It was 28 years ago that Ralph and Ryan Vold joined forces with designer Rod Whitman to draw up plans for a truly unique golf course, a layout that was eventually enhanced by an additional nine holes and last week officially became a 36-hole facility.
“We let Rod Whitman have free reign and design something that was totally different,” said Ryan Vold, the Wolf Creek Golf Resort director of golf, while looking back at the birth of the course and the 1984 opening.
“We introduced everybody to waste bunkers, railroad ties, pot bunkers and all sorts of hell.”
The original east-west layout, now known as the Old Course, quickly developed a reputation as a top-flight test of golf and played host to the Alberta Open — then a Canadian Professional Tour event — for 13 years.
In time, a new nine holes was built south of the existing track and with the recent addition of another Whitman-designed nine, the Links Course at Wolf Creek was born.
“Three years ago we came up with the concept of expanding one more time.
“We needed a sister, a match, to the south course, which wasn’t getting the play and the response we’d anticipated,” said Vold, whose father Ralph donated a large parcel of land just east of the Old Course, 236 acres which today is home to nine brand new holes as well as 140 housing lots.
“In this day and age you can’t build a stand-alone golf course,” said Ryan Vold.
“We had to put a subdivision together to help pay for the creation of the new course. We told Rod to take the best land so the subdivisions did not take precedence over the golf.
“The lots are still on solid land and the houses are (and will be) a distance from the course.”
The newest addition at Wolf Creek Golf Resort features an assortment of challenges, including length and massive waste areas that can appear intimidating from the tee boxes.
“Actually, the fairways are wide, but in true Rod Whitman fashion, he scares you off the tee,” said Vold.
“He puts the emotion of the game with you off the tee.”
The new holes, situated across the road and north of the south nine, also feature blowout bunkers and large, undulating greens, and play as the back nine of the Links Course.
The par-4, 460-yard 12th hole has a large bunker in the middle of the fairway, which accepts shots on either side of the hazard but offers a better look at the green from the left side, while the long par-5 11th and the 384-yard 10th are home to sprawling waste areas. “All of the sand on this course came from this land. We used it for the bunkers and top dressing,” said Vold.
The 10th to 15th holes embrace the wide open spaces, while the dogleg-right 16th features a tree-lined fairway and plays to an elevated green guarded by bunkers.
The par-3 14th plays a whopping 269 yards from the tips, and is complimented by the par-3 17th, which heads uphill to a contoured green situated 139 yards from the back tees.
The 18th requires a healthy uphill drive over a large bunkered area and is long (470 yards from the black tees) and difficult.
“The first thing I noticed on these holes is the bunkering, which is some of the coolest I’ve ever seen,” said Wolf Creek touring professional Brett Bingham. “And the greens are my favourite of the 36 holes here. The 17th and 18th greens, in particular, are off-the-charts good. They have a great flow to them.
“I’ve played some Nationwide events and this course is as good as any on that tour. Hopefully we can bring one of the (Nationwide) events up here.”
Vold sees the newest nine as the perfect complement not only to the south nine, but the entire facility.
“When you think of Wolf Creek you think of difficult, but you also think of enjoying yourself. There are all sorts of surprises out there, it’s not a boring golf course,” said Vold.
“This latest addition is the evolution of Rod Whitman. It’s a throwback to classic golf and yet it looks natural.”
Vold is relieved that the expansion of Wolf Creek Golf Resort is now complete, with the exception of the houses that have yet to be constructed on the subdivision.
“It’s really satisfying to get to this end and have a match for the south course,” he said.
“I still think we’re offering more of a destination-type area, where you can come in and play 36 holes, not just 18. And we’re looking at adding off-site accommodations.”
Whitman, who’s currently working on a course in Nova Scotia, has enjoyed his time working with the Vold family.
“I’ve been lucky here. I’ve been fortunate to be associated with an ownership that lets you design and built what you want with very few restrictions,” he said.
“This is a big property with a lot of natural sand dunes on site, which allowed us to give the new nine sort of a blowout look, which has become popular in the United States.
“I thought we had a good opportunity to build something that people in Alberta could identify with and would make for exciting golf.”