Over the Moon in Saskatoon
With some great rounds in Michigan under our belt we made the turn around and headed back towards Vancouver Island to our home in Parksville, BC. We had previously thought of retracing our steps somewhat and perhaps detour southward and take in Mount Rushmore. The other option was to head northward while driving through the Dakotas and spend some time in the vibrant City of Bridges, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and my former hometown.
As the weather looked more promising in the prairies of Canada and golf still weighing heavily on our decision making process northward we headed.
A must play for me was Moonlake Golf and Country Club a fantastic golf course that provided many wonderful moments for me early in my golf career and also in my personal life. After a short and rather unrewarding stint working in a local retail golf store in Saskatoon in the late 80’s I became part of the original team that built this Les Furber designed inland “links style” gem. Long after I left in 1993 a third nine was added, designed by Golf Superintendent Murray Lee who now has the title of President/General Manager alongside his name at Moonlake. Many years of intense hard work and dedication by Mr. Lee and countless others have certainly paid off as Moonlake, situated along the banks of the South Saskatchewan river 10 miles south of Saskatoon, is now a debt free profit making business with upward of 65 full time and seasonal staff.
We arrived at Moonlake mid June to clear skies and a slightly moderate wind, two mainstays of prairie golf for sure.
It had been 15 years since I had last played Moonlake and the changes and improvements were apparent immediately. An impressive brick welcome sign and a paved windy entrance road were the first of these many pleasant surprises.
After sharing handshakes and pleasantries with Murray and a few others at the Moonlake office on site, Myra and I headed out to begin our round, I was giddy with anticipation of playing “The Moon” again and on this day we would play the original front nine now known as “The Highlands” coupled with the newest member of the triumvirate of nines, the Lee designed “ The Moors”.
The pro shop, where I hung my own hat for 5 years, is led by a very capable team of pros and on our day it was head professional Bobbi Brandon and fellow professional Darlene Finiak who were at the helm of the good ship Moon poised and smiling on a very, very busy day.
Moonlake has an excellent practice facility with piles of complimentary balls stacked neatly along the driving range and a fantastic huge practice putting green and chipping area situated next to the pro shop and first tee of the Highlands nine.
After a few stretches, 10-15 practice shots and a handful of putts this inland links style gem awaited us. With our camera gear and notepads loaded into one of the many Club Car Golf Cars with the Visage GPS System we were well on our way.
Scoring did not matter on this day for me, I had played the original 18 well over 500 times in my life, eagled every par 5 and birdied every par 4 and par 3 to boot. I have also witnessed 2 hole in ones, one on the original Hole # 17 by former Moonlake Head Pro Don Monson, a great short Par 3 which has an amazing double green it shares with Hole #8 of the Highlands.
This was more about finally showing Myra a course I have trumpeted since it has opened and have personally promoted to countless golfers in my world travels.
Blessed with amazing alluvial soil the fairways at Moonlake are truly grass carpets, a better player can easily pull out the driver and hit one “off the deck” especially effective on the often windy days that frequent the central prairies and its golf courses.
The marquee hole of many extremely well designed holes at Moonlake always was and still is Hole 2 on the Highlands. At 427 yards from the back tees this slight dog leg right Par 4 could be included in a top 100 of the best golf holes in the world and although perhaps the least “links” looking of all the holes, from a purest stand point, it is a 10 out of 10. A rating I rarely grant, trust me. It deserves a one-word superlative, flawless. It would almost be easier to provide a list of the “average” holes at Moonlake if space was limited in this critique, and again trust me please when I suggest it would be extremely short.As we strolled to the cart to head to hole number 3, Myra looked at me smiling and said ” I like these golf holidays”.
Holes of particular note on the Highlands are the Par 5 third, Par 4’s fifth and sixth and the finishing hole over the water the Par 4 ninth.
We made the turn towards number 1 of the Moors but not before partaking in a mid way snack and the hot dog gets a rating almost as high as Hole number 2. Fresh bun, nice plump wiener and a good selection of condiments including sauerkraut. Case closed.
The Moors is a slight alteration from links golf but still is a combination of great holes and one quirky one, the Par 4, 4th hole which has a landing area that looks like the size of your scorecard from the tee box and a bulbous green that you must position your approach shot below the hole. You could be chipping after your first putt if your approach shot is above the hole. After a short anxiety attack on the tee I realized that it was time for strategy rather than power and a well placed 175-yard hybrid off the tee followed by a smooth 7 iron produced a two-putt par. Crisis averted.
The final hole on the Moors is a fantastic double dogleg Par 5 and as good a finishing hole anywhere situated on the banks of Moonlake itself. Designed to be played as a 3 shot hole, the short approach shot you have leaves yourself a backdrop of the very impressive Station House, which houses The Moonlake Station Restaurant as well as a huge heated, tented banquet facility on the rear deck.
Of note on the Moors is not only this stunning final hole but the opening hole a short Par 4 which is not to be taken lightly and again finesse off the tee over power will give you a better chance at birdie from 100 yards then from the trees to the right or water left. Hole 2 is a grip it and rip Par 5, the third a testy Par 3, 4 you know all about already and and 5, 6, 7, and 8 are all really fun to play leading up to the grand finale number 9.
No matter what combination of nines you chose to play or if time permits playing all 3, it will certainly bring you more than a great amount of satisfaction to be sure.
Its quiet rural setting, great staff, fantastic lay out and excellent quality of turf grass , greens, tees and bunkers makes it one of Canada’s truly affordable and amazing golf courses and for me one of the must plays when golfing in this often overlooked of potential golf destinations. Head out there next summer to this must play.