JASPER, AB - Cleopatra never looked more radiant. Spread out in front of her “Pyramid,” with the mid-day sun highlighting her curvaceous shape, the men standing before this natural beauty quiver with excitement as they get set to approach her.
Who, in their wildest dreams could imagine a golf hole evoking such emotion?
Cleopatra is not just any golf hole, though. She’s the “queen” of a magical kingdom known as the Canadian Rockies where golf holes and courses are framed by castle-shaped mountains that rise high above the clouds.
Amazingly, every course in the Canadian Rockies offers holes that challenge Cleopatra’s beauty but it’s when you reach this breathtaking spot on Fairmont’s legendary Jasper Park Lodge course, with the tee box perched over Cleopatra and majestic Pyramid Mountain rising behind her, that you realize you are the most fortunate golfer in the world.
Cleopatra was created by Stanley Thompson, the “king” of Canadian golf course designers who was once described as “more artist than golf course architect.”
Thompson, who designed several legendary Rockies golf courses, respected the mighty mountains so much that it’s said he shaped the mounds to mirror the surrounding peaks and the bunkers to look like the snow formations that appear on the mountains in winter.
Above: Golfers spend the day hitting into rock mountains boarded by pencil straight forests.
Both The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel courses are Thompson creations and are part of the Canadian Rockies Golf Experience, a vacation tour that makes every player a winner.
If, as Albertans boast, the Rockies are “God’s country,” then the clubs that make up the Canadian Rockies Golf Experience are surely “His courses” because playing here is just heavenly.
The Rockies Golf Experience includes courses that have all earned recognition and top rankings from the most prestigious of North American golf industry publications and picking your favourite is like trying to decide who is your favourite child.
Suffice to say, each has its own identity, its own character. The only thing they have in common is their overwhelming natural beauty.
No matter which course you play, the Rockies are always in your view and honestly, sometimes it’s hard to concentrate on the task at hand when your attention is being challenged by such grandeur.
During our Canadian Rockies Golf Experience tour we play The Fairmont Banff Springs and The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge courses, both of which are connected to two fairy-tale hotels that show up in the pages of Canadian history books.
Above: The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is just one of the historic properties you
The Rockies Experience also introduces us to several of Canada’s newest and most talked about courses — Canmore’s Silvertip Golf Resort and Stewart Creek Golf & Country Club are, in our estimation, among the Top 50 courses in North America.
The granddaddy of all the Rockies courses is also included on this tour. Canmore Golf & Curling Club is a traditional track nestled deep in a valley surrounded by dramatic peaks. It opened in 1926, but is still up to the challenge of today’s game.
Our only regret is that we do not get to play the highly-touted Kananaskis Golf & Country Glub Course. It suffered major flood damage when the fast-moving Bow River spilled over its banks and onto the course in 2013. An $18-million renovation is under way and happily Kananaskis is scheduled to rejoin the Canadian Rockies Golf Experience in 2015.
My pulse quickens, my knees shake and my hands tighten around my driver as I get set to hit my first shot on our Canadian Rockies Golf Experience. The par-4, 414-yard 1st hole at The Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course captivates even the most cynical with its panoramic views of the Rockies.
Phew! My drive lands safely in the middle of the generous fairway and our holiday tour is officially under way.
The Fairmont Banff Springs course, which Thompson designed in 1928 (it’s had several updates since), winds along the Bow River and sits in the shadow of snow-capped Sulphur Mountain and Mount Rundle.
The wow factor here goes well off the charts when you stand in elevated tee boxes surrounded by the rugged grey Rockies, the immaculate emerald-coloured course and the glacial blue waters of the Bow. Wow, indeed!
Left: The 9th hole at The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge known as Cleopatra is one of the most stunning holes in golf. Right: Rockies golf is a combination of breathtaking backdrops, awesome golf courses and legendary accommodation.
Several holes at Banff Springs have earned legendary status, none more so than the par-3 4th hole, known as the Devil’s Cauldron which both Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus include among the “best” 18 holes they’ve ever played.
This 192-yard beauty sits next to a small stream and it takes an accurate shot off an elevated tee to reach the postage stamp green that slopes back to the water. This is one of the most intimidating shots in golf and, oh, did I mention that bears are often seen sipping water out of the stream while golfers tee off.
The Fairmont Banff Springs course is holiday golf at its best. It’s a fair track offering wide fairways and large greens — No. 4 being the exception — and don’t let the 147 bunkers intimidate you because they rarely come into play.
The course, along with The Fairmont Banff Springs Resort, is located in Canada’s most famous national park. Banff National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that offers so many natural wonders that one visit is never enough to truly appreciate all it offers.
After a round, The Fairmont Banff Spring Hotel’s legendary hospitality awaits. There’s no greater thrill than to sit on the hotel’s famed stone terrace overlooking the course and surrounding Rockies while sipping a glass of vintage wine. And the ribs at the course’s Stanley’s Smokehouse Restaurant are the best we’ve tasted outside Memphis.
The Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course is a great introduction to the Canadian Rockies Golf Experience, an experience that has few equals.
Next morning we’re up bright and early and arrive at Silvertip Golf Course for an early morning round.
Standing on the first tee box at Silvertip, we quickly realize that while the surrounding Rockies terrain may look the same at every course, the courses themselves are all very different.
Silvertip is the perfect example. It’s a toss-up between a beauty and a beast: visually stunning throughout, but even PGA players would find this track with its narrow fairways and tight greens a challenge.
It’s not hard to see why Silvertip is recognized as one of National Geographic’s Top 10 environmental courses. It offers some of the most awe-inspiring panoramic views in golf, but the 200 metres of elevation changes they talk about on the scorecard indicates what a demanding track this is.
The holes here are much shorter than at other Rockies courses, which compensates for the degree of difficulty. The 395-yard par-4 4th, which is guarded by pencil-straight pine trees from tee to green, and the par-5 8th, which qualifies as one of the most visually stunning holes in the world, are our favourites.
Above: The 1st hole at Stewart Creek Golf Club is one of the most picturesque holes anywhere.
The front nine at Silvertip is a scenic wonderland with lots of eye candy for golfers to enjoy and on No. 6 we’re warned that a bear has been sighted patrolling the fairways … and his name is not Nicklaus.
Between rounds, we’re treated to a jaw-dropping helicopter ride over the Rockies with Canmore’s Alpine Helicopters and walk out on the Glacier Skywalk, a glass floor thrill over a deep canyon filled with waterfalls below your feet and the Columbia Icefield perched above your head. Simply amazing!
We arrive in the late afternoon at The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge after a three-hour thrill ride along a Rockies highway bordered by snow-covered peaks, glaciers, rivers the colour of jade and lots of wildlife: bears, wolves, elk and mountain goats roam the road freely.
After a delightful dinner on the terrace of the Lodge’s Cavell’s Restaurant, which overlooks tranquil Lac Beauvert, we head to our tastefully decorated cabins to rest up for our morning tee off on Canada’s No. 1 resort golf course.
Thompson created many legendary Canadian golf courses, but he saved his best effort for this treasured piece of real estate deep inside Jasper National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From start to finish, The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is a series of 18 thrills, with Cleopatra topping the list.
As you can imagine, the course is kept in impeccable condition and Fairmont’s renowned hospitality is second to none. The course is set at the base of the mountains and Pyramid’s peak is never out of sight.
The front and back nines are equally enjoyable for golfers of all levels and every hole qualifies as a “signature.” The par-4 16th, known as The Bay, gives you a total view of the resort — from the back of the green you see Pyramid Mountain in the distance, the lake and the cabin-style resort. Few words can describe the overwhelming sensation one gets from this vantage point.
Above: After golf, there are lots of attractions in the Rockies like the Columbia Icefelds Skywalk - a terrific distraction.
Just when you think golf can’t get any better after playing The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge course, next day we’re introduced to my new favourite opening hole in all of golf — the 1st at Stewart Creek Golf and Country Club.
The 366-yard, par-4 beauty is the course’s signature hole and one look from the elevated tee to a fairway bordered on one side by the Rockies and an evergreen forest on the other tells you why.
I’d like to nominate Stewart Creek’s No. 1 as the signature hole for all of golf.
The rest of this course is no ugly duckling, either. Every hole here offers golfers a visual feast, especially the 9th, which is being converted from an awkward par-4 into a stunning par-3. When completed, the elevated 9th is sure to challenge No. 1 for the title of “signature hole.”
The thrills at Stewart Creek continue from start to finish. The par-4 18th is a great end to a great day of golf.
On the final day we’re invited to play Canmore Golf & Curling Club, a homey course where the members make visitors feel like friends. After a gourmet lunch, made by the course’s Quebec-born chef, we head out for a round on a course that snakes through a lush valley with the Rockies’ majesty visible from everywhere.
While not as challenging as the other courses we’ve played on this vacation tour, Canmore is totally enjoyable and a great way to come down from the highs we’ve experienced during this Rockies golf tour.
The Rockies Golf Experience is an experience of a lifetime that every golfer must put at the top of their bucket lists.
Canadian Rockies Golf can arrange golf stay and play packages at courses and resorts throughout the Rockies. The well-respected company offers great deals throughout the year at courses in Canmore, Kananaskis, Banff and Jasper. Contact them at www.canadianrockiesgolf.ca
/ For information on The Fairmont Banff Springs or The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, go to www.fairmont.com
/ For information on Alpine Helicopters, go to www.alipinehelicopter.com
/ To find out more about the Glacier Skywalk go to www.glacierskywalk.ca/
/ The Stoneridge Mountain Resort and Blackstone Mountain Lodge, both members of the Clique Hotels & Resorts chain, offer great rates and accommodation for golfers. Info: www.clique.ca/