About The Highwood

Highwood Golf was established as a non-profit corporation in August of 1958 located in High River Alberta, 30 minutes South of Calgary. It is wholly owned by shareholders and is a semi-private facility welcoming anyone to play, dine and enjoy social time in a beautiful, friendly setting.

A new 10,000 square foot clubhouse was completed in 2010 and hosts a variety of meetings, events, weddings and celebrations. A fully stocked pro shop, locker rooms, meeting space, 200 person banquet hall, restaurant and snack bar complete the package. The Foxes Den restaurant is a popular spot for golfers and locals to dine offering fresh, casual fare.

The Highwood, as it is locally known, operated 27 holes of golf from 1992 until June 20th, 2013. Eighteen holes reopened in June of 2014 (Heritage and Mountainview Nines). Four new holes will open in June of 2015 briging the Highwood up to 22 holes of championship golf. A new grass tee driving range and short game area were opened in the summer of 2014. In cooperation with the Town of High River, a flood mitigation dike project was completed in 2014 through and around our property. 

We look forward to a prosperous future with you as our guest.
 

Mission Statement & Core Values:

We are dedicated to creating memorable golf and social experiences for all members and guests, while playing an active role in our community.
We VALUE
·         exceptional service and value for members and guests
·         a rewarding and positive work experience for our employees
·         operating in a fiscally responsible manner
·         supporting our community events and its people
·         preserving the natural environment of our property
·         fairness, honesty and integrity in all our relationships
 

Highwood Golf & Country Club’s Flood of Floods

            Alberta's flood of 2013 will never be forgotten. The stories, the pictures, the first-hand accounts, they are etched into our memories forever. Province wide, over 100,000 people were forced from their homes. Scores of businesses and properties were consumed by the muddy water. Lives were lost. And it was the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.

            Over 30 golf courses in the province were heavily affected by the flood and sustained considerable damage. Few were hit harder than the Highwood Golf & Country Club. The Highwood story – which is still being written - is one of many incredible accounts of that heart-breaking time. Although tragic on many fronts, it speaks to the strength of a community, the power of numbers, and an unbreakable will to prevail; to make what was once devastated even better than before. 

            Started in 1958, the Highwood Golf & Country Club is a strong, community-minded, non-profit, semi-private golf course with a pristine position along the Highwood River. From 1990 to 2013 the course operated as a 27-hole facility with three distinct nine hole courses – Spitzee, Mountainview, and Heritage. A massive 10,000 square foot clubhouse – a scenic hub for weddings, banquets, and, of course, golf events – was added in 2010. The future – and the foundation - of the club was definitely on solid ground. However, that all changed in June of 2013 when the river started rising.

            Thanks to over 250 mm of torrential rain that fell in some areas of the mountains and foothills, the situation in High River quickly became catastrophic. The town was completely flooded, evacuated (over 150 people were rescued from rooftops), and was an off-limits disaster zone for nearly two weeks. It was flooding on an unprecedented level. Environment Canada called it “The Flood of Floods.”           

            Located in the heart of town along the aspen-lined river, the Highwood Golf & Country Club was inundated with water. In a matter of just a few hours, 26 of 27 golf holes were completely submerged and it’s history was forever altered.  

            “The morning the water came we had fifty people on the course that needed to be rescued and evacuated,” remembers General Manager, Chad Thomlinson. “We used pick-up trucks and utilized an escape route down the first fairway on our Mountainview Nine. Before we had to high tail it out of here we drove power carts and maintenance equipment to high ground. It was all to no avail. We just had no idea the volume of water that was coming,” says Thomlinson, who, like 60% of the members and staff, also experienced significant loss and damage at his own home and property.  

            Due to the fact that the entire town was shut off and off limits to residents during the disaster, assessing the damage to the course was impossible until the water receded and they were allowed back in. “It was extremely frustrating,” says Thomlinson. “But lives were lost. Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed and left to rot in the water. We all gained a whole new perspective on what really matters. When we finally were able to get back in we really had no idea where to begin. There is no manual on where to start or how to restore a property without a budget and without knowing the extent of insurance and how, exactly, the government would assist. There was plenty of blood, sweat, and tears through the process. It was an experience none of us will ever forget.”   

            When the recovery began, “The Highwood,” as it is commonly called, was a stunning example of the pervasive “come Hell or high water” mantra that prevailed throughout the province. “We had over 1500 volunteers come out during the recovery. Without them, we wouldn’t have saved this course,” says Lane Neilson, Highwood's 20-year superintendent. 

            And, make no mistake, saving the course was a monumental accomplishment. “When we were finally allowed back on to the property the devastation was unlike anything I could have imagined,” says Neilson. “There was a sea of silt, in some places over three feet deep, that covered eighty percent of the course. Thousands of dead trees, rocks, and pieces of flood debris were strewn throughout the property. It was destruction on a mass scale. Our maintenance buildings, cart storage building, and all outbuildings had three to six feet of water through them. I have witnessed three significant floods during my time here, however, this one was in a league of its own. I really wasn't sure if this was going to be a golf course again.” 

            But at that time, Neilson, and everyone else, had no idea the level of commitment and the back-breaking work that the staff, members and volunteers (arriving by the busloads from, mainly, Calgary) would be capable of. In the coming weeks and months, they would completely transform and reclaim the property. 

            “It was teamwork on an off-the-charts level,” says Neilson. “As ruined as the course was, we made progress every day. And, to be honest, we are still cleaning up and finding debris out there. And our work is still not done. Construction and rebuilding on the annihilated Spitzee nine will continue into 2016.” 

            Not surprisingly, everyone has their own take, their own very personal experience, during the reclamation effort. “The camaraderie, the friendships, and unification over a common goal, it was powerful to experience and be a part of it,” says Jim Boughen, a Highwood board member and flood victim himself. “The silt was stubborn, but I think many of us were even more so! Due to my own home being under water, I didn’t spend as much time at the course as some people did. My hat’s off to everyone who pitched in.” 

            Unquestionably, it was the silt that presented the biggest challenge. Volunteers, with blistered and bloodied hands, worked hour after hour, day after day, hand-scraping, shoveling, and squeegeeing silt off greens, tees, and fairways. Remarkably, much of the turf was saved through this process. And, ironically, the only green that was NOT flooded was actually the most severely damaged due to the fact it couldn't be watered and was left to bake in the sun for weeks!

            To the credit of all those who helped, by October of 2013 eighteen holes had been restored – over 17 acres of sod was also laid down to cover areas that could not be saved - and the golf course re-opened in July of 2014. The course, in conjunction with the Town of High River and the Government of Alberta, also constructed a flood mitigation dike to protect the town and the golf course. This was completed in 2014. In addition, four new holes (so the course could have 18 completely protected holes in case of another flood event) as well as a grass-tee driving range and large practice area were also built and opened in the spring of 2015.

            While the severely damaged Spitzee Nine will never be the same – it is currently undergoing a re-design as a unique, family-friendly, six-hole course that will open in 2016 – the Highwood Golf & Country Club has once again found some solid ground. Thanks to the passion and commitment of the staff and members – as well as the thousands of man-hours put in by an army of volunteers – the Highwood story is certainly one worth telling. And, of course, remembering. 

 

Andrew Penner is a Calgary-based golf professional, freelance writer, and photographer. His work has appeared in publications such as Golf Magazine, Golf Canada, SCOREGolf, and The Golf Channel. He can be reached at andpenner@shaw.ca
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