Finding Alberta’s Greatest Nine Hole Courses – Elk Island National Park

(round was played July 20th, 2019)

This review has me very conflicted. This was a course that I wanted to cross off my Golf Bucket List for 2019 and for quite some time in general. Certain aspects of the round lived fully up to my expectations, others didn’t, some even exceeded, but it also opened my eyes to the game of golf in general.

The Rundown:

Location: Elk Island National Park – 20 minutes East of Sherwood Park

Price: $35 (Plus GST)

Yardage: 3043 yards (one set of tees) Par 36 – 2 Par 3’s, 5 Par 4’s, 2 Par 5’s.

Something signature: The Clubhouse/ProShop gives off that outdoor living vibe as a pit stop for campers to stock up on whatever snacks they may need for their hike or like an information centre that maps out the trails that you are about to hike. I chatted with some tourists actually that were looking for a place to sit down walking some of the trails around Astotin Lake.

Does any of this make sense? Can’t say I’m much of an outdoorsman. I’m sure it shows…

Playing Tip: The fairways are as wide as the airport runways. Bombs away!

Do it for the Gram: With the surprisingly dramatic elevation you experience on the course there aren’t too many holes where a look back from behind the hole isn’t impressive. My favourite was hole 7 where there’s a rickety old tree that’s just off to the right side of the green. Things like that get me fired up!

elk 4 hole 7 tree
Now, just insert yourself draining a putt and the likes count will just cliiimb. You’re welcome!

Unique Characteristics:

  • This course is actually a Stanley Thompson design (that guy that also designed a certain golf course in Jasper) that is on full display throughout the nine hole adventure. The course was established in 1936 and has rolling fairways, elevation changes, and quite a few blind tee shots.
  • The fact that this course is in the National Park alone in unique, we didn’t run into any buffalo on the course (was really hoping that we would) but just on the drive in we had to share the road with a few of the monstrous mammals. Deer were seen bounding through the fairways and just outside the clubhouse, and we had this bird follow us for what seemed like the whole morning “laughing” at all of our attempts.

My one “Course Conditions” comment:

I figured this needed to be the first thing I talked about to explain the part of the round where some of my “expectations” were not met. The “fairways” were cut at the length of standard rough and the “greens” at the length of fairways.

I’ll be honest I was a little disappointed but I was up to date with their conditions and had a little bit of an idea what I was getting into. For most, and I understand, that might be enough to never give the course a chance and go visit. 

Things were put into perspective pretty quickly as this experience was going to be quite different from anything I’ve played in before. It’s tough as a golf fan because the course has so much potential oozing out of its insane. The layout alone is reason to go.

elk 3 hole 4 par 3
A look from the tee at the Par 3 4th.

Regardless, I still wanted to make the stop and see it for myself and I think the rest of this review might sell this place for a different reason.

The Magic of Elk Island

We actually had a #GolfLifeAB community member reach out after viewing our Facebook Story who used to play the golf course in the 80’s. Their comment was that the course was completely different back then and the course today needs a little TLC. They also mentioned how much fun they had and that’s where we need to focus on when talking about this course: It’s a place to just have fun and have fun with the whole family.

First off, I golfed in a five-some. The staff had no problem with us rolling out there a non traditional golf grouping. Most of the group was also very new to the game so from the get go the plan was to smack it around, hit a couple good ones (maybe) ,share some laughs,  and find a patio afterwards to keep the good times rolling while keeping our fingers crossed that the weather would hold out for us.

But as the morning went on and we would see other groups playing the other holes the one thing I noticed was how many families were playing. Junior golfers running down fairways chasing their ball, hitting it 10 yards and repeating the process over and over as mom and dad happily drove the cart behind them. This kind of thing warms my heart and I quickly realized this was the perfect place for families, junior golfers and first timers to get acquainted to the game of golf.

And what a place to learn the game.

elk 2 hole 3 par 5 elevated green
A look at the raised Par 5 3rd green. I can’t speak enough to the layout of this place.

It’s so peaceful. There isn’t an ounce of civilization around you in any direction, you’re surrounded by big tall trees, birds chirping, and at times it was hard to even tell that you were on a golf course. We even had an appearance from the sun after the 3rd hole to make our morning perhaps one of the most enjoyable I’ve had to date this summer.

Final thoughts:

There’s two complete different perspectives that this review could have solely relied on: From the golf hard-o point of view or the #GrowTheGame perspective. I was hoping to land somewhere in the middle.

Perhaps for a serious golfer looking to test their game this probably isn’t the place to go. But for families, players new to the game or an outdoor enthusiast trying to utilize the most of a visit to Elk Island this is DEFINITELY the place to go.

I don’t know what’s limiting the course from distinguished cuts of grass from fairway to rough and that’s probably out of my pay grade to understand. Or hey, maybe that’s just the vibe they’re going for. Either way, the layout alone is intoxicating and it just makes you wonder what could be. But the park offers more than just golf and I know it’s a place some of my photography friends like to visit to capture some great views at night, do some hiking, or even camp. I’ll just be sticking to the golf probably… this guy is a little too fragile.

elk-9-flowers.jpg
Astotin Lake is right around the corner from the course. I’ve seen some fancy pictures taken from this Lake.

I’ll definitely be back and maybe next time I can share the fairways with a friendly bison (emphasis on friendly). Fingers crossed he’s a golf fan and a fan of this review because I’m a fan of the place he calls home.

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