BANFF, ALBERTA - Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were once asked to design a golf course combining the best 18 holes they had played around the world.
The two legends put their heads together and came up with a well-thought out beauty, using a bunch of holes from great American courses like Pebble Beach and Pinehurst No. 2; a couple from iconic layouts in Scotland and Ireland; and one from this tourist town lost deep in the Canadian wilderness.
Both agreed the par-3, No. 4 hole at Banff Springs golf course was the best they had ever played – anywhere.Needless to say, my heart pounded, my hands shook and my knees turned to jelly the day I stood on the tee of Banff Spring’s short beauty known as the Devil’s Cauldron. The hole looked as daunting as Nicklaus and Palmer had described it but that wasn’t the reason I was so nervous.
No, it was the huge bear standing near the small pond that rests just to the right of the hole that was causing me to sweat. You see, I have what’s known is golf parlance as a “slice” and almost every shot I hit goes right. Yikes!
The one thing you don’t want to do is awaken the fury of a bear by hitting it with a golf ball. Fortunately for me, the bear lumbered back into the thick brush that surrounds the hole a few seconds before my shot rocketed off the tee, sailed into a forest green backdrop and landed inches from where the bear had been standing.Guess it didn’t like my setup.
Wildlife, majestic mountains, sea vistas, historic hotels, well designed courses by the likes of Nicklaus, Palmer and a Who’s Who list of other great designers, and friendly people – that’s what makes playing golf in Canada so bearable. From sea-to-sea, Canada offers vacation golfers a collection of great courses that compares with anything offered south of the border or across the great Atlantic water hazard in the British Isles. And two of the best are located in the Rocky Mountain province known as Alberta.
I didn’t see another bear the rest of my game at Banff Springs, which sits in the shadow of the castle-like Banff Springs Hotel, built back in the 19th century as a palatial retreat for railway tycoons who tied this vast country together with a ribbon of steel. Today, many golfers arrive in Banff on a train – Via Rail has daily service from Eastern Canada, over 2,000 miles away. Banff Springs was designed by a legendary figure named Stanley Thompson. A Scot by birth and a Canadian by choice, the hard-living legend was considered the Donald Ross of Canadian golf course designers. And for good reason. Ross tutored Thompson and the two, according to legend, conspired to create – no doubt over a couple of scotches - Banff Springs golf course, a few hours drive from oil-rich Calgary.
You can see the genius of the two master designers in this course. The greens are small and crowned – Ross’s way of challenging a golfer’s short game. The fairways are narrow and cut out of rolling wilderness and that tests a golfer with different stances – something we are led to believe Thompson was famous for doing.
Above: The courses in Alberta and B.C. are breathtaking.
But the beauty of this course is its beauty. From ever tee, you get spectacular views of breathtaking scenery that can’t be matched – unless, of course, you travel a few hours north of here to another of Canada’s spectacular vacation towns known as Jasper, outside Edmonton.
The town is home to Jasper Park Lodge and another of Thompson’s great designs. The Jasper course is considered by many to be the best resort layout in Canada. Thompson covered the natural rocky terrain found here with soil brought by horse and cart all the way from Edmonton in 1925. He followed this course up with Banff Springs in 1928 and Canada’s resort golf industry was launched.
Now, every one of Canada’s 10 provinces offers at least a couple of championship courses that are well worth the trip here to play. So, here’s a rundown of some of the best courses Canada has to offer vacation golfers starting in the country’s most westerly province, British Columbia, and heading east to Nova Scotia:
Most of this province’s resort courses are huddled together in Whistler, noted more as a winter playground and the place where the 2010 Winter Olympic Games will be held:
- Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club: If you’re given five days to live, you might want to spend four of them playing Whistler’s awesome foursome of courses - starting with the Chateau Whistler golf course. The course sits at the base of majestic Blackcomb Mountain and rolls through avenues of Douglas fir trees, ponds and great granite faces. It’s certainly my favorite, if for no other reason than it was there that I registered my lowest score ever - a 79!
- Big Sky Golf and Country Club: A short drive out of Whistler you’ll come upon Big Sky, a golf course that offers great views from every tee. That’s thanks to its location, at the base of Mount Currie. You spend the day launching your ball into the rock-face mountain and surrounded by valley wilderness that’s simply stunning. How bad can that be? The flatland course sits 600 feet above sea level and provides a natural high you won’t soon forget.
