Here's how a cross border Sask. golf course is adapting to the Canada-U.S. closure

A unique Saskatchewan golf course has been forced to adapt due to the closure of the Canada-United States Border.

The Gateway Cities Golf Course, in North Portal, Sask., shares a border with Portal, North Dakota. The course itself straddles the 49th parallel, meaning on two holes, you cross an international border.

“We have one of the only holes in the world that you tee off on the Canadian side and you end up putting an hour later with the time change,” said Ryan Turner, the president of the Gateway Cities Golf Course.

Turner is referencing the ninth hole, in which the green is located across the border in North Dakota, which operates in Central Daylight Time.

Hole one, a 458 yard par five, also has the same concept, in which you tee off in the U.S., and complete the hole in Canada.

The clubhouse is in the U.S., but most of the nine-hole golf course lies in Canada. Turner estimates about 30 per cent of the members are American.

It’s that factor that Joe Yurkowski, a 40-year Canadian member of the club, loves most about the course.

“Just the camaraderie of sharing the golf course with the U.S. citizens and the Canadian citizens, it’s very unique,” said Yurkowski.

CANADA-U.S. BORDER CLOSED

When the pandemic first hit, golfers from the communities were given a mulligan when it came to border control.

“Earlier on in the year, they were allowing you to come across,” said Yurkowski. “You could tee off as long as you used the course and just went back.”

Lisa Smith, the Mayor of Portal, ND, estimates that 70 per cent of the golf course users are American.

“They would go over and just golf their nine holes or whatever and come back on the gravel road,” Smith said.

However, due to its uniqueness and soaring popularity, border control had to get involved.

“Two months ago we got word from border agencies that we had to not cross that ditch line, which is the borderline,” said Turner.

Apparently, people from outside of the North Portal community were coming to meet Canadian friends for a round on the golf course.

“People from out of town were coming here to meet people that they knew in the states, it got to be too much so they closed it down completely,” said Yurkowski.

So the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency took a stand.

“Border patrol and customs decided that they needed to close it down, and so it was kind of a shock to everybody,” Lisa Smith, the Mayor of Portal, said.

Border control put up signs, road closures and even installed video cameras to monitor the course’s international boundary.

Security cameras were installed at the Gateway Cities Golf Course in order to monitor the Canada-U.S. border.

Smith said it’s had a huge impact on their commerce, as the U.S. side has a gas station, a restaurant, a convenience store and other small amenity stores.

“There isn’t anything in North Portal, I don’t even think they can buy a gallon of milk over there,” noted Smith.

It’s placed a huge strain on the community, which shares many essential workers, like fire department staff. The mayor said the fire department is located on the U.S. side, and while firefighters from both countries can work together in an emergency, the Canadian’s can’t attend meetings.

“We have a lot of families that are split. Daughters that live on the Canadian side with their grandkids, the grandma can’t even see them unless they stand at the railroad crossing and wave,” Smith said.

COURSE CHANGES

Golf might seem like a minimal need, compared to these other issues. However, Yurkowski notes that in the summer time, this is the only recreation in the town.

“They’re more disappointed than we are because they can’t use the course at all,” said Yurkowski. “At least we can use the course, the part that’s on the Canadian side.”

Sadly, even though the U.S. portion of the golf course is easily accessible to Canadians, Turner has had to alter those two international holes.

“We can’t cross that ditch line, which is the border line,” says Turner.

Which means hole one, typically a par five, is now a par four that tee’s off in Canada.

Hole nine, which putts in the U.S., is closed, and golfers are asked to repeat hole one.

Hole nine, which putts in the US, is closed, and golfers are asked to repeat Hole one.