By: Grant Fraser
When American journalist John B.L. Soule first coined the phrase “Go west young man” in 1851, he was referring to the opportunity that awaited anyone daring enough to travel into the American wilderness in search of a new life and untold prosperity. He certainly wasn’t referring to the game of golf. Fast forward 160 years and it’s ironic that this phrase is equally applicable today especially for avid golfers in search of a truly unique golf experience.
As someone who grew up in Ontario, I have always been intrigued by the naturalness and beauty of Western Canada. Perhaps it’s the rugged Rocky Mountains, the abundant wildlife or the thought of knowing that within a short drive outside of major urban areas like Calgary or Edmonton you can find yourself literally in the middle of nowhere.
Recently, I had the good fortune of traveling through Alberta and playing some exceptional golf courses along the way. The starting point of my “Rocky Mountain High” golf adventure was Kananaskis, a remote destination an hour west of Calgary and the home of two exceptional golf courses that comprise the Kananaskis Country Golf Course. Appropriately named the Mt. Kidd and the Mt. Lorette courses after the two dominant mountains that rise above the fairways, Kananaskis was the brainchild of former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed. The golf course development remains under provincial ownership and serves as an exemplary example of a public and private sector partnership. Not surprisingly, these Robert Trent Jones Sr. designs were recently named by Golfweek magazine as being two of Canada’s top five courses to play.
From Kananaskis I headed north to Jasper. Over the years, I had heard so much about Jasper, The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and its championship golf course. With a population of approximately 5,000 permanent residents (this figure more than triples during the peak winter and summer months), Jasper is one of those special places in the world that is difficult to leave. On more than one occasion I asked several people the question, “So, how long have you lived here?” The response was always the same. “I arrived here a few years ago and never left.” This really comes as no surprise especially for lovers of the great outdoors. Spanning more than 10,000 sq. km., Jasper National Park is one of North America’s largest natural unspoiled areas.
In addition to the Park and Jasper’s rural charm, it is the venerable Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course that attracts many to the area. Designed by Stanley Thompson, Canada’s preeminent golf course architect, Jasper Park may be the best golf course in Canada. It is not the most difficult, but in terms of playability, ambiance, and its lasting effect on mind, body and spirit, it does not get any better than Jasper Park. For numerous reasons, Score Golf magazine rated Jasper Park the number one golf resort in Canada in 2010 and 2012.
The accommodations at The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge are equally impressive. The hotel’s rustic décor is an extension of the natural surroundings. Comfortable wood cabins, adjacent to the main hotel, overlook Lac Beauvert, an aqua marine glacial lake that looks like something you would see on a post card.
In addition to playing the golf course, I recommend including at least two day trips in your Jasper itinerary. For an aerial view of Jasper and the surrounding Athabasca Valley, I suggest taking the Jasper Tramway and ascending Whistler’s Mountain. From 7,500 feet, you will be able to see a series of vast mountain ranges that stretch 100 km away. I would also recommend driving to Maligne Lake and taking the 1 ½ hour boat cruise to Spirit Island. Once there, the only other people you will encounter at this 22 km, glacier-fed lake are those who boarded a similar boat before you arrived.
After three memorable days in Jasper I returned south to Banff, the province’s other renowned golf destination, along the winding Ice Fields Parkway. Rated one of the Top 10 Most Spectacular Drives in the World by numerous travel magazines, there are not enough superlatives to adequately describe what you will see along this 225 km highway. It is here, in Glacier National Park, that you will truly experience the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Towering snow-capped peaks, glimmering lakes, evergreen forests and ancient glaciers are why this sliver of heaven was recognized by UNESCO in 1984 as a world heritage site. My only advice – drive safely. Try to keep your eyes on the road and if you can’t, pull over. Don’t rush, take plenty of pictures and be sure to spend an hour or two hiking up to the base of the Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Ice Field.
The town of Banff has undergone significant change over the years; however, one thing that has remained constant is the famous Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Built in 1888 by Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, the visionary who constructed the Canadian Pacific Railway, The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel sits majestically on a mountainside overlooking the confluence of the Bow and Spray Rivers. When the hotel first opened, room rates were $3.50 per night. Other than the several restoration and expansion projects that have taken place over the years, this 770-room “Castle in the Rockies” continues to be regarded worldwide for its elegance and grandeur.
Complementing the magnificent hotel is the 6,938-yard, Stanley Thompson designed, Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Club. Like its sibling to the north, Banff Springs was carved through the rocky mountain terrain providing the most intimate alpine golf experience imaginable. Constructed in 1928, Banff Springs was the first golf course ever built to cost more than $1 million. For golfing purists, take a trip back in time and experience what it was like to play golf using a gutta-percha golf ball and a set of brassie, mashie and niblick clubs. A vintage set can be rented for nine holes from the Banff pro shop to traditionalists who cherish the likes of Old Tom Morris and Harry Vardon.
The final stop on my Alberta golf itinerary was Canmore, an old coal mining town that has reinvented itself as a burgeoning golf destination. Located thirty minutes south of Banff along the TransCanada Highway, Canmore is home to three exceptional golf courses. The first is Silvertip, a 7,173-yard Les Furber design that Stephen Ames describes as “one of the most spectacular golf courses I’ve ever played.” Its 600 feet of precipitous elevation change, tight fairways and unparalleled vistas of the Three Sisters Mountains and Bow Valley are what make Silvertip a unique and challenging golf experience. Second on the list is the Stewart Creek Golf Club, a 7,150-yard gem designed by Gary Browning. Carved through the valley’s pristine pine and aspen forests, Stewart Creek is as natural as it comes. And finally, there is the Canmore Golf & Curling Club, the town’s semi-private golf club that opened in 1926. Although more forgiving than Silvertip and Stewart Creek, Canmore is easy to walk and a pleasure to play.
So there you have it. All the ingredients you need for an unforgettable Alberta golf getaway. The next time you’re planning a summer vacation that includes a few rounds of golf, heed the advice of John B.L. Soule. “Go west young man”, and experience a real “rocky mountain high” at some of the best golf courses you will find anywhere in the world.
Air Canada and WestJet have regular non-stop flights from Toronto to both Edmonton and Calgary.
Booking and Golf Package Information:
Great Places to Stay:
Delta Lodge at Kananaskis, (403) 591-6248, www.deltalodgeatkananaskis.com
The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, (780) 852-3301, www.fairmont.com/jasper
The Fairmont Banff Springs, (403) 762-2211, www.fairmont.com/banffsprings
Grande Rockies Resort, (403) 678-8880, www.granderockies.com
Great Alberta Golf Courses:
The Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Club, (403) 762-6801, www.fairmontgolf.com/banffsprings
Canmore Golf & Curling Club (877) 678-5959, www.canmoregolf.net
The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club, (780) 852-3301, www.fairmontgolf.com/jasper
Kananaskis Country Golf Course, 1-866-480-6111, www.kananaskisgolf.com
Silvertip Resort, 1-877-877-5444, www.silvertipresort.com
Stewart Creek Golf & Country Club – (877) 993-4653, www.stewartcreekgolf.com