Wolf Creek – Links Course – A Masterful Whitman Design
I have shared my review of Wolf Creek’s Old Course in an earlier post. I loved it and feel it is a genuinely underrated course which is a stern, fair and fun test. Wolf Creek is located in Ponoka, Alberta. In the mid 1990’s Wolf Creek expanded, adding a new 9 holes. The final nine was completed in 2010 and ushered in their second course, oddly named, the Links course. Rod Whitman may not have the most expansive resume in golf design in Canada but he may have one of the most highly acclaimed from a quality perspective. And the Links course only cements his legacy. Of course, he may be most recognized for his design leadership on the original Cabot Links course in Cape Breton. But this course warrants attention and critical acclaim. You will find the Links course set inside the top 30 within the most recent SCORE Golf Top 59 public courses in Canada, higher than the Old course at Wolf Creek (which is also inside the top 59). If there’s any argument, it is too low in its ranking.
The course truly is a tale of two nines; the front set on a level plain which from experience and from my research can be somewhat damp (a blessing in the summertime, perhaps). The dynamic design featuring comes to life after the first six holes, with bunkering, green complexes and subtle terrain changes coming into prominence. This is not to wholly detract from the opening holes; they are stout, just lacking the dynamic design features of the rest of the course.
The brilliance of Whitman’s work at Wolf Creek is on the back nine of Links. Consistent with the course overall are more generous fairways and landing areas. The back sees steady elevation changes which are masterfully utilized. The entire back nine is set on dunes, which drains much better than the opening holes, but has been crafted to create a links influenced experience which undoubtedly gives the course its name. The par 5 11th hole, Hell’s Full Acre, has a massive bunker located off the green which rises up. The par 4 12th, aptly named Decision, has bunkers bisecting the fairway giving players options of a safer, but longer approach, or to make a more aggressive play which make the hole shorter. But it is the closing five holes which for me will have me coming back again. I loved the par 4 16th, despite a solitary tree in the fairway. The green is so well protected, sitting slightly elevated and peppered with bunkers short and long. The par 3 17th is deceptively tough with one of the more challenging greens on the course. And the closer is a long par 4, playing somewhat blind, but with a very generous landing area. There is simply so much to like overall – playability, decision making, intelligence in its design, and a unique but complementary fun factor to the Old course.
Ponoka, Alberta is just about 30 minutes north of Red Deer and just over an hour south of Edmonton. The expansive, log cabin clubhouse and pro shop sets a rustic and relaxed tone. There are modest practice facilities adjacent to the clubhouse. The Vold family own and operate the course and bring a friendly, honest and direct approach to communication, making guests feel welcome.
The scorecard provides recommended tee boxes for players based on their index and it is wise to take this advice. I had the pleasure of teeing it up with @GolfIsMental This round followed a relaxed lunch and local pint. While our spirits rose, the temperature didn’t. The cool, damp conditions seemed entirely appropriate for this course marketed ‘Where Canada Meets Scotland’.
The dunes are a significant influence, as are the tall fescue grasses which pose natural defenses and wind, which create diverse challenges. The quality of the course is consistently excellent; greens rolled well, perhaps a little slower than normal given the authentic Scottish late-summer weather which Josh and I actually enjoyed.
Reflecting back, it is a course where players can be more aggressive off the tee but like the Old course it is very much a second shot course; approach shots need attention as there are certain spots where misses can be more penalized.
A tip of the golf cap to Rod Whitman, the Vold family and the grounds crew at Wolf Creek for masterful work in creating a unique, quality and enjoyable golf experience. I am placing Wolf Creek high on my list of courses I wish I was a member at. I can’t wait to get back and experience it again.
Josh (@GolfIsMental) put on a stripe show all day, including here on the par 5 15th. He closed out the match here on this hole. Always a pleasure teeing up with my friend from Calgary.
Aura – 7.5 out of 10 – Wolf Creek Links sits well entrenched as a top 100 course in Canada but has a genuine modesty to it with regard to aura. I will assert that this course, along with the old, are must plays while in Alberta. Sure, Banff and Jasper get lots of love, but this is a value play which does not skimp on quality.
Value (cost / experience) – 8.5 out of 10 – The standard rate set on their website is $85. A membership with full and unlimited access to both courses is $2750 (power carts and $750 credits in the clubhouse included). This is simply outstanding.
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 9 out of 10 – The tale of two nines is reflected here. The front is very good, demanding in spots, and finishes strong. The back nine is a force, masterfully laid out with greater space off the tee than the Old course. The dunes have been utilized exceptionally well from tee to green. As I experienced at Cabot Links, when you’re greenside it requires careful consideration on shot selection, it demands creativity. It may be one of my favourite nine hole stretches I have played in Canada. If the front more resembled the back, this rating (and the overall rating) would be much higher, but I am not the first to mention this.
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 9.0 out of 10 – This course, just as the Old, is at the top of my Alberta replay list. I’d really like to experience this course again. Just as with the Old course, there is benefit to local knowledge and I feel the chances to score well are better for me on the Links course than the Old.