- Nicklaus North Golf Course: The Golden Bear designed the course that bears his name and one of the hazards golfers face here are the real bears you’ll hear rustling in the bushes off many tees. Trust me, the course will eat you up faster than the bears. Nicklaus North is a tough test of golf. It was designed by the greatest player the game has ever known and there’ll be points during your round where you’ll wish you had Jack’s game. So don’t expect to score well here, unless you’re name is Nicklaus.
- Whistler Golf Club: This is the granddaddy of the Whistler foursome and it seems to get better with age. Designed by Arnold Palmer, this mature track offers nine lakes and two winding creeks as part of its arsenal of hazards. Again, golfers are afforded magnificent views and some of the most expensive homes in Canada – mostly owned by Americans form nearby Seattle - line the courses’ generous fairways.
- Greywolf Golf Course: Okay, now that you’re hooked on B.C. golf, may we suggest a game at this track, voted Canada’s best new course in 1999 by Golf Digest. This seductive beauty could be the magazine’s centerfold. Located in Panorama, the province’s latest fun spot, Greywolf is dominated by the ancient Purcell Mountains and water comes into play on 10 of its 18 pristine bent grass holes.
- For more information, go to www.hellobc.com.
This is a province gushing with oil and bursting with pride over its lineup of resort courses. The province’s Rocky Mountain scenery and fresh-water lakes that border many courses just adds to the thrill of playing at:
- Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course: This may be the most stunning 6,589 yards of real estate in all of Canada. Snow capped mountains, slow moving streams, manicured fairways and greens and wildlife that play through whenever they wish, are all part of the Jasper experience. The aforementioned views will challenge your concentration but actually help calm your nerves when it comes to facing one of the best tests of golf anywhere. Make sure you set aside a few extra days for your Jasper holiday stop - this is one course you’ll want to play more than once.
- Banff Springs Golf Course: If, as I suspect, you agree that Jasper is the No. 1 resort course in the country, then I’m sure Banff won’t be far behind in your rankings. The course sits in the shadow of Sulphur Mountain and Mount Rundle and supplies lots of eye candy for players. As mentioned earlier, the par-3, No. 4 hole is one of the best anywhere but there are at least three other holes that could qualify as signature holes - and the rest would be the best on most other courses.
- SilverTip: You’d better bring your A-game and a bazooka if you hope to score well on this 7,200-yard monster that’s an uphill battle right off the first tee. This championship course located in Canmore offers 600 feet of elevation changes during a round and that makes for some very unusual challenges. But like all the other Rockies’ courses in Alberta, this one comes with so many natural highlights that you won’t care what the final scorecard reads.
- Stewart Creek: This is another Canmore course that has been getting rave reviews from golf magazines on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border. It’s a stunner in every way.
- Kananaskis: Golf Digest magazine rated this one of the top 25 public courses in North America and some say in may be the best - period! The tree-lined fairways require accurate shots off the tee and some irregular-shaped greens will test your short game around the short stuff. Add to that some strategically placed ponds and a whole lot of elevation changes and you get the idea that this course will challenge you no matter what level you’re at.
- For more information, go to www.travelalberta.com.
Canada’s largest province is home to the country’s largest city, Toronto, and within a 150-mile radius of the city centre there are some stunningly beautiful courses – there’s over 300 in the area. From Niagara Falls to the cottage country area known as Muskoka, and in and around Toronto, you’ll be treated to some wonderful golf memories. Here’s just a few of the courses TNNworld.com recommend you play:
- The Legends of the Niagara: This is a golf complex the likes of which you’ve never seen. Two championship courses surround a nine-hole beauty and part of the land they occupy was once a battlefield where British and American forces squared off in the 1800s. The overcoats worn by the Americans in that battle are remembered today at West Point, where the cadets wear replicas as a tribute to those who lost their lives here. The two championship courses differ in many ways – one offering a lot of sand and the other a lot of water – but both are brilliant.
- Whirlpool: This Niagara gem is so close to the world famous falls you’ll swear you can feel the mist the cascade creates. You’ll also feel overjoyed that you stopped and played this elderly track off the picturesque Niagara Parkway. The course is bordered by majestic gardens and a butterfly conservatory. This is one course that gets better with age.
- Glen Abbey Golf Course: On your way to Toronto from Niagara – about an hour’s drive - may we suggest you stop and play Glen Abbey, the place where the PGA’s Canadian Open is held most years and the first course Jack Nicklaus ever designed on his own. The course now belongs to the ClubLinks Corp. stable of championship layouts and has become a legend of sorts in Canada. It’s a bit pricey to play – in the $220 area – but well worth the investment.
