Review: Elk Island Golf Course

Information:

  • Elk Island National Park, Alberta
  • Public – Daily Fee
  • Stanley Thompson (1936)

Stanley Thompson is Canada’s most prominent architect, responsible for some of Canada’s most famous courses, specifically Capilano, Banff, Jasper, St. George’s and Highlands Links.

In Alberta, Stanley has 7 courses: Waterton, Edmonton Country Club, Royal Mayfair, Banff, Jasper, Elk Island, and the Lethbridge Country Club, with only Waterton, Jasper and Elk Island being virtually unchanged from the original design.

The course is a blast from the past. No perfect conditioning, featuring natural, rumpled fairways with minimal bunkering. A truly amazing golf experience. See for yourself below!


The course starts out with a generous short par 4, playing 330 or so yards. The tee shot bends to the right, and the landing area is slightly uphill, killing drives. There’s lots of width here!

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Pro tip: If you want a longer hole by about 30 yards, go back and to the left, and a tee that plays close to 365 yards is hiding back there.

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The view from the alternate tee box on hole 1

As you can see below, this hole plays drastically uphill right from the tee, playing 36 feet uphill the whole way.Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 5.25.52 PM.png

The second, the longest par 4 on the course at 410 yards, is a slightly downhill hole, and moving ever so slightly to the right.

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The hole plays up and over some interesting topography, but ultimately ends up playing about 10 feet downhill.

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The approach features two of the five bunkers on the course, and is just one of two bunkered holes.

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The third, a par 5 at 448 yards, is realistically a par 4 for todays standards. However, shaggier fairways limit roll on the ball, so you won’t really have wedge in to this green. Again, the fairway is pretty wrinkled, and moves over some interesting land.Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 5.38.26 PM.png

The approach is difficult however with a green slightly perched up, falling off in every direction.

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The fourth is the first one-shotter on the course, and is a shorty, only playing 133 yards. The par 3 is a wedge for most, but is death long, and right.

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You can really get a feel for Thompson’s genius at a place like this. A look below shows the extreme mounding that makes a miss long severely difficult.

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The 5th is an extremely good par 4. I’ve yet to make it out to Cape Breton Highlands Links, but this hole felt and looked similar. I believe both were built around the same time.

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The hole doglegs to the left slightly, and plays pretty much level after the hills you see in the fairway. This is one of three or so holes that feature a bell that should be rung when the group ahead of you is clear.

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The approach shot was probably the most photogenic part of the course, and likely due to the three bunkers guarding this green. I felt like this was the best approach because it felt most like Stanley’s famed courses.

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The 6th is another old 5 that’s closer to a par 4 now. 459 yards from the only tee box, and again plays up and over some interesting land, only to play downhill.

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The approach shot plays over a slight valley, and features some run offs right, left, and short. Even when going for the green in two, one has to be sharp, especially if the pins are tucked like they were the day I played.

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Looking from behind the hole you can see the downhill nature of the hole:

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Following up the final par 5 is a short par 4 akin to the 1st.

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Playing similar in length at 333 yards, this hole also ever-so-slightly bends to the right and rolls over some extreme undulations. I will say this, Elk Island is a very difficult walk, even for 9 holes! Google Earth Pro is telling me this hole plays slightly downhill, which is interesting because I felt like it didn’t, but with so much undulations in the fairway, it’s actually tough to really know which way the hole plays.

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You get a sense of the undulating land when you get to the fairway:

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Not something you see often in today’s golf courses: rumpled fairways that make a flat lie a rarity

The 8th is another great par 3, a little longer than the last, playing 150 yards.

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This hole felt like a do or die sort of shot, where short and long were both no good. If there’s any miss, it’s directly left.

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The tee shot at the 9th is blind, like a few of the tee shots at Elk Island are, but the width helps the golfer not be worried with where its landing like a lot of blind tee shots force you to be.

The 9th hole is my favorite hole on the course, and actually I felt like the 9th is one of the better par 4’s I’ve seen thus far. Playing up and over some interesting contours, this hole is absolutely the most extreme hole on the course. Oh, and it’s bunker-less. Check out the elevation change below:

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The approach plays to a tucked green-site behind some natural land formations. The fairway also is extremely undulated, and plays downhill.

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Looking towards the 9th green, and the clubhouse in the back. Too much smoke makes these pictures come out pretty bad, but you can still see some of the slopes.

Leaving the 9th, one has the feeling that Elk Island is special, but like a lot of the older courses that have fallen to technology and money, its your imagination that ends up liking the place, and if you can transport yourself back to the 30’s, this place would’ve been incredible when it first opened.

The more I play Stanley Thompson courses, especially these under-the-radar courses from him, the more I’m inclined to believe he hasn’t built a bad course in his life. One would be foolish to skip Elk Island on a trip to the Edmonton area.

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