2016 in Pictures – Banff Springs (part 2)

In an effort to step up my photo game this year I am pleased to share 10 of my favourite golf images over the past year.  With a healthy layer of snow already in southern Ontario I hope this brings back good memories from your 2016 golf season and stokes the fire of anticipation for 2017!

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The story:  Given that these are two pictures of the same hole I don’t feel like I am breaking the rules too much.  The third hole at Banff Springs is my second favourite par 5 I have ever played (Highlands Links #7 gets top honours) and these views give you a good idea why.  While the 4th hole (see Banff Springs – part 1) gets proper accolades this is a highly underrated golf hole.  The sheer magnitude of the Rockies set against the expansiveness of this par 5 was incredible to experience.  I was blessed with a perfect morning for pictures and took full advantage.  The top image looks back from behind the green and the lower image was taken as I rounded the subtle dog leg and could see the green.  This courses is what bucket lists were meant for.

To all my readers, a very Merry Christmas, joyous and safe holidays and my best wishes to you and yours for a healthy and prosperous 2017.

In friendship, Mike

 

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2016 in Pictures – Banff Springs (part 1)

In an effort to step up my photo game this year I am pleased to share 10 of my favourite golf images over the past year.  With a healthy layer of snow already in southern Ontario I hope this brings back good memories from your 2016 golf season and stokes the fire of anticipation for 2017!

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The Story:  As one would expect, my excitement to play Banff Springs was sky high.  Early on a cool mid-week morning the starter was able to stagger singles like myself and twosomes off at a relaxed pace.  Playing alone, I was surprised when a golf cart arrived behind me when I got to the 4th hole.  Called the Devil’s Cauldron, this is one of the country’s greatest golf holes.  The group in the cart were not golfers but tourists and asked if they could watch me tee off.  Not having issue with this, I asked in turn if they’d take a picture of me as I finished hitting the ball.  The one gentlemen was a photographer and that is how this photo came about; perfect timing really.  Captures the tranquility of my golf experience at Banff Springs exceptionally well.  It’s a round, and a picture, I’ll never forget.

Click here for my full review of Banff Springs

 

 

2016 in Pictures – Stewart Creek Golf and Country Club

In an effort to step up my photo game this year I am pleased to share 10 of my favourite golf images over the past year.  With a healthy layer of snow already in southern Ontario I hope this brings back good memories from your 2016 golf season and stokes the fire of anticipation for 2017!

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The story: Stewart Creek is located in Canmore, AB and is surprisingly close to Banff.  For those, like me, who are always seeking to get in 36 a day this was my second round following a stunning morning at Banff Springs.  This was the view off the opening tee and the image does not do justice to the significant drop to the fairway below.  I was grateful there wasn’t a group behind me because it took me forever to tee off, seriously.  I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more beautiful setting off the first tee.  The course, the conditioning, its people and mountain views like this are all reasons why Stewart Creek is set well within top 100 course lists in Canada.  I can’t wait to come back.

Click here for my full review of Stewart Creek

 

2016 in Pictures – Calgary Golf and Country Club

In an effort to step up my photo game this year I am pleased to share 10 of my favourite golf images over the past year.  With a healthy layer of snow already in southern Ontario I hope this brings back good memories from your 2016 golf season and stokes the fire of anticipation for 2017!

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The Story: There are so many stories, really.  The incredible privilege to play Calgary GCC, a private club, and one of the country’s top courses is special in itself.  But the real treat was connecting with Josh Strukoff whom many may know for his outstanding blog Golf Is Mental.  An exceptional golfer and even better guy, Josh was kind enough to host me at his club on a late May afternoon.  To me, Josh is one of the best blog photographers and borrowing my iPhone he was able to capture this artistic shot of me teeing off on the 15th hole.  Calgary GCC is a venerable course that is a stern yet fair test.  This picture captures so much that I love about this course; while in the heart of the city there is a feel of isolation and tranquility.  The elevation changes are surprising throughout this course as evident with the Elbow River set far below.  The chance to meet someone whom I consider a friend and has done much to support my efforts as a golf blogger was one of the true highlights of my 2016 golf season.  Thanks to Josh and his wife Beth for hosting me for a most memorable afternoon.

Click here for my course review of Calgary Golf and Country Club.

 

 

 

 

Stewart Creek – Mining for Birdies in Canmore

Course Reviews – Stewart Creek – Mining for Birdies in Canmore

http://www.stewartcreekgolf.com/

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A strong opening hole.  Love the elevation change to the fairway below.

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.

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The front nine presents so much beauty

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.

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Stewart Creek demonstrates a commitment to engage players of all skill levels with Family Tee options, making the game playable for all ages

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.

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An impressive close to the opening nine.

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.

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Stewart Creek shows how playable mountain golf can be.

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.

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My favourite hole, the short par 4, 14th.

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.

