Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club – Stanley Thompson’s Resort Masterpiece
The 2019 SCOREGolf Top 59 Public course rankings placed Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club as their second highest ranked course in Canada. Arguments over Thompson’s top three (Jasper, Banff, Highlands Links), really, is sheer folly; better to argue about which child is one’s favourite. Each of Thompson’s leading courses in Canada has their own uniqueness and merit that properly land them within SCOREGolf’s Top 10 public courses in Canada. I am not here to dispute that. Instead, I will share my reflections which I hope will pique your interest to travel to Jasper and experience this marvelous design for yourself. Because what I will say with certainty is that Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club showed me that this course most fun Thompson design I have experienced to date.
I was able to travel to Jasper from Edmonton on a late summer day. The drive from Edmonton International Airport is a leisurely 4 hours. The Rockies make a dramatic appearance after you pass through Hinton, AB. Be sure to allow for more time to get to the course, whether you’re approaching from Edmonton or Calgary. Jasper National Park will provide some powerful distractions which help because when you arrive at the course at least you’ll know you’ve had your camera close by.
I was able to book a mid-afternoon tee time and was very fortunate to be joined for my round by Assistant Professional and Golf Shop Supervisor Robbie Johnson. First impressions of the course were all as big as the Alberta sky. Staff welcomed me by name and made me feel like a member. Practice facilities were appreciated to loosen up after 4+ hours in the car. A classy move which Jasper does for all players is a public announcement at your tee time. The snack shop afforded me some great options to fuel up before my round; I waited until the halfway house to experience the Jasper the Bear Ale from the Jasper Brewing Company (which I loved).
The course, generally, makes a clockwise loop away from the Lodge and the club house, providing stunning vistas along the way. The layout is sensational, with the course surprisingly walkable though I wonder how popular that is? Learning that Robbie provides historical tours of the course for Lodge guests, much of our conversation focused on the history and architectural vision of Thompson to design a course that maximizes the visual appeal, the natural terrain and highlights a fun golf experience for serious golfers or resort guests newer to the game.
Robbie shared with me how when Stanley Thompson first came to view the site and plan the design for Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club that he found evidence of golf in this area with golf holes already in place. Thompson’s decision to not build in this area was, I felt, a tremendous homage to the golf history of the Jasper region.
The par 71 layout plays just over 6600 yards. One observation was the challenge and length of the par 3’s but the accessibility and relative ease with par 5’s. Two of the first three par 3’s measure out at 240 and 231 yards, which will grab a player’s attention very quickly. It was here where I was able to notice (and experience) Thompson’s bunkering; make no mistake, the challenge around this course is around the greens. The dramatic drop off from the elevated green at the par 3 ninth hole, ‘Cleopatra’ makes getting up and down a test for any player. While playing downhill, this shot will demand accuracy. And attention, which is made challenging from the gorgeous mountain vistas in the distance. It was one of my better tee shots of the day off par 3’s and I happily took my par and moved on.
Conversely, the par 5’s are generally shorter. And given Thompson’s penchant for wider fairways throughout the course it is possible for players to score well on these holes. Robbie was able to share stories throughout the round about prominent geographic formations. The second hole, called Old Man, gets its name from the unique shape of the mountain formation in the distance which resembles…an old man.
Before teeing off I asked Robbie and the starter to share with me their favourite hole on the course. They paused and proceeded to rhyme off about 8 holes which they felt could be arguably ‘signature’. Having experienced the course for myself now I can attest to why my question was such a challenge. Holes 8 and 9 were my favourites on the front. Tekarra’s Cut, the name for the 8th, poses a unique visual off the raised tee box. Large mounds create a pinched fairway visual; through there is more space due to the sloping effect.
The par 4 11th, Pyramid, is less dynamic in its design (that said, the bunkers are some of the best) but really showcased for me Thompson’s focus on playability and allowing the landscape and stunning Rockies to be the real star at Jasper Park Lodge. The 14th, Lac Beauvert, highlights a stretch of closing holes that amp up the fun factor. Teeing off across the lake to a generous landing area on this shorter par 4 was amazing but I made sure to savour the panoramic view around the lake at the Rockies. With the sun hiding behind clouds I missed the dramatic turquoise waters of the lake.
The home hole, simply called Home, is a gentle dog leg left which brings the Lodge and the clubhouse back into view. It will also have you starting to think about how quickly can you get back out and experience this masterpiece again?
I want to extend my thanks to Robbie, along with Head Professional, Tahlon Sweenie, both of whom demonstrated incredible Jasper hospitality. The awe around the design, while truly no different than other Thompson gems created in the 1920’s and 30’s, reflected his vision and skill in designing courses which have stood the test of time. I have not experience a more fun resort layout in Canada. Add Jasper Park Lodge to the growing list of Thompson gems and I highly recommend players travel to experience this course and the natural beauty of the Jasper region.
Aura – 9.5 out of 10 – Is it possible for the second highest rated public course to be underrated? It is possible. This should be a top 5 public course on everyone’s list in Canada. It is worthy of planning a trip around. Read up on the history of the course, charge up your camera batteries, practice your short game and simply savour the experience golfing at Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club
Value (cost / experience) – 8 out of 10 – Peak fees are $209 + tax. Placing a high value on a course of this price may make some scratch their head. But make no mistake; it’s a unique golfing experience and a true bucket list course. There are few courses in the country which are this special and will create such powerful golf memories.
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 9 out of 10 – It is clear that staff and regular players here take pride in this course. Tee boxes and fairways were fabulous. Greens were consistently very good. Robbie shared that elk sometimes come visit the third green so it can be a challenge to maintain a consistent quality on the greens. I saw some evidence of recent elk traffic and a wildlife fence is being created in the area to help divert the animals away from this gathering place. The bunkers; wow! They are exceptional and maybe some of Thompson’s best. It was interesting to learn that on some holes he created bunkering design – greenside and fairway – as a tribute and in their design to the nearby mountain peaks. The layout is brilliant, a blueprint for a mountain resort course. I could play here every day and never tire of it.
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 9.5 out of 10 – It was awesome. And the most fun Stanley Thompson course I’ve played. This complements the beauty and challenge of Banff, and the brilliance, purity and surprising diversity of Highlands Links. I would love to get back and experience this gem again.
Here are links to some other Stanley Thompson course reviews