It’s hard to believe a course with views like this was in financial trouble as recently as February of 2020. The new owner stepped in a few weeks later, just as the first wave of COVID-19 was cresting across the province. With domestic tourism surging, and stay at home entertainment needed, the course has experienced a full tee sheet for the entire summer, according to my local playing partner.
That’s fantastic news because the Dinosaur Trail Golf Club offers a particularly unique golf experience.
If you take a warmup, you’ll have an idea of what’s to come. The driving range and practice green are across the highway where you can pound balls into the towering hoodoos of the badlands. That’s the type of view you’ll get on the back 9, the first 9 are a completely different landscape.
The Dinosaur Trail Golf Club opened in 1965 as a 9 hole turn alongside the Lower Red Deer River.
It’s a classic design of the era with simple, tiny greens and narrow tree-lined fairways. There are some slight twists in the fairways with mature trees providing guard to greens and approach shots, but it really is a straightforward course that places a premium on accuracy (that’s a good warm-up for what’s waiting on the back 9).
The best hole on the front is the 7th hole, an elegant par 3 over a pond with a big old tree guarding one side and a deceiving bunker yawning on the other.
A few coulees tangle through other fairways forcing you to place tee and approach shots carefully. The greens read simply with the 4th hole’s upside-down salad bowl design being perhaps the most difficult.
I played as a single on my round. My playing partner for the front 9, a local named Jason, was only in for 9 and offered me one piece of cryptic advice as I left him at the turn “on 14, use a club that goes 150 and hit right of the candy cane.” With that note taken, I pulled my cart under the tunnel to cross the highway and climbed to the top of the hoodoos for the next 9 holes.
I caught up to a foursome who waved me through on the 10th tee. You will immediately notice that wind plays a factor on the exposed hoodoos compared the protection of the trees in the valley on the front 9. Intimidated by the landscape, I was given another piece of advice as I walked up with a 5 iron for this longer par 5.
“Use shitty balls,” the old-timers advised me as my first shot tickled the right edge of the fairway. And with that, I drove off expecting to have a camera in my hand as often as my putter.
The 10th tee is one of the few straight shots you’ll find on the back 9 with dusty badlands to each side of the fairway representing your only trouble – well, that and the wind.
The back 9 at Dinosaur Trail Golf Club opened in 1996, and strategically places fairways in the few flat spots the designers could find with tongues of rock and deep coulees carving into the landing areas.
You’ll need to pay very close attention to the yardage signs on each tee box. They’ll tell you what you target ranges are and you need to hit them if you want to score well.
This is where a golf app can be very useful because while the yardage guides offer general advice, it’s hard to see exactly where the trouble is. With the OffCourse app, you can measure exact yardages for your shots, while getting an overhead Google Maps view of each hole.
The only problem is the archived satellite shots for Dinosaur Trail Golf Club are from the winter, and it’s hard to tell fairway from hoodoo when they’re covered in snow.
The first thing you’ll notice when you get to the greens on the back 9 is how different they are from the front. They feel twice the size of the front 9 putting surfaces, but they also have levels and slopes and much more nuance for putting. Sure, they’re easier to hit, but make sure you’re hitting the right part of the green for an easier putt.
In addition to the yardage signs, pay attention to the direction signs especially from 12 through 14. It’s a crazy spider web of tee boxes and greens perched delicately on the badlands, if you’re not paying attention you just might be standing on 12 and hitting to 13.
I found myself hitting a lot of 5 and 7 irons from the tee through the back 9 – distance isn’t an issue on this side, accuracy is. I hit my 7 iron to find the shorter landing area on 11, I used a 9 iron to hit that spot right of the candy cane on 14, and when I needed something longer on a par 5, a simple 190 yard 5 iron down the middle was my weapon of choice.
It’s very easily that I could have hated this course as much as I ended up loving it. If I had caught it on a windy day, or had insisted on hitting driver from the tee boxes, I could have lost a dozen balls amongst the snakes and cacti of the badlands.
But I played it strategically, the layout of the holes (especially on the back 9) really forces you to play things backwards. You need to hit your targets, measure your approach shots so you’re swinging confidently with the most accurate club in your bag.
I did that and I scored well, nailing my first score under 90 for the year.
PRO TIP: If you’ve got a family with non-golfers in the group, drop the rest of the crew off at the Royal Tyrrell Museum to dig up some fantastic fossils while you head the 2km down the road to the golf course!