Course Reviews – Dakota Dunes – One of Canada’s Best Courses in an Ideal Setting
It has been a couple weeks now since I had the pleasure of teeing it up at Dakota Dunes, just south of Saskatoon in Whitecap, SK. Having played a park style course north of Prince Albert the day before the drive along the gentle dunes gave me a flavour for the diverse topography of Saskatchewan and a sense of the golf experience I was about the have. My sense is that designers Wayne Carleton and Graham Cooke likely had to move very little earth to set up a design which was recognized in 2005 as Golf Digest’s Best New Course in Canada.
For a course which also hosts a PGA Tour Canada stop my anticipation and expectations were high. My 6:00 am tee time provided me an unexpected treat, to be paired with the Head Superintendent, Tyler McComas. It is Tyler’s first year in this role and he used the morning round to get a firsthand sense of the course conditions. The course suffered some winterkill from little snow and relentless cold wind, fairways had some patches which Tyler was surveying between shots. My general reflections are of a superior course set in a unique natural landscape. There was nothing unfair about the course, the tee boxes were level and in many places slightly elevated to provide a clear sense of safe landing space. Fairways were generous but bunkering, waste areas and native grasses proved penal for wayward shots. The greens were impeccable, rolling true and fast for the early season (and did not suffer winter damage). I found some but very few ball marks which is consistent with my other golf experience in Saskatchewan; clearly golfers here take pride in their courses. With five sets of tees the course provides a fair challenge for players of all levels.
I will admit I liked the back nine considerably more than the front. Perhaps it is because it has warmed up much more than our tee time temperature of 4c. Simply put, the layout and the golf holes themselves were more enjoyable for me. I was a fan of the drivable par 4 13th and enjoyed the scoring opportunity of a closing stretch of pars 3 – 5 – 3 – 5. The 10th hole is very stout and I wonder why they’d place a pot bunker near a landing area on such a long hole? The bunkers and native grass areas are very playable which is nice if you’re struggling to get to a single digit handicap index like me. The areas around the greens require imagination and touch.
Tyler and I walked the course in 3h 15m without feeling we were rushing. We celebrated our round and efficient efforts with a nice breakfast (their coffee is superb)! Looking back, it was days like that at Dakota Dunes which make me appreciate the quality and diversity of golf in Canada. It is an excellent course. It will hold up well for its annual PGA Tour Canada stop, the SIGA Dakota Dunes Open sponsored by SaskTel. Add this to your bucket list, playing a course the pros play is always a treat and this is no exception. It was a golf experience I won’t soon forget.
Aura – 8.5 out of 10 – Playing a course where professionals play is always a special experience. Add the fact that this is the highest ranked course in the province and that the dunes-style layout is unique for me and this gets a very high rating.
Value (cost / experience) – 9 out of 10. Paying $65 to play here (which is a peak fee) is phenomenal value. Add to this the chance to have what amounted to a guided tour of the course and a tutorial on Superintendent responsibilities and I can’t believe my good fortune.
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 8.5 out of 10. The winter kill issues on the tee boxes and on some fairways did not detract from my experience at all and to me was irrelevant to the playable condition of the course. Greens were the nicest I had experienced all year. Given that this is a public course, it is very playable and fair. Slope ratings represent how approachable the course is. That is not to say it is easy, more fair. Wind (which we did not experience much of) is the natural defense along with natural areas and bunkering.
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – This is an excellent golf course and worthy of its high rankings for public play in Canada. The staff are passionate and committed to providing a quality golf experience. Similar to my experience the day before at Waskesiu, it was a comfortable, relaxed and respectful golf experience – 8.5 out of 10
Highlight (what is great about the course) – The layout of the back nine has an openness and expansiveness which I did not sense on the front. I don’t feel I’ve played better greens all season and the course maintains a truly natural feel which I love. Conditions are superb, consistent with what I’d expect for a top public course in Canada but it is the people that made the experience so great. Everyone I interacted with was polite and passionate about Dakota Dunes.
Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – I am not a course designer so I cannot get into specifics but the layout of the front nine is something I would consider changing. That said there are some stout holes which challenge a player and provide sufficient reward for good play. Don’t get me wrong, I really like this course!
Just So You Know – The course is located on Whitecap First Nation territory and also hosts a casino. The success of this course is an excellent example of Aboriginal economic development and self-determination. Plans are set to develop a new, permanent clubhouse. Only 20 minutes south of Saskatoon, the convenience is a bonus for a golf experience of this quality. Oh yes, and grab yourself an arrowhead-shaped ball marker.
My Best Shot – Following a wayward tee shot on 10 (amazing how one small pot bunker can be so menacing) and a solid hybrid I had a short iron approach and hit the 8 iron stiff to 12 feet. It was my best iron strike in some time…let’s just end the story there (OK, I missed the birdie putt).