Running Back to Saskatoon: Day 4

I didn’t know what to expect while I was driving, probably because I never thought that I’d ever be in the position I was in earlier today.

As part of my itinerary this week, I made a special request to visit the town of Kerrobert, just over two hours west of Saskatoon.  Reason being, it was the town my grandfather was born and raised in, prior to moving to Saskatoon for University, and then moving East to start his family.

My grandfather was the man who first introduced me to golf, and who kept my interest in the game while I was growing up. He passed away in 2009. I’ve a tattoo in his honour on my leg.

He grew up playing the Kerrobert GC, back when there were sand greens, and I wanted to make the pilgrimage out there to literally walk in his footsteps.

As I said, I didn’t really know what I was going to get myself into because, as I was growing up, I never felt that I would actually visit. It was a laughable town to look at online, or on Google Map’s street view. What I got, though, was a town with potential, and a town that needs its people.

It was easy to spot upon approach. The water tower (adjacent to the first tee at the golf course) is likely the tallest building for 100kms in any direction. And, it’s fully functional – one of only a few left in Canada.

I can’t even begin to explain the drive. It was like going back in time. I passed one town, and then a sign said the next town wasn’t for another 87 KMs. And there was literally nothing. Fields, a road, and in one instance, a “point of interest” which of course I had to stop at (a spot on the “Swift Current – Battleford Trail”).

When I got out of the car, the silence was deafening. There were no cars in any direction. I stood in the middle of the road and looked around. What else could I do? Did I want to get back into my car and find Kerrobert? Of course. But, that was the first moment when I truly felt far from home.

I pressed on – I had to, there was nothing else out there – and sped down a large hill with Kerrobert in the distance.

En route
En route

The town has two “welcome” signs, along with two Chinese restaurants. I had to laugh. They don’t even have a grocery store. Or stop signs (not joking. The town only has yield signs). Yet, they have two Chinese restaurants.

The golf course is easy to find, just look for the water tower. But first I passed the arena.

The arena, I’ve found, is symbolic in small-town Saskatchewan. It stands for community, and togetherness. It brings people of all ages together. Kerrobert’s area was no different. A little run-down on the outside, but with new boards donated by the community on the inside. It is the home area to the Kerrobert West Central Rage Junior ‘B’ hockey team. The team plays in the Northern division of the Prairie Junior Hockey League.

Upon arrival at the course, there were three people sitting on the patio outside the quaint clubhouse. One of which would be my playing partner for the day, the other, his partner for life. They met online, he (Brian Oates, or “Willow” as everyone calls him) works at the golf course during the summer, and in the oil field during the winter. She, Shirley Elderkin, works at the golf course during the summer as the assistant manager, and usually in the oil fields during the winter as well.

They live on the golf course in a trailer. They have to, as rooms for rent in Kerrobert are hard to come by. They move back to Calgary in the winter, though. She used to be a Mormon, and originally struggled to serve liquor. He is an avid Harley-Davidson rider. What a pair.

They could not have been nicer to me, though. And, they love the golf course. Everyone in the community does. They have to, because it holds them together. They have about 150 members, which is just north of 10% of the whole town.

A full adult membership for the year is $300. Want to buy a membership for your family (two adults, three kids), then it will be $1,000. For unlimited golf, all year long. Men coming off the oil field for a month will buy a membership and play every day. Or riggers who are on a two-week-on, one-week-off schedule will also buy memberships. Why not? There’s something about the land that brings people in.

Five years ago when Oates and Elderkin came on board, the course was in bad shape. “The community said I was a miracle worker,” Oates explained with a laugh. When really, he says, he just put a little love into the course.

It’s now incredibly lush. The greens are slow, but in perfect shape. No imperfections, and have gentle undulations. There are a couple of water hazards, large fairways, and well-manicured tee-boxes. There are, however, no sand traps. There’s spots for them, but to bring sand in is too expensive to maintain, so the “traps” are left sand-less. It may go against conventional golf design, but that’s okay. It’s golf, the Kerrobert way.

I made a birdie on the 384 yard par-4 first. I striped my drive, hit a wedge to 20 feet, and made the putt. I’d like to think on that hole, in the presence of the town’s water tower – the same one my grandfather leaned against, drove past, and grew up next to – I had some help.

Tee shot at the par-4 ninth
Tee shot at the par-4 ninth

The rest of the course was in fine shape, and is a fun layout that could be played again and again. It’s a par 36, with two honest par 3’s (187 and 167 yards) and two fine par 5’s (531 and 540 yards). You could play it forward, or from the tips. It challenged your driving accuracy, your iron game, and your putting. Was it the perfect golf course? No (does one even exist?) but do I find myself wishing to return for another game, another chance to walk in the footsteps of the past?

Absolutely.

The combined age of the golf courses I played while on this trip was over 300 years old. Golf in Saskatoon is more than scores, belly-putter debates, and dress codes. It’s pure. It’s a feeling. It’s a community who relies on its golf course for an escape from whatever it may be going through. Members at the immaculate Saskatoon G&CC have their own problems, just like members of the little Kerrobert GC.

But golf has the power to bring people together. It’s magical, in that way. And that’s why people love it.

***

Tomorrow I fly back to Toronto after a great few days in Saskatoon. Thanks to the Tourism Saskatoon folks – especially fellow Carleton University Journalism grad Alex Stang who helped set everything up – along with the PGA Tour Canada guys, Cooke Municipal GC, Saskatoon G&CC, and of course, Kerrobert GC for hosting me this week. 

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