Last Updated on Sunday, 11 September 2011 17:26
Wednesday, 07 September 2011 21:32
by Gord Montgomery
In nature, diamonds emerge from coal so it should come as no surprise the latest golf gem in north central Alberta is surfacing from the dust of a coal mine.
Coal Creek Golf Resort, located about 45 minutes east of Edmonton, is a family business that is taking the place of their former enterprise, the Dodds Coal Mine, and which should be fully operational sometime in the 2012 golf season.
The unused part of the coal patch, worked for the past three generations by the Kudrowich and Bowal families and which is still partially operational, was land that had to be reclaimed as its natural resources finally came to an end.
The question from that however was what was the best way in which to reclaim the land to make the best investment for the owners?
The answer came from one of those things that when one looks back, seems almost too simple to have happened.
“Probably about six years ago we knew the coal mine was coming to an end and we knew we had a pretty big project to reclaim it just for agricultural land which really wasn’t worth a whole bunch,” Corey Kudrowich the project coordinator, explained of the blossoming beauty in his parents’ backyard.
“Really, it was just a conversation around the dinner table among family members,” he commented on the idea spring to life.
Thus exploration began in regard to turning the reclaimed land into recreational reserve rather than agricultural. It wasn’t an easy process but they got through it and hooked up with a well-known Edmonton family to develop the property.
photo credit: gord montgomery
The Old Tipple From The Dodds Coal Mine Still Towers Overt The Fairways And Greens At Coal Creek Golf Resort, Offering A Glimpse Into The History Of The Site As You Make Your Way Around The New Facility, Which Will Fully Open For Public Play Sometime In 2012
Designed and built by Puddicombe Golf out of Nisku, Coal Creek’s original façade had the company facing some tough challenges when looking at laying down green grass where black coal had reigned supreme for years.
“The concerns we had were, will we have enough topsoil to recap the course once the earthwork was complete; will we be able to find enough suitable quality water for irrigation purpose and will the old buried slack from past coal mining operations hinder our ability to achieve our desired grades, which in some cases it did and we had to make adjustments,” Grant Puddicombe explained.
What they ended up with however when the problems were overcome is an outstanding design in a unique setting.
Coal Creek Golf Resort is broken down into three segments and each is a delight to lay a club upon.
“I think just the uniqueness of the land really appealed to them, the three different styles of golf,” Kudrowich said of Puddicombe Golf coming on board.
“There’s the hills (where he used to ride his dirt bike as a kid and still has the scars to show), the quarry which shows the original scars of coal mining from the turn of the century, and a links component.
“You’ll have an appreciation for what was here. You’re going to know you’re golfing on an old coal mine – it’s going to be around you, you’ll see it - the black sand, the tipple (the mine’s original processing plant), the equipment scattered amongst the holes,” said Kudrowich.
What you see all around Coal Creek is history unfolding in front of your eyes in a setting that’s out of a movie. The fescue grasses offset the greens of the putting surface and fairways and the black sand bunkers, which are reflected in the water and sparkle brightly in the sunshine, add another dimension to the course.
Throughout the course the hallmark of the venue, besides the mining operation, is that black sand found in both greenside and waste bunkers.
This is a unique characteristic and it is much the same as other types of sand found on golf courses, although it may be a bit heavier.
“I think it was Grant (Puddicombe) that made a comment about black sand to tie in with the coal mining theme. Jason (Rasmuson, the head project coordinator) and I took a trip down to Butte, Montana (where the sand, which is actually copper slag, is used on a course), and as soon as we saw it – the contrast between the green and the black and the fact it looks like coal - we immediately knew that was going to be part of the project,” Kudrowich explained.
“The sand’s very consistent. It had to meet Puddicombe’s standards and people are going to be in it because there are lots of bunkers out there.”
What’s intriguing here as well is the fact you don’t play each of the three distinct sections of the course as a separate entity.
They flow together with each style showing up in small parts, keeping you focused on your game as well as the history under your feet.
A taste of the Quarry tees the fun up first, as it plays out through Nos. 1, 4, 5 and 18. You then start chipping away on the Links layout on Nos. 2, 3, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16 and 17.
The Hills fairways greet you on Nos. 6, 7, 8, 9, 12 and 13 making for a round of golf like you’ve never played before in flatland Alberta.
As for the olden days when men toiled to unearth a precious resource, they won’t be overlooked when Coal Creek opens for business.
“The history here is very important to us,” Kudrowich noted. “I remember spending lots of summers up here with my grandfather, shoveling coal up into the tipple, and now to see it as a championship golf course give us a tremendous amount of pride, so that history is not something we’re going to keep a secret.”
Kudrowich noted pieces of the mining operation have been preserved and will be on display in the clubhouse when it’s built, showing where the course came from.
As well, it’s likely placards will be placed on various holes around the course to explain what specific equipment was used for at the mining operation.
To further change the landscape once the course is completed, a large RV area with approximately 300 spots will be constructed. “We want to make it a destination, a place where people can come, stay and play,” said Kudrowich.
From where this began to what it will be is a real head-shaker, Kudrowich noted.
“I know if my grandfather was alive today he’d say this was absolutely ridiculous!” he quipped. “Like I said, this just came from a dinnertime conversation. We did the research and away we went.”
Construction costs, which were reduced due to the fact the families already owned the land and the heavy machinery needed to move the land, will run around $6 million, not including the clubhouse or the RV area.
“Sure, six million bucks is a lot of money but if you had to buy the land, move all that dirt, you’re looking at a $20, $30 million project,” the project coordinator stated.
While he wouldn’t state a completion date for the project, Kudrowich said at some point in the 2012 season all 18 holes of this diamond in the rough will be sparkling on Alberta’s golfing landscape.
By Gord Montgomery
Gord Montgomery is a retired sports editor of two weekly newspapers in the Edmonton area and is a member of the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. He is now in his ninth year of writing for Inside Golf. He can be reached at email@example.com. He’s also on Twitter at @gordinsidegolf and on Instagram at @gordinsidegolf2.
More articles by Gord Montgomery