- Ponoka, Alberta
- Public—Daily Fee
- Rod Whitman (1992 & 2012)
- 68th in Canada (SCOREGolf)
While ranked 68th in Canada, I want to make this clear off the start: there isn’t 67 better golf courses in the country than Wolf Creek’s Links course.
Rod Whitman, best known for Cabot Links and Sagebrush, is actually from Ponoka, Alberta. Fitting, his solo design career initially started in his home town with Wolf Creek. Opening with the East & West 9’s in the late 80s and then returning for the South 9’s in the 90s, the East/West loop became the “Old,” and the “South” is now the front nine on the links. Rod Whitman returned in the early 2010s to add the back nine.
I’ve played the Links on two separate occasions, and I was luckily able to sneak out for their opening day in 2020. While brown/yellow and some medicore photos, the course was in excellent shape given the circumstances and time of year, and played nice and firm for so early in the year for them!
The opening hole at the Links is a 386 yard dogleg left par 4. With bush left, being right isn’t a bad idea to start off. Bunkering on the outside corner awaits as well.
With a green cut at an angle to favour the approach from the left-hand side, it can be a relatively challenging shot early in the round. A bunker short right will likely see a lot of shots throughout the day—including mine!
You can see how small the greens on the front nine are with the photo below of the 1st. Also note how much internal movement there is. Rod wasn’t afraid to give you breaking putts!
On my first time around in 2014, I distinctly remember thinking the front was fairly dull compared to the back nine, which blew me away. Six years later, I found myself enjoying a lot of the elements the front nine provides. On the 168 yard par 3, 2nd, the green complex is exceptional.
The bunker on the left wonderfully hides the undulating front left portion of the green. While not as “in the way” as it maybe could be, it’s a smart move from The Great Whit.
If I were to pick the most difficult hole at the Links, it might be the 3rd. 466 yards, this par 4 doglegs left around a pond that will be in play for almost every golfer.
For the weak stomach, the golfer who bails out right will be faced with a blind shot thanks to a cluster of trees:
Keeping it left gives you a better view and a better angle. A bunker short right makes shots from the left easier in.
The 4th is a good mid-length par 4 at 454 yards. Working its way slightly uphill, bunkering all down the left awaits.
To a green fronted by bunkering left & right, it’s a demanding iron shot in. A lot of the front nine here is quite difficult, and certainly more challenging than the back nine. Hanging on for the first nine is key to scoring here.
Working backwards adjacent to the 4th, the 434 yard par 4, 5th is another strong mid-length par 4 playing uphill yet again. A big bunker eats into the hole on the right-hand side. This is a difficult tee shot.
A closer look at the bunker on the right side of the tee ball:
This green complex is mostly bunker-less. A couple drifters in the back, but overall, there isn’t a bunker close to the green.
Clocking in at 225 yards, the par 3, 6th, is a strong one-shot hole. It also happens to feature one of the hardest greens on the property! A tee shot that’s semi-blind over a grassy hillock hides the collection area short and right.
In the photo below, you can see how demanding this iron shot is. Not only is the shot mostly carry, but anything short or short right will funnel down into the short grass collection area.
The 7th is such a good golf hole. 418 yards, this par 4 is squeezed by bunkering and trees right, and a big bunker on the left. Doglegging right up the hill, the golfer has their hands full!
The green complex is perfectly cut into the hill, with a bunker short left defending.
After the difficult stretch from holes 3-7, the golfer gets a break at the 341 yard par 4, 8th. A narrow fairway, a massive bunker right is the main hazard running up the entire hole.
With the green angled to the right, anything from the left side of the fairway will be marginally easier. In truth, there isn’t enough width to make this a fascinating golf hole. It almost feels like a connector golf hole to get you from 7 to 9.
Thankfully, looking back gives you a wonderful view of the interesting bunker complex, which is bigger than you think standing on the tee!
The 9th starts what I consider a perfect trifecta of par 5’s, and a perfect 10 hole stretch. At 625 yards, it’s an animal. Luckily, the fairway is the biggest on the front nine!
After getting the ball in play, the golfer must navigate the minefield of bunkers in the layup zone. Good luck!
The beauty of this layup is the best play is likely left to a wider landing zone. Or right, which gives you a better look into the green. What you don’t want to do is hit it in the centreline bunkers. Left or right: it’s in the eye of the beholder!
