A Par-3 in Paradise

Written by Andrew Penner

It’s only 155 yards to the pin. But, standing on the elevated tee with a gusty Chinook wind howling in my face, I’m contemplating hitting a four-iron. This is crazy, I think. I’ve never hit a four-iron from 155. Nonetheless, I grab it out of the bag, try to steady myself over the ball, and hit it crisp. I immediately say “get down!” But it’s the wrong command. My ball balloons in the wind and plunges into the front-right bunker, ten yards short of the green. The 12th at Paradise Canyon – one of Alberta’s great par-3s – has burned me again.

With its stunning badlands setting along the Old Man River, the Paradise Canyon Golf Resort in Lethbridge is, in terms of the overall golf experience, easily in Alberta’s upper class. The par-71, 6,810-yard course, which was designed by Alberta architect Bill Newis, isn’t long by contemporary standards. However, throw in deep bunkers, heavy mounding, tiered greens, ball-hungry badlands, the Oldman River – and, yes, plenty of that famous southern Alberta wind – and the average player is going to have their hands full at Paradise Canyon. Even the shortest hole on the course – the infamous 12th – can be a diabolical little test.

12th hole: Paradise Canyon Golf Resort

“In spring and fall, the winds here can easily get up to 80 or 90 km/hr,” says Superintendent, Kelly Thorson. “Although the green on the 12th is not small, choosing the right club and flighting the ball correctly is paramount. Club selection can be anywhere from a sand wedge to a four-iron.” Speaking from my experience playing the course (probably a couple dozen rounds, or so, over the years), some days it feels like a rocket launcher might be the only weapon that’ll get you to the green.

Similar to the previous hole – the drivable par-4 11th – a miss on the 12th can be disastrous. Two massive bunkers (a third bunker behind the green was damaged in the late 90s and was subsequently removed), a steep slope behind the green that funnels balls into the river, deep fescue grass to the left, and dry-as-a-bone badlands to the right can make your up-and-down a difficult – or next to impossible – proposition. And, of course, the 100-foot elevation change from tee to green always adds a degree of “doubt” in every golfer’s mind.

That said, the 12th, when it’s calm, is definitely a birdie hole. With just a wedge in your hand and a relatively spacious target, it’s a “green light” special when “the fan” is in the off position. But, regardless of the wind conditions, it’s certainly a hole that you’ll be looking forward to at the start of every round.

“People often ask me which is the favourite of all the courses I have designed,” says architect Bill Newis, who was recently inducted into the Alberta Golf Hall of Fame. “However, my answer is always the same. I don’t have a favourite course. But I do have favourite holes. And the 12th at Paradise Canyon is definitely one of them.”

(Throughout his 50-year career, Newis has designed or renovated over 60 golf courses, most of which are in Alberta. Cottonwood, Bearspaw, Priddis Greens, and Redwood Meadows are a few of his other notable designs.)


“I’ve always enjoyed designing par-3 holes,” says Newis. “Elevated tees, which allow you to have a birds-eye view of all the elements in play, are always a welcome feature. Bold bunkering, water hazards, and interesting natural features, like badlands, are other things I like to incorporate, if possible. The 12th at Paradise Canyon has all of these. And the view from the tee, looking west down the Old Man River Valley, is outstanding. It’s a special hole.”

Without a doubt, it is the captivating beauty of this unique southern Alberta setting that will leave the most lasting impression. The beautiful river, the broad water-carved valley, the badlands, it’s just a beautiful location for golf. And, of course, for heavy Chinook winds coming off the mountains to the west!

“During our first winter in the early 90s, all of the sand blew out of the bunkers on 12,” remembers Thorson. “Ever since then we’ve tarped the bunkers there to keep the sand from blowing away. Sometimes you just have to learn lessons the hard way, I guess.”

Most likely, the first time you play this hole in the wind, you’ll have to learn a lesson the hard way as well.