Some people head a little bit west of Edmonton for the lakes — Hubbles, Wabamun, Lac Ste. Anne. Others are bound for the parks — Wagner, Chickakoo, Pembina.
Some of us travel that direction for the golf. The Links, Cougar Creek and Trestle Creek are all beautiful courses just off the Yellowhead highway.
But golfers looking for something off the beaten track should try adding a little north to that west. That will get you to the Grizzly Trail, which leads to the quiet, beautifully maintained and affordable Barrhead Golf Club.
Dan had played the course a few years ago with a buddy who has a cabin at nearby Lac la Nonne; I hadn’t been to the Barrhead area since a brief flirtation with skydiving in 1986.
Tucked into a treed area adjacent to area’s small airport, Barrhead gives golfers a decent mix of terrain and hazards. The fourth, fifth and sixth holes are some of the prettiest we’ve played.
Most of the fairways are tree-lined yet spacious. Dan’s lost ball count (just three!) vouches for the fact that this course isn’t nearly as closed-in as Sundre, and the final handful of holes open up considerably. By the time you reach 15, you can stop wondering how many groups are ahead — you’ll pretty much be able to see all of them.
Water comes into play on about half the holes. Two have rocky stream-beds cutting across the fairway, while well-placed ponds protect more than a few greens. The slow-moving Paddle River provides a backdrop for several holes on the front nine, but you’d really have to crank a drive wild and right for it to be a problem.
The day we were there, a different kind of water — in the form of soaked, occasionally puddled fairways and traps — posed a different kind of hazard. Turns out Barrhead had received 23.4 mm of rain the day before, the largest rainfall on a single day since 2001, and that was on top of 20 mm of rain one week previous. The saturated fairways sure kiboshed any extra distance on a drive, but all that water has no doubt contributed to how great the course is looking.
By the numbers: At 6,644 yards from the tips, Barrhead is a bit on the short side, but its middle and forward tees (6,065 and 5,351 yards) are comparable to other par-72 courses.
$$: Rate including GST for 18 holes is $37 Monday through Friday, $55 on weekends and holidays.
Course deals: There are plenty of ways to make an affordable round even cheaper. If you book online, you may get an option to pay upfront and receive a 25 per cent discount. We did this morning of, and were on the course by 1 p.m. From Monday through Thursday, if you tee off before 1 p.m., you can golf with a cart for $45. And on “Free Ride Fridays,” the course offers a complimentary electric cart when two (non-discounted) green fees are paid.
Defining characteristics: I’ve got to say, it was the peace and quiet that got my attention. There were moments when it felt like we were wandering through a provincial park — the trees, the blue sky, the singing birds and no sounds of highway traffic. Dan says he found the course to be golfer friendly and very well looked after. The course, which opened in 1990, was designed by Canmore’s Les Furber who also recently did Edmonton’s Quarry courses.
Walkability: Yes, indeed. We figure the walk was about nine kilometres around, but apart from the occasional hilly sections, it is mostly flat. An easy and enjoyable walk.
On-course amenities: The clubhouse has a nice big patio and there are TripAdvisor reviewers who say the restaurant is one of the best in Barrhead. We didn’t eat, so can’t say for sure. The Saturday we played included frequent visits from the beer cart and nary a sign of a course marshal. That latter wasn’t a huge deal, but as the things slowed down it might have been nice to find out why.
As long as you’ve made the drive: Barrhead’s official town mascot is the blue heron, which can occasionally be spotted on some of the area’s ponds and lakes. We didn’t see any on the golf course, but we did drive the couple of clicks into town to meet Aaron the Blue Heron, a towering statue built in 1984 which occupies a place of pride near the community gazebo in the town centre.
If the Barrhead and District Museum is open, you could take a tour to learn about Barrhead’s role in the early 1900s settlement of northwestern Alberta, as well as its importance to the Yukon Gold Rush. The Grizzly Trail (Highway 33) follows the original Klondike Trail, which was the shortest route to Yukon during the Gold Rush years. The museum also apparently houses the third-largest display of African exhibits in Canada. It seems that Sundre’s World of Wildlife exhibit isn’t quite as unique as we thought it was.
A drive down memory lane: In 1991, a golf tournament raising money for the local Conservative constituency association used the neighbouring airport for its long-drive competition. Golfers had cleared the area before Alberta MP Joe Clark, then the Constitutional Affairs minister, arrived by plane to attend a Tory banquet that evening.
In this Drive Time series, Road Wordy will spend the summer finding some hidden golf gems easily accessible to Edmontonians as a day or overnight trip. Here are some our previous stories:
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.