Review: Waskesiu Golf Course

Information:

  • Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan
  • Public — Daily Fee
  • J.H. Atkinson, with guidance from Stanley Thompson (1935)
  • 64th in Canada (Beyond The Contour)

To this day, I would say Waskesiu is one of Canada’s biggest mysteries. The likelihood of a golf addict in Canada knowing someone who would rave about Waskesiu is high, yet information, reputation, rankings, and more seem to overlook north Saskatchewan’s gem. The answer is fairly obviously geographical location, yet in 2021, I made the venture about 3 hours north of Saskatoon to see what the rave was all about, with almost no information known prior.

The town of Waskesiu Lake is a lovely little introduction to northern Saskatcewan, and who knew? The north side of Saskatchewan is actually much more pleasant than the south, or where all the stereotypes about “flat farmland” comes from. Truthfully, I have always preferred Saskatoon to Regina, but I did not know a small resort town in a National Park basically in the arctic circle could be this charming.

Only fitting if the golf course matches the vibe as set by the town it resides in, and thankfully, Waskesiu does just that. The opening hole is a pleasant introduction to the rambunctious golf course. At just 335 yards, most golfers will have a gentle introduction to the golf course, with a tree in the middle of the fairway being the main defining feature.

Now, I am not usually a fan of trees in the middle of the fairway, but I think Waskesiu does it well for two main reasons. One: there is a lot of width on either side of the tree, and it actually provides a good line for the aggressive golfer directly over the top; and two: the lobstick tree is a guidance tactic during the fur trade era. If a tree had a series of branches chopped off, it was used to guide the traders to the proper area. At Waskesiu, the original tree in the 1st fairway was a lobstick tree, although the original died in 2013. As a result, they have replanted it to replicate the original design intentions. Fair play I’d say, while not something I would intentionally build, given the reasons, I think it makes sense.

After a tee shot to the centre, the golfer plays over a topographic ridge to a green that sits effortlessly into the landscape. I think by the end of the round, this is one of the more tame greens, but there is some pretty interesting movement towards the back left portion, and a centre ridge splits the hole east/west.

The 2nd is a very attractive 135 yard par 3, playing downhill to an insane green complex. Right off the bat, both greens are on-grade, running away from the golfer. On the 2nd, anything short and left is basically ejection to the back edge. This is a fairly difficult wedge on a second spin around after seeing your ball slammed to the back. Short right is no good.

It is impossible to capture green complexes with a camera, but I tried my best to show the severity looking back. There are elements of a redan here, and personally, tossing it short and left and seeing it work its way down is a very viable solution to a difficult question asked.

The 350 yard par 4, 3rd is an uphill hole, with a gentle rise on the tee shot and turning left ever-so-slightly. If the first two was not an indication enough, there is really interesting terrain here, with a diagonal ridge running from about 7/8 on a clock to about 2/3, asking the golfer to play closer to the inside corner of the dogleg left to get a lesser carry up on the tee shot.

The green is a cleverly deep green, narrowing in the back and now featuring movement to the front.

The fourth is the second of two excellent par 3’s on the front nine, and a nice long shot at 193 yards. The green plays to a green set on top of a knoll almost, with a very severe fall off on the right.

This is an ideal green site for a par 3, just like the 2nd.

The first four holes are fairly straightforward, but the 369 yard par 4, 5th is a difficult hole to figure out on your first play. Like Cape Breton Highlands Links, I would suggest playing here twice for holes like the 5th, which I think are strong, but confusing on the first go and could provide a murky outlook with only one look. Also like Highlands Links, there is some funny/awful cart path work here, and truthfully, the line is just right of the path.

After cresting the fairway, it opens up a view down the hole: right is death, and left is ok, though not ideal. Still, not an exact clear line to where we’re playing… yet.

When you arrive at your tee shot (hopefully in the fairway), the slightest indicator of where the hole plays to: the very top of the flag.

It is almost a fake out: from the view, you assume the play is short, especially after playing the opening two holes, which will likely repel your ball to the back edge. The view from the top of the ridge shows some separation between the green and the ridge.

George Waters wrote a book titled Grounds For Golf… well, exhibit A:

At 530 yards, the 6th is our first par 5 of the day, and a deserving reprieve from the insanity of the first five holes and the terrain the routing tackles. Off the tee, some good movement still, but noticeably toned down. Also, the first fairway bunkers on the golf course. In truth, only 29 bunkers are to be found here, with only two holes featuring fairway bunkers off the tee.

The hole turns to the left gently, without much interest in the layup.

The green looks very approachable, and sitting slightly above grade, is more than accessible for all.

With the edges of the green peeled over the edge, this is a pretty good green complex, especially in contrast with the initial five. A unique way to challenge players, and even more-so when considering how low-profile and “easy” the green looks.

Our first long par 4 at the 7th comes at 409 yards (the golf course is 6301, so I think over 400 counts as a long 4?), making its way directly uphill over some interesting ground yet again. In hindsight, after playing Highlands Links in 2022, this hole reminds me a lot of the opening par 4 at Thompson’s maritime masterpiece.

As I said, awesome topography for golf:

The goal is to hit your drive as far as possible to allow even a partial view of the hole, and even then, just the tip of both the left bunker and the flag await.

Yet another green that effortlessly sits into the landscape, with the high side left (balls should come off it).

I remember reading or hearing somewhere that the 600 yard par 5, 8th is the signature hole here, and I kind of get it: from a general golf perspective, without much understanding in what is happening, this is one of the more dramatic holes. The tee shot is hit it as hard as you can, but I suspect over time, you figure out where the flat(ter) lies are and the strategy changes.

