The pros, the coaches, the weekend warriors, the wannabes and the physiotherapists agree: playing golf in Calgary is almost as challenging as being ready to play golf in Calgary.
While most area courses are targeting mid to late April for the start of the 2019 season, it’s all weather pending – not only April’s weather but the effects of the past five to six months of winter.
As gung-ho Calgary golfers know, the season starts sometimes sooner and sometimes later.
According to Greg Steinraths, manager of golf and sport development with Calgary Recreation and responsibile for Calgary’s six municipal courses, “It all depends on Mother Nature. Although we aim for April, it could even be early May, depending on how nasty winter turned out to be and the toll it took on the course.”
All golf courses, particularly those in unpredictable winter climates, monitor and rely on days-open, days-closed and rounds played. In 2018, for example, after a late start to the season and an early close in the fall due to snow, Calgary’s six public courses lost 93 days to weather with only 170,000 rounds played – drastically down from the year before, when the winter was easier and the season longer.
“The Calgary golf season is usually short, anyway, but the season start depends on hours of sunshine, temperatures and chinook winds,” he says. “They key concerns are wet and soggy conditions that keep the turf from being walkable and whatever it takes to ensure player safety.”
Steinraths and the Calgary preseason crew are busy with the spring checklist for more than 750 acres of land. They are removing tarps, cutting the roughs and cleaning up winter litter.
At the popular Priddis Greens Golf & Country Club, Matt Entwistle explains that a preseason crew of 20 is working long days aiming for a May 1 (or sooner) opening. After the snow melted, they used blowers, sweepers and mowers to clean off debris such as branches, leaves, pine cones and needles and are also removing the wildlife fencing and green covers. Once the ground is dry enough for the protective layer of sand top dressing on the greens, Priddis is ready for the first cut and then – open for play.
While Calgary golf courses are busy preparing for the 2019 season, hibernating and overanxious Calgary golfers should also consult their checklist to ensure an enjoyable golf season.
“It’s time to retrain your muscles, review the proper fundamentals and remind yourself that grip, stance, posture, basic swing drills, the mechanics of the swing, rotation drills, extension drills and power drills are a must, regardless of your level,” urges the personable Terry Carter, director of Calgary’s National Golf Academy and the PGA of Alberta’s 2004 and 2009 Teacher of the Year.
Ryan Anderson, head teaching professional at the Glencoe Golf & Country Club, emphasizes that golfers need more than gung-ho enthusiasm to enjoy the 2019 season. “Some golfers manage to work on flexibility, cardio and improving their strength in the off-season to help prepare for the new season.
“The most common golf injury is back pain and it is a very difficult injury to return to golf quickly. Most people’s daily activities do not involve the twisting and turning of the upper and lower body. If a golfer is not careful or trying to do too much, too fast and too soon, it can quickly turn into an injury that will put their golf game on hold indefinitely.”
Anderson acknowledges that the long winter wait to get back out on the course sometimes trumps the basics of getting properly ready. “Focus on flexibility like shoulders, quads, hips and hip flexors, psoas, hamstring stretches and lower-back mobility. Pick one of your favourite stretches and build a mini warm-up routine to prepare for swinging the club. And good balance is vital to hit and repeat good shots and helps produce faster club-head speeds and hitting shots consistently.
“My favourite balance drill is a standing one leg with a torso twist. This dynamic movement incorporates many of the movements in the golf swing while focusing on balance.”
Carter emphasizes the fundamentals of the swing, off the tee and putting techniques. “We focus on the grip, the posture and the alignment. Without that, nothing will be consistent. For example, putting looks easy but most of us know that it is difficult and the most important part of the game.
“Alignment drills are important,” he says. “Use a mirror and alignment rods to aim your putter. Be sure to draw a line on your golf ball to help you line up to your target. Practice the grip and posture and be sure you don’t decelerate – always accelerate – through impact. Adjust the length of your backswing and accelerate to control distance.”
Most pros and coaches underscore the role of fitness in golf. “The tour dominance of (43-year-old) Tiger Woods has really brought fitness to the forefront of golf,” Anderson notes. “Players like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Lexi Thompson are now continuously working on their fitness. It is becoming the norm, for the pros and amateurs, to use fitness to enhance mobility, strength, stamina and even swing speeds to play better golf and to play injury-free.”
Golf regulars – over-ready to enjoy the 2019 season at their favourite Calgary-area courses – will notice some subtle improvements and a few major changes.
It will be golf business-as-usual at Calgary’s six public courses – Confederation Park, Lakeview, Maple Ridge, McCall Lake, Richmond Green and Shaganappi Point – with one exciting and much-anticipated difference.
After a $6.7-million renovation, McCall Lake is reopening. “The course was 37 years old and area golfers and the game itself have changed a lot since then,” Steinraths says. “We’re previewing ‘the new McCall Lake’ in May and reopening the full 18-hole course in June.”
Adding length – and a par 5 – to make it a more consistent par 71, the new McCall Lake will also feature multiple tees (and more forward tees), a more strategic relocation of traps, upgraded drainage and a refreshed clubhouse.
The changes at Priddis Greens are subtler. “There has been some small bunker renovations on four green-side bunkers,” Entwistle says. “And we have added six new forward tees for enhanced playability and enjoyment for golfers with low-swing speeds. There is also a new asphalt cart path and a new on-course rubber-surfaced walking path.”
Anderson mentions a renovation of the Glencoe’s main practice facility’s hitting and teaching tee and that the club has increased the size of the hitting area to allow more space to practice, including a unique area to master uneven lies.
In addition to great golf, most private and semi-private area courses have busy calendars filled with special events, from the fourth annual Max Robinson Children’s Foundation Memorial Golf Tournament at Crystal Ridge Golf Club in Okotoks, the Woodridge Charity Golf Tournament and the Willow Park Charity Golf Classic to the Calgary Flames Celebrity Charity Golf Classic and the PGA Tour’s Shaw Charity Classic at Canyon Meadows Golf & Country Club.
Entwistle highlights that Priddis Greens will have regular schedules for its nine weekly leagues, more than 30 member tournaments, several corporate tournaments and the big attraction: the 21st annual Priddis Greens Charity Classic, August 13-15, supporting the Prostate Cancer Centre. The tournament has raised nearly $7 million since its inception.