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Monday, July 21, 2014

Banff Springs Eternal

As many places as I've been in the world for golf and otherwise, I'd never been to Canada until recently. My introduction to the land of the loonie was a golf trip to the Canadian Rockies that began in Banff Springs, one of the world's most spectacular golf destinations.

We have the railroads to thank for great golf in the Canadian Rockies.  The Banff Springs Hotel opened in 1888, built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad to attract more travelers to the region, an idea promulgated by Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, General Manager of the railroad, who reportedly said, “If we cannot export the scenery, we will have to import the tourists.”  Golf came a few years later. The Stanley Thompson Eighteen was added in 1928 and is today part of the Fairmont Banff Springs Resort along with the Tunnel Nine, a nine-hole course built in 1989.

The Thompson Eighteen delights by design and setting.  It sits between the snow-capped peaks of Sulphur Mountain and Mount Rundle so it’s scenic, of course, but the course plays off the scenery in many subtle and some not-so-subtle ways. Almost every hole frames a mountain view, some more than one from different locations on the hole, and many have equally stunning views looking back from green to tee.  Early in the round, the mountains seem to loom right next to the fairways and craning your neck to look up at them can bring on some serious vertigo.

There’s a unique visual rhythm to the course, too. Look carefully at the outlines of many of the bunkers and you’ll discover they reflect the jagged peaks of the mountains behind them.  On some holes like the 442-yard twelfth, as you advance toward the green you first experience the nearby Bow River by its rushing, bubbling sound, then catch glimpses of its sparkling water though the trees, and finally realize the river is fully in play as the trees clear and the riverbank appears just a few yards from the green.

The course is generous to the golfer looking to score.  Fairways are wide and the 150-plus bunkers are judiciously placed to guide, not punish, the player who can tear himself away from the views long enough to play a shot. Fairway bunkers are styled according to their function, with cross bunkers featuring high, forbidding faces to make you play around them while those to the sides are generally shallow to allow for a recovery shot at the pin. Most greens are subtly contoured and approachable with either a running or airborne shot. Four sets of tees are available, playing from 4,478 to 6,938 yards.

The signature hole on the Thompson Eighteen is the fourth, known as the Devil’s Cauldron.  It’s aptly named, too, since the 192-yard par three sits on the sides of a water-filled canyon that only a demon could love. Your shot has to carry the water, avoid the five bunkers surrounding the green, and land below the hole on the steeply-canted putting surface. With Rundle Mountain looming over it and the eerily still water lying like a mirror below, it’s easy to imagine a smirking Satan watching you play.

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel makes a fabulous base for your Canadian Rockies trip (although a night or two at its sister property in Jasper Park is a good idea, too). Known as the “Castle in the Rockies,” the hotel offers eleven excellent restaurants, an award-winning European-style spa, and legendary hospitality.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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