Surviving the start is key to success at Raven Crest Golf & Country Club in Edmonton

EDMONTON, Alberta, Canada -- With a scouting report like this, you'll be tempted to show up at sunrise and start hitting range balls.

It's the day before our tee time at Raven Crest Golf & Country Club and a golfer with knowledge of the popular public hangout high on the banks above the North Saskatchewan River issues this warning: "If you can survive the first four or five holes, you'll be happy. If you're not hitting it straight, it can be nasty."

Admittedly a bit puzzled as we size up the wide-open first fairway the next day, our playing partner -- a former marshal at Raven Crest -- insists that we received accurate intelligence.

"If you get through the first four holes, it not too bad," he said. "But up until then ... it can bite you anytime."

By the time we reached the fifth tee about an hour later, we were believers.

Stretching to 472 yards from the tips and with tall stacks of trees on either side of the landing strip, the second hole at Raven Crest is about as forgiving as a father whose daughter misses curfew on her first date. The third and fourth assignments certainly aren't a cakewalk, either.

"At the previous course I worked at, you played well and then the last four holes could just kill you. This is the opposite -- the first four holes can be very challenging to get through with a good score," said Bill Newbigging, the director of golf at Raven Crest. "I've seen both and what's better, I don't know. Either you have a great round going and then the last four holes can wreck your round, or you go out and you're 8-over after the first four holes and you need to make eight birdies to get it back.

"But I think it's fun, because it is a good challenge right off the bat. There's that expectation that if you get through there in a certain amount of strokes, you're going good and you can really put together a good round."

Even if the first four holes of your round at Raven Crest feel more like four rounds with heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko, there is still plenty of time to put a smile on your face -- and some circles on your scorecard -- before returning your clubs to the trunk of your car.

The 6,722-yard layout has a course rating of 71.9, proof there are scoring opportunities after the scary start.

"It has a variety of styles of holes from well treed to links style, some challenging holes but also playable for golfers of all abilities," Newbigging said. "I think that's one of the great parts about this golf course is there are some really hard holes, like the second hole, but there are also some easier holes. For example, on no. 11, it's a par 4 but you can almost drive the green and there's not much in the way.

"That second hole, with a little bit of wind and with the length and the trees and everything, can be one of the hardest holes in the city. But there's a good complement of very playable holes."

Raven Crest Golf & Country Club: The verdict

While the drive on the tree-lined second hole at Raven Crest Golf & Country Club isn't easy, the commute to the golf course is.

With a new bridge across the North Saskatchewan River and the expansion of Edmonton's ring road, Raven Crest is only 20 minutes from the downtown district and less than a half-hour from the hullabaloo of West Edmonton Mall.

If you arrive a few minutes early, perhaps you'll be able to waste all those wayward shots on the driving range before the daunting opening stretch. It's not like we didn't warn you about the early challenge.

"We're still getting people coming out and saying, 'Jeez, I didn't know this was here,' and this is 17 or 18 years after it's been opened," Newbigging said. "We still get a lot of people that aren't expecting what they find here."

Raven Crest, one of three courses in the Edmonton area that is owned and operated by Country Club Tour Golf Group, has a full practice facility and golf academy.

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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Surviving the start is key to success at Raven Crest Golf & Country Club in Edmonton