A good drive sets up an interesting opportunity for long hitters, or those looking to get aggressive. Two bunkers cut into the hillside await, and for every golfer, they must play between them to finish the hole. Getting home in two pinches pretty hard, and for those who like to layup closer to the green, they would have to directly negotiate with the bunkers. Laying back is the play, but anything slightly off-centre will result in a semi-blind or fully blind shot coming home.

When I mean narrows to the green, I mean really narrows.

Finishing off the front nine, the 422 yard par 4, 9th is the longest two-shot hole on the outward nine. A bit more gentle, but a longer hole nonetheless.

After your tee shot and the approach view (below), it appears to be one of the weaker and less-interesting holes.

Yet this might be the best green here yet, narrowing between two bunkers in the front, rising over a ridge, and falling over in the back quadrant. Brilliant, and so subtle given how mundane the hole is tee-to-green. There is some good micro contours and such in the fairway, but given how extreme the standout holes have been, it can be easy to overlook this hole.

The 10th is similar to the 7th, although a much more severe uphill journey tee-to-green. At 410 yards, it is also one of the longer holes here.

Just brilliant. Classic golf courses have a way of making these features pop, and possibly because the modern contemporaries typically bulldoze them out (in Canada, anyway, cough, cough), but on these golden age gems, it is such a welcomed find.

After an uphill tee shot, another uphill tee shot with the surface obstructed awaits.

The 11th is the individual star here: the Sidney Crosby to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Steph Curry to Golden State. At 368 yards, a blind tee shot over a gully plays to a fairway tumbling down to the right.

A hog’s back fairway awaits an off-centre hit, but on the right, bunkers will catch a stray bullet. But wow, what a reveal to some of the craziest terrain in Canada.

This is one of the nerviest wedges one will hit in their golfing career. I didn’t bring my level with me (I don’t actually have one, although iPhones have them built in these days), but the front left portion sits on-grade, likely around 11-14% slope. From 100 yards, you could likely hit this wedge 60 yards and see it tumble down, and likely still not get close! Truly a fascinating hole that I want to play again and again.

A view back, which I think really helps paint the aggressive nature of the tilt.

The 201 yard par 3, 12th is the longest one-shot hole on the golf course, and although I would probably lean towards the 4th as being the most demanding, this is no slouch.

The 13th is a pretty noteworthy hole as well. At 378 yards, it is a pretty steep climb to the green, with the right side falling off more than the left.

This is another insanely tilted green, probably in the 6-8% range consistently to the front right portion and falling off the green as a quasi-false front. The micro details are so good here, it makes the macro—which is also quite interesting—seem small in comparison to how much the small stuff makes you think. Not an easy approach shot by any means.

Who doesn’t love a severely downhill par 4? At the 13th, it is bombs away at the 427 yard two-shot hole.

A pretty vanilla approach shot, though I remember enjoying this green. The left side sits into the hillside, while the right side falls off on the short side. A simple, yet effective way to make the play different, even marginally, depending on the pin.

The 15th is a short, enjoyable par 4 at 326 yards. There are similarities to the tee shot on the 11th, though you can see the flag. Nonetheless, up and over the hump we go!

Like the 11th, the right side aggressively falls off, though there is less penalty than the previous iteration.

The approach shot is a delicate wedge over the green, fronted by the first true water hazard on the golf course, and two bunkers.

The 16th is the final one-shot hole, and a bit of a meaty one at 166 yards, though dramatically out of the valley and back up to the high portion of the property. Not much trickery here: by the 16th hole, a true test of ball-striking awaits. It reminded me of the 16th at Hamilton, though less severe in the penalty for a missed shot.

I suspect the 17th is a hole that ends a lot of matches in the annual Lobstick Tournament, and not just because of where it falls in the routing. At 310 yards, at elevation, it is drivable by modern standards, but a blind tee shot over a ridge complicates things.

Small features like the roll in front of the green is just beautiful, as it can either help propel the ball towards the green, or kill it in its tracks depending on where it lands.

This is a green that needs to be seen to be believed, with a fall off right, a kicker slope short left, and various portions of the green sunk, while others sit up. It is borderline indescribable, and for that, a splendid hole. I could see the penultimate giving up a ton of variance in scoring; a perfect match play hole.

The 18th is heroic in every sense of the word. At 372 yards, it is not overly long, though the Hail Mary type tee shot over the biggest topographic ridge of the day to a completely blind fairway feels epic in scale. If matches make it to the 18th, I would not want to hit this shot.

Yet again, some tasteful topography/terrain awaits the other side. Is the play to barely get it over the hill and have it trickle down? Smash driver and hope to get lucky with the lie? All things revealed on numerous plays, I suspect.

I was a little off-put by the very obviously out of place hazards between the landing zone and the green, which feels contrived and frankly, annoying. A shame.

A very cool back feature, akin to what Ross builds occasionally, further transport the ball away from the middle. Cool stuff, and some subtle architecture that does not take much effort. From the fairway, you cannot tell this is here, and it is not overly penal; it just takes the prospect of a one putt away, and increases the odds of a three putt.

Expectations are a funny thing, but so are zero expectations going into a round. I expected Waskesiu to be pretty good… after all, Elk Island, Kenogamisis, and more are very good Stanley Thompson golf courses in similar situations, but I did not expect the golf to be as fun as it is here. At 64th in Canada, this feels like a steal, and one I expect to climb higher as more people see it. Would I like a bit more variety in the tee shots? Perhaps. Some bunkering could be nice (I am told there is a plan somewhere with bunkers, though I have never looked for it), but very little to complain about at Saskatchewan’s best golf course, and one of Canada’s best deals/public golf courses.

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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