Stanley Thompson's Banff Springs GC Offers Timeless Beauty

by Gord Montgomery

While renowned Canadian golf course architect Stanley Thompson likely figured he had something special in his project in Banff, Alberta, it’s likely he never realized how dramatic, and awe-inspiring his golf masterpiece would become over the decades.

Now in its ninth decade of operation, the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Club is to  many the prototypical mountain golf resort – scenery beyond belief and holes that make one wonder how Thompson even saw such magnificence back in his day.

“I think most importantly the course is built for all types of golfers,” the director of golf, Steven Young, noted as a key thing about his track. “Stanley built a resort course and we make sure we offer yardages under 6,000 all the way to 7,000. We get touring pros that come through here and they love it.
We get novice golfers, maybe first time players, and they can play from the forward tees and enjoy it. There are no forced carries except for one hole which means you can move it around the course without the worry of having to make some very difficult shots.”
As was his trademark, Thompson directs players around the layout through the strategic placement of bunkers. There are a lot of those in play here and what they do as much as penalize a player for an off-line shot is show them the proper angle from which to attack the putting surfaces.
“Stanley Thompson was really known for his bunkering – and we’ve been told – that these are the best examples of Stanley’s bunkers here at the Banff Springs,” said Young. “A lot of courses nowadays might put 30, 40, 60 bunkers on their course; we have over 150 on just 18 holes.” 
A great example of bunkering that comes into play, but doesn’t hinder play, is the second par 3 on the front nine. 
Known as the Devil’s Cauldron it’s not an overly long hole at 192-yards from the very back tees, but it can be a nightmare if your club selection and accuracy aren’t exact. 
Half a dozen bunkers, including one on the front edge protect the putting surface and on top of that everything is guarded by a beautiful water hazard in the foreground, making this a memorable hole not only for its playability but its dramatic scenery as well. 
The thing that the Canadian architect did so long ago that is so in vogue today with designers is he used risk/reward placements with the sand.
While the bunkers don’t necessarily impede most shots from the middle of the fairway or tee box, they come into play if you stray to the edges of the short grass or into the rough. “He’d put a bunker off the tee at maybe 180 and he’d say ‘If you can carry this bunker you’ll have lush fairway and maybe a straight shot into the green.’
If you’re concerned, you play it down the right side (but) you’ll have a longer shot in and you’ll have to contend more with the hazards around the green site,” Young said of the designer’s philosophy.
“He also used bunkers very strategically. You may think you’re hitting to a tucked pin but there’s 20 yards in behind it. The way he used the flashing of his lips and his immenseness and the way he crafted his bunkers make it a lot more difficult looking than what you’re actually facing on a hole.”
The fact Thompson designed this course so long ago, and it’s weathered time so well, is one of the reasons it remains a playing favourite for many golfers, Young noted. Yes, the altitude in Banff lets you fly the ball longer than lower elevations do, but it’s more than that, the director of golf feels.
“It’s always been a top-ranked course. We started nine holes in 1911 and Donald Ross did some changes between 1918 and 1923,” before Thompson was recruited to in his words, “Build the last word on golf.”
He did just that although the project saw him go broke more than once but he was always able to obtain more funding to carry out his mission and vision.
“In 1939 when the first official rankings of golf courses around the world came out, Fairmont Banff Springs as it’s now known, was ranked No. 8. To put that in perspective, Augusta National was No. 13. Pinehurst No. 2 was No. 32, so it was seen back then as one of the top golf courses in the world.”
And it remains that way today, as evidenced by the honours bestowed upon the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Club by such publications as Golf Digest (Top 75 Resorts in North America and Best 25 International Golf Hotels); Golf Magazine (Gold Resort and Top 3 Golf Courses in Canada) and Golfweek (Best Classic Canadian Course; 4th in 2012).
“It has stood the test of time because of the brilliance of architecture, because of the natural setting with the Bow Valley River and the mountains right in front of you,” Young explained.
Jeff Sveen, a Class A golf professional and the owner of Play Golf Alberta which partners with the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Club to tee time bookings suggests this is a must play venue.
It’s a very traditional golf course design that has with stood the test of time,” he noted. “ Every hole is shaped so well with great definition and direction by the fabulous trees and well placed bunkers.  Banff Springs Golf Club is in great shape and is a must play on your golfing bucket list.
Wildlife, Scenery All In A Day’s Work
Bob Burrows, the superintendent of the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Club, agrees his work maybe goes a bit deeper than looking after the grass on the golf course. After all, the course is his backyard, and front yard for that matter. You see, he lives right on the course and is afforded its beauty every single day.
“It happens to be the 100-year-old clubhouse and it’s a great place,” Burrows said of his home just off the 12th green alongside the Bow River.
The care of such a golf course is key because it sits in such a natural wonderland in a national park setting. To Burrows, it’s his responsibility to be a good citizen.
“We live and breathe it every day. We have 300 acres in the resort and we’re very proud that we’re a national park and a world heritage site. We are sensitive to where we are and we celebrate that fact in everything we do.”
As such, the caretaking of the property is “very minimalist,” in regard to both chemical and water usage, Burrows said, but at the same time great attention is paid to the details of making this golfing experience one to remember for all that tee it up at the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Club.
The best thing Burrows hears from the public about his course is people just want to keep on playing even after they wrap up their day’s round. “The Fairmont is really interested in guest satisfaction and their feedback. With that in mind the comments are generally very positive. The vistas here are incredible so be prepared to take a lot of photographs. People interact with elk and deer and we have a grizzly and two cubs on hole No. 3, so that’s pretty cool. People travel thousands of miles to get this slice of Canada.”
“This course is a pleasure to play because it is an architectural treat. This is an architectural museum and probably some of Stanley’s best work. Golfers come away with the ‘Wow!” factor.”
The Fairmont Promise
Alicia Chelsom, the manager of public relations for the Fairmont Banff Springs, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge said there are a number of packages visitors can partake of whether it’s for golf, the great spas, or hotel stays.
“We have a lot of offers for golfers; a golf-for-free package (where a room booked for a night can includes a free round of golf) and also an Alberta residents’ rate. That’s a great value package, especially if you’re coming from farther away.”
Spa packages are also available in the hotel’s 30,000 sq. ft. facility which feature a number of golf-related treatments such as facials that deal with the effects of sun and wind on one’s face. “We have mineral pools you can soak in, temperature waterfalls that are good for detoxification, and we offer stay-and-spa packages as well,” Chelsom explained.
At the Fairmont Banff Springs there are 768 guest rooms available; 11 food and beverage outlets; a bowling centre; 27-holes of golf (including the 9-hole Tunnel Course) and of course, the spa.
“We have Italian, German, sushi, Canadian,” Chelsom said of the cuisine available. “We’re also only a short walk into the town site so you can come here and leave the hotel as much as you want or as little, because everything you need we have right on-site,” at the magnificent Fairmont property that caters to visitors on a year-round basis.
To book tee times at the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Club up to one week in advance, go to and follow the links.
About the writer: Gord Montgomery is the sports editor of two weekly newspapers in the Edmonton area and is a member of the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. He has written for Inside Golf for the past four years with the majority of his coverage in north and central Alberta.
He can be reached at