Covered in 36 inches of ice and rippled with recently fallen snow, Pigeon Lake, near Edmonton, is an unlikely spot for a golfing tournament.
But add in 240 golfers, 27 holes and buckets of brightly coloured balls and you have the most brr-illiant way to embrace the end of winter.
Read on to discover more about the annual Pigeon Lake Ice Golf Tournament and everything you need to know to take part in this unique winter event in Alberta, Canada.
Published March 2022. This post is in partnership with Pigeon lake Chamber of Commerce and includes some affiliate links. If you make a pruchase via one of these links, we may receive a small percentage at no extra cost to you.
The Pigeon Lake Ice Golf Tournament
Ice golf is a simple concept. It is golf, on ice. The ‘greens’ may be white but the goal and the equipment is the same.
Yet ice golfing is surprisingly more complex than you may expect. For one thing, the condition of the terrain is unpredictable.
As veteran ice golfers explained to us, there can be deep snow one year (no bounce, no roll, easy to lose balls) and sheet ice the next (fast play, also easy to lose balls). And that’s part of the fun of the tournament.
And fun it is indeed. It would be difficult to take it too seriously when the team in front are wearing green Care Bear outfits and riding on a wooden picnic table behind an ATV.
Costumes, shamrocks and prizes
Let me explain. The Pigeon Lake Ice Golf Tournament is usually held during the third week of March. This coincides nicely with St Patrick’s Day, a theme that is enthusiastically adopted by the majority of participants.
Leprechaun hats, green wigs and shamrock embellished t-shirts are commonplace. Some people go all out and wear full costumes in the hopes of winning one of the coveted prizes.
Participants must, of course, keep potential weather conditions in mind while planning costumes. Some years, snowsuits are needed to stay warm.
I have to say, we were pretty lucky with the weather – some participants stripped down to t-shirts!
There are prizes on offer for golf too, including a huge $10,000 windfall (!) for anyone who manages to get a hole in one at hole number 5. That’s the longest golf hole, by the way, measured at 152 yards (138m) for the 2022 tournament.
The first Pigeon Lake Ice Golf Tournament took place in 1995, the brainchild of Chamber of Commerce member Norm Froom.
27 years on and the tournament is the Chamber’s largest fundraiser, helping to support local businesses all year round.
The event features three courses of 9 holes, though Chantelle Van Slyke, Executive Director of the Chamber, told us that there is enough space for many more.
While the demand is definitely there (the tournament always sells out), the number is capped by the event facilities, specifically at the community hall where the post-game banquet is usually held.
Until that changes, ice golf fans must remain on their toes to secure a ticket. In 2022, the event completely sold out within four weeks of the (delayed) ticket launch in January.
A legendary event
And I can understand why. This event has something of legendary status amongst locals, who make up about 50% of participants. Some have competed for over a decade.
Local or not, however, everyone is welcomed. We arrived knowing no-one and ended up closing the bar at the local Canadian Legion with our teammates.
On that note, I have to say that one of my favourite aspects to the Pigeon Lake Ice Golf Tournament is that it is firmly aimed at adults. We met quite a few parents who were grateful to have some ‘me time’ and be able to let loose a little.
And best of all, this event supports local business too. And you don’t even have to be good at golf to enjoy it (I’m proof of that)!
Pigeon Lake Ice Golf: Essential details
Intrigued by the idea of Ice Golf? Here’s what you need to know about taking part in the Pigeon Lake Ice Golf Tournament!
Pigeon Lake is located southwest of Edmonton, Alberta. The name of the lake is thought to come from the huge flocks of pigeons that once ranged in this area, called omîmîw by the Cree (Pigeon Lake is on Treaty 6 territory).
Around 23,000 acres (96 km2) in size, Pigeon Lake is one of the most popular summer recreation destinations in Alberta. There are more than two thousand cottages situated along the shoreline.
The annual Ice Golf tournament is held at Mulhurst Bay, on the eastern side of Pigeon Lake. The drive from Edmonton is just over an hour (86km).
There is plenty of parking around the Royal Canadian Legion building on 49th Street, only a few minutes walk from the lake itself.
Registration and fees
In 2022, Ice Golf tickets cost $50 per person, based on a four person team. Payment and registration is completed via the official Ice Golf website.
The 26th Annual Pigeon Lake Ice Golf Tournament will take place on 18th March 2023.
Tickets usually go on sale at least three months before the tournament and sell out a few weeks prior.
To avoid disappointment, be sure to follow the Ice Golf Facebook page and watch for announcements.
If you do happen to miss out on tickets, there is a wait list on the website. Enter your details and if someone drops out, the organisers will contact you.
