta

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I'm standing on the 14th tee -- a par-3 that measures a whopping 270 yards -- on the new Links Course at Wolf Creek. A 30-kilometre-per-hour wind is whipping out of the west and the only club that (maybe) gives 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 at it. I make solid contact, but the ball gets up in the wind and comes up 50 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 the golfer versus nature -- and perhaps a few sheep.

Indeed, the timeless Scottish saying "nae wind, nae rain, nae golf" sums it up rather succinctly. Interestingly, in Alberta, 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, near the town of Ponoka, is, by many accounts, 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 today -- Wolf Creek speaks volumes to the compelling nature of the Old World game.

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 Bay in Washington, Sand Hills in Nebraska and Sutton Bay in South Dakota are other examples -- where the golf has not been married to standard North American residential and resort models. The game at these places is much more natural and adventurous.

"I've always been grassroots when it comes to golf," explains 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 more than 25 years, his Cabot Links project, Canada's first true links, is also destined for stardom. Located hard on the sandy Atlantic shores in Inverness, N.S., Cabot Links opens to a full 18 holes this year.

However, while Cabot Links will offer a hardcore links experience, there are a number of other places closer to home, besides Wolf Creek, where flavours from the ancient seaside game can be experienced. Courses such as Speargrass, the Links at Delacour, and Desert Blume (Medicine Hat, Alta.) all boast elements of links golf. And, certainly, depending on the strength of your imagination, there are many others.

Interestingly, in eastern Saskatchewan, where the sweeping, grass-covered landscapes of the plains often bear a striking resemblance to links land, there are even better examples. Dakota Dunes (Saskatoon), Mainprize (Weyburn), and Sask Landing (on Lake Diefenbaker) come to mind.

And, personally, I've always felt the Links of North Dakota (just over the border near Wiliston) is one of the best inland links in the world. It's a spectacular golf experience. No doubt, if you're a purist, you've probably got your own Prairie favourite that whisks you away to the romantic dunescapes across the pond.

But my favourite is the one and only Wolf Creek. The shaping on both courses (the new back nine on the Links Course will knock your socks off) is absolutely stunning. Throw in the sod-walled pot bunkers, the huge sand blowouts, the golden fescue waving in the wind -- and the fact that, on certain days, par-3 holes may require everything you've got with a driver -- and we can safely say the heart and soul of the game is palpable here.

And, get in on a "good" day when the wind is howling and the rain is coming down sideways, and you've got a links golf experience for the ages.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 23, 2012 D6

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