One does not have to look very far to locate Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course on top course ranking lists in Canada. Arguably one of Stanley Thompson’s finest works, this course set adjacent to the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and the majestic Bow River. The golf course is majestic, the views expansive and powerful with the river and the mountains providing a stunning backdrop. It may well feature the greatest opening nine I have experienced and possesses signature hole after signature hole. Both Canadian Golf Magazine and SCOREGolf place this course well within their top 10 in Canada.
On a cold spring morning, I was fortunate to tee off as a single where I could take my time, take lots of pictures and enjoy a true, unique golf experience. The starter advised me holes which I should have my camera ready – 4 and 14. He may well have said all 18 of them. After the opening hole, the course faces the mountains and holes 2, 3 and 4 build in magnitude. The 3rd hole is an underrated par 5, and if not for Thompson’s genius design of the 7th hole at Highlands Links, I would state this to be my favourite par 5 of any I’ve played. However, the 4th hole is a breathtaking beauty, unlike any I’ve played. A downhill par 3, aptly named Devil’s Cauldron, this hole is guarded by water in the front and classic Thompson bunkering protecting short and left of the green. While admiring this bowl shaped design and readying to take my shot, a golf cart pulled up. They were a touring the course, not golfers. In asking if they would take my picture following my swing, the gentleman stated he’d be delighted and that he was a photographer. I marveled at my fortune. And to close off; my shot – witnessed by tourists both behind me as well as behind the green, the shot landed softly beyond the green and avoiding the traps. I’ll never forget that.
The course returns to the relatively new clubhouse after nine than moves toward the hotel where it loops around and back, allowing for a stretch of tree lined holes and stout par 3’s before returning back in a more expansive stretch alongside the mountains. The effort it must have taken back in the 1920’s to build this course is staggering to imagine. The course offers something for so many; historians, nature lovers and of course, golfers.
The tranquility of my clear, cold morning allowed me to play a relaxed round and appreciate the genius of Thompson who, once again, used the land exceedingly well. There are no holes which are too close in proximity to others. The back nine provides challenge in terms of length and demands a level of accuracy which is less prominent on the front nine.
The conditioning of the course is fantastic, complementing the exceptional layout and natural setting. A true bucket list course, this will not be your most inexpensive round. But it is entirely possible that it may be your most memorable.
Aura – 9.5 out of 10 – This is a national top 10 course and top 5 public course. For many, it is their favourite course in the country and is entirely worthy of planning a trip around. If blessed with a sunny day, your camera will get a strong workout.
Value (cost / experience) – 8 out of 10 – Peak fees are $239 + tax. There are afternoon and shoulder season rates but this will set back many players. However, I acknowledge value is in the eyes of the beholder. And for the quality and natural beauty of this course, the chance to play it once (in the shoulder season for me) makes this a solid value pick, not exceptional. Understand, it’s a golfing experience and a true bucket list course.
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 9 out of 10 – Course staff were hard at work on the fairways, greens and even the bunkers while I was there in late May. The layout is brilliant, one of Thompson’s strengths, but the conditioning of the course complements the quality setting. The tee boxes were in exceptional condition. Greens rolled true and consistent, not too fast for a public resort course which helps ensure good pace of play. The greenside protection was diverse and penal at times but never unfair. Fairways were superb.
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 9.5 out of 10 – I would return in a heartbeat. Understand that you’re in Banff and there is much else to do – hot springs, the town, the hotel – but the golf course stands on as an experience worthy of the investment and complements the scenery of this gorgeous town.
Highlight (what is great about the course) – For the purposes of managing space, I’ll let the pictures speak to this. Safe to say practically everything is great about it.
Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – aside from moving to Alberta to take advantage of a residents discount, there really isn’t anything specific I would change. This is a truly special course and well worthy of its prominent places in national course rankings. As a public play, it is on my top 3 list.
Just So You Know – Practice facilities are very strong. There is also a 9 hole ‘Tunnel Mountain’ course available to complement the 18 hole Stanley Thompson course.