- Angus Glen Golf Course: This Glen has nothing to do with the “other” Glen other than it too has played host to the Canadian Open. Angus Glen offers two signature courses, the North and South, and they differ in many ways – one offering elevation challenges and the other requiring accurate shots. This is a track where corporate Canada likes to gather and the service level at this club is second to none.
- Bigwin Island: This course offers two of the best golf holes in all of Canada – numbers 6 and 18 – and is especially lovely to play in the autumn months, when the surrounding countryside is turned a patchwork of fall colors. You’re brought to this treasured island where movie stars like Clark Gable once played by boat and that just adds to this experience of a lifetime.
- Taboo: Canadian golf hero Mike Weir, winner of the Masters, calls this course his home base – in Canada, anyway. The course is located in the Muskoka vacation region and comes with a beautiful lakeside resort which offers all types of luxury amenities. The course is cut out of the thick pine forest one finds in this part of Ontario and offers some excellent challenging holes – some require you to clear large rock chasms just to reach the fairway.
- The Raven at Lora Bay: The American golf course management company thought so highly of this beauty that they agreed to put their name on it. The course rests beside Georgian Bay and is cut out of a former apple orchid – many of the fruit laden trees were spared and just adds to the experience. Great lake views from many tees makes this a must play course on vacation.
That’s just a sampling of the many vacation courses this lovely province, whose motto is “There’s More to Discover in Ontario.” When it comes to golf, that’s very true. For more, go to www.ontariotravel.net.
Prince Edward Island
This is Canada’s smallest province but offers some big thrills when it comes to golf. Golf, in fact, is the number 1 tourist draw to a place known worldwide as being the home of the loveable character named Anne of Green Gables, a fictional girl made famous in the work of Lucy Maude Montgomery. Here’s some of the best courses:
- Links of Crowbush Cove: This is one of those natural beauties that God created and the golf course designer- in this case the renowned Tom McBroom - just stuck the flags in the holes. Crowbush is woven into the seaside landscape that makes Prince Edward Island courses such a treat to play. The sand dunes and panoramic views have that Scottish links feel about them and when the wind blows off the sea, the challenge meter goes to maximum.
- Mill River: This is the perfect resort course - offering a challenge to low-handicap golfers but it won’t scare high handicappers away, either. Wide rolling fairways greet you at each tee and if you play it smart, the well bunkered greens will be easy to reach. Each hole offers players a different look and the lakes and streams that run through this patch of green makes for a delightful day.
- Brudenell River: Friends who have played this beauty say it’s their favorite course in P.E.I. It’s one of the most popular and a delight to play. Again, it’s very friendly to first-time players, with wide, generous fairways bordered by gardens, lakes and ponds. It’s always listed among Canada’s top 50 golf courses and, at $46 a round, won’t break your holiday budget.
For information of Prince Edward Island golf, go to www.peionline.com.
This Atlantic province offers a group of courses on its easterly tip called the Fab Four. They’re located in an area known as Cape Breton, which National Geographic calls the best vacation spot in the world! The courses are a perfect compliment to their surroundings. The Fab Four are:
- Highland Links: This is another of those classic Stanley Thompson-designed courses and is regularly ranked among the top two or three in Canada. The course juts out onto a picturesque peninsula like a finger and shares space with Nova Scotia’s most famous resort. The course seems to change with the seasons – soft in spring, hard and fast in the summer and colorful in fall as the area turns a kaleidoscope of colors. The course was built in 1939 but has stood the test of time.
- Bell Bay: Phone inventor Alexander Graham Bell had lots of retreats and Baddeck, where the Bell Bay is located, was home to one of them. From the 18th tee, you can see the house Bell built nestled in the same rustic landscape the course is built around. The course sits above Bras d’Or Lakes and all the holes are named after famous schooners built in the province. Holes 15 through 18 are considered the best finishing combination in the country.
- Le Portage: The course is located in the province’s French quarter and while the course is considered the weakest among the quartet, the down-home hospitality one is treated to here is well worth the visit. Don’t be surprised after a round to be serenaded by some toe-tapping Acadian fiddle music while enjoying some of the freshest seafood in North America.
- Dundee Resort and Golf Club: This layout is hidden away in a secluded town of West Bay and is a bit of a trek to get to. However, once here, you’ll see why it’s well worth the drive. The course is surrounded by trees and offers lots of elevation changes. Don’t be surprised to see the odd bear lumber across a fairway. The par-3 16th hole, featuring an 80-foot drop to the green, is breathtaking.
For information on Nova Scotia’s full lineup of courses, go to www.gov.ns.ca.
That’s just a sampling of what Canadian golf offers tourists. To find out more about the country’s championship lineup, go to www.canadiantourism.com.