Review: Cooke Municipal Golf Course

Information:

  • Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
  • Public — Municipal
  • Hubert Cooke (1925), recent work from Sid Puddicombe

When planning a trip to finally see Waskeisu, roughly about an hour and change north of Prince Albert, Cooke came up as an obvious choice to add to the trip. Cooke is a course that always came up in discussions on Canada’s best municipal, so I was intrigued.

It is odd when a golf course begins on the best hole, but the opener here is so good that it makes sense. At 425 yards, keeping the tee ball right off the tee is better than left to avoid any tree interference.

The approach then plays over a ridge line to a green hiding behind. Off the bat, the influence of a sand-based property becomes so apparently obvious; movement like this is so rarely found in clay, and when we played, the golf course was firm which was a nice surprise.

The green just sits beautifully behind the ridge, with a pretty severe green complex for one of the longer holes here.

You really get a sense of the dramatic contours after walking from 17 to 18 at the end of your round.

Continuing the hot stretch to start, the 375 yard par 4, 2nd is another interesting hole. The tee shot is straight, but the land is gentle and rolling.

This is another A+ green site, sitting down in the valley between two high points. The green almost has a saddle feel, with a massive amount of movement.

Another look, although cameras flatten everything.

After a very old-school opening two, the 460 yard par 5, 3rd is the first of the Sid Puddicombe renovations, with a pond left.

Kind of weird, but after getting past it, the third has that old-school charm the first two have. The green is slightly blind—at least to the point that you cannot see the actual surface—and the bunkering scheme is mostly hidden. This is a pretty confusing second shot… perfect for a very short par 5.

Laying up allows more of the hole to unravel and reveal itself:

The 4th is a shorter par 3 at 159 yards, but at just under 6,300 from the back markers, I guess it would be more of a mid-length one-shot hole. A pretty standard par 3, nothing too intense or eventful.

It is a bit of a shame that Sid Puddicombe’s heavy-hand shows off at the 405 yard par 4, 5th, playing opposite of the 3rd on the other side of the pond. I think the rolling topography is obvious, and having a very modern pond & green complex further confuses me. New is not always better, as evidently by:

I will say, though, from a non-golf perspective, the ponds are quite appealing for whatever reason. I just don’t want to play around man-made ponds on a sand site in Saskatchewan.

This is an attractive green site, sitting in another low point.

The 6th is another excellent, and dare-I-say all-Canadian hole. At 313 yards, it should be drivable for longer hitters, but a massive topographic ridge hides any sight of the green.

The scale of this ridge cannot be understated.

For those who like to layup, the ideal place to place the tee shot is on top of the ridge, but that is risky. The actual play is to crank it over the ridge at something like 230-240 off the tee, but could leave an awkward number for the second shot. Anything but the tee shot having to play over the ridge makes this a very tricky little hole.

While bunker-less, the green is wrapped in some cool trench style grass bunkers. I would personally like to see these be a little smaller and deeper, but this is an under-utilized feature in Canada that I think deserves more recognition.

The 7th is the second of two par 5’s on the front nine at 519 yards, doglegging gently to the left.

Yet again, some beautiful rolling land to play over.

The approach shot plays to a pretty straightforward green site, though missing left is not ideal. If I’m remembering correctly, the movement in this green is solid, if understated compared to the opening two holes.

Yet again, some grass trenches are utilized to act as a hazard on the left.

The 8th is a longer par 3 at 185 yards, and even if it is slightly over-treed, the green is tilted to the left enough to see balls run hard that way.

To finish off the front nine, the 395 yard par 4, 9th is a strong hole yet again, playing up and over a ridge.

Playing slightly downhill, the approach shot plays to a green sloping towards the back-right edge of the green. To me, Cooke through nine holes is very interesting. You have a couple blind or semi-blind shots, trench bunkers, and now a fall-away green. Rule breaking is fun!

As mentioned, the green complex slopes to the right and away from the golfer.

Sneakily, the green is raised maybe a foot off the surroundings on the left. This is a cheeky little move considering the green runs to the right… on replay, you would be thinking short left, but missing left provides a very difficult up-and-down.

The 396 yard par 4, 10th is a bit of a vanilla hole, but at least there is not a pond or anything flamboyantly modern. Some slight tree issues, but at a municipal, beggars cannot be choosers.

There is a fairway bunker up the right, and the green complex sits pretty into the surrounding landscape.

The 10th green site:

The 479 yard par 5, 11th brings us back to the clubhouse, an unusual routing choice by modern standards, but I like it.

After a dogleg left tee shot, the hole heads uphill back at the clubhouse over some really interesting terrain.

Layup too far back and…

But a generous view awaits if you get the ball up top.

The golf course is almost routed in the first 11-last 7, beginning with the 159 yard par 3, 12th. Playing slightly downhill off the hill the golfer climbed on the 11th, water short right looms.

The 13th is a nice dogleg right par 4, with a slew of bunkers on the outside edge of the hole. At 420 yards, this is a long par 4 for a short golf course.

This is one of my absolute favourite approaches on the golf course because on first glance, it looks very nondescript.

But as you walk up, you see the massive depression short of the green. For the average player, I suspect this can wreak havoc; for the good player, missing the fairway and having to punch out will bring this in play.

The 14th is a wonderful little short par 4 at just shy of 350 yards, yet again playing over the sandy topographic ridge to a blind fairway.

With a green that heavily tilts to the front left guarded by another trench style bunker, this is a quality golf hole.

This is just good stuff:

At 381 yards, the 15th is a fairly straightforward par 4.

The green is well-guarded, but nothing too special going on here. An underrated skill in golf architecture is, as Keith Cutten puts it, compression and release: you have to have your highlights stand out, and let the subtle stuff exist. If you try and overpower a site, it can end up poorly. At Cooke, the great stuff stands out, while the subtle, lay-of-the-land fills in the gaps to allow for a comprehensive routing showcases ALL of the property, not just the stuff that is good.

The 290 yard par 4, 16th is the only really poor moment here, and truthfully, the only time it felt like a true municipal golf experience. The hole is so over-treed it is impossible to enjoy.

The hole is essentially two par 3’s: one about 170-200 yards to the right side fairway, and a short wedge into the green. The trees overhang on the left, so you cannot play from there.

However, the awfulness is just one hole, and back to a quality golf hole at the 179 yard uphill par 3 penultimate.

The left side falls off dramatically, pulling any balls from the middle down to the left, almost a false front of sorts (or at least in concept).

The 18th is a great way to finish. At 410 yards, the tee shot doglegs to the right over the ridge the 1st played over. Even if the hole moves to the right slightly, keeping it left of centre is probably ideal as right can lead to a lost ball.

This is a pretty chill looking approach shot.

The green is so good, however. I got Walter Travis vibes, although it is bigger than he usually built. Nonetheless, this is the best green on the course, and a fitting way to end.

Is it Canada’s best municipal? Likely not with Herbert Strong’s Lakeview in Mississauga existing, but between Lakeview and Cooke, they are the clear top 2 by a wide margin (sorry, King’s Forest and Fraserview). For anyone going to Waskesiu, Cooke is a must-play, and certainly among Canada’s better public golf course options.

Author

  • Andrew Harvie

    Based in Toronto, but having lived in Alberta, British Columbia, Montana, Arizona, and Texas, I have been lucky enough to see over 400 golf courses and counting!

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