The front nine is an interesting case study into the evolution of Rod Whitman. When he built the Old and the front nine, he was working for Pete Dye. Tighter corridors, smaller bunkering and greens, and challenging, penal shots are likely what you’ll find.
As we transition to the back nine, we see Rod evolving more into his own style. After the completion of Blackhawk in Edmonton and Sagebrush in BC, Rod’s style had adopted a wider, more open playing space with massive scale.
We’re introduced to the new style of the Links on the 382 yard par 4, 10th, which features a bunker running down the entire left side.
To a green fronted by two bunkers, it can be a tough short shot in. Given the conditions of this golf course, sometimes this hole is drivable! If you have an awkward pitch shot over, it can be especially difficult.
The 11th is the second of three par 5’s, measuring 553 yards. It’s the shortest par 5 on the golf course. With a massive bunker running down the entire right-hand side of the tee shot, it’s blind over “Hell’s Full Acre.”
Slightly doglegging right off the tee, the hole then swings back left. Whether you’re going for it in two or not, there’s something in store. A grassy hummock area is in the layup, while the green sits below at the base of a sand dune.
A look at the third shot for those who elect to layup:
The 12th is a great long par 4 at 462 yards. Three bunkers in the middle of the fairway split the hole into two sections. The left side is a tougher tee shot, but a better angle into the green. The right side is an easier tee shot, but brings the right greenside bunker into play even more. The choice is yours!
A look at the split fairway, and Rod’s evolved bunker style:
With the hole falling to the right, you’re likely to get a right-handed fade lie.
The 13th is another amazing golf hole. 384 yards, “Kansas” doglegs left up the hill.
The beauty of this hole, from a strategic standpoint, is the bunkering on the left needs to be challenged for this hole to play its actual yardage. A bold tee shot down the left grants a shorter club in, but with ample room on the right, it can be tough to convince yourself to challenge the left when the right is so safe! Below is a look-up the left bunkering, which is perfectly cut into the hill.
The green is perched above the rest of the hole. Wonderful location!
From up above, the 14th is a monster par 3 at 269 yards. With a back pin, this can play upwards of 290 yards! Nothing in the front, thankfully, so there’s a multitude of ways to get the ball near the green complex. A big blow out bunker on the back awaits those who somehow go long.
A closer look at short of the green and the green contour, highlighted by some of Rod’s wonderful movement.
The 15th is the final par 5 on the golf course at 570 yards. Playing over a gully, this landing area is blind, but there’s enough visibility to know where you’re going.
The tee ball works down, but from there the hole meanders back up. The second shot plays up.
The green complex, cut on the right behind some of the sandy waste area bleeding over from “Hell’s Full Acre” reminded me quite a bit of Pinehurst Resort’s No. 2 course, and more specifically the 11th and 18th—two very strong green placements.
Working our way back into the forest, the 16th is a mid-length par 4 at 410 yards. Swinging to the right, it’s an inviting tee shot.
With a fade preferred off the tee, a draw would work better for the approach. The green, cut into the hill and angled to the left, is fronted by a bunker short left.
The 17th is the final par 3 on the course, and a cheeky one at 139 yards. Working slightly uphill, it’s no more than a short iron for most.
With a very good green complex, this is one of the countries best short par 3’s.
Finishing up, the 18th is a strong par 4 at 470 yards. With a blind, up & over tee shot, check your nerves!
The line is actually more left than you think. Tough tee shot.
Cresting the hill, you get a downhill approach shot with another green better suited for shots from the right or with a draw.
There is some wicked contouring here in the green. Lots of fun putts await before you get to head in!
As you can see, the back nine is considerably better than the front nine, and quite different. It’s a tale of two 9’s. That’s not to say the front isn’t good. I’m fond of the 2nd, 6th, 7th and 9th, but the back nine is perhaps the best 9 holes in Western Canada. It’s a strong loop that contains everything you’d need in a golf course. It makes you hit all the shots, and is routed perfectly.
It’s also worth mentioning how good the variety is over the course of 18 holes. The par 3’s have a short 3 (139 yards), mid-length/shorter (168 yards), a long par 3 (225 yards), and a monster par 3 (269 yards). It’s diverse. The par 4’s as well stretch from 341 yards to 470, with everything in between. Exceptional!
I think Wolf Creek is criminally underrated at 68th in the country, even with the front nine. I’d have this at least top 50, and potentially top 40. There’s excellent golf holes to be found in the Central Alberta sand belt, and the Links was able to capture the topography wonderfully.