By: Andrew Penner

Unquestionably, the 2013 “Flood of the Century” that hit Alberta was a life-changing event for thousands. People all over the world saw the devastating images. While some of the scars remain, the western Canadian province has recovered incredibly well. And the Canadian Rockies – one of the most celebrated mountain golf destinations in the world – barely missed a beat.

Out of the six stunning golf courses in the Canadian Rockies, five are pristine and running on all cylinders. Only the Kananaskis Country Golf Course, which saw extensive damage due to the flooding, is closed. But that’s the bad news. The good news is this: the provincial government has committed to rebuilding the course and the process is well underway. They are planning to have divots flying again in 2018. A 36-hole facility designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., Kananaskis is one of the flagship courses in the region and, not surprisingly, there is plenty of excitement surrounding the rebuild.

Of course, excitement is always easy to come by when smashing a ball against the serrated, snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies. It’s an activity that will never get old! And, with golf the driving force behind plenty of travel and tourism to the region, rest assured, the overall “product” here is in good hands.

The par-5 6th at Stewart Creek is a reachable par-5
© Andrew Penner

When arriving at Calgary International Airport, Stewart Creek, located approximately an hour from the city in Canmore, is the first of the great mountain courses to the west. Routed through old mine ruins and perched on rugged benchland at the base of the soaring Three Sisters massif, Stewart Creek is a thrilling mountain golf course that epitomizes what golf in the Canadian Rockies is all about

With substantial elevation changes – including on the first, ninth, and eighteenth holes – Stewart Creek is characterized by tree-lined fairways that charge through the wilderness. It’s also an understated design that does not rely on excessive mounding, bunkering, or shaping for its “wow” factor. Opened in 2002 and designed by Albertan Gary Browning, Stewart Creek is a long-standing favourite with Calgary’s well-to-do executive crowd; a testament to the fact that, if you build it and provide a world-class experience on every level, they will come.

The beautiful closing hole at Silvertip, which was designed by local golf course architect Les Furber ©Andrew Penner

Dubbed “Extreme Mountain Golf” when it first opened in 1998 – a marketing glitch that, surprise surprise, didn’t win everyone over – Silvertip has worked hard to win back “Average Joe.” (Apparently he really isn’t interested in losing a satchel full of balls and making 15 more swings than usual to play a course!)

With significant “softening” of some of the most punishing holes – including brush removal, bunker removal, fairway widening, and creek re-routing – Silvertip is now a much more playable and enjoyable course. From the regular tees, it’s also shorter by nearly four hundred yards from when it first opened.

But, thankfully, in terms of its visual punch, the course hasn’t lost anything. Playing high along exposed ridges and bluffs, Silvertip serves up scintillating views of the ragged and rugged Rockies, which explode into the sky in every direction. With 600 feet of elevation change from top to bottom, it’s still a wild ride. The closer, a down-the-mountain sweeper that ends with a green protected by an azure pond, is a fitting conclusion. It’s the kind of hole that, for “Average Joe,” requires five good swings and at least that many photos.

For golfers, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – or in this case, the Icefields Parkway – is the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course. As one of the best-preserved of Stanley Thompson’s masterful Golden-age creations, a trip around Jasper and a stay at the fabulous lakeside resort is one of golfdom’s most memorable time warps. Thompson’s vintage layout at Jasper – many feel it’s his best and, like Banff, it’s always considered one of the most revered places to play in Canada – is peppered with unique and eclectic golf holes that could not be replicated. The par-3s, especially, are compelling examples of Thompson’s flamboyant personality. (Rumor has it he wasn’t shy of wine, women, and song).

The par-4 closing hole at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge GC careens down the hill and features Pyramid Mountain in the background.

Personally, I count “Bad Baby,” the 15th, one of the coolest short par-3s in golf. Any shot slightly off-line will be deflected by the frustrating slopes that surround the green. However, the entire closing run, which flirts with the shores of gorgeous Lac Beauvert, is heady stuff. Interestingly, Jasper was also the only course in the Canadian Rockies that was completely unaffected by the 2013 flood.

Thompson, of course, is also the man who designed the famous Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course. Although the original routing has changed (you used to have an unforgettable start right beside the castle-like hotel), the classic aura and incredible beauty of playing on this historic property is always something to savor.

The Devil’s Cauldron, the famous 4th, is truly one of the world’s great golf holes. A par-3 protected by a perfect pond, a shabby swarm of bunkers, and the soaring granite wall of Mount Rundle, the Cauldron is probably the most photographed hole in Canada. However, all of the holes here, especially the graceful run along the Bow River, fit on the terrain like a favorite pair of slippers.

The par-4 15th at the Fairmont Banff Springs GC is framed by the iconic hotel.

This same terrain would not be the same without the regal spires and turrets of the 125-year old Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel pointing high above the pines. The structure, one of the most recognizable landmarks in Canada, is a luxurious “old world” stronghold for discerning travelers. Fittingly, five-star dining, beautiful ball rooms, a world-class spa, and countless nooks and crannies to explore are features at the flagship Fairmont property.

Although the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is much smaller, it too has plenty of character and history. The postcard-pretty lakeshore location is about as perfect a setting for a resort you could imagine. Unquestionably, staying at these two hotels is one of the highlights of a trip to the region. And throughout the years numerous Hollywood stars – including Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Bob Hope – have considered these hotels a couple of their favorite places to holiday in North America.

Although there is no record of Marilyn Monroe golfing at the Canmore Golf & Curling Club (the images of her golfing at the Fairmont Banff Springs have been widely published), rest assured, it’s also worthy of VIP activity. The course, an understated parkland layout that was actually used as a heli-port during the flood of 2013, is blessed with an idyllic setting along the Bow River. Besides the prime location, the friendly, walkable layout is beautifully manicured and seems to have just the right amount of challenge to make it fun for everyone. And perhaps the best part? It’s easy to find a member to take you out and show you the ropes. (Just be prepared to sip a cool one and take the game a hair less serious than usual!).

“During the flood there were a lot of serious faces around here,” recalls Darren Cooke, General Manager at the popular Canmore club. “But it’s a different story now. In many respects, the game has come back stronger. For a hundred years people have loved playing golf in the Canadian Rockies. That’s not about to change.”

Andrew Penner is a freelance golf writer and photographer based in Calgary.
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