Alberta has a lot of different looks.
From the mountains and foothills to the prairies and badlands, there's enough material to fill a book of postcards.
For golfers, the best part is that there are pins cut in every one of those scenic settings. If you're planning a trip to the "Wild Rose Province," pack your clubs and try to hit a few of these must-see public courses:
Mountain tracks are Alberta's finest
1a. and 1b. Fairmont Banff Springs and Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge: There are lots of solid golf options in this picturesque province, but Stanley Thompson's time-tested mountain layouts -- Fairmont Banff Springs and Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge -- stand above the rest. Both are chiseled out of postcard-worthy scenery in national-park settings. Both are attached to world-class hotels (perfect for a stay-and-play, although the rooms and the rounds can be pricey), and both have repeatedly been ranked among Canada's best resort golf offerings. And both have terrific signature holes: Devil's Cauldron (No. 4) at Banff Springs and Cleopatra (No. 9) at Jasper Park Lodge. So ... now you're expecting me to name my favourite, right? To be honest, I'm torn. Hate to break it to you, but you'll have to play 'em both and make up your own mind.
3. Stewart Creek Golf & Country Club: Stewart Creek Golf & Country Club doesn't have the same history as Banff Springs or Jasper Park Lodge, but Gary Browning's design in Canmore -- just minutes outside the gates of Banff National Park -- is the best of what's been built in Alberta in the past 80 years or so, and you certainly won't feel short-changed on the scenery. At just 294 yards from the tips -- but with a tall tree playing defense on the left side of the fairway and gnarly rough that will gobble up any short attempts -- no. 14 is one of the best risk-reward holes in the province.
An old favorite with an asterisk
4. Kananaskis Country Golf Course: It's not often you see a currently closed course on a best-of list. They say the Internet is here to stay, though, and if you're reading this in 2017, then you really must include Kananaskis Country Golf Course on your itinerary for any golf trip to Alberta. The 36-hole setup -- both the Mount Kidd and Mount Lorette Courses were designed by legendary architect Robert Trent Jones -- suffered significant flood damage in June 2013 but will be restored to its old glory. That's great news.
The best of the rest
5. Northern Bear Golf Club: The best public-access course in Alberta's capital region is Northern Bear Golf Club, located less than a half-hour east of Edmonton in Sherwood Park and home to Jack Nicklaus' only signature design in this province. It's not hard to tell this is the work of the 18-time major champion, and so it probably goes without saying that you'll need to avoid the green-side bunkers and get a good read on the dance-floors if you want your scorecard to be a keeper.
6. Wolf Creek Golf Resort: It's hard to keep your eyes on the road as you roll past Wolf Creek on the Queen Elizabeth II Highway between Calgary and Edmonton. Built on a sandbelt not far from the town of Ponoka, this 36-hole hangout is about as linksy as it gets in the Wild Rose Province, especially if the wind kicks up. Wolf Creek's Old Course and Links Course were both mapped out by rising-star designer Rod Whitman, who actually lives just down the road.
7. Innisfail Golf Club: Once considered Alberta's best-kept golf secret, this 27-hole track in Central Alberta -- Innisfail Golf Club is located just south of Red Deer -- is no secret now. The Aspen Course, Hazelwood Course and Spruce Course are carved out of the lumber, offering a middle-of-nowhere feel but also putting an emphasis on splitting the tight fairways. Innisfail is home to some of the best putting surfaces in the province.
8. Heritage Pointe Golf Course: Another 27-hole haunt, this time located just a few minutes south of Calgary's city limits. The fairways at Heritage Pointe Golf Course are defined by whispy fescue grasses, and there are more elevation changes than you might expect to find on Alberta's prairie landscape. If you want a real challenge, ask for an afternoon tee-time, and keep your fingers crossed that the wind is howling.
9. Redwood Meadows Golf & Country Club: Located about a half-hour west of Calgary near Bragg Creek, this traditional track hosted the Nationwide Tour's Alberta Classic in 2004 and 2005. If you're a sucker for shorties, Redwood Meadows Golf & C.C. has a superb batch of par 3s. You can argue with your buddies about which is best, but no. 15 -- a 187-yard test over water -- gets my vote.
10. Dinosaur Trail Golf & Country Club: Course-design critics won't be dazzled, but that doesn't make this any less of a must-see. Your heart rate won't change much on the run-of-the-mill front nine, but the back side at Dinosaur Trail Golf & C.C. is spread across Alberta's badlands landscape in Drumheller. Wondering why the fairway at No. 11 is so skinny? Because of a dinosaur fossil buried in the hillside. Enough said.