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|Pine Ridge Golf Club is a Donald Ross design on rolling sand-based hills northeast of Winnipeg. (Courtesy of pineridgegolfclub.com)|
WINNIPEG, Manitoba - You know where to find mountain golf. You know where to find desert golf. You know where to find oceanside golf. The answer to any of those destination propositions is not Manitoba, Canada. But if you can be enticed to get away from overrun resorts and overpriced play, have we got a province for you.
Canada's "middle" province is much like several plains states, flat terrain surrounded on most sides by more flat terrain. But not entirely, and therein lies the secret to finding the kind of golf you wouldn't expect from prairie topography.
In Manitoba's easternmost region, you'll find several courses that belong on a list of North America's best-kept secrets. It's called Sunset Country by some, but what you really find is the landscape of the Canadian Shield -- lakes galore, rocky outcroppings everywhere painted with pines and spruce and cedar and many other trees and brush. It's golf that's easy on the eyes and pleasing to the lungs.
On the farthest southeastern tip of the province, just a minute or two from the Manitoba-Minnesota international border, one of Manitoba's newest courses should grace your golf adventure.
Lake of the Sandhills Golf Course, opened in 2002, is the product of six years work on the Buffalo Point First Nation on the southwestern shore of Lake of the Woods. The layout winds through the dense forest and runs to, from, and along the lake with an interesting variety of holes.
Its full championship layout goes back to 6,891 yards but can be shortened to as little as 5,056. Make sure you don't let the lapping waves from Lake of the Woods, all the way up the right side, ruin your concentration on the home hole.
It's a good bet Lake of the Sandhills will join what's usually known as Manitoba's triple crown of courses outside of the province's capital of Winnipeg. Clear Lake Golf Club in the province's western region, Hecla Golf Course north of the city on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, and Falcon Lake Golf Course near the Manitoba-Ontario border have long been regarded as must-plays for any visitor.
Falcon Lake Golf Course is located in the Whiteshell Provincial Park on the south side of the Trans-Canada Highway.
Again, you're treated to a tree-surrounded paradise and you can bite off as much as you dare, with Falcon's 6,937 blue-tee yards. The illusion of tightness, not to mention Falcon Creek, follows you around the layout, but fairway width is often more generous than you think.
Be sure to collect a beverage and a snack at the turn. You'll need the strength for Falcon's brutish 600-yard par-5 13th, a hole that's as straight as a bowling alley but unforgiving when it comes to mishits. At a regular green fee of $35, one national publication has rated Falcon as one of Canada's best golf values.
And while you're in the province's east, you probably need to see another course the locals often put on their day-trip schedule.
You'll find the Pinawa Golf Club east of Highway 11 on Provincial road 211 at the town of Pinawa. Along the banks of the Winnipeg River, the course is far more difficult than its maximum 6,563 yards might indicate but blends the qualities of the Shield and the wilderness in remarkable proportion.
Many a Pinawa round has been interrupted for deer wandering across fairways. Again, you'll be hard-pressed to find a richer day for $30 Canadian, at most, and the drive is barely more than an hour from the city.
Closer to Winnipeg and the province's population center, the town of Steinbach (about 35 minutes southeast from the city's Perimeter Highway) is blessed with two busy golf facilities.
The older of the two, Steinbach Fly-In Golf Club, is one of the most player-friendly courses in the province and features a new clubhouse and restaurant. Try not to finish your game around mealtimes, because the townsfolk crowd the restaurant on a regular basis.
Just east of town, The Links at Quarry Oaks has now been open 10 years and in that time, has won several customer service awards. A Les Furber design, Quarry Oaks has been expanded to 27 holes, with the Desert nine being added to the original Quarry and Oak nines.
Quarry Oaks takes full advantage of and is built around a former gravel quarry and through an oak forest. Furber, based in Canmore, Alberta, has done a superb job with large greens and multiple tee boxes, concocting a test of varying difficulty by finding more than 7,000 yards for those who brought their bravery, but leaving a very manageable and reasonable 5,400 yards for those who didn't.
As you roll back into Winnipeg, you'll find the terrain flattening considerably. Still, the city is home to plenty of wonderful golf experiences from municipal courses like John Blumberg, along the Assiniboine River, or semi-private clubs like Rossmere, St. Boniface, Bel Acres and Larters at St. Andrew's.
You can also find several nationally known private clubs that aren't normally accessible to the public. However, a call in advance and a letter of introduction from your home club can often get you in the door.
Among them, St. Charles Country Club boasts considerable history. It's been home to a Canadian Open, as well as LPGA and Champions Tour events in the last decade. The 27-hole club boasts Alister Mackenzie's only known Canadian work, its North nine, and is the only known golf club to feature nines each by Mackenzie and fellow legend Donald Ross.
Other Winnipeg private clubs like Southwood, Glendale, Elmhurst and Niakwa have hosted national amateur championships in recent years and are always well groomed. One other, Pine Ridge Golf Club, is a Ross design on rolling sand-based hills northeast of the city and is the current home of Manitoba's annual Canadian Professional Golf Tour stop, the MTS Classic, in July.
Heading west out of Winnipeg, you find the well-known Clear Lake Golf Course about a three-hour drive away, mostly on the Yellowhead Highway (No. 16). Located in Wasagaming, north of Brandon, Clear Lake is inside Riding Mountain National Park.
The course goes only 6,070 yards but the up-and-down landscape presents some of the most picturesque golf course views in the province. During summer months, Clear Lake is a popular cottage and vacation destination and the tee times fill up fast.
In the province's western region, you'll find many enjoyable nine-hole clubs in and around small towns. In Morden and Neepawa, however, nine-holers have been expanded and renovated to become regulation-length 18-hole courses and are towns visited by many serious players.
In Neepawa, local architect David Grant has transformed nine into 18 by incorporating the bluffs that run through the land just south and east of Riding Mountain National Park.
In Morden, closer to the U.S. border on Highway 3, Furber is responsible for the redesign of Minnewasta Golf and Country Club into an 18-holer of 6,582 yards. Minnewasta has hosted a Manitoba Amateur championship and its front nine of uphill and downhill shots will do its best to test your adaptability.
Whichever of the more than 100 Manitoba clubs and courses you pick for your personal tour -- it's a sure thing that most will be less than a $60 green fee -- keep one idea in mind. The province is known as Friendly Manitoba (says so right on the license plates) for a reason.
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