Granite Hills – Manitoba’s Lakeside Golf Wonder
This is the first of three reviews co-authored with Jeremy Kehler from Prairie Golf Magazine. He is a passionate, unapologetic and unwavering advocate for prairie golf. Having experienced some of Manitoba’s finest public golf this spring, I can understand why.
MJ: Of the three courses I played in Manitoba during a quick two-day golf getaway with Prairie Golf Magazine’s Jeremy Kehler, I was most excited to experience Granite Hills. Arguably one of the nicest public courses in the province, this Les Furber design opened up in 2007. Part of an exclusive housing and cottage development, it is set on the shores of Lac Du Bonnet Lake, about 90 minutes north and east of Winnipeg. A championship course, with tees set over 7000 yards, this course will test your game and your focus, as stunning lakeside views, granite rock outcroppings and beautiful holes cut from forest combine to create a memorable golf experience.
There’s a degree of isolation; access isn’t fully paved and for cottage owners located throughout the lake there is dockside access to the course. But make no mistake; the drive from Winnipeg is an enjoyable one as you venture from the prairies to the western edge of the Canadian Shield. Making a day of it for us, having played Pinawa (located only 30 minutes south) makes 36 a day easy and manageable in the long summer days in Manitoba.
JK: It was great having Mike Johnny visit us all the way from the GTA. I was excited to show him several of our very underrated public access courses, with Granite Hills at the top of that list. Granite is a bit of a freak: tough layout, superb conditioning all nestled in the Canadian Shield. The journey to get there reminds you of how vast and diverse the Manitoba landscape is. The last thing you expect is a championship level course in a place like this and well, it’s there.
MJ: There is no easing into your round at Granite Hills. A demanding dogleg par 4 with a downhill approach will grab your attention. Following a nice, straightaway par 4 2nd hole, there is the signature 3rd, a sweeping long par 5 which wraps around the shoreline of the lake. The green sits higher on a peninsula so you can almost always count on wind to affect your approach. No rest after that beauty as a long, strategic par 3 (a miss right into the greenside bunker makes for a most challenging up and down) awaits. But truthfully, that’s the tone which Granite Hills sets. Moving inland on 5, the course begins to use the elevation changes beautifully, with a majestic tee shot to the tree-lined fairway below. On no hole is this elevation better used than the par 4 14th. A shorter hole, this risk-reward hole overlooks the lake and it’s possible to score anywhere from a birdie to a double here quite easily. One of my favourite holes was the par 4 13th, with the sheer rock face a fabulous target before the hole sweeps left. Holes 15 – 18 all run along the lake so there’s peacefulness to the closing stretch which will make you want to explore a replay option.
JK: The elevation (has the highest point in the area) as well as the lakeside holes combined with the “interior” holes make this course play in three distinct fashions. While one can argue #3 is the signature hole, I will say there are several holes deemed worthy of being called the courses best hole. On the last hole, a blind tee shot and a difficult approach await, all while the lake awaits an errant shot to the left and a rock wall will be snag any shot to the right.
MJ: The course is well conditioned; tee boxes meticulously cut, greens rolling fast but true (be mindful of the slope) and fairways generous, well identified off the tee and bunkers which were very consistent and nice to play from. Each hole provides a challenge in terms of decisions of safety versus a more aggressive play and with a slope rating of 135 from the back tees, safe to say there’s considerable challenge to Granite Hills. The course offers four tee options, each an approximate 500 yard difference so choose accordingly. Best to choose a tee box lower to up the fun factor.
The pro shop and restaurant are modest and understated but provide quality service and food options. The staff are professional and courteous and were helpful as we were arriving just in time for our tee time, it was much appreciated. This is a special place. The course and the geography will give your golf game and your camera a nice workout. While the course is walkable, this may be one course you wish to take a cart, just to relax and enjoy the experience.
JK: Walking can be done, but be prepared for the elevation changes as well as a few walks from the cart path to the tee box. The greens are superb, fast and roll true. The first time playing the course, one will make the occasional mistake of thinking a putt is uphill while in fact it is downhill. Same with the breaks as some will completely fool you. Overall course conditions are very good. The issue that this course and any course situated in these locals is from fall/spring ice damage from wind-blown moisture from the lake.
As per Mike’s comments on the clubhouse, this is more of an Ontario mindset then a central Canada one. Several very good courses in Manitoba and Saskatchewan have essentially a ready-to-move home as their pro shop/clubhouse. The money is spent on the course and investing in a sprawling clubhouse wouldn’t generate the returns on investment as it would in Ontario. While this might be a turnoff to some, I’m not basing my experience off of how I was wowed by the spa or amenities in the clubhouse. While it’s nice to have a fancy building, it can distract from what should be the real attraction, the course.
Aura – 8 out of 10 – I had heard of this course and it topped my Manitoba Bucket List options. And while we missed out on sunshine, this course showed itself exceptionally well. Given its location, it is well worth the drive to Lac Du Bonnet.
JK: 9 out of 10 – The location, the terrain, the condition make me give it one more point then Mike. Maybe I’m a bit biased, but for me it’s golfing nirvana in Manitoba.
Value (cost / experience) – 9.5 out of 10 – I had to check these prices twice, just to make sure this wasn’t an error. The peak green fee is $49. Weekday is $42. And get this; you can get a membership here for $1200. This rivals the kind of golf value you can get on Prince Edward Island. (Facts are, I simply live in the wrong province). This course is worth tacking on a day if you’re traveling to Winnipeg.
JK: At $50, it is a great value no matter where you are located. Add $20 for power cart and the course is still under $75 to play. Only issue would be that there isn’t a range located on the property (there is one on the way in off-site) but it in the end it isn’t anywhere near a deal breaker.
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 8.5 out of 10 – The course was generally and consistently in very good condition. There were some places where winter kill affected the turf, notably the third green, and given its location and seemingly constant access to wind this may be hard to mitigate. The detail around tee boxes, bunkers and fairway conditioning was very good and appreciated. The layout is strong and the lakeside holes provide a level of beauty and challenge that is unique and complementary to the inland holes. Inland, clever use of elevation creates confidence and enjoyment off the tee. Landing areas are not too tight to slow play and while the greens are quick, they are consistent and true. This is a course I could play every day.
JK: The underlying landscape allows for some of the best conditions at a daily fee course in the province. The greens are not only a decent speed (9-10) but also roll very true. When we played, there was still some winter kill on the lakeside holes, which the course should recover from by late July/early August. The bunkers use locally sourced sand and are well maintained. I was also impressed with the conditions of the fairways and tee boxes. Kudos to the maintenance team for the conditioning we experienced.
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 8.5 out of 10 – I loved this course. The quality of the course matched the quality location – with stunning lakeside views and course cut from the forest showing off the Canadian Shield, this is a course which will test your entire game. When I am able to return to Manitoba, I will make the time to return here and experience this course again. It warrants more consideration on national course ranking lists and it is one the best golf value plays in the country.
JK: I would rate the overall experience the same as Mike, an 8.5/10. While this wasn’t my first visit to the course, due to various reasons I haven’t had the chance to play it recently. It was exactly how I remember it, minus a few trees. The routing uses the natural features and highlights the beauty that is Manitoba’s portion of the Canadian Shield. This course should be on every golfers list to play at least once.