Fairmont's Jasper Park Lodge & Golf Course
Story by: Ray Chatelin
Photos by: Toshi

When your neighbor down the road is an international celebrity, sometimes the best thing to do is to speak softly, do what comes naturally and just be yourself. That’s the feeling I get when visiting Jasper National Park after driving north from Banff where it often seems most of the international visitors to Canada’s spectacular Rocky Mountain geography seem to gather by massive bus and camper loads.   

Jasper Lodge
The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge with its Stanley Thompson designed golf course celebrating its 90th year.

By contrast to Banff’s often hectic and crowded high season tourist conditions, Jasper is a laid-back community of human size dimensions, accenting the environment rather than trying to dominate it. And at the heart of it stands the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge with its Stanley Thompson designed golf course that in 2015 celebrates its 90th year, a course that is annually    picked as the #1 or #2 best resort course in Canada depending on which magazine you’re reading. And it is one of only nine courses in the world to receive the gold medal by Golf Magazine.

The 700 acre year-round luxury Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge mountain resort seems integrated into the landscape, wrapped around the shores of pristine Lac Beauvert. It has the look and feel of a small village of cedar chalets and cabins, all connected by picturesque paths that lead to the central lodge with its restaurants, lounges and meeting rooms. The Lodge itself is also celebrating an anniversary in 2015 - 100 years since the creation of its original Tent City along the lake.  

The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge initiated a restoration project in 1994 to return the course back to its initial layout.

There’s a sophisticated, rustic charm about this resort and course that you won’t often find in North American destinations. Nothing here leaps out at you. It’s all just so natural and fortunately, no one wants to change that concept. Once you get onto the course, spectacular views are had from every fairway, greens and from its tee boxes that fashion a course varying in length from 5395 to 6663 yards.   

The course was built in the 1920s because the Canadian National Railway believed constructing a golf course in Jasper would attract visitors from the already internationally popular Banff Springs, 300 kilometers south. As Banff had been the result of rival Canadian Pacific Railway’s trans-Canada line to the south, the competing national railway needed something to draw tourists along its northern route. Thus the course at Jasper.   

The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge initiated a restoration project in 1994 to return the course back to its initial layout. Using Thompson's original blueprints from 1924, the main focus of the project was spent on restoring the bunkers and tee boxes in an effort to recreate the fundamental design.

Thompson’s resort courses at Banff Springs and Jasper remain two of the greatest mountain courses ever built with their use of oversized bunkers, mounds, and fairways.

To understand the impact that Thompson had on the creation of both the Jasper Park Lodge course, his other great course at the Fairmont Banff Springs, and today’s contemporary course architecture, you might take a little walk into golf course design history.

It has changed from its primitive roots in Scotland into a sophisticated industry that brings into play elements of design that yesterday’s course designers could never imagine. Know when a course was constructed and you’ll have a road map to play it. Know the designer and you can play it smarter and that is particularly true of a Thompson course, especially the Jasper course.

On legendary Scottish courses like Muirfield or St. Andrews, for example, you need a caddie to point you in the right direction off every tee. Before 1900, course designers depended on nature to create challenge and to contour the land. Since designers didn’t have the tools to move land, they put in a few stakes for tees and greens and then let the wind and rain determine difficulty, using the land’s own sea-shore subtleties. Today, with every imaginable tool available to shape land, new courses maximise the subtleties in the existing land. If that sounds familiar, it’s because golf architecture has come full circle from a century ago.

Thompson’s resort courses at Banff Springs and Jasper remain two of the greatest mountain courses ever built with their use of oversized bunkers, mounds, and fairways. When Thompson died in 1952, the torch was passed to protégé and partner, Robert Trent Jones Sr. who designed golf courses that evoked many of Stanley's aesthetic ideals. Then Jones took on some protégés of his own.

On every hole on the Jasper course, the mounds, the shape of the sand traps, the contour of the fairways, reflect the contours of the mountains and hills that you see in the distance.

