Jasper Park Lodge GC – Hole by Hole
Stanley Thompson is the undisputed master golf architect of Canada with five of his designs making the top 10 of SCORE Golf’s Top 100 list in 2022. His work with the Canadian national park system has left us a legacy of wonderful golf courses in some of the most stunning locations on the planet including Cape Breton Highlands, Banff, Prince Albert and perhaps most notably Jasper National Park where Jasper Park Lodge GC was the first of Thompson’s great courses.
History of Jasper Park Lodge GC
While the golf course is now linked intrinsically with Jasper Park Lodge, it didn’t start out that way. It was actually the predecessor to Parks Canada, the Dominion Parks Branch that first commissioned a nine-hole course to be designed by a Banff golf professional, Charlie Duncan in 1922. As far as I can tell this was the first time a golf course was proposed as an attraction in a Canadian national park and was the forerunner to the many great courses that followed. Unfortunately Duncan’s efforts were not up to the task and a year later the Canadian National Railway, which was just opening Jasper Park Lodge, asked to take over the project. The government agreed and CNR engaged the services of up and coming, but not yet famous golf architect Stanley Thompson.
Thompson designed an eighteen hole layout instead of nine and in 1923 a crew of 250 began preparing the site by hand. Thompson discovered that there was not enough top soil to create decent fairways so he convinced CNR to buy a section of rich farmland near Edmonton. The topsoil was stripped and taken to Jasper in rail cars and then distributed over the 88 acre site. In addition a small dam was constructed to hold the water needed to make sure the course was properly irrigated. This was to become a feature of other Thompson courses in the future. The course opened officially in 1925 with Douglas Haig, commander of the British forces in WWI, hitting the first ball. The course was quickly realized to be a masterpiece and to a large extent cemented Thompson’s reputation and made sure he was the go to man for future courses within the Canadian National Park system. In 1930 the Canadian Amateur was held here and over the years many celebrities visited, including Bing Crosby who won a tournament here in 1947.
Today Jasper Park Lodge GC is ranked #3 in SCORE Golf’s Top 100 and people come from around the world to play it. That results in some eye-watering green fees, but sometimes you have to dig deep to play some of the best courses on the planet. I know I have waited a long time to play Jasper Park Lodge GC so let’s get to it.
Jasper Park Lodge GC #1 – First 368 Yard Par Four
Before you tee off at Jasper Park Lodge GC it is a right of passage to have your picture taken in front of the small totem pole beside the first tee. Today Alison and I are playing with our son Dale who is a supervisor with Parks Canada in Jasper and a very occasional golfer. We are also joined by a friend of his who is a club member and a low handicap golfer who will help guide us around the course.
Even from the tips, Jasper Park Lodge GC is not long at 6,663 yards, but that is of no concern to me as I will play the whites at 6,033 yards and Dale and Alison will play the reds at 5,397 yards.
Unfortunately. the weather is not cooperating today or more accurately smoke from forest fires in British Columbia has created a haze that is blocking the mountain views for which the course is famous. For example, here is my photo from the first tee.
This is what I was hoping to see. I will use public image photos were necessary to show the genius of the Thompson design were a number of the holes are aimed straight at various mountain peaks in the Jasper area, such as the first hole.
The conditioning at Jasper Park Lodge GC is simply superb and that extends from the tee boxes to the fairways and especially to the greens. This is the first green which is a beautiful consistent carpet with a small collar that makes the transition from fairway to green almost imperceptible. Thompson does not try to beat you up with greens that have great undulation, but rather the breaks are subtle. Being the second group out, the greens we still bedewed which made them slower than they will become throughout the day and frankly, easier to putt. If you are going to score well at Jasper Park Lodge GC it will likely be because your putter is hot.
No. 1 is the 15 handicap hole and with its generous fairway and large green (by Thompson standards) it is a great starting hole. There is nothing worse than having a very difficult starting hole thrown at you right off the bat.
#2 Oldman – 460 Yard Par 5
One thing about Jasper Park Lodge GC that might surprise you is the relative lack of elevation change. This is not one of those mountain courses like Stewart Creek where there are tremendous ups and downs. That is not meant in any way to take away from the challenge of this course which starts on #2. You need a straight drive to avoid the bunkers on both sides of the fairway.
Then you need to make a decision – go for it or not. The photo makes the green look way closer than it really is.
I decided the risk was not worth it and simply chipped up to the right side leaving three shots to get down for par which even I could accomplish. Note the number of dead spruce trees killed by an invasive beetle. The good news is that the last winter was so cold that it is believed that all the larva were killed and the infestation is now at an end. I was here in December and it never got above -30 Celsius, so I can buy that hypothesis.
If the weather had been clearer I would have been able to see why this hole is called Old Man. You can see his silhouette on the mountains ahead.
Jasper Park Lodge GC #3 – Signal Dip 399 Yard Par Four
The diagram on the signpost indicated that this was a significant dogleg right and it was helpful to be playing with a member to get the proper line off the tee. Big hitters can decide to cut the hole down to size by going over the trees, but if they go too far right the rough is very deep. The best result for the average golfer is to clear the mound on the fly as close to the trees as possible and expect some serious roll to make the green reachable on the second shot.
