Banff Springs Golf Course
Alberta, Canada

11th hole, 425 yards, Magpie; Thompson’s orders were to build a championship course at Banff and one of the areas this most manifests itself relative to his work at Jasper Park is that there are several green complexes here (namely the fourth, sixth, eighth, tenth, and eleventh) where a forced carry is really the only play. At Jasper, he did a magnificent job of always giving the weaker player some way of chasing a ball onto the green. Missing greens just short at Jasper often leaves the easiest up and down – not so at Banff where it takes some time to know where to best miss it.

Banff has recaptured its rustic charm and texture by restoring the native grasses in recent years.

The golfer needs to avoid this bunker 260 yards off the 11th tee.

This depression before the eleventh green indicates that this is one of the holes were the approach needs to be carried all the way onto the putting surface.

Twelfth hole, 450 yards, Big Bow; One of the game’s great two shotters, the flag is visible from the tee and lures the golfer toward in that direction, i.e. the shortest route home. Any slight push on that line and the golfer will have tree trouble on his second. The green is angled to better receive shots from the left center of the fairway and with a deep bunker left and the Bow River right, requires the most exacting approach shot on the course.

Thompson's diagonal bunker that slashes into the fairway 180 yards from the tee breaks up the relatively flat landscape and helps lend the hole great visual interest. The bunker in the distance is 280 yards from the tee and the green opens up from near there.

Common with several of the greens at Banff, the twelfth narrows as it goes back to the point where the green is a scant 11 paces wide at the back hole location.

A recovery shot from the left greenside bunker is a ticklish one, as the green is narrow and the Bow River is right behind.

As seen from behind the twelfth, with the Bow River a few paces off the right of the green and the deep bunker left, only the truly brave - or foolish - do anything other than aim for the front middle of the green.

Thirteenth hole, 230 yards, Sulphur; Open in front and ringed on its sides and back by bunkers and mounds, this was the penultimate hole on Thompson’s design.Reflective ofhis marching from CPR, Thompson built a tough, hard golf course. The tiger golfer is always challenged and yet Thompson provides ways for the less accomplished player to enjoy his game as well. For example, this green is wide open in front and, like the twelfth, narrows in the back. The weaker golfer can certainly bumble one upnear the front edge while the tiger has more than his hands full to get near any of the middle or back hole locations.

Playing short to the thirteenth green is not a bad leave.

Fourteenth hole, 445 yards, Wampum; At one point, this hole had 28 of Banff’s 144 bunkers on it. During Les Furber’s 1998 bunker restoration,he moved Thompson’s manufactured bunker complex down the left of the fairway forty yards back and away from the tee. It now ends 260 yards from the tee and once again governs play. This is a fine example of what is meant by a sensitive restoration, whereby both the architect’s form and playing intent are returned to the course. Of note, the original fairway bunker complex was kept as a model and was destroyed only after everyone agreed that the newly created complex was a faithful replicate.

To have the good fortune to hit a solid approach to the fourteenth is a memory that stays with the golfer for a lifetime.

An approach pushed right at the fourteenth is rarely good...

...and one pulled left will find one of the hole's many bunkers.

Fifteenth hole, 480 yards, Spray; One benefit of the new sequence of holes is that the subject of golf’s greatest opening tee shot remains a lively debate. Otherwise, when this hole was the first, many a well traveled golfer would swear their allegiance to this being golf’s grandest opening shot.

Thompson's original championship tee was twenty yards below today's tee and the white markers were some fifty yards lower and to the left. The thrill of watching a tee ball fall against Mount Rundle to the distant fairway below is something with which few courses can compete.

Save for perhaps Alister MacKenzie, has any architect ever matched Thompson for skill in constructing random bunkering, both in shape and placement? This one is sixty yards short and right of the 15th green.

