Course Reviews – Stewart Creek – Mining for Birdies in Canmore
The drive from Banff is a surprisingly short one – only about 15 minutes – so quick that I was extremely early for my afternoon tee time. Following a hospitable reception, easy check in process and a light lunch I decided to pack the cart and tee off early as a single in hope of avoiding some inclement weather which was forecast. First impressions at Stewart Creek are impressive. The course is easy to locate off the Trans Canada and the clubhouse and pro shop are beautiful and very well stocked. While I did not make the time to enjoy the patio, it shows off the facilities and the natural setting most beautifully. Stewart Creek is recognized within Canadian Golf Magazine as a Top 100 Course in the country (ranked 57th in 2015) and rightfully so. However, amidst the riches of great golf in the Canadian Rockies it is, dare I say, somewhat understated. What I experienced is mountain golf which was playable for people of all skill levels, possessing the natural beauty which one would expect from golf in the Rockies and some strong design features which make for a memorable, challenging and very enjoyable golfing experience.
Playing as a single and with a healthy gap between groups the starter took some extra time to impart some local knowledge, let me know when to have my camera ready and also to remind me I am in bear country. He also shared a little of the history of the area and its mining history which I would see evidence of later on the course. The first hole will grab player’s attention as this medium length par 4 plays to a dramatic drop to a wide landing area. I made a smart decision to play a relaxed tee box of just under 6200 yards. The front nine is more expansive that the back and I quickly appreciated having a cart as the climb between some holes is more than I’d care to experience on foot, following a morning 18 and set in bear country.
I was very impressed that Stewart Creek invokes a Family Tee system which essentially allows player’s opportunity to access the course from yardages ranging from 100 – 250 for each hole. You will not see this on the scorecard but it does add a unique way to engage players – young and old. I’ve experienced this before and applaud courses for their efforts with alternative tee boxes to make the game more inclusive.
The course is designed by Canadian, Gary Browning. He did add some impressive design features to create some memorable golf holes. I was quite struck with the par 5 6th hole, which has the green set lower left from the fairway and broken off from the fairway with grasses and a couple trees. The 9th hole, a majestic par 3 drops players down from the steady ascent throughout the front. In researching the course, this is a change from the original design which had the 9th hole as a par 4, and one seemingly well received by players. The green is guarded by a solitary shallow bunker and water on either side. The course has very few bunkers, actually and uses subtle changes in terrain to protect the greens. This again, in my opinion, makes the course more playable and enjoyable.
The back nine is less extreme in terms of elevation changes and continues to provide players stunning vistas to the surrounding mountains and the course itself, which has been recognized as a certified Audubon sanctuary back in 2004. The course provides a feel of solitude and is not at all crowded in its design. I was impressed with the consistently excellent condition of the course. Greens were fair and rolled true. The most difficult green is located on my favourite hole, the par 4, 14th. On this short, drivable par 4, the long, multi-tiered green brings significant slope. Avoiding three putts if you’re on the wrong tier is challenging. Set to the left of the 14th fairway is an abandoned coal mine entrance with a plaque to recognize its history.
If I had two recommendations, it would be for Stewart Creek to dedicate a page on its website to telling more of the history of mining in this region and the story of transformation from mining to golf (which I understand required some significant work by the course to reinforce parts which had mining tunnels set below). The second recommendation mirrors the first, in that Stewart Creek can speak more to its environmental stewardship and leadership. Audubon certification is significant and represents a commitment to the environment which many players appreciate. Both provide a unique story to engage golfers and I certainly wanted to learn more – both before and after playing there.
The course ends on an enjoyable par 4-3-5 stretch and my round ended far too quickly for my liking. Stewart Creek is nestled in a part of Canada which boasts an embarrassment of riches when it comes to publicly accessible golf. I enjoyed my experience at Stewart Creek. For a mountain course, it brings a high playability factor to it and with multiple tee decks offers access and enjoyment for all golfers. I look forward to my next visit!
Aura – 7.5 out of 10 – Perhaps it is being part of a regional cluster of nationally recognized great courses, perhaps it is simply a humble and modest approach to communication. Whatever it is, it deserves a higher score.
Value (cost / experience) – 7.5 out of 10 – I really enjoyed my golfing experience and would happily come back and pay the peak fee. But make no mistake; golfing in the Rockies is not for the frugal golfer. The website offers fees which range based on the time of year and time of day you play and within these there are greater value options on their website. But for a top 100 course in the country, set in the Rocky Mountains, and with a strong layout, the value here is more than fair.
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 9 out of 10 – The course is exceptionally maintained. Tee boxes, fairways, and greens are all consistent and outstanding. There are very few bunkers but they are consistent in how they play. The quality of the course allows the player to enjoy themselves and focus on their game…and the stunning vistas. It was my first experience with a Browning design and I was impressed.
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – Hitting it straight off the tee is not a hallmark of my game. Making a decision to play off a shorter tee deck allowed me to focus more on my first experience playing golf in Canmore. But the course is very playable; not too tight or penal. I really enjoyed the course. Add to it the people, who were very friendly and helpful, and it capped off a memorable round of golf. – 8.5 out of 10
Highlight (what is great about the course) – With consistently quality golf throughout, I like the boldness of the design. The first hole is impressive in its drop off and reflects the vastness and impressive mountain range to the north. As discussed, the 6th hole is so unique and the 9th, like the first, is great to experience. But boldness like the family tees, the solitary tree on the 13th fairway, and the great challenge of my favourite hole, the 14th, helps to captivate golfers and bring them back. And make no mistake, I plan to be back.