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Scenery and challenges impress after golf course overhaul

Friday, 09 August 2019. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Scenery and challenges impress after golf course overhaul

Mayor Blair Painter cuts the ribbon to officially open the newly designed Crowsnest Pass Golf Club at the grand unveiling June 28. From left are delegates Jason Roth, course head professional; Hal Nummi, golf club board member; Gary Browning, course designer;  Rob Amatto, club president; Alisdair Gibbons of Riversdale Resources; Brian Linderman, board member; Blair Painter; Rick Breckenridge, board member; and Waren Gietz, course superintendent. Photo courtesy of Crowsnest Pass Golf Club

Scenery and challenges impress after golf course overhaul

By Jess Harrington

As my guide and I meander along the paths of the course — some worn and familiar, some freshly paved and foreign — I find myself whispering “Wow” on more than one occasion.

After years of planning, construction and mounting anticipation, the Crowsnest Pass Golf Club’s new course was officially unveiled in a special ceremony June 28.

A party of about 20 coal company representatives, local government officials, course staff, club board executives, construction managers, designers and architects all beamed as they cut the ribbon to formally usher in a new era for the almost-100-year-old course.

The new course is a hybrid of eight brand-new holes and nine pre-existing holes that have been renovated into 10, all laid out in a completely novel way.

The extensive overhaul is part of Riversdale Resources’ and now Hancock Prospecting’s bid to develop their Grassy Mountain coal mine project just north of Blairmore. If the project is approved, the mine load-out will go where the “bottom nine” holes of the original 1920 golf course are located, along the north side of Highway 3.

To ensure the community still has access to a full 18 holes of recreation if the mine comes to fruition, Riversdale offered to fund the development of a new course. The club’s executive board accepted the proposal without hesitation.

This has proven to be an excellent decision.

In exploring the new course, as I was lucky to do earlier this week via private tour, it quickly becomes clear that while the Crowsnest Pass Golf Club has long been considered a “hidden gem,” it is now a truly world-class attraction.

To put it plainly, the course is gorgeous, new holes and renovated alike. It seems clear that the designer — world-renowned visionary Gary Browning — wanted to make sure he took full advantage of its location to give golfers a memorable experience.

What stands out most is the obvious attention Browning put into showcasing surrounding mountainscapes.

On the “new side” of the course especially, you’re treated to a stunning view of either Crowsnest Mountain, Turtle Mountain or the Crowsnest Range almost every time you tee off. And because the new holes sit higher up than any others previously built, even those familiar with some of these sights from the old course will find the new vistas fresh and exciting.

Another neat touch is that throughout the course, the empty areas between holes have been left largely uncultivated, so everywhere you go, you’re surrounded by patches of raw forest and wildflowers.

The eight new holes feature wider fairways than the old ones, which not only gives much of the course a more spacious, spread-out feeling, but makes it easier to play in some ways — which is good, as in other ways, the course has definitely become more challenging.

Notably, almost all of the holes have either been designed or renovated to feature bolder, more prominent bunkers than regular members might be used to. (I, for one, could have done without the new long pit in the middle of the No. 15 approach that took me three swings to get out of.)

A number of new water hazards and challenging greens have also helped raise the difficulty level.

Jason Roth, the club’s head professional, says the new course simply presents different kinds of challenges than it did before.

“This is a difference of 100 years of golf course design, so things are a little more creative now,” he says. “And it’s still a mountain course, so it’s always going to be a little hard.”

Jason says response to the new course has been almost overwhelmingly positive so far, with both longtime members and first-time visitors praising its beauty and dynamic play.

Dylan Bossenberry, assistant manager of the pro shop, confirms he’s “really heard nothing but good things” from the hundreds of players he’s checked out since the new course opened.

“People are really impressed, whether they’ve golfed it before or not,” he says.

The only complaint some patrons have is that because the new pro shop is still under construction (it’s due to open next season), players are currently being asked to start on Hole 18 and play through in a somewhat irregular order. 

“But if you follow the signs you should be fine,” Dylan says with a chuckle.

Overall, the new course feels like a fresh, vibrant and valuable addition to Crowsnest Pass, which this journalist is clearly not alone in feeling awed by. 

As Lawrie Wilson, a longtime golfer and club member, graciously expressed while waiting to approach his tee: “I don’t think we could ask for anything more fabulous than this. I think we are super fortunate to have this [in Crowsnest Pass].”

“We always had a great course,” he says. “But this just turned it fantastic, and I think if you can’t enjoy this, you’re missing what this life is all about.”

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The Crowsnest Range provides a dramatic background as staff member Dylan Bossenberry caps off one of the new holes.   Photo by Jess Harrington

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Mayor Blair Painter just needs to aim for Crowsnest Mountain to line up the perfect shot.   Photo courtesy of Crowsnest Pass Golf Club