Sandpiper Golf and Country Club in Sturgeon County, Alberta saves the best for last

STURGEON COUNTY, Alberta, Canada -- It's wetter than expected. And it's better than expected.

Sandpiper Golf and Country Club is a "country" club in the other sense of the word, a pleasant surprise that's located along a secondary road just outside of Edmonton in Sturgeon County and surrounded by farmland.

It's not a golf course that will catch your attention from afar, but if you don't stop, you won't realize what you're missing.

"The course, itself, is way better than what you see when you pull into the parking lot," said Sandpiper Head Professional Kevin Easthope, who's been an employee at the 18-hole hangout for the past two decades.

"It's a really good golf course, but we have a laid-back atmosphere. That's what we strive for. We're very easy here. We want it to be a fun atmosphere. It's just a very easy place to be."

Just don't confuse that with easy pickings. It isn't.

Sandpiper Golf and Country Club: The course

The best part about Don Barron's design just northwest of Edmonton is you can skip the practice range and get warmed up as you go. Sandpiper is a 6,638-yard layout with water in play on almost every hole, but you won't really notice the wet stuff -- at least, you won't be intimidated by it -- until you grab a coffee or a cold one from the halfway house and tackle the back nine.

No offense to the other assignments, but it is Sandpiper's finishing stretch that makes it one of the most underrated golf courses in Edmonton.

The fun really starts on no. 14, a 350-yard test that requires a delicate approach shot over water and leaves little room for error if you go long.

"The rest of the golf course is fairly open. You can get in some trees, but you're going to find your ball," Easthope said. "And then you get back there, starting on no. 14, and that's really the first hole where you have to hit over the water. It's not an island green, but it definitely plays like one."

That won't be the last knee-knocking shot you have to hit at Sandpiper.

The 15th hole is a 515-yard brute with lumber on both sides of the fairway, and that's followed by a 388-yard assignment that requires a creek crossing en route to the putting surface.

No. 17 is the longest par 3 on the course, stretching to 195 yards from the back tee and with a bunker to gobble up any shots that don't quite have enough gusto to get all the way to the green.

And the finishing hole is -- you guessed it -- wet. If your buddy is one-up in the match, you'll be tempted to choose an aggressive route off the tee and risk one last splash. Whatever you do, try not to re-enact the famous "Give me another ball" scene from "Tin Cup."

"We don't hear too much negative about it, but there is a lot of water," Easthope admitted. "The front nine is fairly open and forgiving, but the back nine is quite a bit tougher."

Sandpiper Golf and Country Club: The verdict

Sandpiper Golf and Country Club gets better as you go. That's not a bad thing.

The least expensive and most interesting of three Edmonton-area golf courses operated by Country Club Tour Golf Group (with another about an hour away in Wetaskiwin), the routing at Sandpiper ensures that the best material is saved for the final exams.

In fact, it's too bad there wasn't room for a few more fairways and greens on this picturesque piece of the property.

"I really think the last five holes are probably some of the best in the city," Easthope said. "If our whole golf course was like that, it would just be an amazing golf course. I think people really remember those holes."

Sandpiper has a full practice facility, including a driving range, chipping area and putting green, and instruction is available.

Wes Gilbertson covers the NHL’s Calgary Flames and writes golf features for Postmedia in Calgary, Alta. When the snow melts, he's living proof that thin mountain air doesn't turn everybody into a long-drive specialist. Follow Wes on Twitter at @WesGilbertson.
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Sandpiper Golf and Country Club in Sturgeon County, Alberta saves the best for last