This is one of the great second shots in Canadian golf with a small elevated green protected by traps on three sides. The long serpentine green at the back is particularly nasty when the pin is at the back as it is today. Simply a beautiful if difficult par four.
#4 Cavell – 204 Yard Par Three
The first par three at Jasper Park Lodge GC has a series of elevated tee boxes that make this hole player shorter than its declared distance. Still you are going to need a good strike to get it there and avoid the bunkers on the right. Today’s pin placement is just close enough to the right edge to make going right at it a mug’s game. Playing to the fat of the green should yield a two putt par and possibly a birdie. The hole is aligned with Mount Edith Cavell named for the British nurse who was executed as a spy by the Germans during WWI creating a world wide backlash that led to her name being affixed to many places around the world, including Canada. I will be visiting Mount Edith Cavell later on this trip.
Jasper Park Lodge GC #5 – Miette 444 Yard Par 5
This quite short par five is probably the best birdie chance on the front nine if you can avoid the fairway bunkers off the tee. Assuming you can accomplish that the second shot is slightly uphill to a large three-tiered green with no trouble in front so coming up short won’t hurt you. This is another hole that in clear conditions has a magnificent mountain backdrop.
#6 Whistlers – 364 Yard Par Four
If it were not for our local playing companion I would have thought the green was straight ahead, when in reality that is the 10th fairway. This is a very sharp dogleg right that dares one to cut off as much as possible, quite similar to #3 except the tee shot is not blind.
Jasper Park Lodge GC #7 – Colin’s Clout 139 Yard Par Three
The second par three at Jasper Park Lodge GC is a bit of a poser. While it’s not long, it is severely uphill and requires a minimum of at least one extra club. Anything left is in big trouble. The name of the hole is somewhat intriguing. Colin Clout is the name of the main character in a 1583 pastoral poem Colin Clouts Come Home Againe by Edmund Spenser, more famous for his epic poem The Faerie Queen. Thompson often used allegorical names for some of his golf holes and this may the case here.
N0. 8 Tekarra’s Cut – 395 Yard Par Four
This long par four is the toughest hole at Jasper Park Lodge GC and when you play it you’ll know why. Without local knowledge you would not have a clue where to aim your drive. Clearly from the tee box the hole must go right, but by how much? Do you try to clear the mound on the right? The answer is no unless you are Rory McIlroy or John Rahm. The best position is slightly to the left where you get this look at the green which is way further away than this photo indicates. Anything left falls off into a steep gully.
The way this hole rock and rolls reminds me of #7 Killiecrankie at Highlands Links which also happens to be the hardest hole on that Thompson masterpiece. Only when walking off the green did I realize that this is the only hole on the front with no bunkers. BTW Tekarra was an Iroquois guide and hunter who is the namesake of Mount Tekarra which is visible from the course.
Jasper Park Lodge GC #9 Cleopatra – 182 Yard Par Three
This hole originally had two suggestive mounds and an hour glass shape that gave it its name, but Thompson was made to tone it down by a prudish CNR president. Still its a lovely looking hole, somewhat diminished by the fifth fairway behind it. There is a 70 foot drop from tee to green so it will not play as long as stated. Although that looks like a sucker pin, with advice from our club member I hit it out to the right side of the green landing short and the ball kicked left onto the putting surface. Also, the trap on the left is actually well up from the green and another tactic is to fly it, but the consequences of failure will be dire. Just a great par three and fine end to the front nine.
No. 10 The Maze – 467 Yard Par Five
Unlike most modern course designers, Stanley Thompson never saw the need to return to the clubhouse after the first nine. That stricture in some cases just interferes with the natural flow of the course and Thompson was having none of it. To my mind things really start to take off on the back nine of Jasper Park Lodge GC.
Water is not an issue on the front nine, but that is about to change starting with #10 which requires a pretty decent drive if you are going to carry the water and the bunkers at the end of it. The reward if you succeed is the opportunity to perhaps get on in two or at least be close enough to bring birdie into play. More cautious players can just go down the right side making this a three shot hole, but perhaps avoiding losing a ball in the water.
This is roughly what the second shot should look like if you land in the middle of the fairway. The green is slightly elevated and well guarded, but with no trouble if you hit a straight shot toward the pin. As noted, coming up short, but safe still creates a birdie opportunity.
#10 is not only a beautiful looking hole, but offers options that reward good play whether you are a scratch golfer or a high handicapper.
Jasper Park Lodge GC #11 Pyramid – 377 Yard Par Four
This is one of the most famous holes at Jasper Park Lodge GC, largely because it is aligned directly at Pyramid Mountain which unfortunately we could not see clearly because of the haze. There are a number of very good, but copyrighted photos you can view online and I urge you check them out to see just how glorious this hole looks in the proper conditions.
