Two distinctly different nines in Westlock, and a welcoming committee
By Gord Montgomery – Western Canada Senior Writer, Inside Golf
The Westlock Golf Club is one of thousands of golf courses across the country located in rural areas where small town doesn’t mean small layout. No, at Westlock you get a lot for your money including a taste of an old layout combined with a new design. Sitting just a wedge shot outside of this agricultural community of 5,000 people, and less than an hour from Edmonton, this is one of those places where old and new meld nicely together to put your game to the test.
The nines have been flipped recently but that doesn’t hurt how this track tests your game. The front nine is the newer of the two loops and offers a taste of links-style play while the back, the original layout here, is parkland golf with tree-lined fairways and small greens.
“There are two totally different nines here,” Ryan Provencal, the course’s General Manager emphasized. “The front nine gives you a little more freedom off the tee but there is fescue so you can get in trouble there. Then, you go to the back nine which is the old nine and it’s small, small greens,” while on the front, the putting surfaces are larger. The back also has narrower fairways. As to the small putting surfaces on the back nine, Provencal said, “If you miss greens on the back, there’s just no forgiveness. If you are long, it’s gone. I always tell people if you can hit your second shot to the middle of the green back there, you’ll have 10-foot putts for birdie.
Of course being told that, and doing that, can be two different things. All the greens here are rolled fairly often so they are quick, but at the same time smooth, so your line is where the putt is going to go. It’s up to you to pick the right line however.
As to how good this track is, Provencal pointed out the Westlock Golf Course acted as one of the qualifying sites for the Alberta Mid Am, which means the province’s amateur golf body feels this place can stand up to the test of guys with game.
“We have 110, 120 players booked in,” for play on June 8. “Originally it was set for 80 but that sold out in an hour or so. Alberta Golf approached me about increasing the field, and I said, “Sure!”
As to what this shows about his course, the GM noted, “They want a quality course that’s going to challenge the players. They came out and checked it,” and then booked the date for the one-day event.
As to the history of this place, the original nine swung into action decades ago with the back nine following along in 1989. Originally, this was a 9-hole loop with sand greens. Then, when the new nine development began thanks to local investment by businesses and members, grass greens were put into play. And what a play this place is, making you shift your mindset mid-round from blasting away to a more target style of play.
There are a couple of holes to watch out for here including the first, where off the blue tees the yardage is 371 (there are only three tee boxes here, measuring out at 6,700; 6,200 and 5,400 yards). After your opening volley, you’re aiming at a green well below fairway height, but which is protected by a small creek that, dependent on how far you hit your drive, may not be visible. Another good test on the front is Hole 4, a 519-yarder, with water on both sides of the fairway, and which must be crossed on your approach into the green.
On the back, the one standout test is what is now No. 18, another par 5 of 543-yards which turns to the right and goes downhill on your second shot. The green is large but narrow. It slopes steeply from back to front, so care needs to be taken on the approach shot as you don’t want to get too far away from a front pin location.
As to the importance of having visitors come here using a site like playgolfalberta.com, Provencal agreed it is key to success for this rural layout. “It’s huge for us. We have members but without public play we wouldn’t survive. One of our conversations this year was to increase the percentage (of that demographic). For me, as the general manager, I feel that’s really important. We need people to come here,” to experience this interesting 18 holes. “I always say if I can get you here, i can keep you,” Provencal ended.
One of the unexpected things here, and this may not happen to everyone, is the welcoming committee on the 10th tee boxes. Prior to the first tee shot for our twosome, a pair of huskies raced across the fairway and into the trees bordering the short grass. After the opening volley was struck, but prior to the second tee shot, they came bounding back to greet us. Then after a short tail-wagging, ear-scratching timeout, they headed back home leaving us to our business. Certainly not something you see often, but enjoyable for sure.
NOTE: The food in the restaurant at the course is outstanding, plentiful, and well worth stopping in to sample after a round at this great rural course. The driving range is also a great place to warm up for a round where two different nines work well together in making for an interesting round of golf …. not to mention that interesting welcome on the 10th tee!