To many Albertan’s, the idea of heading out on a golf vacation in October is quite a ridiculous thing to attempt. With our golf seasons often only starting in mid-May and ending in October, playing in the shoulder season can make for some unusual golfing conditions. You can go from sunny and warm one day to windy, cold and snowing the next. With that said however, my destination on this golf vacation was to an oasis of sorts in Alberta, where golfers can often be found playing the links on Christmas Day – Medicine Hat, Alberta. Alberta’s southernmost metropolis enjoys some of the warmest and driest weather across the province, and is known as the ‘sunniest place in Canada’ for a reason, with over 330 days of sun each year. Tucked into the Canadian Badlands, Medicine Hat boasts golf courses that cater to everyone from new and beginner golfers through to challenging even the best players in the province. This October, I challenged the golf courses in ‘The Hat’ to tell you about some of the unique experiences that await golfers and tourists alike in this unique, memorable and historic city.
My golf adventure started Friday afternoon in Edmonton, where I headed out to the International Airport to catch my flight our to Medicine Hat. Yup, I’m flying. Integra Air is the only airline in Alberta with direct flights from Edmonton to Medicine Hat, and this 1-hour quick trip is far better than the 5 and 1/2 hour drive down south. They even built a golf package to support the interest of golfers in Edmonton. The Integra Golf Package is the perfect weekend getaway for golfers. It includes direct flights, hotel accommodations, some local food/drinks and your choice of three rounds of golf in The Hat. It’s honestly a great deal, and avoiding the 10+ hours of driving to get there and back gets you in ‘game mode’ almost immediately. You fly out Friday afternoon post-work, get a local beer sample and pizza for the trip, and arrive an hour later, golf bag and luggage in tow. The propeller plane has a great atmosphere with all passengers chatting and talking about their plans for the weekend ahead – great for a golfing foursome and even a stag experience. One passenger on my flight even stated she hopes no-one finds out about this airline as she she likes being able to book last minute and grab a seat. The flight into Medicine Hat gives you some incredible views of the Canadian Badlands on the approach, and the city’s iconic landmark – the largest teepee in the world on the flight in. Be sure to snap a shot, as it truly is a beautiful sight. From the airport, my hotel was only a short 10 minute drive, entertainment and plenty of places to eat await you in the city center for the first night – golf begins early Saturday, so get well fed and get some sleep.
For my Integra Golf Package, my first golfing challenge was at the Medicine Hat Golf & Country Club (you get to choose your own golf courses to customize it to meet your golfing needs). After a delicious and all encompassing buffet breakfast at The Medicine Hat Lodge, I hit up the golf course, range and putting greens to warm-up. This traditional golf course was built in 1913 on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River and Police Point Park. It’s a target-style golf course, with smaller greens, dog legs through tall aspen trees and undulating greens. On this particular Saturday, I was also challenged to a heavy 30km/h+ wind sweeping in from the west, blowing yellow and orange leaves everywhere – which made the course particularly difficult, and spotting my golf ball even more so. This championship course is especially difficult when its breezy, so consider yourself lucky if you play it on a calm day. Luckily I had the pleasure of playing with some locals, who ‘showed me the way’ on many holes. Despite the wind, and my usual putting woes, I was able to play a pretty solid round, on account of my solid driving and wind game. I fired a 78, with 3 birdies, two of which from hitting the par 5’s in two. With renovations planned on two holes this year, I’m excited to play this track again in its revised state next year. Post round, the clubhouse features a selection of local brews on tap and great food. Mid-summer the patio section overlooking the South Saskatchewan River and the Finlay Bridge (a part of Medicine Hat’s history being built in 1908) would be a great place to spend an evening and enjoy a beer and eats.
Saturday evening, there was lots of activities to choose from, but my night consisted of an art walk downtown, and then I head out for some live music at the Medalta Dirty Hands Festival. With Day One complete, and a busy Sunday planned ahead, it was time to head back to the hotel for a good nights sleep.
