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Warming up to early golf season

Posted on April 1, 2016

It’s that time of year when thousands of people in the Great “Brown” North exchange their pucks for Pinnacles. Their snow shovels for seven irons. This year, especially, thanks to the winter that never really was, the golfers are flying high. The engines are revving. The horses are out of the barn. Interestingly, in Alberta some courses have already been open for weeks. For many, it was the earliest opening in history.

“Call it global warming, El Nino, the Pineapple Express, or just a favourable weather pattern,” says Phil Berube, the new Executive Director of the Alberta Golf Association, “but we are thrilled with the early start to the season. Typically, any golf played in Alberta in March is a bonus.”

While the courses to the west at higher elevations are not yet open, they too, are looking forward to an earlier than usual start. At Priddis Greens, for example, one of Calgary’s finest private clubs, the range is open and the course, which often doesn’t open until May, is looking at a mid-April start. Naturally, given the magnitude of the tournament they’ll be hosting this summer, a head start to the season is just what the doctor ordered.

“Obviously, we are thrilled to be hosting the CP Women’s Open in August,” says General Manager, Chad Thomlinson. “The early start allows us to make preparations to the course and get some additional projects done before the big event in August. The best female golfers in the world will be here and we want to have the course perfect. The last time that tournament was here the players voted it their favourite course of the year. We’d love a repeat of that.”

Further to the west, both the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and the Fairmont Banff Springs are also shooting for early starts to the season. “We’ve had a great winter and the weather seems to be cooperating,” says Gregg Lown, Director of Golf at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. “There is a strong chance we could open even earlier, but I expect it will be no later than Saturday, May 7th.” Banff’s Tunnel Nine is scheduled to open on May 6 with the historic Stanley Thompson course scheduled for May 13.

It’s no secret with local golfers that the super-scenic courses in the Alberta Rockies are first-rate. And this year, more than ever, Canadian golfers, thanks to the dip in the dollar, are going to be staying closer to home to play along with visitors from the south who will be taking advantage of the exchange rate.

If a golf trip out of the province is on your radar, there are many golf hot spots in the country that are worth travelling to. From Vancouver Island to Newfoundland – and many points in between – the Canadian golf scene is alive and well. And the early start to the season certainly isn’t hurting them either. Here are a few Canadian golf destinations that come highly recommended.

Vancouver Island: While the best courses on the Vancouver Island Golf Trail – the two Nicklaus-designed courses at Bear Mountain in Victoria and Storey Creek in Campbell River come to mind – are worth the journey alone, it’s the “extras” that make a trip here truly great. The historic harbour city of Victoria, for example, is awesome to explore. Whale watching tours, tucked-away wineries in the Cowichan Valley, a cool collection of craft breweries, beach combing, and a laid-back vibe that can only come from an island are just some of the reasons why Vancouver Island never disappoints. http://www.golfvancouverisland.ca

Thompson Okanagan: The interior of British Columbia is blessed with incredible scenery. Snow-capped mountains, sparkling lakes, and beautiful, vineyard-checkered valleys make for memorable scenes. While non-golf activities – such as beaching, wine touring, biking, hiking, and agri-tourism – are all popular, the golfing in the Thompson Okanagan, especially in spring when traffic hasn’t peaked, is exceptional. The region’s top courses include Tobiano (Kamloops), Predator Ridge (Vernon), Tower Ranch (Kelowna), Fairview Mountain (Oliver), and Talking Rock (Chase). But there are at least a dozen courses worth playing and countless rural roads to explore. http://www.golfkelowna.com

Muskoka: A couple of hours north of Toronto is the beautiful lake-and-cottage country of Muskoka… and one of Canada’s top golf destinations. The region, while somewhat pricey, is home to some of Canada’s top golf resorts and member clubs. In no particular order, some of the must-plays include Taboo, Deerhurst Highlands, Muskoka Bay Club, Rocky Crest, and Grandview. The beautifully maintained courses in this region tumble and roll through rock outcroppings and beautiful mixed forests that burn with exquisite colour in the fall. Canoeing, camping, and hiking in Algonquin Provincial Park always makes for a memorable add-on when visiting this region. http://www.golfmuskoka.com

PEI: Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, is a pastoral, slow-paced place that often doesn’t get its due. However, for golf aficionados who relish peaceful courses in beautiful rural areas, it doesn’t get much better. Crowbush Cove and Dundarave are the stars of the show on the island but other courses such as Mill River, Brudenell River, Glasgow Hills, and Andersons Creek are not far behind. Top your trip off with a local lobster feast, a tour through historic Charlottetown, and a visit to Cavendish, the place that inspired Anne of Green Gables. http://www.golfpei.ca

Cape Breton: If the seaside golf genre melts your butter, the Nova Scotia island of Cape Breton is your ticket. The one-two punch of Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs exceed on every level. Cabot Cliffs – a Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design that parades along a dramatic stretch of wave-smashed coastline – has, rightfully, grabbed the attention of the entire golf world. It’s as good as seaside golf gets…period. But the historic Highlands Links, an 80-year-old Stanley Thompson course that is often touted as the best Golden Age-era course in Canada, is also exceptional. Linking Cabot Links and Highlands Links is the Cabot Trail, one of the most scenic highways in the world. http://www.golfcapebreton.com

Regardless of where you play this year – even if it’s just right here in Alberta! – you’re no doubt chomping at the bit. And, perhaps, you’ve already got the white ball rolling. This year, with any luck, all our birdie dreams in the Great “Green” North will be realized.

Story by: Andrew Penner