Golf in the Canadian Rockies will astound, delight, and mesmerize you—just don’t get distracted from the game.
One of the most soul-satisfying golf destinations in the world is the Canadian Rockies. The golf courses are as challenging and varied as they are rich in history and natural beauty. Cool nights and clear sunny days produce perfect conditions both for the turf and the golfer, and, at every turn in the fairway, there’s another spectacular view. If by chance you need a break from golf, the Rockies also offer an endless array of other outdoor activities.
The dual gems in the crown of any Canadian Rockies golf experience are the Stanley Thompson-designed courses at Banff Springs and Jasper Park, both conveniently co-located in national parks at Fairmont Resorts near the two towns. Thompson, one of the founding members of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, was a partner for some time with Robert Trent Jones Sr., and their firm had a hand in Bonnie Briar in Larchmont and Quaker Hill in Pawling, New York. His classic courses, built in the 1920s, flow with the landscape in a way that modern tracks carved out with dynamite and bulldozers seldom do.
Thompson’s courses have well-earned places on every discerning golfer’s bucket list. They give you a perfect level of difficulty along with an opportunity for triumph, mental as well as physical challenges, and breathtaking scenic beauty. Thompson routed the courses to maximize the views while integrating the design of individual holes into the landscape in mind-boggling ways. Many of the bunkers, for example, have outlines that mirror the mountain peaks above them—a subtle echo of the course’s glorious setting.
To complete the golf menu, be sure to visit the Canmore, Alberta, area, less than an hour from Banff. There you’ll find several other fine facilities with completely different styles of play. For pure mountain golf with 600 feet of elevation change, visit Silvertip Golf Course. Another type of mountain course, Stewart Creek, offers a quirkier layout and a little less elevation change; whereas the Canmore Golf & Curling Club gives you great mountain views on a relatively flat course along the Bow River Valley. Kananaskis Country Golf boasts two Robert Trent Jones Sr. designs on property the master called, “the best natural setting I’ve been given to work with.” Kananaskis was closed in 2014 to recover from a disastrous flood, but it will reopen for play in 2015, rebuilt with $18 million from the provincial government.
Tourism represents more than half of the economy in the Canmore region, according to Jim Younker, director of recreation. Every outdoor activity you can imagine is available, including a few you possibly haven’t tried, like caving and helicopter tours. River rafting, horseback riding, mountain biking, and hiking are standard, of course, as well as one of my personal favorites—sitting on the grass staring in wonder at the mountains etched against the perfectly blue sky.
Another mind-boggling activity option is Elevation Place, a $55 million indoor playground built by the town that houses a spectacular indoor water park and aquatic center, a climbing gym (with over 11,000 square feet of routes reaching 45 feet in height), cardio, weight, and stretching rooms for indoor workouts, an art gallery, and the public library. Full-facility full-family day passes are just $29.
The three-hour drive on Alberta’s Icefield Parkway between Banff Springs and Jasper Park isn’t a chore; it’s a highlight of your trip. It’s one of the most scenic highways in the world, winding through the mountains and calling for frequent stops to snap photos of elk, antelope, mountain goats, and bears as well as the dramatic snow-capped mountains framed against the brilliant blue sky. An excellent non-golf stop on your Canadian Rockies golf tour is the Glacier Skywalk and/or the Icefield Expedition in Jasper National Park. It’s educational and thrilling all at once.