Spirits aren’t the only thing sent soaring during a visit to the Canadian Rockies in Alberta, Canada. Hit a golf ball near the middle of the clubface and your Titleist or Callaway will hang majestically in the air for a while, too.
The latter is because of the elevation; the former because of the elevated anticipation that occurs while driving from the airport in Calgary toward the mountains in Banff, which is a great place to start any type of outdoor adventure.
If golf is on the agenda, a swing around the courses of the Canadian Rockies Golf Consortia is definitely worth the trip. The seven ruggedly handsome layouts on six properties showcase the splendor of the region. And getting there is half the fun, with gorgeous views of mountains, trees, rivers, glaciers, lakes and wildlife around every curve and corner of the road between Banff and Jasper.
“All of our courses are worthy of international acclaim,” said Steven Young, director of golf at Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course and president of the consortia, which was formed in 2008 to highlight the region’s golf, lodging and recreation options. “We’re all relatively close enough that you can play all of us on one visit … and there a lot of options along the way for doing things in one of the most beautiful areas in the world.”
That beauty is evident on the Icefield Parkway, which links Banff and Jasper as it winds its way through two national parks. Driving from Point A to Point B takes a little less than four hours, but add some time for a few side excursions, such as a glimpse of Lake Louise, one of the most idyllic sights in North America, or for taking a closer look at one of the more than 200 glaciers along the route.
“Some people think that it’s too long a drive to get here, that we’re too remote, but that’s not true,” said Alan Palmer, the head professional at Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course. “It’s one of the nicest drives in the world.”
The same can be said when teeing off at one of the seven consortia courses in Banff, Jasper, Canmore or Kananaskis Country, all of which take advantage of their natural settings to make the round both a visual and challenging adventure.
“The Canadian Rockies have the potential to be a very well-known golf destination,” said Silvertip Golf Resort head professional Travis Mann. “When you play all the golf courses, they’re all uniquely different, but they’re all dramatic in the sense that you’re in the Rockies, and you can’t escape that. It’s a treat, for sure.”
Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course
Banff, Alberta, Canada
(800) 441-1414 • fairmont.com/banffsprings
The property, which includes the castle-like Fairmont Banff Springs, is steeped in history, with the main 18-hole course celebrating its 100th year of organized golf in 2011. A 3,357-yard Tunnel 9 is woven into what is casually known as the Stanley Thompson 18, a 7,083-yard, par-71 beauty nestled between Sulphur Mountain and Mount Rundle.
Thompson, who is affectionately known as Canada’s version of Alistair McKenzie, did a marvelous job utilizing the terrain and the site’s proximity to the mountains, which provide head-tilting backdrops off the tee on the third, fourth, fifth, 10th and 18th holes, in addition to abutting some of the front-nine fairways. The 192-yard No. 4 known as Devil’s Cauldron has an elevated tee box that looks down on a green with a glacial pond in front and a rocky hillside and towering pines to the rear. It’s one of eight holes on the course where water can be seen or comes into play.
“This course has always played a prestigious role in Canada and has always been seen as one of the top facilities in the world,” said director of golf Steven Young. “You’re not going to find many courses like this – with its views, historical significance and layout – anywhere else.”
Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club
Jasper, Alberta, Canada
(800) 441-1414 • fairmontgolf.com/jasper
This woodsy wonder is also affiliated with a Fairmont, but not in a traditional hotel way. The property is full of lodges of various sizes, which adds to the rustic beauty of the resort’s 903 acres. The golf course, which also was designed by Stanley Thompson and opened in 1925, blends in beautifully with the rugged terrain. There isn’t a lot of elevation change, but the 6,663-yard, par-71 layout flows beautifully through the surrounding forests, native grasses and natural bunkering.
Perhaps the most photographed hole is the 361-yard, par-4 14th, where Lake Beauvert hugs the left side of the fairway and green, providing a beautiful look and giving players a risk-reward option for how much of the lake they’re willing to flirt with off the tee.
