If Edmonton has indeed outgrown its old moniker, City of Champions, it might want to consider City of Links as an alternative. While it may or may not be true that the city has, as is sometimes claimed, the largest number of golf courses of any North American city (a boast made by Phoenix and a number of other cities that is all but impossible to verify when including private courses), there is no disputing the fact that Edmonton is a golfer’s paradise, with an astonishing 84 courses within an hour’s drive from downtown. Whereas Toronto has only a small handful of courses within easy reach of downtown, Edmonton’s relatively low population density coupled with its mostly flat landscape means that one is never very far from somewhere to swing a club.
Moreover, while golf is a costly pastime in most urban centres, in Edmonton it is well within reach of most budgets. A handful of private clubs exist, with membership running anywhere from $4,000 to the five-figure region, but the vast majority of Edmonton region’s golf courses are public and very affordable. Rundle Park Golf Club, a beginner-friendly course tucked into a gorgeous southwestern corner of the river valley, is a bargain, with a round of 18 holes running anywhere from $20 to $34.
Victoria Golf Club, Canada’s oldest city-run course (with a history dating back to 1896), is an Edmonton icon—and one of the busiest courses, but still a bargain at between $47 and $58 for an 18-hole round in the heart of the city’s green core.
While Alberta may not have the profile of, say, Arizona, the Okanagan, or the Scottish Highlands when it comes to golf, Albertans are unsurpassed in their love for the game, with an estimated more golfers per capita than anywhere else in North America. Recent years have seen something of a golf boom in Alberta, with golf-related revenues totalling $2.4 billion in 2014, nearly on par with British Columbia’s $2.8 billion. While B.C. has seen recent declines in golfing, a trend blamed in large part on overdevelopment of upscale courses, the veritable galaxy of accessible and affordable courses within the Edmonton and Calgary regions have made the game more popular than ever in Wild Rose Country.
For Edmonton’s golf veterans, there’s no question the city is a mecca for the sport.
“There’s no question that golf is huge here in Edmonton,” says Tyler Rumpel, head golf pro and food and beverage manager at Jägare Ridge Golf Club, a mid-to-high-range course nestled in the Whitemud Creek Valley in Edmonton’s southwest.
“I’ve been in the Edmonton golf scene for 25 years now and we’ve definitely seen a boom over the last decade or so. The sheer number of courses we have here is testimony to how many people play. It doesn’t seem to matter how many courses you build—they’re always busy.”
Rumpel asserts that while Edmonton’s climate might not seem ideal for the sport, the region has distinctive advantages.
“It’s true that we have a relatively short season here, but the days are long and that’s a big advantage. Also, in places like Phoenix and Palm Springs you often have the opposite problem, where it’s too hot to play, which is rarely an issue here.”
Edmonton may still have a ways to go before it becomes a bona-fide golf destination on par with Phoenix or Palm Springs, but some of the region’s clubs are clearly trying to change that. South of the city adjacent to Edmonton International Airport, the semi-private RedTail Landing Golf Club has, in recent years, benefitted from EIA’s passenger growth and facilities expansion, and is looking to further that trend as the airport continues to expand its commercial presence with the opening of the Premium Outlet Collection late this year.
“We are seeing a lot of people coming over from the airport to play,” says Josh Davison, head pro at RedTail Landing. “We’ve definitely benefitted from all the construction in the area and passenger growth, as well as continued population growth in Leduc and its environs.”
While RedTail Landing represents the higher end of the golf spectrum in the Edmonton region with a small private membership and non-member green fees running at between $105 and $110 for an 18-hole round, Davison says the club aims to be as inclusive as possible.
“We’re one of the few link-style courses in the region, with great facilities. We host a lot of tournaments here, including the Alberta Players Championship, but our aim is always to get as many people out as possible.”
With so many courses operating in the Edmonton region, however, success means finding one’s niche within the golf ecosystem. While RedTail draws largely on high-income professionals and business travellers, other courses such as Eagle Rock Golf Club, located east of Beaumont and south of Sherwood Park, appeal largely to senior citizens and younger players. With low rates ranging from $45 to $55 for adults and as low as $39 for seniors and youths, Eagle Rock aims squarely at players outside the ambit of high-end courses like RedTail Landing.
“If you want to succeed in this business you have to keep growing the game, and that means bringing in the next generation,” says Eagle Rock head pro Chad Rumpel. “That’s why we’re working hard to grow our junior program. We offer lessons for the kids during the summer months at $160 for 12 hours of instruction. Of course, once you get the kids involved in the game, the parents tend to get involved as well.”
Rumpel concedes that while golf continues to be as popular as ever in the region, the recent economic downturn has taken its toll, especially in terms of corporate business.
“We used to get more corporate and charity tournaments, but the recession hit that side of our business hard. As a result we’ve really had to focus our business on offering special deals and growing our junior programming, as well as our offerings for seniors.”
Looking ahead to the 2017 golf season, most course managers are confident that business will continue to thrive despite lingering economic uncertainty.
“We’ve definitely seen the downturn affect our business over the past couple of years with people counting their pennies a bit more closely, but we’re not overly worried,” concludes Davison. “People here love to golf, and at the end of the day they’re still going to find a way to come out and play—even if it’s not as frequently as they might otherwise like.”