Swinging Kananaskis Country Golf Course off the Bucket List
It’s the smiles, it’s the laughter, and it’s the unforgettable memories that are created on and off the course, that make Kananaskis Country Golf Course so special to many. Having the course re-open as a 36-hole facility for the 2018 season, means we can now continue to host generations of golfers, long-standing Albertans, and guests travelling to the Canadian Rockies from overseas.
And speaking of hosting guests, we had the opportunity to welcome two well-known golfers in the industry this past season: Sean Ogle of ‘Breaking Eighty,’ and Scott Lindsay of ‘The Weekend Golfer,’ both breaking boundaries and making the world of golf a more accessible sport – each in their signature way.
The reason we love these Sean and Scott so much is because to of their ability to have so much fun out on the course, while still scoring unbelievable scores. They have the ability to see the game of golf through the lens of so many different skill levels of golfers.
Bringing back the passion, the enjoyment, and the gaiety back into the sport of golf is what Kananaskis Country Golf Course is all about – and let us tell you, spending time with these two was our absolute pleasure.
We sat down with them after their round to hear their take on the course, and hear everything from their best golf hacks to their take on Canadian Rockies’ golf.
What were you looking forward to the most, leading up to your trip to Kananaskis Country Golf Course?
Sean: It has been most incredible seeing a place that was completely devastated, rebuilt. We have heard so many stories about the redevlopment of the courses here in Kananaskis, and hearing the details from Bob and Darren were mind-blowing. Then, actually getting to see the final result in person gave it that extra wow-factor. The mountain views make this place very special.
Scott: This course was in the Top 20 Courses in Canada and had to be restored from essentially nothing – that story in itself is awesome. The views, wildlife, and remoteness of this world-class course make it so unique. It feels like you’re in the middle of the woods, it’s by far the most remote course I have ever played.
What is your reaction to the restoration of the course – hearing the before and seeing the after?
Sean: My first reaction is that they are doing everything right. The early 70s and 80s were a dark age for golf – in terms of making the game as challenging as possible - and within this restoration they have hit every aspect of a modern world-class golf course; it’s a course for everyone. From the club, the initial greeting when you drive up, the service, and the tees they’ve thought of everything!
Scott: I think their ability to rebuild the course without any permanent scars is super impressive. If you didn’t know the story and the history, you would be out there playing without even knowing it. Incorporating their new starter tee boxes is key to welcoming new or less-ecperienced golfers – that was smart. Most courses are following suit and building smaller par 3 courses, because it’s more about the experience on the course these days, rather than playing to an extreme level of difficulty.
What sets this course apart from others in the area?
Sean: It’s a world class course that is accessible to everyone – simple. Hearing about how much this place means to the locals, and that the KCGC team recognizes that is so special. Their emphasis to make it accessible to golfers of all levels during the reconstruction says a lot.
Scott: Aside from the gorgeous views at every turn, it’s the people. There is a greeter at the door that ensures you know where to go, which gives it this consistent family-like atmosphere – and you feel this throughout the entirety of the course. It’s also incredibly affordable, and has a great pace-of-play, and is located in the heart of this stunning mountain range. That’s the trilogy of what every course should have!
What do you love about the Canadian Rockies?
Sean: Hands down the views, it’s spectacular out here. No matter what you’re doing, it’s made that much better by the backdrop!
Scott: You’re immersed in the woods and the mountains and completely in nature. The beautiful aesthetic is followed through, no matter where you go. Everything out here embodies the authentic mountain life and makes it a life-changing destination.
What else (other than golf) would you recommend experiencing in the Rockies?
Sean: The Icefield Parkway (Highway 93) road trip. That drive is breathtaking set to the backdrop of crisp blue lakes and rugged mountains. There’s really nothing like it anywhere else in the world!
Scott: The Gondola ride up to the summit of Banff’s Sulphur Mountain is super impressive, along with witnessing the green and blue lakes. There is just something about seeing it in person that does it more justice than the photos.
What is your go-to snack to refuel out on the course?
Scott: Beef Jerky – no questions asked!
What is your top golf hack?
Sean: When you’re golfing and traveling, always bring soft spike shoes. I wear ECCO shoes, so I don’t have to worry about them when I’m on the road. Plus, then you don’t have to change your shoes when you head to the bar afterward!
Scott: I use my wife’s nail polish to mark my ball, it stays on better than a permanent marker. Shameless, but hey, it works!
What adjectives would you use to describe this area?
Sean: Grand. Everything from the courses to the mountains, to the hotels. Everything about this experience has been big.
Scott: Breathtaking and inspiring. This place truly inspires you to keep on playing golf. It’s truly rejuvenating.