On day two of my golfing adventure, I had 27 holes to play, a brewery tour, and a quick lunch at a local cafe to enjoy. The morning started again with a breakfast buffet at my hotel, and then I headed off to the Riverview Golf Club in Redcliff – about 15 minutes from my hotel. This community course provided my first badlands golf experience with many holes hugging the edges of the coulees. I’d never seen anything like it. These pictures don’t even do the views justice. Definitely a must-play for any golfers stopping for a visit for a really unique golfing escape.
I played the back tees, and as the winds from the day prior had not yet died down, this course’s open layout forced me to play plenty of knock-downs and pitch and runs. The greens here, were also very small, but forgiving and playable at the same time. I found the greens held the ball well on shots in from the fairway, and then held their line on solidly struck putts. Overall, the course conditions were exceptional, and my only regret was only being able to play 9 holes. If you do only get a chance to play nine, like I did, ask in advance if you can play the back nine, as its truly was a great test of golf, with incredible views on a unique landscape.
As the sun tried to warm up this chilly October morning, I was off to Zucchini Blossom in town for a quick lunch before heading towards my brewery tour. If you didn’t already know of Zucchini Blossom Cafe, its unlikely you’d randomly come across this cozy spot in the heart of a residential area. Locals who know however, are constantly in there working, reading, gossiping and of course, eating and drinking. They have a full menu from salads to paninis, with great coffee, tea and snack selections. I’m ashamed to say, I had two cookies – one ginger cookie and another peanut butter choco-chip. I would have loved to stay longer, but was already running late for my brewery tour at Hell’s Basement.
The Hell’s Kitchen brewery is great local get-together for a tasting of some of its 12+ local brews (with rotating taps that are constantly evolving as well). This place had everything from light brews, to fruity beers, to some dark lagers. Get a tour when you’re on site for distinctive look at some of the great beer coming out of the craft brewers of Alberta.
My final 18 holes of this golf getaway was at the Desert Blume Golf Club – a true test for golfers of all skill levels. Having played host to many amateur tournaments, this track is made to challenge even the best golfers. The course features 6 sets of tees, include junior tees at the 150 markers of every longer hole – so anyone and everyone can enjoy this truly spectacular golf destination. This course alone will be a reason for golfers to return to Medicine Hat again and again. It is such a unique challenge, with rolling fairways tucked in the Badlands valleys, that there’s truly nothing else like it. With a creek running alongside many holes, undulating and quick greens, well placed bunkers, difficult and challenging doglegs and elevated tees – each hole is as unique as the last, creating lasting memories for you and your foursome (and plenty of photo opportunities).
For my round, I was playing solo and basically had the course to myself. I was able to take my time, and really enjoy this course, and hit a few practice shots here and there. You’d really hate to be rushed on a course like this, where undulating greens and fairways give golfers plenty of opportunities to get creative with the shot-making. After such a long day, I was happy to have my cookies from Zucchini Blossom out on the course with me – seriously, nothing ever tasted so good. My favourite hole? Well, how I played it aside, the 18th is a beautiful land challenging final test. It’s a shorter par 5, but it requires a near perfect tee-shot. From the elevated tee, you need to thread the needle on an angled fairways between a treed area on the left, and water on the right. When you add wind into the mix, this tee shot even makes the best golfers nervous. If you’re lucky enough to hit the fairway, you still have a narrow path to follow to find yourself to elevated two tiered green. This final hole can make or break any match out there – so play it wisely.
After this marathon of golf, the clubhouse at the Desert Blume Golf & Country Club is the perfect end to this great weekend. With great beers and eats, and plenty of great views of the course, you’ll be happy to relax and remark on all the shots you’ve plenty on your getaway. With the golf in the books, its time to retire back to you hotel, as Integra Air is flying us back home early Monday in time to get back to work. The flight leaves before 7am, but has you back in Edmonton with bags in tow around 8:15am, and ready for the week ahead, where your co-workers will be none the wiser to the non-stop adventure you just went on.
For those of you not ready to pack away the clubs when fall hits, a golfing destination in Medicine Hat may be just the perfect weekend getaway for your and your golfing buddies.
For more information on the Integra Golf Package please visit: http://stayinmedicinehat.com/integra-golf-package
For more information on Tourism in Medicine Hat please visit: http://www.tourismmedicinehat.com/