EDMONTON, Alberta - While the season is shorter for golf courses operating north of the border, duffers who make the trip into Canada's west to enjoy Indian-owned links will be rewarded for their effort. A strong U.S. greenback versus the Canadian dollar makes the sport very affordable for the casual player as well as the scratch handicapper and the northernmost locations allow for play well past 10 p.m. at the height of summer.
This course, a half-hour west of Edmonton, welcomes its guests to experience the challenge.
Measuring more than 6,800 yards from the championship tees, Ironhead requires its oncomers to use every club in the bag as the course staged Alberta's amateur tournament two years ago. With 74 traps strategically placed and many of the holes designed through the trees surrounding Lake Wabamun, accuracy is mandatory to keep the ball in play.
Besides the course, it's the green fees which are the selling point of Ironhead, according to general manager John Belcourt. Since the course opened in 1987, the mandate has been to provide an affordable alternative to the rising costs of the sport.
"You have to give people the chance to be golfers and give them recreation opportunities and the only way is with decent rates," Belcourt said.
An 18-hole round on weekdays is $25 Cdn., which is about $18 U.S., while on the weekends and statutory holidays the price only jumps an additional $5. The course's weekday special is two rounds with a power cart for $60.
"This is the only course in Canada with Volkswagen prices to play a Cadillac," the general manager said boastfully adding similar courses in the States have a three-digit green fee.
Combining the bargain prices with the course's layout, Ironhead saw 26,000 rounds played during its six-month season last year. The course is rarely congested though because of the long summer hours permitting 16 hours of sunlight.
Even from the shorter tee blocks (6,400 from the blues, 5,900 men's and 5,400 for the ladies), there are few easy holes. While on the scorecard the four par-3s are ranked as the easiest holes, that's deceiving as numbers four and six require a long iron or wood to reach the green.
No rest for the weary either as Ironhead closes out with two spectacular holes. The par-three 17th presents an elevated green protected by water and traps that can turn an errant tee shot into a probable double bogey. Coming back to the clubhouse, the 18th meanders around a lake where water and waterfowl will welcome a stray drive or approach shot, forcing golfers into a narrow fairway.
As the word gets out through the golfing world, Ironhead is reaping the benefits of continued outstanding performance from its amenities to the service. Revenues exceeded $1.3 million in 2002, triple what the figures were as few as six years ago.
"Chief and Council hold this place sacred and are very proud and positive about how this place is run," Belcourt said about how revered the course is viewed by the Paul First Nation.
Ironhead will play host to the fourth annual First Nations Cup Aug. 8 - 10. This Ryder-Cup format requires teams to possess eight players and a spare as the tournament, with already 20 teams confirmed, uses different scoring systems in addition to the traditional stroke play. For more information, call Merv Kootenay at (780) 487-1776 or visit the Ironhead Golf Course Web site at www.ironheadgolfcourse.com.
As the name implies, water is a factor on this layout. On 10 of its holes, wayward balls can find a wet grave at Indian Lakes.
These links don't give its golfers the chance to ease into their round as the first five holes are cut through a forest of poplars where the fairways have been narrowly cut. Right out of the chute, the first is a 406-yard dogleg (back tees, total length exceeding 6,500 yards) where sand traps eagerly await a misplaced drive or a short approach.
After that test, is the second hole which is the signature of Indian Lakes. Measuring 507 yards, this par-5 has just three hazards as a quaint pond, along with a small trap, protect the hole. But a thin wedge for a driving area, made smaller with a huge bunker on the left, with trees surrounding both sides of the fairway plus a narrow green that makes the water loom large, a par here requires deft shot making.
At $28 Cdn., the location of Indian Lakes just outside of Edmonton's city limits makes it a tremendous bargain when compared to usual urban rates for public courses. Golfers with their band cards receive further discounts.
2003 is the first year that the Enoch Cree Nation is operating Indian Lakes in its entirety since the course opened 15 years ago. Now co-manager, Harvey (Bingo) Morin has been around since day one and says one of the reasons the course was created was to provide employment for the reservation.
"It's been job creation for band members and employs 35 people seasonally," Morin said, pointing out all of the workers are Native.
The band also welcomes the growth of the sport among its members based upon seasonal packages. Full playing privileges cost $650 (regular is $1,000) while those under 18 can play for just $150 all summer.
"This is trying to encourage the younger generations to play and the rates are so low, where else is going to let you play for $150," said Morin. For more information, call (780) 470-GOLF (470-4653).
Celebrating its silver anniversary for the full 18 holes, Redwood Meadows was the first of the Indian-owned courses in western Canada and its longevity in business has now made it a staple for golf in southern Alberta.
A 7,000-yard course from the championship tees, the front nine is designed through a sub-division while the back nine meanders through a forested area. The signature hole is number 14, a 524-yard dogleg left with water off the tees, water along both sides of the fairway and water in front of the green. Don't be afraid of using your more experienced balls for this par-5!
Redwood Meadows opened in 1976 and added the second nine two years later. The success of the course allowed for further expansion of Buffalo Run, an adjacent executive course in 1988. There are other plans to add a second 18 within several years.
A suburb of Calgary, the course's infancy had its challenges before the city's population exploded. Assistant manager Paddy Big Plume noted in the early years Redwood Meadows was hard to be seen on the golfing map.
"Financially it was tough to keep it going because we were so far out of Calgary," she said about the courses' location on the Tsuu T'ina reservation. "But nowadays, Calgary has grown towards Redwood Meadows."
Prices range from $75 down to $45 for twilight fees. For more information, call (403) 949-3663 or check out their Web site at www.redwoodmeadows.com.
Delta St. Eugene Mission
Now entering its third season, the Delta St. Eugene Mission received its accolades early.
Rated the third-best newest golf course in Canada in 2001, these 18 holes are backdropped by the Rocky Mountain and the Purcell Mountain ranges in southeast British Columbia. More than 7,000 yards from the back tees, the course divides itself into three different environments, changing from an open links into a series of tree-lined doglegs before ending along the banks of the St. Mary's River.
The course was the first of three components built in what is now a 4 1/2-star resort operated by the Ktunaxa Kinbasket Tribal Council. Adjoining the golf course is the 19,000 square-foot Casino of the Rockies and the 125-room hotel, which opened earlier this year, from what was the area's previous residential school.
Prices range from $95 with cart during the high season and downwards including twilight and shoulder-season fees. Preferred rates are also offered with hotel packages. For more information, call (877) 417-3133 or visit www.golfsteugene.com.