Behind the Greens: Chris Cooke
It’s no secret that the key to the winning formula of KCGC 2.0. is not only the uninterrupted mountain views, but the people. From the team we employ to everyone (golfers and non-golfers) that ‘make the time’ to play a round or hang out at the course, it’s the KCGC family that makes this place truly special!
If you’ve had the opportunity to #PlaytheK, chances are you’ve likely run into our Assistant Golf Professional, Chris Cooke, in one way or another. From greeting guests and ensuring everyone is set up properly for their tee times to knowing all of the products we sell inside-and-out, Chris is your go-to-guy.
“Working at KCGC has always been my dream, and I could not be more excited to have played a part in KCGC 2.0.’s first season. From setting up the golf shop to organizing the staff, this season was a blank slate and it’s been an amazing experience. I’ve met some incredible people and learned so much. I already can’t wait for the 2019 season!”
For us, it’s important for you to get to know the expert team behind KCGC 2.0. So, we caught up with Chris in-between Greens to ask him a few questions and learn more about him, both on and off the course.
What is your role at KCGC?
CC: I am the Assistant Golf Professional and Manager of the Golf shop, working under the one-and-only Bob Paley, who is an incredible mentor. It’s my job to make sure everyone is set up for success, and that starts off with greeting everyone and making sure our guests feel comfortable as they arrive. I teach clinics out on the driving range, organize our starters and ambassadors, ensure everyone is keeping the pace, and get everyone out on the course as timely as possible. Essentially, I always want our guests to feel that personal touch on the course. We are a family and we want our guests to feel that from start to finish.
What are you most excited for, looking ahead to next season?
CC: Probably knowing that we will be starting off the 2019 season next with a full 36. Seeing everyone back at this course this year was magical. Everyone has a story and a memory that provided a touchpoint between them and the course from previous years. Everyone has had a huge smile on their face and are so excited to jump onto the course – it was amazing to witness and be a part of that.
Pictured above: Chris, his Dad, and Grandpa #PlayingtheK in 2001
What’s your background – what led you to work here at this course amidst the Rockies?
CC: I was born and raised in Canmore and essentially grew up on the golf course. My dad worked at the Canmore Golf and Country Club, so I started playing young. I played junior and eventually got a golf scholarship to go to the University of Arkansas and played at courses around North America. When I graduated I knew I had to come back to Canada, I love it here. I worked under my dad for a bit, but KCGC was always on my radar. So, when the position came up I jumped on it and haven’t looked back since!
What do you love most about the Kananaskis Region?
CC: It’s just you and the wildlife – it’s about as tranquil as it gets. From riding at Boundary Ranch to hiking to snowboarding to swimming in the many lakes, there is always something to do within a close-knit community. Plus, the fact that we have established a 36-hole world-class golf course, essentially in the middle of a mountain park is amazing.
Behind the Greens: Zach Bishop
Kananaskis is truly a picturesque destination and we’re extremely proud of our two 18-hole course layouts [and we don’t shy away from owning the bragging rights]!
Although the majestic Mt. Lorette and Mt. Kidd both shine their glory down onto the course giving golfers the perfect backdrop for their Insta-worthy swing, the course itself doesn’t stay this beautiful on its own - it’s due to the daily dedication of our incredible turf-care team, led by Superintendent, Calvin McNeely.
Thanks to Calvin and his team, you will find the course in pristine condition at all times – these guys never miss even the slightest wilted flower.
On his team you’ll find Zachary Bishop, Second Assistant Superintendent, who joined the KCGC family in May.
“Even though my time at KCGC has been short, I’ve already seen the significant impact that it has on everyone that comes to visit,” says Bishop. “Alberta’s Golf Course is back and it’s truly so rewarding to be a part of the well-oiled machine that makes this place a world-class facility.”
For us, it’s important for you to get to know the expert team behind KCGC 2.0. So, we caught up with Zach in-between Greens to ask him a few questions and learn more about him, both on and off the course.
KCGC: What does a day in the life of a Second Assistant Superintendent entail?
Zach: Essentially, I help direct the grounds team and participate in the maintenance and conditioning of the golf course - to ensure it always meets its world-class standard. My day typically begins at 4:30 am and I meet the team at 5:30 am to begin preparing the course for play, while assisting Calvin to ensure that all of our daily goals are accomplished. I then spend the rest of the day planning out schedules and assessing the course for areas that require specific attention.
KCGC: What was your role in the launch of KCGC 2.0?
Zach: I joined KCGC back in May of this year, when most of the course construction was complete. I did get to see the construction process as they finished up the last five holes, which was a super unique experience for me. It was my job to learn how to manage the crew and further grow in my role – since Mt. Lorette was already complete it provided the perfect training platform. I was also very involved in the preparation and completion of the Mt. Kidd course which opened on June 1(Front 9) and August 1 (Back 9).
