Dream Golf and Alberta Dunes

Today I saw what potentially could be the best golf course in Canada.

It isn’t in Toronto and it isn’t on the ocean. Instead, it is a half hour south of Lloydminster, Alberta, right on the Alberta/Saskatchewan border.

The working title is “Alberta Dunes.” Right now it is nothing more than a series of wild dunes, massive sandy blowouts and a ton of potential. As Bill Coore, the architect behind Sand Hills in Nebraska and the man scouting the site with longtime friend Rod Whitman, said today: “This sight is just made for golf.” Not only is the site remarkable, maybe one of the best untouched sites for golf in North America, but Mike Keiser, the greeting card mogul behind Bandon Dunes in Oregon, has become fascinated with the project. He’s made not one, but three visits to the remote site just because he’s interested in seeing it be turned from a rustic vision into a golf course.

“Without question this site is worth the effort of everyone involved,” said Coore, one of a half dozen people who spent today wandering around the golf course. “And I can’t overstate the impact of having Mike involved. He’s the symbol of dunes golf in the world right now.”

So what makes Alberta Dunes such an amazing possibility? According to Coore, Alberta Dunes differs from Sand Hills, the remote Nebraska dunes site that Coore and partner Ben Crenshaw turned into one of the world’s best golf courses. The dunes are more “compact” and the rumpled land is different from the expansiveness of Sand Hills. But different doesn’t mean less significant or interesting. Both Coore and Whitman see boundless possibilities in the site. Keiser says four of the world’s greatest par threes rest within your scope of vision at all times when you are on the property. Certainly one hole that is currently mapped out that I saw as part of our walking tour today, a 185-yard par four perched in front of a massive fall off looked reminiscent of Royal Portrush’s fabled Calamity, one of the best-known one shot holes in the world.

Beyond that holes, the land clearly dictates several grand visions for golf. In some places the holes fit to the land like puzzle pieces; green sites rest near massive, natural blowouts, and fairway contours roll and drop endlessly throughout the property. In places it looks like you could grab your sticks and hit balls right now, something Keiser encouraged me to do often during our day spent walking the property. What could come out of this? Keiser asked me to rank the site in conjunction with other great Canadian golf courses. While I can’t be certain given the rough edges of parts of the site, it looks clear that it has all the potential to rest among the Top Five courses in Canada and rival the likes of St. George’s, Hamilton and Highlands Links. Could this site, hidden among blowouts and wild dunes, be uncloaked to reveal the best course in Canada? Without going into Trump-like hyperbole, that’s certainly a possibility.

That’s clearly what Keiser thinks. He envisions a Sand Hills-like golf course where people travel and stay on site, tackling the great golf course with guests and friends before heading home. It might work in the booming Alberta market, with its apparently limitless supply of oil and the amazing riches that has brought to the province. And for those that say a site south of Lloydminster is too remote, won’t be fans of Keiser’s new mantra: “Remote is good. Remote is the new luxury.” Of course this isn’t surprising coming from a businessman who invested in an unknown area of Oregon and convinced thousands of golfers to come and play his amazing creation.

Nothing is currently finalized with the site or potential course. That’s all it is at the moment: potential. All that’s left, in Keiser’s mind, is to put the site together with appropriate investors. He’s more than willing to step into the fray, but feels a Canadian should lead the project, not a guy from Chicago.

“It is a great concept that needs a white knight,” Keiser said.

Note to readers: I’m in Saskatoon tomorrow and will report back on my experience at Dakota Dunes, Golf Digest’s Best New Course In Canada in 2005.

Amen to that.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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