Review: The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course
- Jasper, Alberta
- Public – Daily Fee
- Stanley Thompson (1927)
- 3rd in Canada (Beyond The Contour)
Jasper Park Lodge is one of the handful of golf courses in Canada with any sort of international clout, but until one plays it, it becomes difficult to know how good it is. Even so, the remote location (roughly 4 hours from Edmonton) mean. It still finds itself in the shadow of Cabot Links or Cliffs, St. George’s, or even nearby-ish Banff Springs. While there have been lots of praise over the years about Stanley Thompson’s layout, perhaps none more important than Alister Mackenzie giving his thoughts when he visited in 1929.
The course starts with a fairly benign 391 yard par 4 playing slightly uphill. The tee shot is a fairly simple strategy, but suitable for an opening tee shot: keep it left for a clear view, or hit it up the right for a slightly easier tee shot, but harder visually coming in.
I like this green a lot. Situated in a bowl, from down below, this is a difficult approach to really judge out of the gate. However, balls feed to the middle on this almost natural mini-punchbowl style green.
A look at the green complex from the right side, below:
After a relatively straightforward opening hole, the second steps up the interest considerably, kicking off an excellent three hole stretch. At only 488 yards, this is a short par 5, but with perhaps the best fairway on the course, there is enough interest to keep the good players at attention.
In theory, keeping the ball left on the high side grants a much flatter lie, but a more direct line over the bunkers and as a result, less options to feed the ball down of the slopes. A difficult lie is guaranteed from the right side of the fairway, although the trade-off is a slightly better angle to utilize the slopes makes it somewhat tempting. On the second shot below, you can see some of the undulations the golfer faces. Not as extreme as a Highland Links, but enough for it to make a difference, and that is enough to be a cool feature.
This is one of Thompson’s best greens, featuring elements of a Redan (kicking balls down from the right around the bunker), and a Lions Mouth, where the bunker is central to the actual complex. Depending on the pin, the golfer can either feed it from the left, or the right around the bunker.
After a gentle-ish opening two holes, the par 4, 3rd is the first introduction to the teeth of Jasper Park Lodge. At 454 yards, “Signal Dip” The third is an absolute brute of a golf hole up and over the ridge.
As the golfer crests the hill, a dramatic view of one of Jasper’s best green locations, but also, a quick realization that the golfer could play much more right than one thinks. Unless you are a long hitter, left/over the fairway does not hurt, but on this dogleg right, the right edge of the fairway and even into the rough is ideal.
The tee shot is actually a little downhill or closer to flat, but sets up a slightly uphill approach shot back into the hillside. Anything short is pretty difficult, and of course, the bunkers are no good.
The fourth is the first of five par 3’s at Jasper Park, and the longest at 240 yards. This is a brute, and I imagine the thought was to perfectly compliment the short par 5, 2nd. The second is closer to a par 4 and a half, while the 4th is closer to a par 3. Back in the day, it becomes easy to realize this was likely driver.
In the original draft (2016) of this review, I wrote that I did not take photos of 5, 6, 7, and 8, and that I would “take a ton of photos” when I go back to Jasper to update this review. Alas, we have photos of this stretch! The 5th is another short par 5 at 480 yards, and truthfully, plays much shorter than the 2nd due to the topography. On the 2nd, the rolling terrain can make the hole feel longer, whereas the 5th plunges down into the valley to a flat fairway. There is a bunker in the centre that is 240 yards to fly.
Had it not been cloudy, the bunkering around the green would mimic the massive mountain in the background. Like Banff Springs, Thompson’s bunkers emulate the mountain peaks, and as a result, the aesthetics are incredibly pleasing to look at. Funnily enough, Thompson built Jasper first, prompting Banff to hire Stanley to extensively renovate Donald Ross’ Banff. After the success of Banff’s opening, Stanley Thompson was brought back to renovate Jasper’s bunkers and make them extravagant. It is speculation, but not hard to imagine the bunkering that looks like the mountain peaks was a result of the upgrades in 1929.
I also think this well-contoured, but low-key green complex is important to the balance at Jasper Park, and part of why this golf course is as good as it is. On the 3rd and 4th, the golfer plays back into the hillsides, with a menacing approach shot on both holes. Coming back down into the valley, the 5th’s green sits effortlessly into the landscape, as if they just cleared the green. The same can be true at the 3rd and 4th into the hillsides, but the variety speaks volumes to Thompson’s ability to let the landscape dictate the style of green surrounds.
