Running Back to Saskatoon: Day 1

When one thinks about Canadian vacation destinations, do they ever think of Saskatoon? Unlikely, I would argue.

Unless you’re a big CFL fan, or perhaps you have family connections, most would pass by Saskatoon en route to the vibrant Vancouver, or the cool Calgary, and not look back.

But there’s more to Saskatoon than being a fly-over-city. It’s got a rebranded identity, with a new tagline – “discover the city you thought you knew” – and I like it. I can already tell, after being here for just one day, that there is a lot to discover.

I’m here in Saskatoon until Saturday. And yes, when I drove from the airport to my hotel, it was flat. There were fields. And there was farmland. Perhaps that is part of Saskatoon’s charm – the fact that everyone knows that you’re in the prairies, but as the tagline suggests, the city encourages you to peel back some layers.

On the agenda for me this week is golf, of course, but I’m hoping to do some exploration of the downtown core, and I’ll also be returning to my Grandfather’s original hometown of Kerrobert. Kerrobert is about two hours from Saskatoon, with a population of approximately 1,000 people. I’ll be playing the golf course where he learned to play, and visiting the town. My grandfather was the biggest influence I had with respect to golf, so I’m thrilled at the opportunity to head there and pay tribute to him.

Today I attended the pro-am day at the Dakota Dunes Open. It’s a PGA Tour Canada event that has been on the schedule – formerly the Canadian Tour – for a few years now. The players rave about the golf course (Dakota Dunes Golf Links, the 60th-ranked golf course in Canada, according to SCOREGolf Magazine’s ranking), and why wouldn’t they?

I saw first-hand that it’s a beautiful beast. Set on rolling sand dunes about 25 minutes from downtown, it will yield low scores (this I’m sure, the rough is not that penal) but one must be straight off the tee. The players will get some quirky side-hill lies, and if the wind blows across the prairies, then perhaps my assumption will be proven incorrect.

The greens are rolling true, and one player remarked they were “some of the best on the Tour.” The course is playing long – a little over 7,200 yards, the longest course the players of PGA Tour Canada will play on this season – but fair.

I had a lengthy conversation with Justin Shin on the driving range. Shin is a member of Team Canada’s National Team, and will be making his PGA Tour Canada debut this week after getting an exemption to this tournament via Golf Canada. He’s excited, and feels good about his game. Will he perform this week? Predictions are pointless – that’s just golf – but he seemed relaxed and ready, so why not?

Justin Shin
Justin Shin

Shin also has some fairly decent travelling partners to lean on for advice.

He’s staying with Albin Choi – a former Team Canada standout who just turned professional this year after an incredible college career – and Mackenzie Hughes – the 2011 and 2012 Canadian Amateur champion, fresh off an appearance at the U.S. Open.

Today, the “prairie heat” was in full force. The temperature was north of 33 degrees, and there is not a tree in sight.

The players are ready, though, and the Drive for Five (that’s the five Web.Com Tour cards that are going to the top-5 money winners at the end of the PGA Tour Canada season) will continue after the ATB Financial Classic in Calgary was cancelled because of the flooding in Alberta a few weeks ago.

Could it be Shin, Hughes, or Choi who wins this week? Perhaps it will be Eugene Wong who gets back to his winning ways from 2012? Or Stephen Gangluff. The American who won the inaugural PGA Tour Canada event in Victoria, who may win his second event of the season?

Ah, golf. Where every player is a story.

All that being said, I’m off tomorrow to play at Cooke Municipal Golf Course in Prince Albert – just about an hour and a half from Saskatoon – one of the top golf courses in the province (and some argue it should be ranked as one of the Top 100 in the country).

Running back to Saskatoon, indeed.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter (@adam_stanley) for updates through the week – there will be a lot more photos of my travels. I’m also on Instagram at @adam_stanley1

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