BRAGG CREEK, Alberta - Gently rolling, clothed with mixed forest and wildflowers, and sitting high above the southwest corner of Calgary, the quality of the land that's owned by the Tsuu T'ina Nation, one of Southern Alberta's most influential First Nations groups, is simply superior to anything else in the area.
Notsurprisingly, many feel that their golf course, which parades throughthe exceptionally blessed terrain, is head and shoulders above the restas well - including the PGA Tour, who recently decided to award theNation's Redwood Meadows Golf Club the AlbertaClassic of the Nationwide Tour. And, come August 22,contestants will realize first hand just how good this layout really is.
Calgary's southwest is not foreign to high-profile championship golf tournaments. In fact, Redwood Meadows is just one of a number of outstanding golf clubs on this end of town that has hosted major golfing events. The Glencoe Club, which features two Robert Trent Jones Jr. courses, played host to the 1998 AT&T Canada Senior Championship (Champions Tour). Priddis Greens, also a picturesque 36-hole facility in the area, hosted the 1999 du Maurier Classic, then a major on the LPGA Tour. Other courses to Calgary's southwest, such as Wintergreen, Elbow Springs, and Pinebrook, have been in the spotlight numerous times and are regarded as some of the Calgary area's most scenic courses.
However, Redwood Meadows has remained in the shadows, apparently shy to proclaim to the city, the province, the country, just how good a course lurks in these spindly trees on this far west corner of the Tsuu T'ina Nation. This year, however, with the announcement of the Alberta Classic switching venues from the compelling but ill-equipped Links of GlenEagles in Cochrane to Redwood, the bubble is on its way to bursting. In fact, the excitement, the build-up, has already begun.
Actually, the process of Redwood's rise, its path to soon-to-bestardom (as this writer predicts), began in earnest a couple of yearsago when the club spent nearly Cdn$3 million on tee and bunkerrestoration and a new irrigation system. But, as the club's headprofessional, Dean Walker, explains, it marked a difficult time for theclub. "During the summer of 2002 this place was gutted, ripped apart,"remembers Walker. "It turned into a dustbowl. The place was almostunrecognizable. Members left. Members weren't seen for months. Shareswere sold cheap. But that time is over. There's a buzz here now. Theplace looks spectacular and we can hardly wait for the Nationwide Tourto pay us a visit. It's going to be a special week and the course willshine."
The Alberta Classic competitors will play a slightly beefed up Redwood Meadows track that will tip the scales at approximately 7,200 yards (par 72). Four new tees will be added to the Bill Newis-designed layout, including a new tee on the existing first (nines will be reversed for the tournament), which will require a 270-yard blast to get a look at the green. "It'll be a tough start for players teeing off on 10," says Walker. "But the toughest change will be on the seventh where we've bolstered an already long and difficult par 4 into a 485-yard beast." The club has also added a long tee on the par-3 fourth, which will now play more than 230 yards. Players there will just try to make par and get out. Other holes that will be lengthened include the current par-5 14th, which sneaks along the Elbow River, and the par-4 18th.
In addition to the increased yardage, the most significant change to the course for the tournament will be the reversing of the nines. Redwood's existing 18th ends with a green tucked in a grove of mature pines. To accommodate the gallery, to save the trees, and to provide clear television viewing (The Golf Channel is covering all four days of the tournament), the decision was made to flip the nines for the tournament. Thus, weekend rounds will conclude on a dicey 392-yard par 4 that will afford brave hitters an opportunity to shorten the hole by rocketing a driver over a mess of trees and scrub. "It should provide for a fantastic finish," says Walker. "But, really, I think players will walk away from here impressed with the entire course. It's a course with exceptional flow and wonderful character."
A testament to the quality of the golf at Redwood is how memberships have grown, both in numbers and in worth. A few years ago shares at the club were a paltry Cdn$5,000, not even close to the average in Calgary's golf-thirsty environment. Now, with the recent improvements, shares have jumped to $15,000. As one long-time member put it, "I certainly have no other investments that have tripled in the past five years."
While much of the field will be newbies when it comes to Redwood Meadows, most of the players will have had a chance to test out their game on Canadian soil at the Samsung CPGA Championship, which is being held a month prior to the Alberta Classic at the Whistle Bear Golf Club in Cambridge, Ontario. Whistle Bear, a two-year old John Robinson layout, should also provide players with a stiff test. At nearly 7,400 yards from the back tees, Whistle Bear will be exceedingly difficult if the wind decides to blow. Unlike Redwood Meadows, however, Whistle Bear is relatively exposed and should favor long, powerful hitters that can cheat the wind. Redwood, on the other hand, will require a wider selection of shots, favouring players that can work the ball off the tee.
"Whistle Bear is a great championship venue," says Director of Golf Brad Matthews. "To host a tournament as prestigious as this one is a great honor. I'm sure the entire crew at Redwood Meadows feels the same. The Nationwide Tour is a fabulous tour. It's laced with talented players who have all the skills necessary to make the big show. They play an incredibly exciting brand of golf because they're gunning for that 'big break.'"
And, speaking of 'big breaks,' Redwood Meadows and Whistle Bear haveevery intention of taking advantage of theirs too.
January 7, 2005
Andrew Penner is a freelance writer and photographer based in Calgary, Alberta. His work has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout North America and Europe. You can see more of his work at www.andrewpenner.com.
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