Back in the late 1980’s two significant golf construction projects were undertaken in Saskatoon, the Les Furber GDS team designed and built Moonlake Golf and CC and the other known as the Willows Golf and CC.
At that time there was a healthy rivalry between the two, one The Willows a 36 hole U.S. style target golf design with its grandiose clubhouse located within the city limits of Saskatoon and the other Moonlake with its rural appeal being a more countrified Scottish style links layout.
Being in the golf business afforded many perks and one of the more rewarding ones was access to other golf courses as a complimentary guest now and then. As I worked at Moonlake every couple of months I would bring a buddy along as a guest and when it was quieter than usual take advantage of this and go play The Willows.
Back then it was basically 36 holes of varying length and difficulty void of any trees of any significant size to be an obstacle especially off the tee. Occasionally you would get stuck behind one and have to play around it but these were generally small, young planted saplings.
Fast-forward to this year 2015, mid June and at least 18 years from when I last played it and the change in the course is dramatic and substantial. Some of the trees of various species are easily 50-60 feet high and have created a wonderful framing effect down each side of fairways and around the backs of the greens for many of the holes.
There are countless great holes on this fantastic layout and its testament to this which was a factor in The Willows being a stop on the CPGA tour back in the 90’s with household PGA Tour names like Wier, Stricker, Waite and Boros among others having played The Willows Classic annually for a few years.
The Willows also possesses one of the most exciting golf holes you could ever play, the par 3 number 8 on the Island nine. Few courses can boast a true island green par 3 and this one is a beauty to be sure. Although we didn’t play the Island nine on this recent visit in June 2015 it will be cause to return soon and challenge this floating target.
Specifically to our day of golf which we enjoyed with my close friend ex golf professional Don Monson and his son, Halen, a Willows employee.
We parked up the car and headed into the pro shop to meet Head Pro Brennan Gee and some of his staff. He set us up with 18 holes as well as range balls, course guides and a power cart on the Bridges, Xena combo. Unlike the clear, sunny, warm day at Moonlake the day before, it was very windy, cool and overcast and if it was within Brennan’s power to turn down the fans and turn up the heat I am sure he would have. His professional, friendly and knowledgeable nature was apparent from the first hello and made us feel very welcome. A tip of my Willows hat I bought must go to young Tyler and Alise, his 2 understudies for their friendly and thorough manner too.
Out on the course who was marshaling that day but an old colleague Jerry, from my former days doing promotional work with The Saskatoon Blades. Jerry used to be one of the tops ushers at all the events at the formerly named Sask Place.
To accommodate the marketplace and its financial sustainability The Willows landscape has been modified to facilitate some very stylish condos and a subdivision of very impressive looking 2 and 3 story large homes.
Four new holes were subsequently built on the Xena nine. Although not so laden with the foliage of most of the original nine holes from its inception they are very enjoyable to play with an almost links type look to them.
Xena nine is often combined with The Bridges to form one 18 and the Lakes and Island nines form a second 18, although it quite possible depending on the flow of play or tournaments being hosted you could play any combination of the 4.
The day was flawless with the burly young Halen ripping at it with every swing, Don hitting green after green in regulation and Myra and I beaming from ear to ear completely pleased with the whole experience and our own great shots too.
The Willows has a very golf friendly set up. The ground level walk out entrance of the pro shop leads directly to the power carts, driving range and practice green plus the nearby canteen. Once you are ready and paid up everything is there right in front of you clearly marked to direct you to the specific nine you are teeing off of after a warm up on the range and practice green.
Upstairs away from all this hustle and bustle is a fantastic Italian restaurant called Il Salici; open year round, overlooking the golf course.
Having lived in Saskatoon for 12 years, when asked by many of the local golfers here on Vancouver Island if there are any decent courses to play in Saskatchewan I always delight in mentioned a resounding yes and The Willows Golf and Country Club now a mature, established course is one I happily endorse.