The 6th features an astonishing 19 bunkers, but a lot of that is shared with “Maze” (the par 5, 10th). Nevertheless, bunkering up the entire left-hand side awaits on this uphill 393 yard par 4.
From the left, you see the bunkers, which are quite attractive and do a good job separating the 10th (left) and 6th (right).
From the centre of the fairway, a fairly plain, uphill shot that plays more than you think. This is a quality green as well, with small little waves and rolls producing a ton of variety on the daily.
Even though the 7th is 178 yards and uphill, I would venture this is the easiest par 3 in relation to par, and interestingly, the only hole Alister Mackenzie did not like on his visit. I think this is a product of technology, where the approach is not a middle iron up the hill to a green that features a triangular shape and narrowing in the back. The false front is nasty. There is a small stream the golfer crosses, but should not come into play.
The 8th is a truly unbelievable golf hole, and one you have to experience to truly capture how great it is. 424 yards, this dogleg right plays between two mountain dunes, pinching the fairway at about 240. Oh, and this hole is bunker-less, just the land dictates strategy. Personally, bunker-less holes are a testament to an architect’s ability to route a golf course, and at Jasper Park, this is the first of three.
This is maybe one of the rare examples of a hole getting better with technology, as longer hitters now face an interesting choice of laying up, or busting it over the corner. From the preferred layup spot (and where most will play from), the approach is semi-blind, with only the flag popping above the landscape.
Around the corner, however, grants an unobstructed view, and as a result, an easier (plus shorter) second shot in.
This is also an excellent green, sitting seamlessly into the hillside, and tilting hard to the front left portion. From the right side of the fairway, the green would feel as if it is pitched away from the golfer. From the left, directly into the hill.
The 9th is probably the most famous hole at Jasper Park, and not without its controversy. As the story goes, Stanley Thompson was paid less than the agreed amount to build the golf course, so he added mounds and shaped the hole to look as if a curvy woman was laying on her back. When Sir Harry Thorton of Canadian National Railway played with Stanley Thompson for the first time, he “blew a gasket” when he realized what he was looking at. Apparently, small modifications were made by Stanley after opening, and now the hole no longer resembles a woman. At 231 yards, it becomes easy to imagine how the hole got the name “Cleopatra”!
From the tee, with a creative eye, you can see the original version of a woman laying on her back, especially with the bunkers wrapped around the green (the head) resembling hair. The very clear image of a woman does not remain, but the strategies at the 9th do. With a bunker cut on the right side, and a bunker cut into the hill just short of the green, the golfer has choices. Firstly, flying it over the right bunker with a draw will funnel down to the hole and be ideal.
Secondly, just carrying the bunker short of the green and watching the ball bounce down.
Finally, for the ignorant or courageous (depending on how you view it), flying the ball all the way to the flag. A bold move, considering the surrounds drop off some 20 feet!
On a beautiful clear day, one can see Pyramid Mountain directly in the background, but my most recent round at Jasper was closing day, 2020 and the clouds had rolled in.
As previously mentioned when writing about the 6th, the par 5, 10th is titled “Maze” for the 15 bunkers that are actually in play. A 492 yard sharp dogleg left par 5, getting the ball to turn over provides a likely chance at birdie.
Turning the corner, you get the same elevation profile of the 6th heading back into the mountain. For those who are forced to layup, a bunker short of the green comes back and sneaks up on you. For those going for it in two, an open front allows for a running shot.
After a layup, an inviting third shot awaits.
This is the sneakiest green at Jasper, and I think the most underrated. A ridge runs north-south off a knoll in the back portion splits the green into a left and portion, with some good, yet subtle movement in the rest of the surface.
The 11th is named “Pyramid” because on a clear day, the hole is routed directly at Pyramid Mountain in the background. The tee shot is very friendly as a result to the golf ball flying so far. The bunker you see below is only 192 yards to carry, so no worry for anyone. The bunker on the right at 293 yards is much more in play.
The approach shot is a beautiful one, albeit plain looking…
Until you reach the green and realize there is a ton of movement here! With a couple spines and a heavy tilt to the front left, this is my favourite green here.
