Story and photos by Deston Nokes on October 1, 2013
GOLF TODAY NORTHWEST — Canmore, located an hour’s drive from Calgary, is Banff’s quieter neighbor. While Banff revels in the spotlight as one of the world’s great skiing and tourist destinations, Canmore is less crowded, has less glitz, and has affordable lodging and excellent dining.
Plus, it has some of the finest golf courses in the province.
In other words, Canmore is the perfect place for folks who enjoy visiting Banff for its glamor and the gondola ride to the mountaintop — but prefer to spend most of the time enjoying the area’s breathtaking beauty with a little more elbow room.
“In Canmore, people don’t have to pay a day-use fee to visit our parks, which are just as picturesque as those in Banff,” said Tulene Steiestol, marketing and communications director for Tourism Canmore Kananaskis. “Our trails for mountain bikes and hiking are more extensive, and now, when the larch trees are turning gold, people can hike without sharing the paths with hordes of people.”
This past August, we were able to enjoy Canada’s best-kept secret when we unpacked our clubs to swing on three courses in the shadow of the majestic Canadian Rockies: Stewart Creek, Silvertip Resort and Canmore Golf and Curling Club. At each course, we were treated to the towering vistas of mountains such as the Three Sisters, Cascade, Pigeon and Ha Ling. No matter how good or shaky one’s game might be, it’s always a good day on the course with scenery like this.
Recovering from the flood
Frankly, given the horrific floods the area endured last June, we were lucky to be able to play in the first place. Starting June 20, relentless rains over a short period flooded the Bow Valley area — washing out highways, bridges and trails. Canmore was cut off from Calgary for about a week. The flooding in Canmore soon affected other parts of southern Alberta, including Calgary, right before hosting the world-famous Stampede. It was so severe that wide portions of Calgary were evacuated, displacing about 75,000 people.
While the world focused on Calgary’s heroic efforts to clean up in time to host its rodeo, many areas of Canmore found itself awash in mud, rock and debris —inflicting various degrees of damage to the Stewart Creek and Silvertip golf courses. Fortunately, Canmore Golf and Curling Club sustained little damage. It could have been worse: two nearby 18-hole courses in Kananaskis were wiped out.
By the time we arrived in late August, all three courses were open for play.
We loosened up with a round at the Canmore Golf and Curling Club. It was the perfect place to begin: wide, fairly level, and framed by blue skies and towering peaks. Built by locals in 1926, it remains as a mainstay course for the locals, and many families play the course together.
The course winds along the Bow River on the floor of the valley, so there’s very little elevation change in contrast to the other two courses, making it a great round to walk.
We found ourselves letting our drivers rip during the first nine, since it felt so open. Sure, the course is wide, but you’d better stay in bounds or you’ll go through your balls quickly. The trees and brush lining the fairways can be heavy in spots. The back nine was more challenging, forcing us to use all of our clubs and not get too distracted from the beauty of the winding river and mountains. Because it’s a local course, it can get pretty crowded during peak season.
A fun place to refuel was the Iron Goat, named for a train that worked in the local mines. This casual haunt is known more for its ribs and steaks, but I opted for the chicken and waffles, covered in maple syrup infused with roasted poblano peppers.
Stewart Creek, designed by Canadian golf architect Gary Browning in 2000, is a breathtaking mountainside course that makes its players up their game. The semi-private course prides itself in excelling in customer service, and going to great lengths to keep the course in excellent condition.
Part of that effort went into getting the course open as quickly as possible following the June flood.
“We were closed eight days,” said Greg Andrew, Stewart Creek’s vice president of operations. “We lost $1 million in revenue and spent a little less than a million in construction costs, so it’s been a tough year.”
Andrew said that the water brought down a lot of rock from the mountain. With their backhoes working, they have removed 130 square meters of rock so far. Hole 15’s green was damaged and the 13th had debris two-meters deep.
First they opened nine holes, then 12, and by July 8, they had all 18 open for business. “When you’re a destination resort, nine holes just isn’t going to cut it,” Andrew said.
I found the course thrilling from start to finish. The second hole had us threading a needle between two hills onto a narrow landing area, and the course’s toughest hole, number four, was up a tight, tree-line hill, and we still had to figure out how to set it the ball up onto the green.ut it,” Andrew said.
Adding to the rustic ambiance, the course is built on top of the Canmore Mines, with abandoned mine shaft entrances still in place long the round. Some of the wildlife one can spot includes white tail deer (a herd skittered across the fairway), large herds of elk and the occasional big horn sheep.
Stewart Creek’s best hole is the 14th, where golfers can elect to play it safe, or swat the hell out of the ball for all the glory. The only reason I’m even writing about it was that I successfully chose the latter option. The par threes are far from a gimmie, especially the deceptively short 17th hole, where you have to hit it over the exposed bedrock and away from the bunkers, or you’ll end up swinging for double bogie.
Silvertip Resort, our final stop, is another terrific mountain course that starts with a little intimidation factor — showing golfers the 18th green at the bottom of a long, high hill, where everyone sipping at the 19th hole watches. It’s a chance to be the hero or mountain goat.
Speaking of mountain goats, the Les Furber-designed course has 600 feet of elevation change from the highest point on the ninth tee (where you have to play a 434-yard dogleg left – all downhill) to the lowest point on the 13th green. The course was a puzzle of swatting the ball up, down and into numerous blind twists and turns … it was enough to make me chuckle, wondering what was next.
While it might not be the easiest to walk — and I certainly did not when I could avoid it — golfers of all levels can use their tee placement to have an enjoyable and challenging round. It’s the type of course that you’ll want to bring some friends along with you, because they’re never believe it until they play it for themselves.
Thankfully, no matter what your score, there’s the finest filet you’ll ever taste waiting at the Silvertip’s Rustica steakhouse. Trust me, it will be a well-deserved capper to an unforgettable week of golf.