The sand traps at the Coal Creek Golf Resort near Ryley, Alberta, are filled with a black copper slag.

Into the black sands at Coal Creek

The dark trap had claimed Dan’s ball before we’d even made it to the first green. Of course, I dug out the camera to record the event.

To be honest, I was pretty excited about the black sand traps — the only ones of their kind in Alberta — even before we’d hopped in the car for the hour-long journey to the Ryley-area golf course.

Turns out, I needn’t have rushed to seize the photo opp.

There are lots of traps on the golf course. Lots. We count 45, including three monsters in the middle of the 18th fairway that are quite reachable with your first shot. I have proof.  And the black sand isn’t sand at all; instead it’s a fine, black copper slag imported from B.C. that glitters in the sunlight and plays like the dickens.

We counted at least 45 traps at the Coal Creek golf course. We played out of quite a few of them.
We counted at least 45 traps at the Coal Creek golf course. We played out of quite a few of them.

Between Dan and I, we managed to turn a lovely Prairie golf game into an exotic, yet frustrating, day at the beach.

Welcome to Coal Creek Golf Resort, which up until 10 years ago was fully functioning, family-owned coal mine. In 2007, the owners of Dodd’s Coal Mine wound down operations at this site and moved to a more modern facility about five kilometres away. With acres of land soon to be sitting empty, reclamation options were discussed and the idea of a championship golf course with a coal-mining theme was born.

The black sand traps aren’t the only homage to the old mine. En route to the sixth tee box, you’ll pass the old processing plant — the site’s tipple —  where coal mined from the pits was crushed down into usable sizes, then loaded into the trucks of its customers.

The mine’s last open pit forms the arena for holes 1, 4, 5 and 18. All the bodies of water were original coal pits. And around the course, pieces of retired heavy equipment are scattered between the fescue-lined fairways. As the course’s website states: “You are truly playing through coal mining history.”

On the day we played, there had been a mosquito hatch that brought to mind the classic 1960s commercial for OFF! insect repellent. But the day was warm and breezy, our insect repellent did its job, and the golf course was equal parts charming and challenging, for a very reasonable price.

Coal Creek Golf Resort
• 50549 Range Road 234, Leduc County. Located between Tofield and Camrose.
• 90 km from downtown Edmonton
• 18 holes

By the numbers: From the tips, this par-72 course is a solid 7,207-yard challenge, though Dan played the blue tees (5,986) and I opted for the greens (5,384).

$$: Rate including GST for 18 holes is $46.25 weekdays, $59.25 on weekends and holidays.

Course deals: Check the website for daily specials, including “Hero Days,” “Wacky Wednesday” and “Couples Night Fridays.”

Defining characteristic: The coal-mining theme is manly and rustic and actually pretty awesome. The course, designed by Edmonton-based Puddicombe Golf, has plenty of humps and hummocks, in addition to the unique-to-Alberta black traps. The rough is mainly fescue. Trees are few and far between. Water comes into play on 10 holes, and we each lost a ball to the drink. There isn’t a ton of elevation change, most fairways are generous, and the greens are massive. On the day we played, they were also in fabulous condition, speedy and true.

Walkability: We opted to walk the course, though were told that few do. It’s about 10 kilometres around, mostly flat, and the few hills we encountered weren’t too taxing at all. No tremendously long treks between holes, though there are a few little hikes. The cart path isn’t paved, so we’d imagine things could get dusty on a hot summer day.

Golfers at the ninth tee are encouraged to order snacks to pick up at the turn.
Golfers at the ninth tee are encouraged to order snacks to pick up at the turn.

On-course amenities: Speaking of hot weather, we’re not sure we’d tackle walking the course when the temperatures start climbing. There’s not much shade and we didn’t see any place to refill a water bottle. On the plus side, the clubhouse encourages you to call if you’ve not seen the refreshment cart in a while and are hankering for a beverage. We also liked that the 9th hole included menus and encouragement to order ahead by phone or email. Washrooms (port-a-potties) are accessible from four holes.

As long as you’ve made the drive: If you are the camping type, there is a small RV park adjacent to golf course, owned by the course. Alternately if you are interested in birdies of the winged variety, consider stopping at the Beaverhill Lake Nature Centre. The lake is a federally recognized Canadian bird sanctuary and a staging area for more than 270 species.

Related stories from around the web
• Reclamation project of pride: The Canadian Business Journal
• Four new golf courses to hit local scene: The Edmonton Journal, 2011

In this Drive Time series, RoadWordy will spend the summer finding some hidden golf gems easily accessible to Edmontonians as a day or overnight trip. The talented Dan Barnes wrote a nice series opener that you can read here.

Do you have  a suggestion for a golf course we should try? Tell us about it in the comments and maybe we’ll pay it a visit.

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