JASPER PARK, Alberta - Courses like the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course simply can't be built anymore.
Canada's most prolific Golden Era architect, Stanley Thompson, also known as the "Toronto Terror" for his larger-than-life persona, designed one of his best here. The course is cut out of the Canadian Rockies' largest national park, full of mountain scenery, pine forests and an abundance of elk, bears and coyotes.
These days, environmentalists would probably cry foul if an architect got within 100 miles of the park. But in the 1920s, the Canadian National Railway believed building a golf course in Jasper would attract visitors from the already internationally popular Banff Springs, 300 kilometers south, as well as from Calgary and Edmonton.
The golf course opened in 1925, and the railway's vision was spot on. Everyone from Queen Elizabeth to Marilyn Monroe have made the trek to Jasper Park for golf or just to soak in the wildlife and mountain air.
Thompson has received the most praise for his ability to design bunkers that play off the mountain peaks. Most holes are framed with a dominant mountain as a focal point.
Once you read a little bit about the late architect's eccentric ways, it seems only natural that he would have a spat or two with the railway. And that's exactly what happened with the famous ninth hole, named "Cleopatra."
Depending on your tastes, the ninth is every bit as good as Thompson's famous "Devil's Cauldron" hole at the Fairmont Banff Springs. With the massive Pyramid Mountain as the backdrop on this downhill par 3, Thompson molded the hole to resemble a shapely woman on her backside. But it didn't stay that way for long. After an official from the railway played the hole, he requested it be changed.
But what's great about Jasper Park Lodge is that after the ninth hole, the back side throws a few more gems your way. No. 13 is a 600-yard par 5 that, from its elevated spot, is the only place you can see the town of Jasper Park in the distance. In fact, come to Jasper Park over Canada Day weekend and you can watch the town fireworks from this spot.
The 13th green sits tucked behind a ridge and is entirely blind. From here you head downhill to the wonderful 14th, "Lac Beuvert," which demands a draw tee shot over the lake and around a pine - certainly one of the most intimidating tee shots here.
According to a local rule, if you hook two into the drink, you owe your foursome a round of steak sandwiches in the clubhouse.
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course: The verdict
Probably because Banff Springs is less remote, it seems to have more of an international reputation than Jasper Park Lodge. But people who play both are split pretty evenly on which is better, though scratch players might wish for a bit more golf course than the less than 6,700 yards at Jasper.
But Jasper does offer better hole variety, more undulating terrain and a quieter location than Banff. Both golf courses will knock your socks off, and if you're a fan of classical golf course architecture, this Thompson design is just too good to not make the drive up.
As with just about any design built in the 1920s, the course is easily walkable. Peak season green fees are $175, but stay-and-play packages are available through Fairmont.
Stay and Play: The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge doesn't necessarily feel like other Fairmont golf resort properties. Here, the lodge has more of a natural, retreat feel, especially if you rent out one of the cabins or chalets away from the main building. That said, all the luxurious amenities and comforts of a Fairmont-brand property are at full disposal.
With over 1,000 acres of property (as well as tons more throughout the national park), Jasper Park Lodge is family-friendly, with loads to do; just look at the "99 things to do at Jasper Park Lodge" note in your guest room. Fittingly, most of these activities, like hiking and biking trails, are outside. Jasper Park is not the kind of place where you want to spend a waking minute indoors.