 

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The history of this region comes alive with this abandoned mine entrance.

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.

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My experience at Stewart Creek ended too quickly.  It’s a mountain golf experience I look forward to experiencing again.

 

 

Banff Springs – Breathtaking Golf in the Rockies

Banff Springs – Breathtaking Golf in the Rockies

http://www.fairmont.com/banff-springs/golf/

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Another beautiful morning at Banff Springs

One does not have to look very far to locate Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course on top course ranking lists in Canada.  Arguably one of Stanley Thompson’s finest works, this course set adjacent to the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and the majestic Bow River.  The golf course is majestic, the views expansive and powerful with the river and the mountains providing a stunning backdrop.  It may well feature the greatest opening nine I have experienced and possesses signature hole after signature hole.  Both Canadian Golf Magazine and SCOREGolf place this course well within their top 10 in Canada.

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Looking back from behind the second green

On a cold spring morning, I was fortunate to tee off as a single where I could take my time, take lots of pictures and enjoy a true, unique golf experience.  The starter advised me holes which I should have my camera ready – 4 and 14.  He may well have said all 18 of them.  After the opening hole, the course faces the mountains and holes 2, 3 and 4 build in magnitude.  The 3rd hole is an underrated par 5, and if not for Thompson’s genius design of the 7th hole at Highlands Links, I would state this to be my favourite par 5 of any I’ve played.   However, the 4th hole is a breathtaking beauty, unlike any I’ve played.  A downhill par 3, aptly named Devil’s Cauldron, this hole is guarded by water in the front and classic Thompson bunkering protecting short and left of the green.  While admiring this bowl shaped design and readying to take my shot, a golf cart pulled up.  They were a touring the course, not golfers.  In asking if they would take my picture following my swing, the gentleman stated he’d be delighted and that he was a photographer.  I marveled at my fortune.  And to close off; my shot – witnessed by tourists both behind me as well as behind the green, the shot landed softly beyond the green and avoiding the traps.  I’ll never forget that.

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A picture I will always cherish – holding the finish on the famous 4th hole.

The course returns to the relatively new clubhouse after nine than moves toward the hotel where it loops around and back, allowing for a stretch of tree lined holes and stout par 3’s before returning back in a more expansive stretch alongside the mountains.  The effort it must have taken back in the 1920’s to build this course is staggering to imagine.  The course offers something for so many; historians, nature lovers and of course, golfers.

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Hard not to get distracted by the scenery

The tranquility of my clear, cold morning allowed me to play a relaxed round and appreciate the genius of Thompson who, once again, used the land exceedingly well.  There are no holes which are too close in proximity to others.  The back nine provides challenge in terms of length and demands a level of accuracy which is less prominent on the front nine.

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The 9th hole runs alongside the Bow River.

The conditioning of the course is fantastic, complementing the exceptional layout and natural setting.  A true bucket list course, this will not be your most inexpensive round.  But it is entirely possible that it may be your most memorable.

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The 14th hole shows the best view of the Banff Springs Hotel

Aura – 9.5 out of 10 – This is a national top 10 course and top 5 public course.  For many, it is their favourite course in the country and is entirely worthy of planning a trip around.  If blessed with a sunny day, your camera will get a strong workout.

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Value (cost / experience) – 8 out of 10 – Peak fees are $239 + tax.  There are afternoon and shoulder season rates but this will set back many players.  However, I acknowledge value is in the eyes of the beholder.  And for the quality and natural beauty of this course, the chance to play it once (in the shoulder season for me) makes this a solid value pick, not exceptional.  Understand, it’s a golfing experience and a true bucket list course.

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Even the practice facilities are stunning.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 9 out of 10 –  Course staff were hard at work on the fairways, greens and even the bunkers while I was there in late May. The layout is brilliant, one of Thompson’s strengths, but the conditioning of the course complements the quality setting.  The tee boxes were in exceptional condition.  Greens rolled true and consistent, not too fast for a public resort course which helps ensure good pace of play.  The greenside protection was diverse and penal at times but never unfair.  Fairways were superb.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 9.5 out of 10 – I would return in a heartbeat.  Understand that you’re in Banff and there is much else to do – hot springs, the town, the hotel – but the golf course stands on as an experience worthy of the investment and complements the scenery of this gorgeous town.

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Highlight (what is great about the course) – For the purposes of managing space, I’ll let the pictures speak to this.  Safe to say practically everything is great about it.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – aside from moving to Alberta to take advantage of a residents discount, there really isn’t anything specific I would change.  This is a truly special course and well worthy of its prominent places in national course rankings.  As a public play, it is on my top 3 list.

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One of my favourite images is this view of the par 5 3rd hole.

Just So You Know – Practice facilities are very strong.  There is also a 9 hole ‘Tunnel Mountain’ course available to complement the 18 hole Stanley Thompson course.