Take a designer with uncommon talent and put him in a setting of exceptional beauty and the results are going to be a bit special.
So it is in the Alberta Rockies where Canada’s Stanley Thompson, a founding member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, built two courses you could play once and never forget. The first, Jasper Park Lodge, was commissioned by the Canadian National Railway, which owned the property’s 1915-built hotel and which wanted to establish Jasper Park as a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors away from Banff, 200 miles to the south and a former stronghold of rival company, the Canadian Pacific Railway. The course opened in 1925 and reportedly took 50 teams of horses and 200 men to build.
Thompson, who wasn’t afraid to spend a lot of his client’s money but who had the good sense to leave well enough alone if the natural topography and scenery provided the golfer sufficient interest, routed a classic with more genuinely great golf holes than some 36 or even 54-hole resorts can claim.
That said, Jasper Park Lodge starts with a less than sensational, uphill 4-par, though the extent of its glories are emphatically revealed on the following 5-par. But for a couple of wonderfully-shaped bunkers short of the green, the hole itself wouldn’t warrant much of a mention were it built in flat suburbia. With the Rockies looming in the background, however, it becomes a candidate for your list of all-time favorites. Make room for another though, because No. 3, with its brilliantly sited green above the level of the fairway, is intriguing from start to finish.
The round continues in much the same vein with one engaging hole after another. The back nine bursts with such great moments as the tee shot at the delightful No. 14 played diagonally across Lake Beauvert, and the pitch to tiny No. 15 with all its visual trickery. Alister MacKenzie called the dogleg-left No. 18 one of the finest closing holes in the world.
Jasper Park received instant acclaim and the Canadian Pacific looked on enviously. It realized a response was required. A nine-hole course had existed at Banff Springs since 1911. It was later upgraded to 18 holes by Donald Ross, but when Jasper Park Lodge opened, even the Scotsman’s layout paled in comparison. In 1927, William Van Horne, the railroad company’s general manager, handed Thompson $1 million (not enough as it turned out) that the designer used to push the course much closer to the hotel, expand it into what is now the area around holes 3 through 5 and dynamite a mountain or two. The only one of Ross’ greens that remained was No. 2. Fairways were widened to make it playable for hotel guests and give each hole a potentially hazardous route to birdie and a safer route to par or bogey.
Perhaps better than any of his other creations, the new Banff Springs embodied the ideals Thompson had listed in his 1923 booklet General Thoughts on Golf Course Design. By any measure, it is a great course; rigorously challenging for the scratch man, endlessly enjoyable for the casual player, and always, always a beautiful walk.
Together, Jasper Park Lodge and Banff Springs justify any length of trip. But the area has much more golf to offer. Canmore, Silvertip and the exquisite Stewart Creek are all a short drive from Banff and turn the Alberta Rockies into a legitimate 10-day golf destination. Tag on a round or two at the spectacular Kananaskis, an hour southeast, and your golf trip now takes on epic proportions.