Jasper, Alberta – The 14th hole at Jasper Park Lodge isn’t long. It stretches just over 360 yards from the tips but it sure is distracting. The fairway curls around the banks of Lac Beauvert and its turquoise coloured water reflects a muscular, white capped lineup of Rocky Mountain peaks that jut up behind the wooden lodge. Last time I played the 14th, a couple of lodge guests out for a walk stopped just short of the tee and waited for me to pull the driver, maybe it was the scenery or maybe the sudden gallery, but I skulled my drive and watched it skip a dozen times across the glacial sheen, shattering the picture perfect reflection into Picasso like pieces. The hikers gasped, as if I’d just spray painted a moustache on the Mona Lisa, desecrating something pure. I shrugged my shoulders and smiled wanly. But truthfully, I didn’t feel so bad.
The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is the number one ranked golf resort in Canada and even if you’re shooting triple digit scores, it’s impossible not to be wowed. Located in the heart of a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Lodge is wrapped in six mountain ranges, hot springs, glaciers, waterfalls, islands and a Noah’s Ark worth of critters. (I’ve seen elk the size of Land Rovers, with TV antenna high antlers strolling across the Jasper golf course.)
Jasper was and is a railroad town and ninety years ago CN built cabins and a main lodge not too far from the station, opening Jasper Park Lodge to guests. Using a team of 50 horses and 200 men, Toronto architect Stanley Thompson designed the golf course which opened in 1925. Jasper features all of the trademark touches that Thompson would become famous for – shaggy bunkers, elevated tees, topsy-turvy fairways, a mix of long and short par 3’s and a unique way of pulling the beauty of the surrounding landscape into the design. He also added his bawdy sense of humour. The 9th is a 231 yard par 3 that plays straight downhill with the grand Pyramid Mountain filling the horizon. Thompson named the hole Cleopatra after the legendary Egyptian beauty and configured the bunkers, bumps and mounds to resemble the buxom body of the Queen of the Nile. However, the hierarchy at CN thought the design was a little too cheeky and insisted the designer smooth out the voluptuous contours.
Movie stars and deep pocketed billionaires have checked into the Lodge. Marilyn Monroe, Jimmy Stewart and Bing Crosby all stayed here while filming nearby and in fact Crosby loved the golf at Jasper so much that he played in and won the prestigious Totem Pole tournament. Bill Gates has made the pilgrimage a couple of times to Jasper, playing golf and retiring to his cabin for games of bridge. Don’t worry though. You don’t have to be part of the lifestyles of the rich and famous crowd to afford a stay at the Lodge.
If it is your first time in Jasper and you are heading south to Lake Louise and then Banff, take the Icefields Parkway, the spectacular 232 km stretch of highway that National Geographic has ranked as one of the `10 Greatest Drives in the World’. Down around Banff, there is a terrific string of courses including the Fairmont Banff Springs, Stewart Creek, Silver Tip, Canmore and Kananaskis.
However, if you are driving south from Edmonton to Calgary, make a side trip to Drumheller and tee it up at the Dinosaur Trail Golf Club. This is badlands country and the back nine is a stunning moonscape, with fairways darting between the coulees and the barren buttes. The badlands is also home to one of the planet’s richest deposit of dinosaur bones and the award winning Royal Tyrell Museum is right around the corner. Thirty years ago, Peter May, one of my university pals answered a job ad from the Royal Ontario Museum, who were looking for a technician. The ad stipulated that the applicant had to enjoy camping. Peter got the gig and a month later was in Drumheller, digging up dino bones. He has gone on to become the world’s preeminent dinosaur builder, with his work appearing in most major museums, including the new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum. He even had a call from Steven Spielberg to build a Tyrannosaurus Rex for the original Jurassic Park movie. Funny where life takes you.
Fairmont features a Jasper golf package from $349 per night based on double occupancy which includes accommodation, golf, cart and range balls. www.fairmont.com/jasper 1-866-540-4454.
Dinosaur Trail Golf Club – $41 – $58.50, www.dinosaurtrailgolf.com 403-823-5622
For more information on planning golf vacation in the Rockies, www.canadianrockiesgolf.ca.
By: Ian Cruickshank