I will admit that Saskatchewan was not at the top of my list for golf destinations in Canada. But a business trip with a chance to carve out 24 hours for golf is an opportunity I will take any chance I can get. This was a truly unique and quality golf experience. The itinerary was flawless, the weather not so much. But the golf and the people more than made up for the weather challenges.
I have developed a bucket list of public play golf courses in Canada and two courses on this list from Saskatchewan are almost 3 hours apart. Arriving mid-morning at Saskatoon, the airport is very convenient and easy to navigate. From touching down, I had my baggage and rental car sorted out within 30 minutes. Just like that I was on the road to the Stanley Thompson design in Prince Albert National Park, Waskesiu Golf Course. A more detailed review of both Saskatchewan golf courses played on this junket will be featured soon. The drive from the airport was a relaxing 2.5 hours before entering the National Park, complete with a brown bear sighting on the side of the road north of Prince Albert. After checking in and getting my clubs unpacked, I was able to tee off as a single just before 2:00 pm. This is a venerable old course, an iconic Thompson design. The staff all had a deep sense of pride for this course and the marshals stopped regularly to check in on me and ask about my experience. My constant raving about the course – I loved the layout – must have struck a chord, after the round the pro shop attendant offered me a complimentary copy of a book of the history of the course. As a growing fan of Stanley Thompson’s course designs (I had written I could play his jewel, Highlands Links every day) this will be a cherished possession for years to come. My drive back allowed me to warm up from a chilly but enjoyable day on the course (teeing off in June in 5c is something I am not used to). I felt privileged to play this majestic old course, even with a new Lobstick tree!
The next morning was a quick turnaround, with an alarm going off at 4:45 am, just as the sun was rising. My drive south to Dakota Dunes was peaceful and serene and provided a completely different topography from the drive north from Saskatoon and the Lakes country. Gently rolling dunes gave me the sense that this would be a completely different experience than the park style course the day before. Again, showing up as a single, I was relieved when another player asked if we could play together. The relief turned to joy and bewilderment when my playing partner introduced himself to me as a Head Superintendent of the course, Tyler McComas. Our round felt more like a 3 hour conversation (yes, we walked 18 holes in 3h 15). Tyler was able to share many stories and local knowledge about the course. I also learned much about the role of a course superintendent, which following the winter back in Ontario where courses were dealing with issues of winter kill on greens and fairways, was a topic of conversation for us. Dakota Dunes had its own challenges in areas on the fairway, with limited snow cover the winter before. Talking over breakfast, Tyler shared the excitement and challenges of preparing the course to host the annual PGA Tour Canada event which is featured in Whitecap, SK. The pride in his voice about being able to showcase this course on such a stage reminded me of the previous afternoon. His gift of a Dakota Dunes flag, I was not aware he was the person I had written too, seeking to purchase one on my visit, will be a reminder of his hospitality, friendship and generosity along with a truly quality golf experience. Dakota Dunes is worthy of its high rankings in quality and value in golf in Canada.
Playing so quick, I returned my car back to the rental office only 24 hours from when I rented it. The whirlwind of experiencing two completely different courses where the quality was only matched by a deep sense of pride and a modest confidence by staff and players alike was something I will never forget and hope I can return to experience again.
Over the course of one day I was able to cross off two courses on my bucket list. And that is nice, but what I experienced was two of Canada’s finest courses for completely different reasons. I met great people with a common and unique bond of deep pride and respect for their local course, the game and genuine hospitality for others who share similar values. It is a 24 hour stretch that reinforced and energized my passion for the game and my quest to fulfil my bucket list of great public play golf in Canada. Don’t be fooled, there is quality golf in Saskatchewan. Quality people too. The license plates don’t lie, Pride. Lives. Here.