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Canada's Best Nine Holes: Elk Island National Park

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  • Canada's Best Nine Holes: Elk Island National Park

    The internet has been a positive and negative for the golf industry. On one hand, access to travel information, course photos, reviews and more has made it easier to choose where golfers want to visit and usually understand a bit of what they're going to get (thankfully, at the really good golf courses, the internet rarely does justice). But those same reasons have become a bit of a detractor, to the point that hidden gems are, well, no longer hidden, and you can almost judge golf courses using the internet.

    So when I came across Elk Island for the first time in 2018, on a trip that included Northern Bear, Royal Mayfair, Kananaskis and Windermere, I was blown away. All I knew about Elk Island was it was a Stanley Thompson design, built as a predecessor to Cape Breton Highlands Links. There was no photos or course tours available. In fact, nobody I even knew had played it! So when I pulled into the National Park, I had no idea what to expect. Upon arrival, you walk to the clubhouse, situated at the bottom of a massive hill that almost mimics a moguls run found on Whistler Blackcomb or Fernie. From that moment on, I knew it would be different.

    Granted, Elk Island blew me away the first time I saw it, but I was not quite sure how good it actually was. It was a bit of an oddity to me the first time around, but as it sat with me, I began to remember more things that made me shake my head, or laugh in applause. When the opportunity presented itself, I went back to Elk Island in October of 2020 to experience it yet again, following two friends, one of which as played the Top 100 in Canada, and the other over half of the world's top 100, which confirmed my suspicions: this is the best 9 hole golf course in Canada, and one of the most underrated courses in the country.

    2020's return trip brought even more joy than the first plunge to the mysterious Elk Island. I remembered holes like the 5th and 9th fondly, but the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 7th had faded slightly. Sure, I remember them being excellent holes, but I had forgotten how aggressive the fall off on the Hog's Back fairway 7th was. Elk Island's width, combined with fairway contours that inspire and promote shot making are a deadly combination.

    Granted, Elk Island's traditional "Conditioning" might not be as good as a St. George's or Capilano, of course, but neither was Crystal Downs before Tom Doak, or Cape Breton Highlands Links in the recent years. But what remains is the purest form of Stanley Thompson's architecture, yet it is the antithesis of his work. The par 3's are not standouts here (while good regardless), and there isn't massive Octopus Bunker complexes or wavy Cleopatra bunkering convocations here (in fact, only 5 bunkers on the entire nine holes can be found, less than Jasper's par 3, 9th!). What you get is a collection of some of the most intriguing par 4's in the country, over a brilliant canvas for Thompson to paint, that shows his routing prowess.

    Comparing it to some of the other best 9 holes in the country like Norfolk, Uplands, Fort Macleod, Toronto Hunt, Kenogamisis' Thompson nine and more seems unfair to those, as they are all excellent golf courses. Elk Island is a pure step above, and one that should not be missed on a visit to Edmonton, Jasper, or even Alberta.

    I apologize in advance for ruining the euphoric feeling of stumbling upon a hidden gem that only you and a handful of people know about, but Elk Island's architecture has been kept a secret for far too long, and it is time to change that. Click the link below to read the full review, with a collection of pictures that try their best to showcase the brilliant golf holes (but for example, the 7th has a 80 foot knoll the player has to play over if you accidentally play to the right side of the fairway, and there's no way I can show that with a camera!).

    https://blog.torontogolfnuts.com/cou...ew-elk-island/

  • #2
    Great review as always Drew, and I always look forward to any of your new postings.

    Have you ever played the Guelph Country Club 9 hole course ? ( founded in 1912 )
    They have a good page on their history here:
    https://www.tgcc.ca/aboutus/

    If you're passing through our neck of the woods, I think you would find it quite entertaining as there are lots of elevation changes. The course has probably the tallest / oldest trees remaining in Guelph. They offer 18 holes with an alternate set of tee decks. And then while you're in our neck of the woods, River's Edge in Kitchener ( very close to the 401 ) is another good 9-holer IMO.

    Keep up the great work ! ~ Andy
    WITB: Sun Mountain 4.5LS
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    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by ARL67 View Post
      Great review as always Drew, and I always look forward to any of your new postings.

      Have you ever played the Guelph Country Club 9 hole course ? ( founded in 1912 )
      They have a good page on their history here:
      https://www.tgcc.ca/aboutus/

      If you're passing through our neck of the woods, I think you would find it quite entertaining as there are lots of elevation changes. The course has probably the tallest / oldest trees remaining in Guelph. They offer 18 holes with an alternate set of tee decks. And then while you're in our neck of the woods, River's Edge in Kitchener ( very close to the 401 ) is another good 9-holer IMO.

      Keep up the great work ! ~ Andy
      Guelph golf and ball hockey club is a sweet piece of land. It's a shame they dont have the resources for a bit more maintence and improvements

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by ARL67 View Post
        Great review as always Drew, and I always look forward to any of your new postings.

        Have you ever played the Guelph Country Club 9 hole course ? ( founded in 1912 )
        They have a good page on their history here:
        https://www.tgcc.ca/aboutus/

        If you're passing through our neck of the woods, I think you would find it quite entertaining as there are lots of elevation changes. The course has probably the tallest / oldest trees remaining in Guelph. They offer 18 holes with an alternate set of tee decks. And then while you're in our neck of the woods, River's Edge in Kitchener ( very close to the 401 ) is another good 9-holer IMO.

        Keep up the great work ! ~ Andy
        I have not played Guelph, but it is certainly on the list as I have heard excellent things! Perhaps this year. Appreciate the kind words!

        Comment


        • #5
          That area outside of Edmonton is loaded with hidden gem 9 hole tracks. You ever play Two Hills Lions GC? Was a really nice Puddicombe design. When I lived out there St Paul was a good one too, but it’s now 18 holes. The 40km circle around Edmonton is just loaded with unique 9 hole tracks.

          Buy the park pass at Elk Island and you get reduced green fees as well!!

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by TruthHurts View Post
            That area outside of Edmonton is loaded with hidden gem 9 hole tracks. You ever play Two Hills Lions GC? Was a really nice Puddicombe design. When I lived out there St Paul was a good one too, but it’s now 18 holes. The 40km circle around Edmonton is just loaded with unique 9 hole tracks.

            Buy the park pass at Elk Island and you get reduced green fees as well!!
            I have not! I'll add it to the list right now. You're right though, IMO, Edmonton is the most underrated city for golf in the country. Lots of great stuff there
            Last edited by drewharvie; Jan 16, 2021, 04:21 PM.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by drewharvie View Post
              Comparing it to some of the other best 9 holes in the country like Norfolk, Uplands, Fort Macleod, Toronto Hunt, Kenogamisis' Thompson nine and more seems unfair to those, as they are all excellent golf courses. Elk Island is a pure step above, and one that should not be missed on a visit to Edmonton, Jasper, or even Alberta.
              https://blog.torontogolfnuts.com/cou...ew-elk-island/
              Keep pointing the spotlight on the great 9-hole courses in Canada! Uplands is where I first learned to play, so that will always be a special place for me. Norfolk was a pleasant surprise this past year and I'm looking forward to playing it again.

              Comment

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