Ponoka course ready to tackle the challenge of hosting the Men’s Am

Written by Curtis Stock

Like maple syrup, history oozes at the Ponoka Golf Course.

Now one of Alberta’s top courses as evidenced by the choice of Alberta Golf to host the Sun Life Financial Alberta Men’s Amateur there on July 18-21, the course’s humble beginnings started out as just three sand-green holes in 1930.

Built on what used to be farm land by volunteers, doctors and staff of the Alberta Mental Hospital – now the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury – until they attached a mower to the back of a Ford tractor, sheep used to ‘cut’ and trim the grass according to a story by Gerry Dahms and Mike Rainone in the Ponoka News.

Situated in the scenic Battle River valley, the course really began in 1936 when it was expanded to nine holes and officially registered.

Green fees were just 25 cents but membership back then was highly exclusive: invitation only.

In 1987 the Ponoka Golf Course officially arrived when renowned architect Bill Robinson came in and designed nine more holes making the course the 18-hole marvel it remains today.

“He also tweaked the existing nine to make it fit with the new nine – changing a few holes here and there,” head pro and course manager Rob MacPherson said of Robinson, who has designed over 50 courses including many in Alberta including Innisfail, Red Deer’s River Bend, Calgary’s Sirocco, the Tunnel Nine in Banff and many, many courses in the Edmonton area like Lewis Estates, The Links, The Ranch, Sturgeon Valley, Cardiff, Belvedere, Cougar Creek and the rebuild of Windermere.

“I think he did a great job here while incorporating holes that are still here from the 1950s.

“I always like to say that the golf course is mostly a parkland style – the older style type of course with tighter tree-lined fairways – with a mix of some Links-style flair on the back nine,” said MacPherson, who, after stints at Devon and Wold Creek, came to Ponoka in the fall of 1988.

“It’s not a long course playing 6,615 yards from the back tees but it’s hardly a pushover.”

Instead, the emphasis is on position off the tee and then finding the right part of the greens – many of which are elevated. Because many of the greens are very deep – never mind undulating – many of them can be a three- to four-club difference.

“That’s especially true of some of the Par 3s,” said MacPherson. “For instance No. 5 can play anywhere from 140 to 226 yards.

“The Par 3s are really what make the golf course.”

MacPherson said the course “won’t get ripped apart” by the players in the Sun Life Financial Alberta Amateur.

“When we held the Alberta Mid-Am here last year the winning score for three days was 2-under,” he said of the victory by Banff’s Jordan Irwin.

“If I had to guess I’d project a score of 10- to 12-under winning it.”

While there are many great holes – including a tough finishing stretch – a big key to victory will be how the field for the Alberta Amateur handles Ponoka’s version of Augusta’s famed Amen Corner: holes 11 through 13.

Ponoka Hosts The Men’s Amateur

This article was originally published in the 2017 edition of The Alberta Golfer Magazine. To view the full magazine, click here.

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