KCGC: What’s the difference between maintaining a course in the mountains vs a course in the city?
Zach:The number one thing would be the wildlife presence! Having everything from elk, deer, and moose, to bears, we have to ensure that golfers are respectful of these animals and that in turn, the wildlife doesn’t prevent any interference with play. There is never a dull moment at KCGC – I can guarantee you that!
KCGC: What’s your background – what lead you to working here at a course in the midst of the Rockies?
Zach:I have grown up in the golf industry my whole life with my father being a Golf Course Superintendent. After working on golf courses in Calgary over the years, I enrolled myself in the Turf Grass Management program at Olds College in 2016. Two years later, I was lucky enough to get connected to KCGC right away. The primary goal I was looking for after graduation was finding a golf course where I could learn, grow and most importantly, be mentored. Working under Calvin McNeely has been an incredible opportunity and then some. His dedication to his craft is contagious and makes the work we do here incredibly rewarding!
Behind the Greens: Kora Sauter
We're a close-knit team here at the Kananaskis Country Golf Course and although we continue to grow as we move through our comeback season, two things stay the same. We treat each other like family and we all share the same tenacious passion for the club - and more so now than ever before, since the course has reopened!
One of the familiar faces that you'll recognize around the course if you used to come regularly pre-flood is Kora Sauter, our Operations Manager. On paper, she's in charge of the Valet, Carts and Driving Range, but in reality, she's what holds the team together and make sure we're a well-oiled and working machine!
"I feel my role as manager is much more about the passion I have for people and enhancing their experiences," says Kora. "When I see the guests return with smiles on their faces that makes me so happy inside and it's the main reason I truly love my job so much!"
For us, it's important for you to know us as well as we know you! We caught up with Kora in-between the valet and the carts to ask her a few questions and learn more about her on and off the course.
How long have you been working at KCGC?
"I started working with KCGC in 2012 and remained in Kananaskis Country post flood for re-opening. I managed to stay busy during the 5 years of the course being closed and I returned in January to prepare for the inaugural season."
What did you do during the five years that the course was closed?
"When the flood came it was an incredibly emotional time for all of us - this was our second home. I knew without a doubt that I wanted to stay in Kananaskis and see the course through this tough time. However, I don't think anyone could have anticipated it being a 5-year wait. In the meantime, I worked at a variety of other spots in the area, such as the retail store at Naskisa and I managed the Kananaskis Outfitters. In 2016 I decided to finally take some time off and do a six-month hike from Mexico to Canada through the Pacific Crest Trail. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done and it was challenging to both my mind and body. I learned a lot about myself out there and living in the bush sure changes your outlook on life fast - it definitely makes you appreciate the small things."
What is your background - what lead you to work here at a course in the midst of the Rockies?
"I am originally from southern Saskatchewan. I left the prairies about 15 years ago and headed for the mountains. I found Kananaskis randomly on a drive from Canmore down the Spray Lakes Road more than a decade ago and I fell in love with the atmosphere I decided to stay! I consider myself a local with a great love for this area and its people. I am an avid hiker and explorer of all things in nature."
Can you give us a snapshot of your typical day?
Typically, no day is ever the same for me. I get up with a smile and excitement to organize the day! I usually will take some time in the cart barn to play some tunes and organize carts first thing in the morning. There is something very satisfying to me about the process. I prepare the team for the events of the day and cart staging details. As a group, we pull carts to energize for the day ahead. I respond to help during busy times for the Valet, Carts, Groups, and the Range duties. I respond to guests' needs/requests throughout the day. I could be found running cars at the valet, finding a bucket of lost balls for a guest, changing a tire, staging a group, stacking the range, cleaning clubs, washing carts or working in the office in any given moment. I enjoy doing something different all the time and multi-tasking through the day.
What do you love most about K-Country?
"I enjoy the seclusion of Kananaskis. It is peaceful; yet close enough to hop into the city for an afternoon. I love having the ability to easily hike some of my favourite trails in the area and I enjoy seeing how they change season to season. I always enjoy helping people figure out what hike they should do and advise them on the various trails and local pathways in the area."
What's your favourite hiking trail right now?
"Currently it's Mount Black Prince Trail. I love that it has a cirque, but if you take a local trail it leads you to a stunning waterfall and the eventually back down the other side."
What are you most excited for in the launch of KCGC 2.0?
"My excitement with the launch is every day seeing the bright smiles to our guests and team members. This place is so very special in unique ways, and I truly feel lucky to have the best job in Kananaskis! I just love the feeling at the course. It's always buzzing in the summertime and it's just got that special feeling to it. I believe that it's the people that make it a magical place to be! "