This is the second in our three part series highlighting eastern Manitoba courses. It has been composed by Mike Johnny (@36aday) and Jeremy Kehler (@meximenno) and also appears on Jeremy’s website, prairiegolfmagazine.com
Pinawa – A Relaxed, Resort Golf Experience
MJ – I was pleasantly surprised when a golf buddy from Ontario told me that Pinawa is worth experiencing when considering golf in Manitoba. I’ll admit I had not heard of it but after a late spring visit with Jeremy from Prairie Golf Magazine, I left impressed and hopeful I can make a return visit one day. Of the three Manitoba courses I experienced over my trip, it was the most relaxed in terms of course layout, conditioning and community. But at almost 6600 yards from the back tees, this course is no pushover.
Pinawa is a small community about 110 km northeast of Winnipeg. Set along the Pinawa Channel and Winnipeg River, the water is not excessively present but adds to the charm and beauty of this resort course. While the 9th hole gets the nod as Pinawa’s signature hole, one can make a case for holes 8, 16 and even 17. This underrated course is also set only 30 minutes south of Granite Hills, so for players like myself who love playing 36 it is convenient. But the club and the community offers much more than golf so you may find it tough to simply throw the clubs in the trunk and leave. Water sports, hiking and tennis are all close. Stay and Play packages are also available.
The course layout is framed between the Winnipeg River, Pinawa Channel and the highway, creating two loops of 9 which start and stop near the clubhouse. The course is walkable but there are a couple stretches between holes, notably 10 to 11 and 16 to 17. Holes 8 and 9 will earn a legitimate wow factor, playing along the river. But 14, 15 and especially 16, set along the channel, opens up the debate on a signature hole (the course features the par 4 9th, and rightly so).
Pro shop staff are friendly and helpful and arriving close to our scheduled tee time we were able to get off quickly. The clubhouse features a restaurant which was very busy but also offered premade food so we could grab and go. A practice green is close between the 1st and 10th tees so we were able to loosen up before we teed off.
Overall, the course conditions were good. Greens were surprisingly good, running consistent and true. Fairways were in good condition. I was surprised to see the grass on the tee boxes so high. Bunkers were good and fair to play from. The course, while cut out from forest, does not seem overly tight. Reflecting back, with a greater attention to detail on conditioning it is safe to say this course could rival Brudenell River in PEI for quality, scenery and its relaxed resort feel; to me the two are in the same sentence in terms of enjoyment and the overall golf experience. It was enjoyable with enough to challenge single digit index golfers but playable for those who are newer to the game. And with a relaxed, resort feel; the focus is certainly a treat.
At over 430 yards, the opening hole will demand your attention. The approach is gently guarded by two bunkers on the front and a sloping green back to front. The par 3’s are well framed, long and challenging. The lack of a shorter par 3 is a minor critique. The par 4’s bring some excellent diversity, with the 8th, 9th and 16th complementing longer and more traditional par 4’s which are straightway or with subtle doglegs to them. This diversity was appreciated. The par 5’s play to the strength of this resort-style course with no hole over 535 yards. Each hole requires some thought in terms of strategy as to whether to play them as two shot or three shot holes. The 17th was my favourite, playing much easier as a three shot hole but demanding attention on the greens, especially with a challenging front hole location.
The round ended too quickly for my liking and equipped with some experience and ‘local knowledge’ I’d love to get back and play there again. It is the epitome of a fun, resort course. And for visitors worried about a course in Manitoba cut out of forest, certainly bring some bug spray, but don’t be fearful as bugs were no better or worse than other parts of the country in late spring. Just relax and enjoy the round at Pinawa.
JK – As someone who has played this course multiple times, I was giddy to show Mike not only the challenging (and VERY fun) holes, but also what we’ve come to take for granted in Manitoba. Chill golf. No, I’m not talking about the weather, but the relaxed atmosphere many of our courses have. Pinawa is the epitome of all that encompasses.
Pinawa somehow has managed to survive the loss of it’s biggest source of revenue, AECL. AECL had a large workforce of engineers and scientists who worked on nuclear technology not that far from the course. Soon that might be changing though. A company has applied to start using the facility and spend $150 million to redeveloped the site. This would be welcome news. The town of Pinawa has in recent years focused on attracting local businesses to the town, which in my opinion might not have been the best strategy. What this town needs is true resort style lodging in the community, with the lure of the fishing, boating, tubing and the golf course being the feature attractions. It also doesn’t hurt that there is a beach literally beside the parking lot of the golf course, right next to a kids park and tennis courts.
The course is well routed and makes excellent use of the natural features of the land. Not all the landscapes are natural though. The channel was blasted out to provide water flow to a nearby generating station, which is no longer in commission. As Mike has pointed out, there are several holes that could be considered the signature of the course. I’m divided as to which I would put my vote in for, however, number 9 might have the strongest case.
Aura – MJ – 6 out of 10 – This is a subjective score which will only rise the more you play here. Again, I had not heard of Pinawa but Jeremy’s recommendation as part of the 36 hole day in eastern Manitoba was excellent. For a community of just over 1300 residents, this is a local gem.
JK – 9 out of 10 – Having played the course several times, including in Manitoba Amateur conditions, I know what the property is like and challenges the course provides under those conditions. It should be noted that I have seen an array of wildlife, from bears, deer, fox, bald eagles and hawks. There are even stories of the occasional cougar sighting. A golf course being in a secluded area with the wind whistling through the forest while the Winnipeg River babbles in the background is something you just don’t find everywhere, and especially in Manitoba. I almost feel like bringing a deck chair and have an early morning coffee before the round by the river. It’s that relaxing.
Value (cost / experience) MJ – 9 out of 10 – The peak green fee is $45. Memberships top out at $1230. That provides simply incredible value for players. The course is no push over. And playing with local residents, a retired couple, for the last nine, they were proud of their course. Understandably so, it was challenging and fun. And the riverside views are breathtaking.
JK – 8 out of 10. I concur with everything that Mike has already said. For $45, it’s set at a great price point. And the views don’t cost any extra.
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) MJ – 7.5 out of 10 – To me, it would not take too much to move this up. However, and to the credit of the course, the greens were in excellent condition. The layout was fair, challenging from the back tees, and with greenside challenges being fair and minimal it adds to the playability which is important for a resort style course. I like that fact that the course is also walkable. The Canadian Shield, Channel and River create an enjoyable mash up over a property which is well suited for golf.
JK- 7.5 out of 10. The greens and fairways were in excellent condition. It should be noted that the day before we played the course hosted a very large tournament and I’m pretty sure some of the turf care crew didn’t make it in to work the day we played.
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) MJ – 8.0 out of 10 – Simply put, this is a fun golf experience. I balance between a test of golf and resort-style enjoyment.
JK- 8 out of 10. Fun. Relaxing. Challenging. Each golfer will have that list in a different order.
What You Need to Know – For people like me coming to play here from out of province, inquire about the history of this community and course. The history; with earlier development in hydroelectricity and recent investments in nuclear energy (since closed down) help build the infrastructure of this community. Recreation services like this golf course (and the curling rink in the winter) now help support this as a year round community. Jeremy was kind to provide insight on the development of the Pinawa Channel. There are places on the back nine where a brief stroll off the tee box will offer a fabulous view of the channel.
Note – Jeremy and I were also able to play Quarry Oaks and Granite Hills. Click here for a full review of Granite Hills.