Golf the Crow
I’m standing high on a wind-blasted knoll – one of many picturesque tee boxes at the Paradise Canyon Golf Resort in Lethbridge – and the scorecard says it’s a mere 148 yards to the sand surrounded green. But I’ve heard the legendary stories: when the Chinook winds howl out of the western skies a driver may not be enough here. However, I’ve got it pretty good today. It’s blowing a mere 50 km/hr straight into my face, a measly four-club wind. I can handle this. Child’s play. I reach for my five-iron, lunge at it, and hoist one straight up into the air.
Bad moves (one of my trademarks) aside, I’m tickled pink to be starting my Crowsnest Highway golf junket that will take me to twelve different 18-hole pit stops along the way. This 1,163 km through the mountains highway (also known as Highway 3) is peppered with fantastic golf courses. Wind or no wind, I’m determined to find my magic move and lay a licken’ on these lovely layouts.
Truth be told, though, it’s spring and my swing feels a little creaky. With generous fairways and huge, beautifully contoured greens, the secluded oasis of Paradise Canyon seems like a great place to get rid of the rust. I’ve always felt that Paradise Canyon – with its picturesque setting in the Old Man River Valley – is a bit of an unsung hero when it comes to Alberta’s variety-filled golf scene. The lush riverside holes, the badlands on the back nine, and the beautiful rhythm of the route; it always makes for a
memorable round of golf. As good as it was to be back at Paradise, my opening result (lost balls, smother hooks, four-putts, etc.) was definitely a tarnished piece of work.
Heading west, into the snow-capped Rockies, my swing starts to show some signs of life. This is good, because the outstanding courses in Blairmore, Fernie, and Kimberley, especially, require a “keep it on the straight and narrow” approach.
In Blairmore, at the Crowsnest Pass Golf & Country Club, my sights were still a little off, but, lo and behold, my short game saved the day. Thanks (mainly) to a couple of chip-ins, I had a much better score. No small feat considering the super-scenic back nine here, which was designed by Les Furber, is one of the toughest around.
Joining a couple of friends in Kimberley for a few spirited rounds was one of the highlights of my 12-day crusade. The Kimberley Golf Club, Bootleg Gap, Trickle Creek, and St. Eugene were all on the menu. And everyone of these courses, although decidedly different, is worth every penny.
Golf Club is a mature, character-filled layout that rambles through giant ponderosa pine. The friendly, unpretentious vibe here really works for me. Trickle Creek, even with its slow start, builds to one of the best mountain golf experiences in the west. Bootleg Gap is a contemporary Les Furber design with a beautiful, tucked in the trees setting. And, finally, the St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino course, a 7,007 yard campaign that cruises through a swath of the St. Mary River Valley, incorporates elements of both the mountain and links golf genres.
With a couple of additional courses now on the scene – Shadow Mountain and Wildstone, a Gary Player design that will open this summer – the Kimberley/Cranbrook area can make a legitimate claim as one of the top mountain golf destinations in North America.
After the whirlwind, two-day tour of Kimberley (we played 36 a day and I took the boys for, drum roll please, $4.75 each) it was once again time to hit the road and steer west. However, it didn’t take long to find another gem of a course. The Creston Golf Club is another one of those special Kootenay Rockies courses that deserves more attention. However, like so many courses in this spectacular golf region, its small-town charm is something you don’t want to lose. Interestingly, the 6,500-yard course has played host to a number of provincial championships and it always draws rave reviews from contestants. Accolades don’t come much better than that.
Unfortunately, in terms of my score, I did a little backsliding in Creston. However, I really started to find my mojo at the Kokanee Springs Resort, located just a little further up Highway 3A in Crawford Bay.
The gorgeous Norman Woods designed course at Kokanee Springs holds a special place in my heart. Golf writers need to be careful when using the word “masterpiece”; it’s just not applicable in many situations where it’s used. However, Norman Woods, who apprenticed under the great Stanley Thompson (the architect of many golden-age classics like Banff, Jasper, and Capilano) lived in a little cabin in the woods here during construction in the mid 1960s and put his heart and soul into its making. The pristine route, which effortlessly meanders along glacier-fed creeks and incorporates spectacular vistas throughout, speaks for itself. It really needs to played multiple times to be fully appreciated.
After my birdie binge (ok, I made two) at Kokanee Springs I crossed Kootenay Lake for another inspiring round of golf at the Balfour Golf Course. A lakeside course with a stellar finishing stretch, the Balfour Golf Course epitomizes what golf in the Kootenay Rockies is all about. The scenery is stunning. The golf holes are cut through a quiet, natural setting. Wild life sightings are common. And the laid-back atmosphere screams sit back, relax, and stay awhile. So I did.
One thing you eventually learn on a week-long golf junket is that rest and relaxation also need to be incorporated. And, on the Crowsnest Highway, there are many, many places to stop, soak in the views, tour through a roadside art gallery, jump into a lake, soothe your weary muscles in a natural hot springs, whatever.
After a much-needed soak at Ainsworth Hot Springs (a must-stop!) and a leisurely tour through Kaslo and historic Nelson, I had a renewed energy to take this one to the finish line. A few more miles down the road and I was at the gates of Castlegar Golf Club, which is yet another Kootenay Rockies gem. Even though I had a heck of time reading the greens, I thoroughly enjoyed Castlegar. The rolling terrain, majestic views, and awesome playing conditions are an absolute treat.
The Christina Lake Golf Club is also a diamond in the rough. It is, quite possibly, the sweetest little thing on the entire Crowsnest Highway. It meanders through a beautiful forest and every hole seems to be postcard-worthy. I especially enjoyed the black sand bunkers, even though I visited them way too often!
After a refreshing dip in the pristine waters of Christina Lake, I high-tailed it to the sun-drenched Okanagan region for the final leg of my journey.
Not only is the striking desert topography of Osoyoos perfect for vineyards (hint: stop at every winery you possibly can!), it’s also exceptional terrain for golf.
Similar to Kimberley/Cranbrook, Osoyoos is really a destination in its own right, especially if you love visiting unpretentious, tucked-away wineries. The must-play courses here include: Osoyoos Golf & Country Club (36 holes), Fairview Mountain Golf Club, and the Nk’Mip Canyon Desert Golf Course.
Unquestionably, my favourite of the three is Fairview Mountain, which is 20 minutes north of Osoyoos in Oliver. But, for whatever reason, every club in my bag was some what disobedient during my round there. To top it off, the twisting up-and-down fairways, exquisitely carved through spindly pines, rewarded me with awkward distances throughout the day. Throw in the extra-jerky swings and I came away with the second worst score on the trip!
Not surprisingly, after my golf-and-wine tour through Osoyoos, I was spent. I could have continued further west to play the courses in Princeton and Hope (the westernmost point on the highway), but it was time to head for home. My swing, which had gone full circle, was in dire need of recuperation. However, in spite of all the “bad moves” at Fairview Mountain, I most definitely came away with this: golfing the Crowsnest Pass is one of the best moves any adventure-loving golfer can make.