New B.C. course overcomes period of uncertainty to become Canada’s first Black Knight design
By Mike Jiggens
Canada's first Black Knight-designed golf course opened for play in
June after three years of on-and-off-again delays and uncertainty.
Wildstone Golf Course has opened to the public in Cranbrook, B.C., in the province’s southeastern corner next to the Rocky Mountains. Designed by Golf Hall of Famer Gary Player, the high-end public facility plays 7,100-plus yards from the back tees.
Superintendent Al Dobbs said the layout is a good test of golf, but readily caters to those who enjoy walking and are appreciative of old-style country clubs.
“It’s a little more of an old-style course,” he said. “It’s very walkable. There aren’t hundreds of yards between holes. It’s laid out very well that way.”
A couple of years ago, however, there was no assurance the course would be ready to open this year, and perhaps not even at all.
Dobbs was hired to grow in the new golf course in the spring of 2008 when shaping was already half-completed. Mike Baden was the golf course’s original superintendent, being on-site since the project began in June of 2006. He has since been promoted to project and facility manager.
Initially slated to be a 36-hole golf community surrounded by a 2,500-home residential development, the project came to a halt when the original investors’ funding dried up.
“Everything just sort of got put on hold,” Dobbs said. “A lot of bills weren’t being paid, so it came to a grinding halt that fall with the original owners.”
At the time of the shutdown, nine holes had been seeded and grass was starting to grow, and some sodding had been done. Dobbs said the original golf course owners had big plans in mind and had hoped to sod everything.
“As the money started drying up, that changed.”
Following the fall of 2008’s work stoppage, everyone was laid off and nothing happened throughout the winter months. In the spring of 2009, some of the contractors’ group got together with a new investor who was trying to make a deal on the property, and work resumed…for about three weeks.
“We just got started and then that deal fell through,” said Dobbs, who had been hired back to move the project along.
Although he was out of work a second time for upwards of two months, Dobbs returned to the golf course on his own time to water the young plants as best he could until the lakes ran dry. Hydro had yet to be hooked up to the course’s wells.
“I sort of kept it alive and mowed the greens when I could on my own.”
He said one of the original owners didn’t wish to see the project “go down the tank,” and Dobbs was rehired along with an assistant to maintain the first nine holes and keep them in reasonable shape.
By the winter of 2009-2010, Coast to Coast Development Corporation of Calgary purchased the property without the surrounding real estate land. The new owners put the necessary money into finishing the course, and work resumed to achieve a 2011 opening.
The job was retendered, a new contractor was hired, and seeding of the remaining holes began last July.
Greens were seeded to a blend of A-4 and T-1 bentgrasses while the tees and fairways are a dwarf Kentucky bluegrass blend.
“The greens came through the winter excellent,” Dobbs said. “They’re in really good shape. We’re just getting them down to playing height. We didn’t maintain them at a high stress level last year. There was no need to. They’re definitely ready to play now.”
Dobbs said the grow-in went as well as could be expected with the various interruptions and only two people maintaining the course.
This spring’s poor weather, which saw several neighbouring courses still snow-covered in mid-April at a time when they would normally have opened, got the season off to a delayed start.
“I wanted to see a good couple of months of growth this spring, which we didn’t get.”
Wildstone, however, has successfully weathered both the elements and its past uncertainty.
“I’ve been really pleased with the way it’s turned out.”
Dobbs said he is a golf traditionalist, and appreciates the manner in which the golf course is set up. He said there is a common expression in golf to the effect that once one plays a particular golf course two or three times, he will really like it.
“I don’t think you’ll hear that here. I think people will like it the first time out. They’ll know exactly where to hit it, where the holes go, what club to hit.”
Dobbs said the golf course is located on a “shelf” above the City of Cranbrook, “so you don’t even realize you’re in the town really. You don’t see the town. You just get the view of the mountain ranges to the east for the most part.”
Situated in a valley setting in the foothills of Purcell Mountain in the Kootenay Rockies, Wildstone offers picturesque views of Ponderosa pine tree forests and snowcapped mountains.
“They’ve (Black Knight Design) used the terrain very well,” Dobbs said. “The views are excellent.”
The golf course also boasts a number of water features which, although are artificial, look natural.
“Our horticulturalist did a really nice job in making these creeks look as natural as possible. There are old stumps, native grasses, rock work… We’ve tried to make these look like they fit into the natural surroundings as much as possible.”
Dobbs, who had previously grown in Eagle Ranch Resort in Invermere, B.C. for its 2000 opening, said a concerted effort has been made to keep water from being thrown onto native areas of the golf course. He said he wants to prevent non-native vegetation from growing in the areas, including clover and other weeds.
There are 41 bunkers situated throughout the course, including some particularly large ones. Efforts were made to closely match the fescue growing on the course with the area’s native grasses, including areas outside the bunkers and in between tees and the start of fairways. The fescued areas will help reduce the amount of turfgrass needing to be maintained, Dobbs said.
A new maintenance facility was completed this spring for Dobbs and his staff of 18.
“We are thrilled that Wildstone is set to open,” said Scott Ferrell, president of Gary Player Design. “The development is just fantastic and the wilderness layout and clubhouse is sure to make this one of the most scenic golf destinations in North America.”
Five sets of tees will cater to golfers of all skill levels. They range in length from 4,947 yards to 7,127 yards.
Dobbs said Wildstone is perhaps the most walkable golf course he has seen built in the area over the past 15 years.
“It’s still a good test of golf. The golf holes set up very good to the eye.”
Dobbs has been a golf superintendent since 1994, assuming his first post at Woodside Golf Course in Airdrie, Alta. where he worked for five season. Previously, he had been assistant superintendent at Bearspaw Country Club in Calgary.