After canning an eight-footer for double bogey (hey, everyone is capable of having a good hole every now and then), I kissed my lucky wand and sauntered over to the famous fourth.
The view took my breath away. The punchbowl green — some 170 yards away — was perfectly positioned on the other side of one of the prettiest little mountain lakes on the planet. Surrounding the green was a stunning collection of artistic bunkers that not just anyone could concoct. But, then again, this is the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course, a Stanley Thompson masterpiece and one of the finest mountain golf courses in the world.
A journey down the Trans-Canada Highway — between Calgary and Revelstoke — will take you to a handful of unforgettable mountain golf courses. And, after playing these Rocky Mountain masterpieces, in places like Kananaskis, Canmore, Golden, and Revelstoke, you’ll undoubtedly be convinced that Canada is king when it comes to the mountain golf genre.
Certainly, other destinations in North America — Colorado, Montana, and Idaho come to mind — might have something to say about that. And, no doubt, there are some very good mountain golf courses in those parts. However, when you consider the history, the hotels, the overall quality of the courses, and the unspoiled, all-encompassing beauty of the surroundings, the mountain golf courses in Canada make a compelling case for being the best collection of mountain golf courses in the world.
Not surprisingly, many of the top courses here are located near the historic mountain towns, along the storied Canadian Pacific Railway, and along the super-scenic Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy #1).
Travelling west from Calgary, the first opportunity for world-class mountain golf is just an hour away in Kananaskis. True, you’re going to need to venture fifteen minutes off the Trans-Canada down Highway #40 to find the Kananaskis Country Golf Course, however, the experience here is worth every mile.
Designed by architect Robert Trent Jones Sr., the two 18 hole courses at Kananaskis: Mount Lorette and Mount Kidd, are perennial favourites in these parts. With great value, peak season rates are under $100 and Alberta residents receive an additional discount — eye-popping scenery, beautiful bunkering, and a natural, unspoiled setting, this is the type of place where it’s easy to kick back, relax, and stay awhile. Thankfully, just down the road from the course is the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis, one of the top hotels in the Canadian Rockies. Stay and play packages are readily available.
Approximately 40 km further west on the Trans-Canada is the pretty, mountainside town of Canmore. Enveloped with an energetic mountain vibe, Canmore is certainly a great home base for a mountain golf “tour”. The three golf courses here — Stewart Creek, Silvertip, and the Canmore Golf Club — are all top-notch mountain golf experiences. All are decidedly different in character and design.
The Canmore Golf & Curling Club, established in 1926, is a classic, tree-lined course with a secluded, “private club” feel. Although busy with locals and members, the charming club has been welcoming visitors since its inception.
Stewart Creek might be the finest mountain golf course built in Canada in the past ten years. Designed by talented Canadian architects Gary Browning and Wade Horrocks, Stewart Creek is a wide, rolling, and beautifully sculpted layout that will appeal to every type of player.
Similar to the fourth at Banff, the opening tee at Stewart Creek — which sits atop a rocky perch with a wide, inviting fairway well below — is another one of my favourite spots in mountain golf. The realization that 18 awesome holes await only adds to the pleasure!
Across the majestic Bow River from Stewart Creek is another 18-hole treat that shouldn’t be missed. The Silvertip Golf Course is a wild, roller-coaster ride that requires a slightly different approach. Many of the holes here are tighter and less forgiving, so caution off the tee is vital! However, with stunning rock work, frequent wildlife sightings, and wonderful views of the famous Three Sisters massif, the visuals and the overall experience are highly memorable.
Unquestionably, the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course is anything but a one-hole wonder. Besides the 4th, voted one of the 500 greatest golf holes in the world by Golf Magazine, the beauty and strategic merit of this historic, 100-year-old course is on full display throughout the entire route. The run of holes along the Bow River, for example — the 8th through the 13th — is one of the finest stretches of golf in all of Canada. With numerous shots played straight towards the grand Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in the distance, these great golf holes are vintage Canadiana!
Speaking of scenic stretches, this section of the Trans-Canada Highway is full of memorable stops and classic photo-ops. Both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, for example (they are just minutes off the highway), are iconic locations that shouldn’t be missed. If you’re a nature lover, a summer sunrise at Moraine Lake — with the Valley of the Ten Peaks reflected in the gorgeous baby-blue water — is spellbinding. Unfortunately, you’ll need to be there between five and six in the morning to capture it!
A couple other stops I’ve always enjoyed are the Spiral Tunnels (in between Lake Louise and Field) and Takakkaw Falls. An engineering marvel of railroading, the Spiral Tunnels were built to soften the severe pitch of the original tracks in this rugged location.
Takakkaw Falls, located in Yoho National Park, is the highest waterfall in the mountain parks and are absolutely beautiful. Golfers looking for that rare, away-from-it-all experience in a natural setting will find the Golden Golf & Country Club beautiful as well. This scenic, underrated course features secluded, pinelined holes, glacier-fed creeks, and a friendly group of locals who love to swap stories with visitors on the spacious, sun-soaked patio.
The drive from Golden to Revelstoke – through the historic Roger’s Pass – is one of the most famous high-mountain routes in Canada. After enjoying some of the sights along Roger’s Pass (The Meadows in the Sky Parkway in Mount Revelstoke National Park is a great little side trip), a closing round at the Revelstoke Golf Club would be time well spent. Yet another tucked-away gem, the Revelstoke Golf Club affords a classic Canadian Rockies golf experience. Spindly pines line the fairways and the smooth-flowing waters of the mighty Columbia River add a measure of greatness to the experience.
Of course, at this point, after playing a number of the best mountain golf courses in North America, you will have experienced a number of courses that easily fit the “greatness” descriptor. And, hopefully, the quality of your own game matches the lofty character of these special courses!
~By Andrew Penner
Andrew and Dawn Penner live in Calgary with their four boys. They enjoy travelling together and love finding cool things to do in the great outdoors. Andrew is a 20-year member of the CPGA, a freelance writer and outdoor photographer. He has been published in The Calgary Herald, Golf Magazine, Golf Canada, and others. Dawn is an elementary school teacher and spends plenty of time editing Andrew’s work. Andrew is the successful writer of the book called “One Flew Over the Caddyshack”.