Ponoka, Alberta - There are precious few golf resorts that defy the grip of time and place. From the wind swept dunes of Ballybunion to the rocky shores of Pebble Beach, "timeless" golf is much sought after by the true connoisseurs of the game. Within the grassy ravines and broad prairie landscapes of central Alberta, such a place can be found - a unique transplant of Scottish tradition in a place you'd never think. The Wolf Creek Golf Resort is a special place for golfers - a "timeless" course with a special atmosphere all its own.
When architect Rod Whitman first walked these hills near Red Deer, Alberta, a vision appeared. This would be a "different" kind of golf resort - one that transcends the typical North American golf experience. Drawing from the rich, rustic traditions from where the game began, Whitman began to create a charming flow of holes - fortunately he didn't stop at 18. The Wolf Creek golf resort features 27 championship holes, each with a timeless elegance that pleases each and every golfing traditionalist who walks the fairways and experiences "The Wolf."
With fairways flowing over contours (the natural hills and dunes were left virtually intact), and greens well-guarded by grassy mounds and pot bunkers, the Scottish feel at Wolf Creek is unmistakable. Huge sandy areas hug fairways, smaller traps are carved neatly into slopes. In addition, "The wind is always a factor here," says Head Professional Bill Carrington. "Part of what makes 'the Wolf' a great golf experience is the authenticity of the course," he says. "We have an exceptional 'links' golf experience in the heart of Alberta."
Located in between the cities of Calgary and Edmonton, just north of Red Deer, Wolf Creek draws most of its visitors from Alberta's 3 million people. In fact, "The Wolf" is on the forefront when Alberta's top venues are discussed. With company such as Banff Springs, Jasper Park Lodge, and Kannanaskis, the lofty ranking of Wolf Creek in the Province of Alberta is a powerful statement indicating just how good this golf course is.
The Wolf's three nines weave in and about sandy dunes and tree-lined ravines. There are few level lies and, like any links course, the iron play must be precise. In addition, there is trouble for being wild off the tee. It can be a punishing test for the high-handicapper.
Of course, for someone who can manage their ball and putt the daylights out of it, it's quite scoreable. The Wolf hosted the Alberta Open (Canadian Tour) from 1995-1999, and some of the boys took it low. "We did not have a lot of wind in 1999, and the scores reflected that," says Carrington. Wolf Creek isn't exceedingly long from the back tees, 6500 yards to be exact (West/East). Throw in a driveable par 4, a couple of reachable par 5's, today's technology and great weather, and you're going to see some scoring from players who know how to move the ball.
Wolf Creek allows creativity around the greens - actually it demands it. The greens are downright entertaining at the Wolf. Huge swales, humps, and hollows are present on the putting surfaces. If you get on the wrong side of the hole you're in trouble. It can be an intimidating and humbling experience on days when the flat stick isn't cooperating.
The East nine at Wolf Creek starts with a challenging par-3. It's an uphill 170-yard tee shot to a severe two tiered green - if you're on the right shelf it's birdie time, miss the tier where the flag is and you're staring bogey in the face.
The second is a great gambling par-5 that can bring glory to those bold enough to attempt a carry over a marsh to a small, elevated green. Of course, it can also bring early heartache to those that misfire!
The third, an extremely difficult par-4 requires perfection off the tee. A gnarly grassy ravine must be carried off the tee to a small landing area that slopes from right to left. A slight draw is ideal. Once in position, a mid iron must be laser straight to avoid trees right and a ravine left. It's a challenge sufficient for even the best in the world.
After blasting through a chute of trees on the short par-4 fourth, Wolf Creek once again opens up to the "Scottish" links land. Fairways are lined with grassy knolls, defined by native fescues that have grown here for centuries. The wind envelops you, biting through your senses, teasing the treetops, bending flagpoles to horizontal some days.
The soil is sandy and dry; the work of the wind is everywhere. With dry soil eager to move with the gusts, the long grass on the slopes framing the holes isn't thick. Finding your ball off the fairway can be tough, but not impossible. Playing shots from the long stuff isn't entirely unrealistic, of course having Popeye forearms and audacious strength doesn't hurt.
The West nine features holes that drop over coulees, skirt dunes, and ramble through poplars and pines. Catch the West nine (or any nine, for that matter) in the evening light and the shadows thrown from the rolling landscape will convey the beauty of the area and the brilliance of this design. Rod Whitman will be heard from again on the world stage, guaranteed. He is no doubt one of the lesser-known architects in Canadian golf course design. However, as underrated as he might be, he struck the right note when forming Wolf Creek.
The South nine, and newest nine at Wolf Creek, is also a gratifying experience. It's longer, and more open to the elements. Spirited par-4's stretch into the prevailing winds, crafty par-3's sit in quiet spots, undaunted by your fearless game.
A quintessential par-5 over 620 yards from the back tee will test your courage to close out this side. Needless to say (add its tree-lined fairway and the numerous sand traps that chew into landing areas), it rarely succumbs to a sub-par score.
"The Wolf" offers a golf experience that few places can claim. It's bold, natural and timeless. From the placid shadows in the diminishing light to the effulgent colors of the prairie landscapes, the Wolf radiates a charm all to it's own. It shouldn't be missed when Alberta is your destination.
Wolf Creek Golf Resort
R.R. #3, Box 5, Site 10
Tee Times: 1(403) 783-6050
$56 (includes range)
$70 (includes range and cart)
Yardages/Ratings (East/West Course)
Black Tee: 6516 yards, par 71, 138 slope, 72.3 rating
Silver Tee: 5950 yards, par 71, 131 slope, 68.9 rating
Blue Tee: 5691 yards, par 71, 127 slope, 68.4 rating
White Tee: 4880 yards, par 71, 130 slope, 70.0 rating
Although not fancy, the Wolf Creek Inn is the closest hotel to the golf course (five minutes). They sell golf packages for guests. The hotel offers basic accommodation in a country atmosphere. Prices are extremely reasonable. Call 1(403) 783-6050 to reserve. There is also camping nearby. The city of Red Deer, located 20 minutes south of Wolf Creek, has numerous full service hotels.
Your best bet is the restaurant at the golf course. The restaurant/clubhouse is a rustic log building with a great atmosphere. The food is excellent. Red Deer has a great assortment of restaurants as well. Try Earls or Moxies.
There are a number of other courses in the area that are also worth your while. Try Alberta Springs, Ponoka, Drumheller, Innisfail, Olds, Carstairs or Sundre. Innisfail, located on Highway #2 just south of Red Deer is the strongest in this group. Drumheller has an interesting new back nine that winds through badlands, coulees, and desert type terrain.
Central Alberta, most specifically Drumheller (about 1 ½ hours southeast of Red Deer), is famous for its badlands and dinosaur fossils. The Royal Tyrell museum just outside of Drumheller is an outstanding museum full of dino bones, exhibits, walking trails, etc. This museum houses some of the most incredible dinosaur finds in the world. It's a day well spent.
Andrew Penner is a longtime member of the Canadian PGA. Author of "One Flew Over the Caddyshack," he also writes for a number of magazines throughout Canada and the U.S.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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