Banff, Alberta, Canada
The Banff Springs Hotel, a fabled Castle in the Rockies sited at the confluence of the Bow and Spray rivers, is a mountain fortress like no other. But the $4 million restoration of the resort's original course, the Stanley Thompson 18, actually exceeds the hotel in majesty¿at least in the minds of golfers.
Walled in by three massive peaks, their battleship-gray flanks rising from a cloak of bottle-green pines, this mile-high layout was the inspired creation of Stanley Thompson, Canada's foremost golf architect. Thompson, among the first designers to employ principles of art (balance, proportion, harmony), recognized that no more heavenly setting for the game could exist beyond this stunning river valley.
He made the most of his opportunity¿and spared no expense. Rock was quarried, trees were felled, rivers were bridged and railway cars of topsoil and manure were brought in from the prairies to the east to blanket the rock. When it opened in 1928, Banff Springs became the first golf course to cost more than $1 million to build. In today's dollars, that figure would exceed $25 million. The course was an instant hit. Among the stars who frequented the links was Marilyn Monroe, who was there in 1953 during the filming of "The River of No Return."
Following the completion of a short third nine at Banff Springs in 1989 and the addition of a clubhouse, the routing of Thompson's design was altered. After a severe freeze killed most of the turfgrass in 1996, a decision was made to completely refurbish the original course, adhering closely to Thompson's belief that "the most beautiful courses¿the ones where the greens invite your shots¿are the ones which hew closely to nature."
To that end, resort management joined the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System, returning 32 acres of irrigated turfgrass to native montane grasslands. Greens were rebuilt, abandoned bunkers revived and the proper sequence of holes re-established. In addition to reconstructing the original Thompson tees, new back tees were built and several bunkers repositioned to compensate for advances in equipment.
Reopened last summer, Banff Springs, the most famous and arguably the most beautiful mountain course in the world, is once again "a rare jewel in nature's most lavish setting," as it was once described. In the wake of the restoration¿the design team worked from original blueprints and period photographs¿Thompson's artistry is clearly evident. Flashed-face bunkers are set into mounds that emulate the shape of the surrounding mountains. Fairway contours echo the movement of the Bow River or mimic the rolling terrain at the base of the mountains. Driving areas are wide, but there is a preferred angle of attack at every hole: Thompson was a master strategist. Greens range from large and undulating to small and flat. Many are raised and multi-tiered. From the tips at 7,083 yards (par 71), the Thompson 18 is not only an aesthetic triumph, it is the complete test. Call (403) 762-6801.
Brian McCallen is a senior editor at GOLF Magazine, SKI's sister publication, and author of "Top 100 Courses You Can Play" (Abrams).