The 12th is another mid-length par 3, playing to a pushed up style green. With a bunker in the back, short left, and short right, this is an important iron shot to hit the green.
Do not, under any circumstances, go long:
The 13th is the final par 5 on the golf course, and interestingly, the only par 5 over 500 yards. Weirdly enough, it is also over 600 yards at 603.
This hole plays over some of the more wavy terrain, up and over the hillside before rising again.
For long players, the second shot is exhilarating: get it over the slope, and the ball should trundle down towards the green. For the layup, getting it up by the bunker is ideal. This is not a “lay it up to 100” hole. Instead, you have to push it up to the top of the slope to not be blind coming in.
As mentioned, the green is tucked behind the hillside. Playing to a three tiered green, this is a touchy little wedge to get it on the right tier.
Looking back, you see the green tucked nicely into a nice little pocket.
Part of the charm of Jasper’s routing is the joyride around multiple settings. On the opening 13 holes, the golfer plays in the mountains and back down in the valleys. On the 14th, we arrive at the third and final setting around Lac Beauvert, starting what is arguably Canada’s best three hole stretch. At 361 yards, the Cape style hole does not require driver, and truthfully, is a little aggressive. Finding the fairway is key.
A simple strategy, yet affective. The fairway is tilted heavily towards the water. Multiple plays reveal that closer to the water, the flatter the lie. This comes in handy on the approach shot: an uphill wedge to a green flanked by trouble on the short left. With a right-handed hook lie from the fairway moving slightly uphill, the short left miss is a common one. If you can place the ball on the left side of the fairway, a flatter lie sets you up for an easier second shot.
As mentioned, the approach shot plays slightly uphill to a green tucked atop. This is also the second of all-world bunker-less par 4’s.
On a beautiful summer day, there might not be a better spot to be than the 14th at Jasper Park Lodge.
Continuing the trend of good golf holes, the short par 3, 15th, aptly named “Bad Baby,” is downright terrifying. At only 138 yards, it seems easy on the card, but that is the opposite.
Any miss short is death:
And any shot missed right is also no good:
The green complex is one that if you hit the green, you should have a good look at birdie, but missing it leads to all sorts of issues.
The 16th is a fantastic finishing stretch to the lake holes. At 380 yards, the golfer plays over the most undulating terrain since the 2nd hole. As a result, finding the flat portion of the fairway feels virtually impossible, and makes the second shot a difficult little wedge or short iron in.
The topography runs at a diagonal, meaning any shots to the right (away from the water) will be semi-blind coming in, and anything left has to challenge the hazard.
On the approach, the green is so heavily titled to the water that good players have to watch the spin as it slopes hard to the water. For the high handicappers, the ground helps usher balls down towards the green. If you have been counting, this is the 3rd of bunker-less par 4’s, and all three are truly tasty.
On my first handful of spins, the 360 yard par 4, 17th was the single hole I did not like. To some extent, this rings true. Generally speaking, this is among the weaker holes at Jasper, but it does serve a purpose getting the golfer between the lake and the epic finishing hole.
The tee shot plays much more uphill than you think, as well as the approach. A simple, straightforward approach to a green that is well-guarded everywhere but the front right, this is an attractive approach looking at the mountain in the background.
Finishing off on Alister Mackenzie’s vote for the best finishing hole in the world of golf is certainly the exclamation mark a golf course as quality as Jasper deserves. On the tee shot, the modern ball brings the bunker way down the hill at 310 off the tee into play, and the bunkers you see on the left are only 184 yards to carry.
After turning the corner, a beautiful approach to a well-bunkered green is a fitting way to close out Canada’s best golf course.
There is no doubt that Jasper is among the handful of the best classic courses in the world. With a routing that transports the golfer around all that Jasper National Park has to offer—from the meadow to the mountain, down to the lake and back—the mixture between difficult holes (3, 4, 8, 9, 15, 18) and birdie opportunities (2, 5, 10, 11) helps the golf course flow extremely well.
To me, Jasper is Canada’s best golf course. The combination of the single best set of par 3’s, plus the way the golf course continues to slowly reveal more as you think about it is not only the mark of a great golf course, but the kind of golf course I want as the pride and joy of Canada.