For the first time since the 2013 southern Alberta floods wiped out the Kananaskis Country Golf Course, green grass now graces the fairways of the provincial gem. For general manger Darren Robinson, who not only works on the course but lives on it, the sight of the golf course coming back to life is overwhelming.
“To see the bunkers with sand is one thing, but to see the grass go down around it just gives me goose bumps from head to toe.”
It’s a sight that was in doubt during the summer of 2015, when the province halted construction at the course to look into the viability of using $18 million from the disaster relief fund to restore the popular layout. But September’s green light from the province has led to green grass and the course is back on track for a 2018 opening of all 36 holes.
Head pro Bob Paley says the progress has everyone excited.
“When there’s grass down, it is that realization that it’s coming and it’s happening and you feel the excitement through the entire restoration team,” Paley said.
The restoration team includes Paley, Robinson and superintendent Calvin McNeely, who have all worked and raised their families together in the same tight community on the course for almost two decades. Robinson says the ups and downs of the past three years have brought them even closer.
“I didn’t think that we could get closer but we have and it’s been phenomenal. I wouldn’t want to go through this with any other two guys,” Robinson said.
Architect Gary Browning is overseeing the restoration and says the average golfer will enjoy the changes.
“I just got a chance to redo the Mona Lisa, so I’ll redo it and I think everyone will be happy with the end product,” he said. “For the average guy, he’s going to notice he’s scoring a little better. We’ve done little things to help him along.”
The banks of Evan Thomas Creek now have an extra high berm to make sure the course doesn’t flood again.
Before the floods, the cost of a round for Alberta residents was $78 including a cart. Robinson says it’s too difficult to speculate on exact pricing when the course reopens in 2018, but they will offer a “phenomenal” experience at great value.
Business owners in the area are looking forward to golfers gracing the fairways once again. The Delta Lodge at Kananaskis is undergoing a $26-million renovation that should coincide with the 2018 reopening of the golf courses.
General manager Desmond Acheson says international business has dropped since the golf courses were flooded and that he’s already looking 18 months ahead to attract corporate group travel. Across the road from the golf course, Boundary Ranch owner Rick Guinn says his business is down 40 per cent.
“Everything is a lot quieter, right from the corporate stuff down to the walk-in stuff,” Guinn said. “Golfers would drop their wives off for trail rides…We’ll be up and running good again, we’re optimistic it’ll make quite a difference for us and the whole valley.”
From floods to busy fairways, the Kananaskis Country Golf Course will have lost half a decade of use, but Robinson says the course will be handed back to Albertans better than ever.
“The five-year span from flood to reopen is a longer span than Albertans would have loved to see, but it’s part of the process.”
In 2018, everyone in the Kananaskis Valley will be seeing green again.