What to wear
As you may imagine, weather conditions can vary hugely in this area in mid March. The tournament has only been cancelled once due to weather in 27 years so participants must be prepared for rain, snow, wind and sun.
The weather was pretty favourable for the 2022 tournament, with temperatures around 8-12c, zero wind and plenty of sun.
A blizzard blew in the day after the event, however, with 70km/h winds and about 10cm of snow falling over just a few hours. I’m pretty glad we were not golfing that day!
Needless to say, bring plenty of clothing layers as well as warm accessories like hats, gloves and scarf/neck gaiters.
The tournament has a St Patrick’s Day theme and costumes are encouraged. We spotted green Care Bears, superhero leprechauns, Irish pirates as well as plenty of people wearing green hats, jackets, wigs and necklaces.
I’d estimate that at least 90% of people wore something green so you’ll be in very good company if you choose to follow the theme. If you don’t, there’s no judgement either.
What to bring
To play Ice Golf, all participants need at least one golf club. A maximum of three is allowed (one being a putter). If, like me, you’re not very skilled at golf, I would just bring an iron and putter.
Each golf team receives a welcome package at registration, with rules and instructions as well as a number of colourful golf balls. As you can imagine, it’s pretty hard to see white balls on the ice!
If you’re a competitive golfer, you may want to bring extra balls in case you lose the ones supplied.
Some teams brought plastic sleds or collapsible carts to carry their gear around the Ice Golf course, while others used ATVs or skidoos. Of course, you could also carry a regular golf bag or backpack as well.
Depending on the conditions, the surface of the lake can get slippery. I wore my microspikes throughout for extra grip. Most people were fine without.
It’s also a good idea to bring some cash to purchase additional food and drinks, buy 50/50 tickets and play any of the ice games (giant beer pong, putting challenge).
What to expect
One participate from each group must check-in and pick up a welcome package at registration on the day of the event. In 2022, registration was open from 10am to 12.30pm. Breakfast sandwiches and coffee were available.
The welcome package includes a score card, rules, instructions and golf balls as well as coupons for local businesses. Each team is allocated a golf course (there are three) and a hole number to start at.
Playing Ice Golf
At 1pm, the cannon is fired and the game starts. All teams should be ready and waiting at their hole number. Two teams start at each hole and move on together to the next one when all players have finished.
Golf is played as per Texas Scramble format, which runs as follows. Each player has a shot, with the best ball then selected for the second shot. The rest of the team pick up their balls and play from the selected spot. The process continues until the ball is holed.
There are some special features on some of the holes:
- 3rd Hole – Ladies’ Closest to the Pin contest
- 5th Hole – Hole in One competition for $10,000!
- 7th Hole – Men’s Closest to the Pin contest
Ice Golf après
Completing the Ice Golf course takes around 2-3 hours, depending on the skill of the team (and how much fun they are having!)
Score cards must be returned before 5pm, prior to the awards ceremony. There are awards for the best team score, best hole, best team costume, best individual costume and more!
In the meantime, participants can try their luck at one of the ice games (giant beer pong proved to be very popular) or hang out by the campfire with a hot chocolate. There is also a food truck.
In regular years, a banquet and silent auction follows the awards ceremony. Hopefully this will return in 2023.
Where to stay
Make a weekend of it and stay overnight in the Pigeon Lake area while competing at the Ice Golf tournament!
The Village Creek Country Inn is an easy 20 minute drive away from the tournament and features a variety of well equipped and spacious rooms.
Some of the suites have full kitchens, patio areas and jetted tubs. There’s a shared hot tub and spa facility as well (be sure to check out great value spa packages before booking).
Situated within the Village at Pigeon Lake, the Inn is just steps away from restaurants (more info below) and a number of independent boutiques.
Walking trails lead through the white spruce, birch and aspen forest surrounding the property to Pigeon Lake itself.
Where to eat
The Village of Pigeon Lake is situated just 20 minutes drive from the Ice Golf tournament and hosts a charming collection of independent boutiques, restaurants and stores.
The colourful buildings and boardwalk paths are reminiscent of a seaside beach town.
There are three places to eat here:
- Chef N’ Pigeon Lake – Casual pub style restaurant serving classic Canadian dishes made from scratch, with excellent attention to detail. Generous portions too. Smoked meat is a specialty
- ECO Café – Fun, friendly spot with a focus on sustainability and home baking. Inspiration is drawn from around the world to combine local ingredients with punchy flavours
- Daisy McBean’s – This cute ice cream parlour also serves coffee and homemade pie as well as breakfast and lunch. An ideal place to fuel up before heading to the Ice Golf tournament!
The Village also has a large Buy-Low Foods grocery store, with bakery, deli, produce and other staples. Western Spirits is just a few steps away and has a good range of wine, beer and hard liquor.
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada