- Architect: Rod Whitman
- Built in 2003
- Devon, Albera
- 9th in Canada (ScoreGolf)
- 7th in My Top 50 Golf Courses
To me, Rod Whitman is probably the best Canadian architect in the business right now. Sure, he only has five tracks in total (Sagebrush, Wolf Creek Links, Wolf Creek Old, Blackhawk & Cabot Links), but 4 of 5 rank in the Top 100 in the Country, and while Sagebrush wasn’t ranked this year, it’s not Whitman’s fault (it didn’t open for the past 2 years, making it ineligible), it still ranked 10th in 2014.
So what’s his secret? What makes his designs so outstanding that everyone is held to high regard? His architecture style is very simple, at least in words: work with what the land gives you.
That’s exactly how I would describe Blackhawk Golf Club. A modest site, and nothing too crazy like Sagebrush, his other top 10 design in Canada, Whitman uses the site he was given, and doesn’t try and alter too much.
The second hole is a good metaphor the the rest of the course. With fairly generous landing areas throughout — although penal if the player misses the fairway — the demand for good shots typically comes on the second shots.
After hitting your tee shot, the player is faced with a fairly difficult approach to a well guarded green, featuring 3 deep bunkers below the putting surface.
The third, like the first two, isn’t exactly an “exciting hole,” but that doesn’t make it a bad hole! This is our first downhill shot, and a beautiful par 3.
Standing on this tee, I couldn’t help but think of Wolf Creek Golf Resort. A slightly built up green for added difficulty, mixed with the classic Whitman bunkering style and the similar Alberta topography felt very Wolf Creek like, as if this hole could be transported about an hour and a half south.
After the first three holes, the player gets a taste of the par 5’s at Blackhawk. In general, they are a great set of par 5’s, with risk, reward, shotmaking and the occasional Hail Mary thrown in for fun.
On the par 5 fourth, the player is faced with a “grip it and rip it” tee shot that’s fairly wide. Encouraging the player to hit a big one, the fun comes in with the option to go for the green, or lay up in two.
Below, different looks at the layup area/approach shot into the par 5 fourth.
The layup area is heavily bunkered, with one bunker in the middle of the fairway and two towards the right side of the fairway. If the player hits their drive on the left side, these three bunkers mesh together, making the layup very hard to navigate.
The fifth is another hole that felt Wolf Creek-ish, with a semi-blind landing area, which doesn’t have any trouble in it other than the fescue left and right. After the approach, you get a nice view of the fabulous Whitman bunkering.
The hole also features a wonderful green complex that is devilish, but fair. The ball –with firm conditions that are likely year round at Blackhawk — could funnel into some pretty fun spots where the player will be challenged with incredibly difficult putts or chips.
The second par 5 on the front is potentially the best hole on the golf course. A blind landing area, but a fair tee shot that has a “runway” effect with the trees lining the outside and the fairway slopping to the middle.
The tee shot rewards the player who hits it on either the right line to utilize the natural contours or the player who hits it farther, as a slope around 270 yards off the black tees helps advance the ball 30-40 yards further.
After navigating the blind tee shot, the player, if they got down the hill, is faced with the difficult decision of going for the green in two or not. Like the fourth, there’s bunkers literally everywhere.
Perhaps the best part of this hole isn’t the tee shot or the fairway bunkering, but the green complex. The complex is likely the craziest of the course, with massive contours, ridges and slopes. The hole really only has a few options to put the pin, and all make it difficult to get to if you hit it in the wrong area of the green. Shot value is on a premium even on short wedge shots!
The 9th was my favorite par 4 on the course, or at least tied with the closing 4. A dogleg left, featuring some of the most dramatic topography on the course, the player can get fairly close to driving the green with the proper tee shot hugging the left side. A player who lays up is faced with two fairway bunkers, but with the fairway slopping drastically to the left I think it’d be fairly hard to hit a ball in them.
After getting the ball in play — one of the few holes that demands accuracy off the tee — the approach is fairly simple. A deep bunkers guard the left, which you will want to avoid.