“Stanley Thompson is one of my favorite designers and he did some fantastic things with the golf course,” said head professional Alan Palmer. “The crowd that comes here enjoys the layout and the atmosphere. It’s a great resort course with a lot of character in a spectacular natural setting.”
Silvertip Golf Resort
Canmore, Alberta, Canada
(877) 877-5444 • silvertipresort.com
One word and punctuation mark is all that’s needed for this course at the meeting place of the Canadian prairies and Rocky Mountains: Wow! From the opening tee shot to the final putt, Silvertip is a thrill ride that offers players 600 feet of elevation changes spread over a layout that utilizes more than 9 miles of cart path from top to bottom and start to finish.
The adrenaline rush starts immediately, with the fairway of the 345-yard, par-4 opening hole snaking about 75 feet down and left to a green that has a thin bunker in the rear to keep aggressive - and sometimes blind - approach shots from tumbling down the mountain. The lowest part of the course is the fourth hole, a 443-yard par-4 with an elevated tee box and a lake about halfway up the fairway on the right. Then it’s all uphill from there, culminating with the 18th hole, a scintillating closer with a tee box that is the highest point on the golf course. The hole is a sharp dogleg to the left, and a nice tee shot will leave players with a good look at the green, which is 125 feet below and guarded on the front and left by a lake.
“When you see it firsthand, it can be awe-inspiring and intimidating. But when you find a teeing deck that suits your golf game, it’s a very playable golf course,” head professional Travis Mann said about Silvertip, which has five teeing options on each hole. “The scenery here is as good as it gets anywhere on the planet, and all of our golf holes are extremely memorable.”
Stewart Creek Golf & Country Club
Canmore, Alberta, Canada
(877) 993-4653 • stewartcreekgolf.com
Natural forest forms the boundary for the layered fairways and gradually sloping greens of this 7,150-yard, par-72 layout designed by Gary Browning. What players are in for is evident on the opening tee box, where the 386-yard, par-4 first hole offers what could be one of the prettiest views on any golf course in North America. The 70-foot drop from tee box to the fairway that bends a bit to the right is accented by the trees and mountains framing the shot.
“Our setup is fantastic in the fact that we have subtle challenges in a dynamic setting,” said vice president of golf operations Greg Andrew. “Certain shots might look overly difficult, but they’re really not if you trust the yardage.”
That’s especially true on the spectacular ninth hole, a 421-yard par-4 called Bear’s Den that requires a long-iron or hybrid club tee shot that, if hit well, will leave players close to the edge of a cliff and in view of the green, which is about 100 feet below and bordered on the right by water. That’s followed by another beautiful hole, the 407-yard, par-4 10th called Bighorn that offers panoramic mountain views and a nod to the region’s past with an old mining cart adjacent to the tee box.
Kananaskis Country Golf Course
Kananaskis Village, Alberta, Canada
(877) 591-2525 • kananaskigolf.com
Robert Trent Jones Sr. had a picturesque piece of property to work with when he designed the Mount Kidd Course and Mount Lorette Course in the rugged Kananaskis Valley. The jagged juts and peaks of the numerous mountain ranges provide the stunning scenery and aiming points for tee shots on the two layouts, which have enough subtle differences to make them both must-plays on a trip.
“The Mount Lorette Course has a little more water on it while Mount Kidd has a little more sand,” said facility general manager Darren Robinson. “Mount Kidd also has more elevation changes, so you get different vantage points. Both courses are phenomenal, with the back nine at Lorette one of my favorite layouts of courses I’ve ever played.”
That back nine at the 7,102-yard Mount Lorette is enhanced by the Kananaskis River that comes into play on the final five holes, but the fourth hole at the 7,072-yard Mount Kidd could be the highlight of the property. The 197-yard, par-3 beauty has an elevated tee box and island-type green bordered on three sides by water and guarded by large bunkers to the front, right and rear.
