By Gord Montgomery – Senior Writer, Inside Golf
If there was ever a golf course where yardages means next to nothing, it’s most definitely the Devon Golf & Conference Centre. You see, the top distance on this river valley beauty is a whopping 5,559 yards. And yes, that is the correct yardage and not a typo.
But where this 18-hole layout makes up for its shortness is in its challenges. Sure, some of the fairways are wide and beckoning, but at the same time there are those where the tree line pinches in to make accuracy far more important than distance. And then of course, there are those putting surfaces.
This rural course joins a list of others in the province that were built in two stages. The first nine holes in Devon coincided with Alberta’s oil boom, and the running of Leduc #1, a historic part of the province’s petroleum industry. They were built in 1954 to accommodate the roughnecks working on the rigs. The second nine, built in 1970, intermingles with the original layout, creating a panorama of unique holes and challenges with a number elevated tees and greens.
Dave Gray, the new GM at the course in this town of about 6,000 residents, said he’d yet to explore all the details on how his new home was pieced together. “I don’t know exactly how they did it, but however they did it, it’s worked out.”
That it has. From the opening par-5 and the following par-3, a blast of 235 yards off the back deck this is a memorable round to be sure. The unique thing about the second and third holes (it’s a 365-yard par 4) is you cross the entry road to the course and the adjacent campground. While that’s unusual, to say the least, that’s the only time vehicles, other than golf carts, can come into play. Because play can get backed up on occasion with players waiting for cars/trucks/campers to pass by, tee times have now been spread out to nine minutes apart and that’s taken away much of that problem. The course plays to a par of 70, with five par 3 holes and three par 5s.
Now about those distances here: Gray had this to say.
“The biggest misconception here is when people look at the scorecard and see it’s less than 6,000 yards. But saying that, the greens and the tree-lined fairways definitely protect the scores. You can’t spray it anywhere here.”
From the White tees, the Devon Golf & C.C. plays to just under 5,600 yards and from the front deck it’s a little shorter at 5,436. So, all in all it sounds easy but believe me, that’s not the case. There is protection here, and plenty of it — like at the end point of every hole.
“The greens are very undulating and not overly large. It’s great that way. Lots of fun on the greens.” said Gray. “They are a little smaller than what I’ve seen around. They do have some shape to them which definitely helps protect par, I guess. They’re usually around 10 on the stimpmeter.”
What the GM didn’t mention about those putting surfaces is that the vast majority are sloped, so shots coming in have to land on the correct area of the green to stay put. If not, they tend to run off to the sides or the back, leaving short, and sometimes unnerving chip shots into those little deviations in the grass that may not be noticeable without a good study – or having played this track before. And to top that off, there are strategically placed bunkers on most holes, many guarding the front entryway, meaning a shot has to carry onto the green and hold if you have hopes for a par or better.
As for playing here, Gray noted that his course is a place to get away from the hectic pace of everyday life for another unexpected reason.
“It kind of has a resorty kind of feel. The only traffic we have is either coming to the golf course or the campground,” plus the added bonus is that there isn’t great cell phone coverage in this part of the river valley, so there’s a good chance work can’t get hold of you (and no one here will tell on you for skipping out early to take on this little gem!)
While this layout may sound a bit daunting, and it certainly can be challenging, Gray noted that for the most part players are going to enjoy their round here for a simple reason. “No matter where you hit it on the golf course property, you’re usually going to have a shot. Usually it’s pretty playable which makes it enjoyable even for the beginner golfer. On some of the holes on the back nine the trees are relatively thick but the majority of the golf course, if you’re in the trees you usually have a shot out. Like you can’t play a long shot because the trees are so tall and the limbs so long,” that the smart player chips out and carries on to the green from there.
But remember, once you do get onto any of the greens at the Leduc Golf & Conference Centre your adventure at this pretty little course is only half over.