The opening nine of Drumheller’s golf course is pleasant. Pastoral. One might call it a bit of an easy track.
The back nine is, well, none of those things.
After finishing up the ninth hole of the Dinosaur Trail Golf Course, golfers travel through a tunnel that seems to transport you back in time as well as across the highway. On the other side, you enter the Jurassic Park of adventure golf courses.
Even if you never had a budding paleontologist in the house, you know about Drumheller. The town of 8,000 is known around the world for its good bones — that is to say, the fossilized dinosaur bones scattered throughout the picturesque valley. It’s also known for the top-notch Royal Tyrell Museum, named for a 26-year-old coal miner who in 1884 found the skull of the dinosaur that we now know as Albertosaurus.
But back to the distinctly different footprints of the Dinosaur Trail golf course.
If golfing the Badlands, with its hoodoos and hills, has a touch of a desert feel to it, then the front nine is the oasis. The fairways and tee boxes are beautifully green and well-maintained, while the putting surfaces are fast and true. There is water on a couple of holes, as well as some strategically placed bunkers. The Red Deer River is visible on two of the holes, but it would take an exceptionally mishit ball to put the river into play.
This is a course that lends itself to a good score and Dan took full advantage, shooting a 39.
Truth be told, that well-played front nine may have caused Dan to pass through the tunnel with overly high expectations.
It wasn’t real pretty watching the back nine chew up Dan’s hopes, then spit them out on the 18th green. I imagine it was kind of like seeing a meat-eating gorgosaurus that once roamed these lands chowing down on his plant-eating brethren.
This part of the golf course isn’t exactly pretty either, but there is a drama to the landscape that is simply jaw-dropping.
Also, from the perspective of the tee box, terrifying.
I have never been so intimidated to swing a club. Between the coulees, cactus, narrow fairways, postage-stamp greens and sheer drop-offs, there is no such thing as a safe shot.
Score? I figure I ended about plus-three — found balls versus lost ones, that is. Other important statistics: one par, no live snake sightings (one dead, two warning signs), and hardly any other golfers the day we were out.
As for that other score, let’s just say this course could be a handicap changer. Not for the better.
To really get the full experience, you might want to bone up on the region’s history and geography before you arrive. (See what I did there?) Seriously though, this is a story that goes back millions of years and includes tropics, ice ages, dinosaurs and coal.
Bring a camera, a sense of humour and extra balls. And be prepared to experience the most fun you’ll ever have playing target golf.
By the numbers: Par is 72 / 73, with yardage ranging from 5,090 at the forwards to 6,409 at the tips.
$$: 18-hole rates for Monday to Thursday are $60 including GST and a cart. On Fridays, weekends and holidays the price goes to $67, tax included. If you want a cart, that will add another $20 for the full 18 holes or $12 for 9 holes.
Defining characteristics: It’s the tale of two golf courses — the green, manicured front and the bad-ass Badlands back. Nine holes of links, nine holes of target. Fairways and greens on both are in great shape.
Walkability: The front nine is absolutely walkable; in fact, we’ve gotten into such a habit of walking that it felt a bit silly to be using a cart. But the back nine wouldn’t be an easy walk by any stretch; there is a lot of elevation and terrain and many long walks between holes. Using carts may be the best way to finish the back nine in a reasonable amount of time.
On-course amenities: There are snack bars located part-way through both the front and back nines. The clubhouse has a big dining area with a kitchen, and there’s a nice patio overlooking the first and ninth hole.
As long as you’ve made the drive: This is no simple answer to this, since there are so many cool things to do in the Drumheller area. Some of them — like the museum, hikes, or a visit to Horseshoe or Horse Thief Canyons — aren’t easy to wedge in alongside a round of golf. Consider staying overnight to add these to your itinerary.
For something quick and touristy, you can head into town to see the World’s Largest Dinosaur. It’s fun and silly and you can climb the 106 stairs and get a view of the region from the inside of her (yes, she’s a girl) mouth.
But we’d recommend something a little more off the beaten track — and with beer and burgers as a reward.
The Last Chance Saloon is located in the Rosedeer Hotel in Wayne, Alberta, about 15 kilometres away. You will take the 11 Bridges Road to get there (and yes, you will find yourself counting bridges as you cross them — we lost count at nine) and you’ll be rewarded with more incredible Badlands scenery, plus the aforementioned beer and burgers in one of the cutest hotel bars you’ll see. Get a picture of yourself bellying up to the bar on one of the outdoor saddle stools. The saloon brings in a lot of live music, too, so prepare to enjoy.
If it gets too late to drive home, well, the hotel may just have a room available.
This summer, Dan and I have put the drive into Road Wordy, with a series of blog posts focused on golfing in Alberta. Our Drive Time stories will focus on golf gems that are an easy drive or overnight from Edmonton. Our Nine Hole series looks at courses Therese is playing with the Golfaround program for women.