Dakota Dunes Sparks Prairie Golf Boom

(Last updated August 2018.)

Previously unfamiliar to the majority of Canadian golfers, Saskatchewan’s golf courses are suddenly as hot as a prairie heat wave.

In August 2018, Wascana Country Club, a private facility in Regina, was the site of Canadian Brooke Henderson’s victory in the LPGA Tour’s Canadian Pacific Women’s Open, the first time Canada’s national championship had been played in Saskatchewan.

Dakota Dunes Golf Links, 14th Green

View of the 14th green at Saskatoon’s award-winning Dakota Dunes Golf Links. (Image: Dakota Dunes)

A booming local economy, native son Graham DeLaet’s success on the PGA Tour, and the fame of Saskatoon’s award-winning Dakota Dunes Golf Links have golf operators celebrating a run of good fortune unprecedented in the life of the former have-not province.

Excitement is growing not just about Saskatchewan’s golf courses, but also for the oil and gas, potash, uranium, diamonds, coal, canola, wheat and other resources fueling an economic surge dubbed the Saskaboom.

Like hockey and Roughriders football, golf has long been essential to life on the prairie. The province’s first organized club was the Royal Regina Golf Club, which opened in 1899, six years before Saskatchewan became a province. By 1925, there were more than 100 golf courses (today there are about 250), ranging from lush parkland layouts to rudimentary tracks with sand fairways and greens.

From the prairie metropolises of Saskatoon and Regina to the towns of Nipawin and Waskesiu, Saskatchewan offers a lineup of attractive and challenging public golf courses that not long ago escaped the notice of most Canadian golfers.

Among Saskatchewan’s top tracks are Cooke Municipal Golf Course  in Prince Albert; Willows Golf and Country Club and Moonlake Golf and Country Club in Saskatoon; Evergreen Golf Club in Nipawin; North Battleford Golf and Country Club; Deer Valley Golf and Estates near Regina; Estevan Woodlawn Golf Club; Elmwood Golf and Country Club and Chinook Golf Course in Swift Current; and Waskesiu Golf Club, a Stanley Thompson-designed jewel dating from the 1930s in Prince Albert National Park.

Primetime green fees even at these top courses average about $50, less than half that charged by many Canadian courses of similar quality. In fact, Saskatchewan golfers have historically resisted even modest price hikes, stubbornly convinced that affordable golf is their prairie birthright.

DeLaet, the first Saskatchewan native to play fulltime on the PGA Tour, honed his game as a junior in the town of Weyburn, where golf hats inscribed with Graham’s Gallery are a hot ticket at the Weyburn Golf Club. Whenever DeLaet’s name appears on a tournament leader board, fans throughout the province anxiously follow every swing by the long-hitting local boy, who sports a tattoo of a Canadian flag on his right leg.

But even more than the economy and DeLaet’s popularity, Saskatchewan’s golf boom has been built on the success of Dakota Dunes Golf Links, a championship layout near Saskatoon declared Canada’s best new course of 2005 by Golf Digest.

Here, at last, was a marquee property capable of igniting golf tourism throughout the province. Marketers, hoping to emulate the success of Prince Edward Island, which quickly transformed itself into Canada’s hottest golf destination after the Links at Crowbush Cove won the same award in 1994, prominently feature Dakota Dunes in tourism advertising campaigns.

Dakota Dunes Golf Links, Saskatoon, Aerial View

Aerial view of a prairie landscape ideal for a links-style course. (Image: Dakota Dunes)

Financed by four Saskatchewan First Nations, Dakota Dunes kicks and bucks across 240 acres of wind-swept prairie. Canadian architects Wayne Carleton and Graham Cooke built their bunkers wild and woolly, edged by native grasses. Though generous landing areas encourage big hitters (two of the par fives are more than 600 yards long), slanting fairways, sinkholes and occasional blind shots from behind sand dunes booby-trap almost every hole.

“I was astonished when I first saw the endless white-capped dunes,” Carleton says. “It was land made for a links-style course. A one-in-a-million property.”

Dakota Dunes quickly captured the attention of golfers around the world and since 2008 has raised its profile even higher by hosting the Dakota Dunes Casino Open, a PGA Tour Canada event named after the First Nations casino on the same grounds.

Already dealt so many winning hands, Saskatchewan golf couldn’t have hoped for a better—or more symbolic—setting for its annual showcase.

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