Banff Golf - Beauty in Harmony with the Beasts

By: David Wood

Trying to select just one golf course to write about in the majestic Canadian Rockies near Banff, Alberta, is as difficult a proposition as attempting to judge the winner of the Miss Universe pageant - which is something I'm ready to do on a moment's notice should that particular call come in.

However, I do judge golf courses. These lovely and beguiling contestants from our neighbor to the north would make the semifinals of any beauty contest on sheer good looks alone.

Fairmont Banff Springs

Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course

Set along the confluence of the glacier-fed Bow and Spray rivers and under the gaze of the grand Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel - which makes Batman's Stately Wayne Manor look like a starter home, the Banff Springs Golf Course is a jewel. Throw in the dramatic snow-capped peaks of Sulphur Mountain and Mount Rundle, which both frame the esteemed Stanley Thompson-designed fairways (which rarely produce a level lie), and we're talking about one of the great locales for golf in the world.

In 1927, Mr. Thompson was brought to plan and build "The Last Word in Golf" for the hefty sum of $1 million. That he did. The course was designed in the era of hickories so most of the greens allow for a run-up shot that was all the rage in the Roaring Twenties of the century past. The most memorable hole is the renowned 4th, a 199-yard, par 3, nicknamed "The Devil's Cauldron," which features a 100-foot plunge from tee to green and is played across a glacier-carved pond to a diabolically slanted putting surface. That hole alone - one of the most photographed in the world - would cost by itself at a least a cool million today. Banff Springs is old-style golf that impressively holds up in the Tiger Woods era.

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Silvertip Golf Course

With 600-feet of elevation change and jaw-dropping vistas, Silvertip is as mighty and dramatic as "King Lear." Just down the road from Banff in the bustling town of Canmore, the Les Furber design is perched on the broad mountainside of Mount Lady MacDonald - which is the "sunny side" of the Bow River Valley.

"Silvertip" comes from the grizzlies of the same name that rule the verdant forests surrounding these excellently groomed fairways. I don't know about you, but I consider a grizzly bear to be the ultimate natural hazard - stroke, distance, and life. Luckily, the silvertips were off doing whatever it is they do when not wandering across a golf course.

My favorite hole here is the dogleg-left, par-4 18th of 464-yards, which plays straight downhill and seems as apt to host a ski-jump event as it does for your 20 seconds of tee-shot hang time. Silvertip is a blast to play.

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Stewart Creek

Stewart Creek Golf and Country Club

For pure high-caliber golf, Stewart Creek is probably the best of the lot. The course is across the valley from Silvertip in Canmore as well. The generous fairways are again carved out of thick swatches of alpine forests, and no matter how well you smack your drive on the plethora of brutish par-4s, it continually seems as if you're always 200-plus-yards from the well-bunkered greens.

I loved the straight-ahead par-4 4th, a 478-yarder with a ball-magnet ravine lurking 100 yards short of the putting surface. It's all the golf hole a player of any caliber could ever want. You didn't expect golf in the Rockies to be easy did you?

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Kananaskis Country Golf Course-Mt. Kidd-No. 4

Kananaskis Country Golf Course

Located near the abrupt thrust of towering Mount Kidd is the fine 36 holes of Kananaskis County Golf Course. The two 18s - named Mount Kidd and Mount Lorette - meander along the gushing Kananaskis River that seems to be in a hurry to get where it's going.

The courses are surprisingly level given their volatile terrain, but there's more then enough danger lurking in the elegant layouts as the holes wind through the groves of indigenous coniferous and tricky water hazards that are harder to carry than they first appear. That old master of design, Robert Trent Jones Sr., felt the land he was given to ply his trade was "the best natural setting I've ever been given to work with." Two gems of Canadian Rockies golf.

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Canmore Golf & Curling Club

I never knew that golf and curling went together, but in Canmore they mix like the bears and elk that both leave tracks in the bunkers! While Canmore isn't as spectacular golf-wise as the courses mentioned above, the community course would easily win the Congenially Award. Residing in the flats of the Bow River Valley, the routing offers grand views. While the signature hole - the 16th, a par-4 of 444-yards - offers an unparalleled look at the nearby Three Sisters Mountains, the walk here is an easy stroll.

Darren Cooke, the facility's cheerful director of golf, says it best: "The biggest elevation change we have is walking up the five steps that lead into the proshop." As far as curling, I've never given the sport a go, but perhaps next time. Life is too short not to spend more time in glorious Banff.

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David Wood - writer, in-demand corporate speaker, and humorist - is the author of the book, "Around the World in 80 Rounds." For information on David, visit his website: or email him at