Like composers and writers who are mentors to pupils that go on to greatness, so too are architects mentors to their successors. Jack Nicklaus apprenticed with Pete Dye and there are similarities in their designs. And if you play a course designed by Bob Cupp, such as Pumpkin Ridge near Portland, Oregon, you’ll find many of those same characteristics since Cupp and Nicklaus worked together for years.

When you play a Trent Jones Sr. course, you’ll find many of the characteristics you find on a Thompson course. On every hole on the Jasper course, the mounds, the shape of the sand traps, the contour of the fairways, reflect the contours of the mountains and hills that you see in the distance. Most holes are framed with a dominant mountain as a focal point. Thompson was especially the master of par 3s, exemplified by the 9th hole called "Cleopatra" because of the suggestive shape of its contours. With the massive Pyramid Mountain as the backdrop on this downhill par 3, He had 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 demanded it be changed. After the restoration, it is essentially back to its original shape, though with the requested bunkers still diminishing Cleopatra’s shapely form.

 

Ranging from 170 to 231 yards from its elevated tee, it is easier to hit the green than the distance suggests, as there is an elevation drop of 80 feet. It plays much shorter that its yardage suggests.  

Every hole, every fairway on this course, is a highlight of spectacular scenery. One of my favorites is the par-5, 13th at 603 yards from the back tees, a more manageable (for non-scratch players) 581 from the whites. There is plenty of room on the generous fairway off the tee, but if you don’t position your second shot with the proper angle to the flag be prepared to scramble. The approach shot is to the birdhouse behind the green. The green is divided into three large tiers, thus the need for an accurate approach shot to the correct one or you can kiss par goodbye.

When you walk away from this course, you’ll have played one of the continent’s most spectacular layouts, a test both of concentration and shot-making. But regardless of what score you have on your card, you will definitely want to play more than once.

The park itself presents so many options for sightseeing and activities that you’ll not run out of options even if you’re there for a week or more. Jasper is the biggest of all Rocky Mountain Parks with 11,228 square kilometres (about 4250 square miles) and is home to about 100 grizzly bears, 70 black bears, 60 wolves, 125 woodland caribou, 550 elk and 180 moose, according to the latest park census.

Jasper Lodge has the look and feel of a small village of cedar chalets and cabins.  (Photos provided by Jasper Travel)

Winding through valleys, subalpine forest and alpine, Jasper has the most expansive trail network of any Canadian national park—nearly 1000 km of trails to explore, and 300km are around the Jasper town site. Bike-friendly, multi-use trails are not far from campgrounds and hotels. It’s easy explore the valley, mountains and lakes from the Jasper town site.

Drop by the visitors centre in the middle of town for information and help in deciding what your interests might lead to.

The Jasper town site, as you can imagine, is a major tourist hotspot but without having the hype and crowds you’ll find in Banff. Shops commonly stock all kinds of outdoor equipment, ranging from mountain bikes to ski rentals, reflecting the nature of the region.

Jasper's main shopping areas are along both Connaught Drive and Patricia Street, where you will find an enormous variety of stores, gift shops, art galleries and fashion boutiques. Skiers and snow boarders looking for the latest accessories should head to Connaught Drive, where these stores are particularly clustered. One of the main shopping centers in the town, the Jasper Marketplace is on Patricia Street and is well worth a visit.

As for restaurants, you won’t go hungry with 80 or so in and near the town ranging from delis to Japanese, Italian, café’s and a couple national brands such as Earl’s. But for an exceptional meal, The Jasper Park Lodge’s ORSO Trattoria (one of five restaurants in the complex) with its emphasis on Northern Italian fare, using ingredients from local farms. Set in the main lodge, the views for the mountains across the lake are spectacular and the Osso Bucco is one of chef Christopher Chafe’s specialties.

As for restaurants, there are some 80 or so in and near the town ranging from delis to Japanese, Italian, cafés and a couple national brands.  (Photos provided by Jasper Travel)

The website for the Jasper Parks Lodge is www.fairmont.com/jasper for lodging, restaurants and golf course rates. And for the Jasper townsite, park and area tourism, www.jasper.travel.

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