“This is golf at its finest,” Robinson said. “The imagery is raw, and every hole has a spectacular vista.”
Canmore Golf & Curling Club
Canmore, Alberta, Canada
(888) 678-4785 • canmoregolf.net
Sorry, there’s no sliding of the stones down the facility’s four sheets of ice during golf season, but maneuvering your golf ball around the 18 fairways is plenty fun on its own. The club, which is the only member course of the seven in the Canadian Rockies Golf Consortia, has a municipal feel with its 6,301-yard, par-71 layout, but there are plenty of challenges nonetheless. The Bow River provides some added scenery and a potential hazard on the fifth through ninth holes, and a lake comes into play by the greens of Nos. 13 and 16. The walkable layout also is set up to allow golfers maximum views of the mountains and natural terrain.
“We’ve been around for 85 years, and we’re considered the community golf course,” said director of golf Darren Cooke. “We’re constantly massaging and renovating things to stay fresh. It’s playable for everybody, but it still has some challenges. It’s a nice change of pace, and we try to make sure everyone has had a good time while here.”
The Fairmont Banff Springs
Banff, Alberta, Canada
(403) 762-6885 • fairmont.com/banffsprings
For a hotel that sticks out from the crowd because of its majestic architecture, this regal beauty has a hidden feel as well because of its location at the base of the mountains and in the middle of towering pines. The sprawling structure, dubbed “The Castle of the Rockies,” is a National Historic Site that was built in 1888. Its location in Banff National Park and just a few blocks from the town center of Banff means that guests and visitors are more apt to run into wildlife than experience wild life, but that’s part of the charm of the town and hotel that began operating as a year-round resort in 1969.
A variety of other activities, in addition to golf, are available for guests at the 768-room hotel. River rafting, tennis, horseback riding, hiking, swimming, bowling, shopping, fine dining and a visit to the Willow Stream Spa are just a few of the options.
“Having this famous hotel linked to our golf course is absolutely wonderful,” said Steven Young, the director of golf. “It’s one of the finest hotels in the world, but it also has a relaxing vibe so everybody feels welcome and comfortable.”
The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
Jasper, Alberta, Canada
(780) 852-3301 • fairmont.com/jasper
Beginning as an eight-bungalow wilderness retreat at the turn of the 20th century, The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge now has 446 rooms on 700 acres of wonderful wilderness in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. The property features cabins and suites that can accommodate couples, families or large groups, meaning that romance, recreation or rounds of golf are just a few of the options available.
A spa, shopping promenade, health club, pools, outdoor activity center and kids activity center also are on site, as well as a multitude of casual and fine-dining options.
“This is a great place for all types of visitors,” said Alan Palmer, the facility’s director of golf. “We’re lucky because we have eight signature cabins, so whether it’s a bunch of girlfriends, a guys’ trip, couples or families, we have the perfect options for them. Everything blends in beautifully and is set up for a great stay.”
Delta Lodge at Kananaskis
Kananaskis Village, Alberta, Canada
(866) 432-4322 • deltalodgeatkananaskis.com
The Lodge, Signature Club and Mount Kidd Manor are the three lodging buildings at this tucked-away facility. The lodge, which is just a short drive from the 36-hole Kananaskis Country Golf Course, has a feeling of seclusion, and its woodsy location makes it ideal for guests who want to go hiking, biking, horseback riding, canoeing or rafting in the summer or snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, skating or downhill skiing in the winter.
The Delta Lodge at Kananaskis also has the Summit Spa, a 17-meter indoor pool, indoor/outdoor whirlpool, fitness center and Children’s Creative Centre, in addition to six casual and upscale dining options.
“Having such a nice hotel close to the course is great,” said Darren Robinson, general manager at Kananaskis Country Golf Course. “It fits in perfectly with this area’s theme of outdoor activities at their finest.”