After playing the relatively bland par 4 10th, you get to the postcard hole at Blackhawk: The 596 par 5 11th.
Beautiful bunkering and bush abundant, the tee shot is one that requires accuracy, but nothing that isn’t possible. The fairway is still fairly generous, and if you’re playing on the right tees the bunkers will be carry-able.
After the downhill tee shot, you’re faced with the option of going for this green in two. The green, guarded by water long, long left and right, is well-defended, but a beautifully placed kicker slope to the right helps the player feed the ball to the hole by hitting it short, essentially eliminating the water from the shot. To play this shot properly, the player should hit it as close as he’s comfortable to the fairway bunker on the left.
The par 3 12th is Rod’s long, difficult par 3 on the course. Sagebrush has the 6th, Wolf Creek Links has the 14th, Wolf Creek Old has the 17th (which is shorter than the others), and Blackhawk has the 12th, playing 240 yards from the black’s over water (!).
I don’t think this is a bad hole, but it’s just a lot of meat on the bone. A crazy green complex with water and a long iron/hybrid in the players hand makes the hole difficult. I just wasn’t a huge fan, but didn’t dislike it at all. I get the whole “penal” style of architecture, and can’t knock it for putting it in play every once-in-awhile.
The 13th was interesting. It was a blind tee shot, with a bunker in the middle of the fairway that you couldn’t see from the tee. In my opinion, it’d be best to either remove this bunker, which isn’t really an option as it makes an interesting tee shot, or build up the bunker so the player can at least see the lip from the tee. This would help visibility, and help the tee shot, which would be a great tee shot if built up. The bunker forces the player to either challenge the North Saskatchewan River on the left and get rewarded with a straight forward approach shot, or hit it right of the bunker and have an approach shot over a bunker that look like it’s green-side (hint: it’s not). Regardless of the blind tee shot with the bunker, it’s still a great hole, I just think it could be so much better. The only saving grace is the bunker is exactly in the middle of the fairway, so pick a side and go for it! A wonderful hole!
The 15th is the final par 5 for the strong set of 5’s at Blackhawk, and the most natural. Another bunker in the middle of the fairway comes into play, but instead of being in play on the lay up it’s in play on the drive.
A fairly generous fairway, apart from the bunker in the middle (which is carry-able), you’re again faced with the decision to go for the green in two. This one is likely the least-guarded around the green to the eye, meaning the player will likely go for the green. In hindsight, the topography around the green is actually quite difficult, with rumbles and bumps around the green. A good short game is even more important if you miss this green!
A nice par 3, the 16th is over water with a shorter club in hand.
A fairly simple hole, yet a beautiful one, and a great 16th, especially for a tournament. Nothing wild about this hole, but a good hole that forces you to hit the proper shot!
The 18th is among the best par 4 finishers I’ve ever played. At 440 yards, the hole demands length, but with bush left and right, it also requires accuracy. The bunkers you see above aren’t in play on the drive, and are there for aiming (which is actually a really good line).
The drive needs to be placed on the left side of the fairway for a good angle in, and a chance to get it close without flying it right to the hole. Below on the left is from the right side of the fairway, while the right is the approach from the left hand side.
The tee shot is just the start of the difficulties. The green is guarded by some deep bunkers, 4 to be exact, on the right hand side.
Luckily, Whitman’s a man of many routes, and found a great site for this green complex. The player can hit his shot out to the left and watch it kick down. While it’s unlikely the ball will get close, you will be putting instead of trying to get out of the incredibly deep bunkers.
Overall, Blackhawk Golf Club is a fantastic golf course, and an even better experience. I’d go back in a heart beat, and it feels like it’s one of those courses that only gets better with multiple rounds under your belt.
Overall, I felt the front to be relatively boring, at least until the 7th. From there on in, it’s amazing. The front’s topography is a lot less interesting, however, and I feel as if Whitman did the best he could.
At 9th in Canada, it feels slightly overrated, but it’s still a fantastic golf course worthy of a high ranking in Canada.
If you ever get an invitation to Blackhawk, don’t turn it down!