Two 18-hole courses at Kananaskis Golf Club in Alberta, Canada, are to reopen for play this year.
The Lorette and Kidd courses– both originally designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. – were devastated by heavy floods in July 2013, with all but four holes at the club suffering significant damage.
The Government of Alberta committed CAD$18 million to restoring the course to its former glory, with golf course architect Gary Browning brought in to oversee the work.
With the Lorette course set to open this Spring and the Kidd course later in the year, GCA spoke to Browning to get his thoughts on the project as it nears completion.
What are your reflections on the project now the courses at Kananaskis GC are close to reopening?
There’s a sense of relief and extreme pride that we were able to complete this massive restoration effort on budget and almost on schedule despite a number of delays – both from the weather and due to politics – that threatened the project’s completion.
To now return these two iconic golf courses to Albertans, Canadians and golfers from around the world is a sense of accomplishment like I have never experienced. I was honoured to be entrusted with this exciting and challenging assignment but even more proud of having met and dealt with the daunting task of returning these courses in a form that respected Robert Trent Jones, Sr.’s original design intent, while responding to today’s golfer, today’s game and today’s market and design trends.
Kananaskis Country is, without doubt, one of the most breathtaking Rocky mountain environments in the world. To have been commissioned to rework what many considered to be a masterpiece was a very humbling and inspiring experience. It is a beautiful property that I really lived and breathed for five years during the restoration and will now only enjoy it as a golfer. It’s certainly one of my proudest moments.
Which elements of the project proved to be particularly challenging?
Notwithstanding the intense political and environmental scrutiny associated with this project, the most difficult construction issues involved dealing with the immense volume of debris that Mother Nature chose to deposit on the golf course. Thousands of trees were scattered like pickup sticks, and a massive amount of silt and gravel debris was deposited throughout the golf course.
For example, the eighteenth hole on the Kidd course was covered, tee to green, in upwards of two metres of heavy gravel and rock debris. It was just a huge grading operation and design challenge to leave much of that material ‘in-situ’ and still recreate the character of the original golf hole.
Also, when working in the Rocky Mountains, you are at the mercy of unpredictable weather extremes and a short construction season. Other issues that proved challenging related to stringent environmental protection issues, in particular bird nesting, wildlife migration corridors, fish spawning windows and grizzly bear habitats. Wildlife rules in the Rocky Mountains.
Is the course as it was pre-flood or have changes been made?
There have been minor changes to the routing to accommodate some wildlife migration corridors and lost real estate because of the Kananaskis River’s re-alignment. This was determined by Mother Nature.
We’ve reconsidered the extent and number of bunkers on the course in an attempt to create a more ‘user-friendly’ golf course, while still maintaining the look that Jones had envisaged.
Some length has also been added, with the addition of back tees and a ‘new look’ set of forward tees. This provides a diverse yardage, from as low as 3,500 yards to in excess of 7,200 yards. Quite a range that will cover a wide range of golfers!
What do you think golfers will enjoy most about returning to Kananaskis?
First of all, they will enjoy the fact that they have their precious golf course back in one of the most pristine and scenic environments in the world. Secondly, they will enjoy how they can score!
I truly believe that the returning golfer will be thrilled with how the golf course looks and feels the same while their scores have improved.
We did subtle things like softening the wildly undulating greens and reduced the number and size of the bunkers to help make the layout more relevant to today’s golfer. We widened playing corridors, or in some cases Mother Nature did, to create a less penal, friendlier, more enjoyable golf course that for all intents and purposes replicates the original, but gives golfers a better chance to stay in play and score.
A ‘sneak-a-peak’ preview in the autumn 2017 allowed a few select groups to play the golf course. The response was an overwhelmingly positive one that convinced me that what we have done at Kananaskis hit the sweet spot.
When are the golf courses officially opening for play?
The Lorette course is slated to open for play officially in spring 2018, and the Kidd course in late summer 2018. It was a rare privilege to work on one of the greatest golf courses of the modern era in one of the most beautiful, scenic areas in the world – the Canadian Rockies!