This Battle of Alberta dates back to long before the Flames and Oilers or Stampeders and Eskimos.
Way back to the 1920s, in fact, when two railroad rivals — Canadian Pacific in Banff and Canadian National in Jasper — were trying to convince tourists to pack their brassies and mashies and ride the choo-choo to the Rockies.
“Stanley Thompson came out and he designed Jasper first and Banff said, ‘Wait a second, we’re the best — we need you to come over here Mr. Thompson and make our course better than Jasper’s course,’ ” explained Steven Young, director of golf at Fairmont Banff Springs.
“In Banff, he was asked to build the last word on golf. And he did.”
For nearly nine decades since then, it’s been Alberta’s great golf debate — which of Thompson’s mountain masterpieces is better?
Maybe this summer, once and for all, they can settle it.
Actually, you can settle it.
The fine folks at Banff Springs and Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge — the national-park properties are separated by 300 km of stunning blacktop — have brought back the Stanley Thompson Challenge for this season. The promotion comes with a pricetag of $299 per golfer, which includes a round at both of Alberta’s trophy tracks and an online passcode to cast a vote for your favourite.
“This has always been a Northern Alberta vs. Southern Alberta rivalry,” said Gregg Lown, director of golf at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. “It’s the most interesting thing here in Alberta that a lot of Edmontonians have never been to Banff and a lot of Calgarians have never been to Jasper. Yes, you have to come past Kananaskis and past Banff and Lake Louise and even the Icefields to get to Jasper from Calgary, but that drive is spectacular and if you’re a golfer in Alberta, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t be playing this every year or two.
“We think it’s a great opportunity for Albertans to get out and enjoy their backyard. We’re going to have some fun with it.”
You’ll have a blast playing both. Just be warned, picking a winner will be about as easy as draining an 80-foot double-breaker.
You’ll love Devil’s Cauldron — No. 4 on the scorecard in Banff is one of the most eye-popping assignments on the planet — but will also adore Cleopatra, the nifty ninth at Jasper Park Lodge.
You’ll later daydream about No. 14 at both layouts — Banff’s is backdropped by the historic hotel, while Jasper’s requires an unforgettable tee-shot across the corner of Lac Beauvert.
Both courses — perennially ranked as two of the best in Canada — offer enough postcard material to drain the battery on your camera-phone before you even make the turn.
The only thing missing from this rivalry is, apparently, bulletin-board material.
“I think the difference is the piece of property,” Lown said, making a polite pitch for what gives Jasper a slight edge over its southern sibling. “I mean, Banff is a spectacular layout and a great golf course, but Stanley didn’t have as many options between the mountain and the river there. Here, they gave him a blank slate and said, ‘Go figure out where you want to put this golf course.’ With a blank canvas, he was able to frame so many holes with the mountain backdrops, and the vistas and the scenery all around it is as big a part of playing golf in Jasper as the course itself.”
“Really, there’s no loser. If you lose this one, you’re still great,” Young added. “But I just think, pound-for-pound, Banff is the best course … There’s a reason it’s sought out to be in video games. There’s a reason the skins game wants to come here. There’s a reason that when all the professionals are coming into Calgary for those events, they want to come out here.
“This is a course that has had a lot, a lot of stuff written about it, a ton of hype about it, and we get international media that come or players that come and have such a high expectation, and it always delivers.”
Wes Gilbertson Calgary Herald
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