Local Summer Getaway: Golfing at Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass

Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass Golf Club features great golf, great views and the great outdoors—just watch out for the bears!

Occasionally, when golfing, you come across a hazard that is so physically challenging that your pulse quickens and your brow gets damp just from thinking about what might happen next. The 12th hole at the new, and stunning, Crowsnest Pass Golf Club in Blairmore, Alberta, features one such hazard—though, in fairness, context is everything.

Of course, there is much more than golfing drama to be had along the Crowsnest Pass, with its towering peaks and mercury rivers. Historic small towns like Coleman and Blairmore hunker in the valley near abandoned coal mines that speak to an industrial past. The topography of the pass combined with the longish winters, however, has also meant that golf has never been big in the area. The old Crowsnest Pass Golf Club first opened in the 1920s, but it had been rebuilt and rerouted so many times to accommodate coal mining that it was never much of a draw.

In 1997, a new 18-hole course opened, and then, roughly a decade ago, the club completed a land swap with a mining company seeking easier access to the highway. In return, the club received a large and undulating piece of property up the mountainside. The respected golf course architect Gary Browning got to work in 2015, and the new course and clubhouse opened in the summer of 2020. And it might just be the best new course to open in Alberta in decades.

We’d played the first 11 holes of that recently reimagined course in something of a state of awe of its magisterial beauty. When we got to the 12th tee, we found a short par 3 of about 140 yards played over a shrub-choked chasm to a small and well-bunkered green. We also found a course marshal standing on the tee. We made a joke about having a gallery to watch our shots.

“That’s not why I’m here,” he said. “There’s a mama grizzly and her cub just off in the bush over to the right of the green. I’ve been watching and I haven’t seen them. They probably moved on.”

Should we wait?

“Oh no,” he said in that blithe manner that outdoorsy people seem able to adopt in the face of someone else’s imminent mauling. “You’re good to go. I’ll watch from here and then come up to the green with you.”

A quick inspection of his golf cart revealed no weapon other than a large thermos of coffee. My three partners found the putting surface. I proceeded to half-shank my shot into, of course, the bush and shrub right of the green. At the green, I told my friends I was just going to have a quick scout for my ball. None offered to help. The marshal stood nervously by, no longer smiling.

With its majestic views and well-designed course, Crowsnest Pass may be the best new course to open in Alberta in decades. Photo courtesy of Crowsnest Pass Golf Club.

It turned out my ball had settled partway down the side of a foliage-heavy embankment a few yards short of the deeper part of the gorge. What’s the worst that can happen? I asked myself. A possible fall into a valley, at the bottom of which a grizzly mama and cub had been spotted within the last half hour. Okay, that was bad. On the other hand, it was a brand-new Titleist Pro V1 down there. Six dollars! It wasn’t much of a dilemma.

I shimmied down, gap wedge in hand, the green 20 feet above me. No bears. I planted my feet and swung and before I’d even completed my backswing I was hotfooting it back up top, certain I’d heard branches snapping close behind me. Screaming and whooping broke out overhead. I clambered up to find my friends shaking their heads in disbelief and the course marshal laughing. My ball had rocketed up on to the green, clattered into the pin and dropped into the hole.

Later, over a beer, our server asked if we’d seen the bears on the 12th hole.

“No,” I said. “But it was an easy birdie.