If there was ever a golf vacation destination rife with signature holes, it's Alberta's Canadian Rockies.
Canadian golf architect Stanley Thompson, who built the region's first two internationally acclaimed golf courses, built some epic holes through two of Canada's finest national parks, Banff Springs and Jasper Park.
And the small collection of golf courses that has come along in the modern era have followed suit with their own dramatic holes that are sure to stick around in your brain for awhile.
The best holes of Alberta's Canadian Rockies can be intimidating, but exhilarating to boot, bringing their mountain backdrops to life. Here's a sample of some of the best at each of the six golf clubs, as well as a worthy runner-up.
You knew the "Devil's Cauldron," the fourth hole at Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course would be on this list. It is one of the world's most famed par 3s from golden-era architect Stanley Thompson. What you might not know is that the original tee box wasn't elevated like it is today thanks to a modern redesign. You'll have to head down around the lake for an entirely different, yet still very intimidating tee shot over water to the bunker-laced green.
Honorable mention at Fairmont Banff Springs: No. 15 is the obvious choice here, the former opening hole that has a new tee high above the fairway. But we'll curry favor with the 14th (formerly the 18th), where the Bow River gurgles its way down the right side of the fairway and the 19th-century castle hotel looms above.
From an elevated tee box on the ninth hole at Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club, Pyramid Mountain is perched as a backdrop. This hole was named "Cleopatra" for Thompson's intention to shape the hole in the female form - until the stiffs in management put the kibosh on that idea.
Honorable mention at Jasper Park: No. 13 is a 600-plus yard par 5 that features a blind, bowled green tucked behind a ridge, though the view from the fairway offers the only view of the town of Jasper. It's also a good spot to watch the fireworks on Canada Day.
From the back two sets of tees, Stewart Creek feels like a tournament golf course the pros belong on, especially the 15th. You tee off over the crest of a gentle rise, followed by a gentle downhill approach over the Stewart Creek, which runs down Pigeon Mountain, while Wind Mountain serves as a backdrop beyond miles of pines.
Honorable mention at Stewart Creek Golf & Country Club: No. 1 is as warm a welcome as you can get on a mid-70s afternoon in the Rockies. Nothing beats a wide open, elevated tee shot on a not-so-long par 4 for the opener. You'll also drive by an old mining shaft on the left side, just don't hit your ball into it.
It's nearly impossible to pick a signature hole at Silvertip Golf Resort, where it seems like Les Furber was out to build at least 10 of them, thanks to property set such severe mountain terrain. Nos. 1, 2, 14 and 15 are all standouts, but we're going to opt for the closing hole, a long par 4 that rewards the long ball that cuts the corner. Get all of your drive, and you're looking at little more than a wedge in.
Honorable mention at Silvertip: The par-5 second hole is another steep elevated tee on a golf course filled with them. No. 2 heads straight downhill off the drive but the funneled fairway doesn't leave much room for error.
The fourth hole on the Mt. Kidd Course at Kananaskis Country, a water-heavy little par-3, feels like it could be in Myrtle Beach, S.C. if it weren't for the bentgrass and towering mountain backdrop. (And of course, the grizzly bear and cub we witnessed strolling across the Kananaskis River onto the golf course, resulting in a bear removal delay). It makes for a memorable juxtaposition.
Honorable mention at Mt. Kidd: On the second hole, you'll tee off right next to the Kananaskis River, before gently dog-legging through trees and meeting back up with the water at the green on this par 5.
Canmore Golf & Curling Club isn't long, but the exception is on the par-4 16th, stretching 444 yards and doglegging right, tightly through trees and requiring a carry over water both short and right.
Honorable mention at Canmore Golf & Curling Club: The fourth hole is a par 5 that's less than 500 yards from the tips. But it is not so overpowering when you consider the tall, thick pine tree in the middle of the fairway on the second shot, which could turn into big numbers in a hurry.
July 23, 2009