Greatest Golfing in the Canadian Rockies

In the heart of the Canadian Rockies, some of the greatest golf courses in the world are celebrating their 100th anniversary of golf in the Rocky Mountains. What better reason could there be to add Alberta's mountain layouts to your must-play list for 2011?

As we trudged over the breathtaking back nine at Jasper Park Lodge, my feet were drenched with the morning dew. Dad, on the other hand, had Vaseline on his golf shoes and bread bags over his socks.

Over the years, the old man developed some pretty crafty—and thrifty—dry-feet strategies. As an introvert smitten with Mother Nature and pathologically averse to slow play (and spectators, despite a single-digit handicap), Dad insisted on teeing off just before dawn, which in big-sky Alberta is shortly after the middle of the night.

“The best time of the day,” he’d crow triumphantly as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. “The others don’t know what they’re missing.”

Of course not, I grumbled under my breath—they’re asleep. 

Golfing in "God's Country"

He was right, of course. At least half a dozen times during our sunrise commune with nature’s majesty, deep in the Rocky Mountain splendour that inspires Alberta’s reputation as “God’s country,” we would glimpse a deer prancing into the bush, or a herd of nonplussed elk commiserating on the fairway, or a hawk taking wing from atop a lobstick pine.

I’d rib him about duck-hooking his tee shot on the mountain-framed 488-yard par-5 2nd, suitably named “Old Man.” My brother Colin would always feel the pressure on the tee at the narrow downhill par-3 8th, nicknamed “Colin’s Clout.” And the way I played as a kid, I was usually in a petulant mood by the time we wound up on the challenging 138-yard 15th, “The Bad Baby.”

In 2011, Jasper has even more to offer: a brand new, 10,000-square foot spa facility where the Golf and Spa Retreat package includes a stretch massage, foot bath and hydrating wrap. A Golfers Massage and Active Outdoors Facial are also on the list of services offered at the spa, which is on the resort’s new Promenade shopping area.

Jasper was always Dad’s favourite, but the Lodge is just one of the several top shelf courses that help to make Alberta’s Rocky Mountains one of the greatest golf destinations in North America, if not the world. The best shots seem that much better (and the worst ones easier to forget) when they’re framed by towering pines before a colossal, snow-covered backdrop.

Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course

South of the sprawling Columbia Icefields, a jaw-dropping four-hour mountain drive along Highway 93, lies the idyllic resort city of Banff and the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course, a venerable Stanley Thompson classic that’s celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2011. The club plans to mark the occasion with a commemorative book and special events throughout the season.

“The Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course connects nature with the ancient game of golf in ways few can claim,” says director of golf Steven Young. “Breathtaking scenery complements Stanley Thompson’s genius layout on this extraordinary land.”

The granddaddy of Rocky Mountain courses remains the destination of choice for any serious golfer who’s venturing into the splendour of Banff National Park. Stretching to 7,083 yards (but playing much shorter), the Springs is one of those unforgettable layouts that every Canadian golfer needs to experience at least once.

The remarkable par-3 4th, known as “Devil’s Cauldron,” demands a well thought-out tee shot over a sky blue glacier-fed lake, with a towering mountain in the background that wreaks havoc with the player’s depth perception. That, combined with the ball-propelling characteristics of high-altitude air, makes club selection of paramount importance.

Of course, while the golf is beyond compare, it’s the soul-enriching experience of spending several hours in the bosom of a breathtaking natural paradise that makes golf in the mountains so divine. The crisp, pure air, the distant white noise of rushing mountain rivers and the sublime sight of grazing wildlife make the sound of a dropping putt that much more satisfying.

Green fees for the Thompson course are $225 from June through October, with discounts available through May. If you’re more about the setting than the swinging, the less daunting nine-hole course, the Tunnel, offers a less stern test at $180 for 18 holes. Fairmont’s “Golf Fore Free” package starts at $299 per person a night (single or double occupancy), and includes a night at the splendid Fairmont Banff Springs hotel and 18 holes on the Thompson course after 1 p.m.





Kananaskis Country Golf Club

Not far away, nestled halfway between Banff and Calgary, is the Kananaskis Country Golf Club, two top-notch Robert Trent Jones courses that get their dramatic looks from white silica-sand bunkers, kelly-green fairways, dense pine forests and a dramatic whitecap facade. And while RTJ layouts have a fearsome reputation, there’s little about the Mt. Lorette or Mt. Kidd courses (named for their neighbouring peaks) that seems tricked-up or unfair.

Four sets of tees make it eminently playable, as do generous fairways and subtle greens that are maintained to some of the highest standards in Canada. The courses are well guarded by several crystal-clear mountain streams and some 140 bunkers, where a treacherous silica sand takes a steady hand and a bit of practice to master.

Alberta residents (whose tax dollars financed the course’s construction in the 1980s) get $20 discount off adult rates ($18 off for seniors and juniors), a bargain which helped over the years to make it another popular McCarten family destination. But even if you’re not a card-carrying Albertan, KC’s still well worth the $95 out-of-town green fee ($65 for seniors and juniors).





Canmore Golf and Curling Club

Elsewhere in the vicinity, Canmore Golf and Curling Club is celebrating its own 85th birthday with a course makeover that includes a brand new par-3 2nd hole that Canadian Rockies Golf says will “take advantage of water features and a challenging approach to a new green that demands precision.”

New tee boxes, bunkers and shaping are also giving the course a new lease on life, as is a newly renovated clubhouse that features a showpiece view of the spectacular mountain range in the back yard. Opening day is April 22 and the course is slated to host the Alberta Junior Ladies Championship later this summer.

Check out the Canadian Rockies Golf website as it has all the info you might need—details on stay-and-play packages, or a means to request custom quotes for trips and packages—or you can call (877) 323-3633.

Greatest Golfing in the World

The old man and I played golf all over the world together, but as a born-and-raised Edmonton boy we often had our most enjoyable rounds when we stayed close to home. When a special treat was in order, or when Dad felt the need to recharge his soul, we’d hit the road and travel west, more often than not in a pickup truck with a camper strapped to the back.

Most of the time, Dad was a tough old nut, and not one given to spontaneous expressions of joy. But the Rockies so enthralled him that he’d venture into the woods and take a playful bite out of a low-hanging spruce bough, just to get a bewildered laugh from his youngest son.

Then, spitting needles, he’d slap me on the back and say, “Isn’t this just the greatest place in the world?”

I never heard him say that anywhere but in Alberta.

Photos courtesy of Canadian Rockies Golf and the Fairmont Hotel & Resorts


James McCarten

James McCarten is a Toronto-based journalist with the Canadian Press and is up! magazine's golf writer.