- 405 Spray Avenue, Banff, Alberta, Canada, T1L1J4
- 1 506 863 6310 / 1 800 720 825
Fairmont Banff Springs has two courses – the 18-hole Stanley Thompson and 9-hole Tunnel Mountain – laid out between huge mountains in the Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The championship course was designed by Canadian Stanley Thompson in 1928 and it plays away from the famous Fairmont Banff Springs hotel, a grand building known as ‘Canada’s castle in the Rockies’ that has been accommodating guests since June 1888. When Thompson was approached to build the course he said he had been asked to build the last word in golf, according to Steve Young, Director of Golf.
“The course was the first in the world to cost more than $US1 million to build,” Young said. “When the first unofficial ranking of world golf courses came out, Banff was ranked No. 8 ahead of many prominent courses, including Winged foot, Pinehurst and Augusta National.”
The layout winds its way through a valley, and the fairways are relatively flat. The inward holes are laid out along the pristine Bow River. The bunkering is an outstanding feature of the design, being both strategic and aesthetically pleasing. The mountain scenery is the other stunning feature and Thompson made sure each hole made full use of the setting.
“He backdropped every hole with a scenic and grandiose background,” Young said. “From 150 yards (137 meters), when you look at a golf green site you are inevitably looking up at a distant peak of a mountain.”
Perhaps the most unusual factor is the Fairmont Banff Springs courses are built in a designated wildlife corridor. And there is plenty of wildlife nearby when you play, according to Young.
“If you stop and just listen you hear birds, running water and moving trees. If you are lucky you hear footfalls of animals, a warning or mating call, and even a chase scene.”
The course is closed between November 1 and April 30 when the wildlife has right of way. “We get wolves, coyotes, elk and cougar travelling through the valley dominated by the golf course (bears are asleep).”
The Stanley Thompson Course ranked No. 4 in ScoreGolf’s list of Canada’s Best Public Golf Courses in 2015.
Thompson built in risk-reward into many of the holes. The more direct approach will require flighting the ball over obstacles, mostly bunkers. The pro’s tips: “Adjust for elevation where it is present (holes 2, 4, 6 and 15) and remember you are playing a mile above sea level so your ball will fly farther in the lighter air.”
The greens are generous in landing area but fast. You’ll have to putt well to score here. “Know that greens break towards the river and that the grain of the greens runs away from the hotel.”
When to play:
As well as being a designated wildlife corridor in the colder months, the region sees a lot of snow in winter. The Stanley Thompson course is open on the second Friday in May through to the last weekend in September, depending on weather.
Par: Stanley Thompson Course 71. Tunnel Mountain Course 36.
Yardage: Stanley Thompson Course 6938 yards, 6344 meters. Tunnel Mountain Course 3287 yards, 3006 meters
Slope: Stanley Thompson Course 135. Tunnel Mountain Course 129.
Rating: Stanley Thompson Course 72.9. Tunnel Mountain Course 70.4.
Best hole: There are many picturesque holes on the Stanley Thompson Course but No. 4 is the signature hole. Called ‘Devil’s Cauldron’, it is one of Canada’s most heralded par threes and has recorded the most hole-in-ones at Banff Springs. Playing 192 yards (176 meters) from the back tee, you’ll be hitting over a pond that is filled with water flowing from the mountains. If you miss the bunkers that surround the green, sloping banks will feed the ball onto the putting surface.
Hole 5 is a thriller, too. The green is framed by Cascade Mountain behind it, while looking back at the tee you’ll see a rock wall building up to the snowy Rundle Peak in the backdrop. It takes four solid shots to make par.
The pro says:
“No housing, no highways, no airports, no unnecessary movement occurs while you play. It is therapeutic, rewarding, challenging and energizing all at the same time. 18 unique holes that leave you wanting to return.
“My greatest piece of advice is that if you are not playing particularly well or mishit a shot, simply look up. The majestic beauty of the place and surroundings you are being afforded to play in should cure any ill feelings.”
Steve Young, Director of Golf
The resort experience:
American golf writer Bob Fagan rates Fairmont Banff Springs as one of his top 10 golf resorts in the world and with good reason. The hotel, ‘Canada’s castle in the Rockies’, is a grand building that looks out on the majestic mountains next to the Alpine town of Banff, Alberta, which has plenty of restaurants and other attractions such as museums and galleries. There is an elegant look to the interiors that suits the classic architecture of the castle-like structure.
The luxury resort becomes a destination for skiers, snowboarders, dog sledders, snowshoers and ice skaters in winter but you can enjoy the European-style Willow Stream Spa all year. Here you can let your muscles relax as waterfalls wash over you and you bathe in a mineral pool. It was named Canada’s No.1 Top Hotel Spa in Travel+Leisure’s World’s Best Awards 2015. You might need it after enjoying a spot of tennis, some laps in the pool or horse riding. Everything from babysitting to bike storage is available at this five-star hotel.
Dine and wine:
The Fairmont Banff Springs features an impressive 11 restaurants and bars to choose from. However, Stanley’s Smokehouse comes highly recommended. The restaurant can be found at the championship golf course and has panoramic views of the fairways, Bow River and Canadian Rocky Mountains. The locals tell me the beef brisket, slow cooked over cherry wood for 18 hours, is a fine way to cap off a day of golf.
There are 764 guest rooms and suites on offer here. They range from a cozy Fairmont Room (150 square feet / 14 square meters) with a king-size bed and limited views through to the Royal Suite (1500 square feet / 139 square meters) also with a king-size bed, but boasting 360-degree views of the Bow Valley and Canadian Rockies. The suite, which is located in the pinnacle of a castle peak, also comes with a grand piano (seriously), reception foyer, powder room, upstairs library and living room. It is fit for a king or queen no doubt.
Banff is an outdoor wonderland, summer or winter. In the warmer months, besides the tennis and lap pool at the resort, you can sign up for river rafting, horseback riding, hiking or mountain biking. There’s also the ‘Kids’ @ the Castle’ club with activities such as arts and crafts plus a bowling and entertainment center (including pool and table tennis) to enjoy at night.