Sixteenth hole, 420 yards, Goat; Set across flat, featureless terrain, Thompson needed to manufacture the interest and did so with a well bunkered switchback hole. In Thompson’s day when hickories dominated play, the golfer ideally drew his tee ball around the large left fairway bunker and faded his approach past the complex of bunkers along the right and front of the green. At the rate in which technology has changed in recent times, the tiger golfer is more apt to just power away with two straight balls today. Though some of the hole’s strategic merit has been lost with time, a recent round played at Banff by the author with hickories highlighted the merits of Thompson’s designs efforts at this hole. Ralph Livingston’s Feature Interview on this site is a tremendous resource in understanding how the game was played when Thompson was designing Banff.

Seventeenth hole, 385 yards, Sarcee; A favorite hole of Doug Wood for its subtlety, Thompson built the largest bunkers down the left of the fairway to suggest to the golfer to go right. In fact, the further right one drives, the progressively worse the angle of attack into the green.

Ho-hum - just another day at Banff! As for the golf, the built up bunkering left pushes the golfer right, which is rarely ideal.

Eighteenth hole, 585 yards, Windy; The similarities with the Long hole on the Old Course at St. Andrews seem striking: the corner of the out of bounds right which must be challenged if one wants to get home in two and the massive central hazard ‘Hell’ bunker 120 yards from the greengive this hole much strategic interest. In three rounds here, the author witnessed everything from a couple of short eagle putts to a quadruple bogey. Such swings in fortune make this a most engaging Home hole.

As seen from the tee on this dogleg right, the tiger golfer needs to flight his ball long down the right, flirting with the out of bounds road as marked by the two moving vehicles on the right.

The bunker in the foreground ends 290 yards from the tee. Further ahead, a fifteen foot deep bunker sits in the middle of the fairway 120 yards from the green.

Much has been made about the change in the sequencing of the holes when the new clubhouse was added in 1989. When asked about it, Doug Wood said that all Banff can do now is ask the golfer to judge the course as one plays it today on its own merits. The old routing will never be brought back into official play.Many lament the loss of the thrilling first tee ball across the Spray River and of the climatic finishing five holes starting at what is today’s 10th. To finish near the base of the Banff Springs Hotel after having played such a terrific stretch of holes must have been as satisfying a conclusion as any course in the world. Plus, Thompson specifically designed the course to finish in such a stern manner, in keeping with such great courses as Merion Golf Club and Winged Foot West.

Conversely, the contrary an view is that with today’s sequence of holes, the out and back nature of the course is nicely broken up. Also, many golfers prefer to play the toughest stretch more in the middle of their round when they are warmed up and playing well ala such courses as National Golf Links of America and Fishers Island. Plus, today’s 16th-18th holes offer more birdie and even an eagle opportunity, so the golfer might end on more of a positive high. Also too, in Thompson’s day, the Banff Springs Hotel could be seen from 14 of the holes and its presence must have been especially felt playing those last five holes. However, with the growth in the evergreen trees over the past 3/4 of a century since the course opened, the Banff Springs Hotel is less dominate upon the landscape and thus there is less of a sense of returning toward it.

However, be all this as it may, the ultimate merit of the course must reside with a discussion of the merit of the holes themselves. Taken as a set, the one shotters (the second, fourth, eighth, 10th, and 13th) are truly of exception. How many courses can boast such variety? Not many, certainly less than ten. As for the three shotters (the third, seventh, ninth, and 18th), again the golfer concludes them to be of a very high standard.Only at the ninth can the golfer escape with a loose shoot or two but Thompson intended as much given the stretch that immediately follows.The other three are all very good. Finally, as one ticks through the remaining two shot holes (the first, fifth, sixth, 11th, 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th, and 17th), only one or two might not readily appeal. Some like the fifth, 12th and 14th are among the best a golfer can ever hope to find on a single course.

Add in the incomparable setting and it becomes no wonder that as many golfers seek return games here decade after decade as at Pebble Beach and The Old Course at St. Andrews.There is no higher praise, such is the compelling nature of the game at Banff.

The best that nature and man have to offer can be found at Banff in Alberta, Canada.

The End