In terms of playability it’s not a difficult par four with a wide landing area and once again no trouble in front of the green which is one of the more undulating on the course. Just enjoy the walk up the fairway towards Pyramid Mountain on this illustrious hole.
#12 Tete Jaune – 157 Yard Par Three
This par three is more difficult than it looks from the tee box. It is deceptively uphill and is about as close to a crowned green as there is at Jasper Park Lodge GC. While you need more club than the yardage suggests anything over the back is in big trouble. Picking the right club and committing to it is what it’s all about on Tete Jaune which is French for Yellow Head and named for early Metis fur trader Pierre Bostonais who had blonde streaks in his hair. He was the first non-Indigenous person to traverse the pass that bears his moniker today as well as the modern highway that crosses it.
Jasper Park Lodge # 13 Grande Allee – 523 Yard Par Five
Hold onto your hats because you about to embark upon one hell of a ride playing this totally unique golf hole. From the tee box it just looks like a sea of green fairway and basically it is. Once again I relied upon our club member to give me a line for my drive.
Okay, I successfully crested the hill on the blind tee shot and now am looking straight downhill with no green in sight. I’m told it’s still quite aways below the ridge with the large sand trap to the left.
So I blast away with a three wood and once again clear the next ridge with no idea where my ball ended up or even where the heck the green is.
No. 13 Green
This is what I was facing with the third shot. If I’ve ever seen a more tilted and just plain crazy green than this I don’t remember it. Obviously you want your third shot to stay below the hole, but without local member Tim’s advice I would have had no idea where to land it. Even landing well to the right of the pin as suggested the ball rolled almost all the way back down to the fringe leading to a three putt bogey. Still, despite my usual loathing for blind shots of which hole effectively has two, I loved Grande Allee and I think most golfers will as well. It is the most difficult hole on the back nine, so bogey is not a great disappointment.
#14 Lac Beauvert – 364 Yard Par Four
The course now enters an amazing final stretch that includes three holes on a narrow peninsula that juts out into Lac Beauvert, starting with this great par four that requires a pretty straight drive over the emerald waters of Lac Beauvert. The closer you come to the trees on the left the shorter your second shot, but is it worth the risk?
Failure to get enough distance off the tee, as I did, leaves one with this uphill shot that has absolutely no room for error on the left hand side. Thompson chose to leave the steep bank intact without putting in a bunker that would have been a welcome sight to most golfers in this quandary. Rather than having no chance at par or even bogey by going left, the better play is to take your lumps and play well to the right and hope that you can get your third shot close enough to the pin for a par putt.
This is another of the great holes at Jasper Park Lodge GC.
Jasper Park Lodge #15 Bad Baby – 120 Yard Par Three
I love the name of this hole because baby, it is bad, despite its short length. I ignored the advice of the course guide to hit only for the centre of the minuscule green and not at the pin. The result was my ball was in a gully fully twenty feet below the green. That lead to the dreaded pitch that almost made it, but rolled back to right where it started. Twice. Bad Baby!
#16 The Bay – 358 Yard Par Four
This is a seriously downhill hole that requires a second shot over a small cove to another small green. There is the option of keeping the driver in the bag and opting for something less because you are going to get a lot of roll with whatever club you choose.
The second shot should look something like this. For a lefty like me the ball will be below the feet and for a righty the opposite. Either way, its not a stance that feels comfortable and with trouble up front, the tendency is to take too much club and end up well over the green. This then requires a pitch to a green that slopes toward the water. Good luck stopping it.
This is a fun hole to play if things go right and a potential nightmare if they don’t. There’s also a great look back at the lodge and clubhouse from this green.
Jasper Park Lodge GC #17 The Climber – 338 Yard Par Four
The penultimate hole provides a bit of relief after the three holes on the peninsula. The fairway slopes quite severely from right to left so you need to take the drive quite far right while avoiding the bunker that is there to catch anything to far up. Fortunately, the hole is short enough that a wood is the better tee choice, keeping the bunker out of play and still leaving a not too difficult approach to the green. This may well be the easiest hole on Jasper Park Lodge GC and I’m sure it sees a lot of birdies.
#18 Home – 364 Yard Par Four
This is just a great finishing hole with a dramatic downhill C-curve to a receptive green. The issue is how much of the curve are you prepared to cut off? The second bunker is a fair ways out, but if you clear it you’ll have a short iron in. I wasn’t prepared to challenge it and instead aimed well above it and still got a pretty decent roll down the hill.
But then, I was not prepared for this. The 18th green is probably the most well guarded on the entire course. Where Stanley left the front portion of the green open on most holes, not so here. The good news is that the green is huge and there is quite a bit of room between the trap guarding the front and the green. A shot that clears that bunker will shoot toward the middle of the green, or at least that’s the theory. I did end up in the bunker just to the left of the green and it was not much fun getting out.
Even ending with a double could not wipe away the smile that I and the rest of the group had as we headed for the 19th hole after playing one of the greatest courses in Canada.
Once again, I am blown away by what Stanley Thompson did for the national parks service in creating this great collection of golf courses.
In the next post I’ll take the reader to some of the must-see places in the park.