Jasper Park Lodge:
Thompson’s Masterpiece
Visual Treat For Senses

By David R. Holland,
TravelGolf.com Senior Writer

JASPER, Alberta -- Look closely, pay attention -- the mastery of Canada’s legendary golf architect Stanley Thompson must be visualized in the mind as well as through the eyes.

Can you see the rose petal bunker on the par-5, 492-yard No. 10? Can you envision the shapely form of Cleopatra on No. 9’s 231-yard par-3? Can you imagine mounds mimicking surrounding mountain ranges? Did you realize the holes line up against the sawtooth-rugged peaks? Can you appreciate the elevated tee boxes giving you the panoramas of Jasper National Park?

The Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club, now 76 years old, is a treat for the senses. Celebrities such as Bing Crosby, Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum, James Stewart, Rita Hayworth and Dinah Shore visited here as well as Queen Elizabeth. Crosby came here often for the golf and wildlife viewing opportunities.

Perhaps you won’t see as many wild critters today as in the past because a new wildlife corridor has been erected to protect the elk, especially in the calving season. In the years past you would see plenty of elk grazing on the fairways and bears used to swing in the trees and paw at the spewing sprinklers. Today you still might see a raven sweep down on the wide fairways, lined with aspen, firs and pines, and steal your golf ball.

For sure, you will have an experience with nature and hear the cawing of the ravens in the silence of an early-morning tee time.

“There are times,” said Kelli Fry, Jasper Park Lodge’s head pro, “back around Nos. 3 and 4, when I think maybe I’m disrupting the peace and quiet with conversation. Enjoying the wildlife and the natural setting is important here and a highlight for many golfers is hearing the loons on Lac Beauvert early in the morning.”

Concentrating on golf might be your biggest challenge at Jasper Park Lodge.

“I think the Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club is one of the classic golf courses of all time,” said Kevin Toth, General Manager. “It was a monumental undertaking in 1924 when 50 teams of horses and 200 men had to clear the site of timber and rocks and it became a classic the day it opened in 1925.

“I think Thompson was more an artist than an architect,” Toth continued. “The course combines a wicked sense of humor designing the par-3 No. 9 as a curvaceous woman and naming it Cleopatra. He then patterned the bunkers after the snow formations on the mountains and constructed the mounds to take the same shapes of the distant mountains. Many of the holes line up with dominant peaks in the background.”

Legends of golf architecture agree. Alister MacKenzie, who designed such American classics as Augusta National, Cypress Point and Pasatiempo said: “Jasper Park is the best I’ve ever seen.”

Thompson had a penchant for placing traps in the path of average golfers and he’d probably be upset that today’s low-handicappers with superior equipment can just fly over these obstacles that jut out into the fairways. One such bunker is on No. 5, the 480-yard par 5 and the restoration of a bunker on the left side of the No. 10 fairway, another par 5.

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“Putting those original bunkers back on the course has made them great holes again,” said Director of Golf Alan Carter. “They are vital, making the fifth a valid par 5, and No. 10 a three-shot hole for all but the biggest hitters.”

The par-3 beauties at JPL are big-time tests. The Cleopatra hole is an 80-foot drop downhill 231-yard scenic test framed by Pyramid Peak far in the distance. Depth perception might puzzle you. But the real talk about this hole centers on its visual appearance. For years people have seen the form of a shapely woman in its mounds and bunkers. Legend says Thompson was owed money and built the shape on purpose. When the owners demanded a change, citing the embarrassment such a sight would cause, Thompson refused until his payment was received.

Your eyes grow bigger as you reach the 14th, the beginning of a three-hole tour around a peninsula which protrudes out into Lac Beauvert. This 361-yard par 4 presents you with a tee shot over the lake to a fairway angling left.

If you can stroke an easy draw 210 yards with a 3-metal you will have a short iron to an elevated green. Miss it left and you are in the lake, miss it right and it’s a tough up-and-down, but many will come up short, not taking into account the elevated green.

No. 15, Bad Baby, looks so easy from the tee at only 138 yards. But pro advice says ignore the flag and aim for the center of the green, leaving a relatively short putt. The green slopes from back to front and putts moves left to right. Could Thompson have been inspired by Royal Troon's Postage Stamp?

The most attractive hole once you get to the green might be No. 16, The Bay, a 380-yard par 4, with a view of the lodge in the distance. It’s blind, but just go for the center of the fairway. If you miss left you could end up in the water. Too far right and you may be blocked by trees. The second shot has to land on the right side of the green because the lake cuts into the fairway on the left and the ball will bounce left. It’s a difficult green to putt because of the slope from back to front. If you score well on this hole you love it. If you register a double bogey you hate it.

Conditions: A
Layout: A
Service: A
Practice Fac.: A
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: A-
Pace of Play: A
Resort Hotel: A
Scenery: A
Value: A-
Overall Rating: A

“It’s a very playable course,” said Fry, one of only 13 female pros in Alberta. “You can score well here and it’s very fair. Take No. 15 for example, Bad Baby, you can make birdie or double bogey.”

The restored Jasper Park Lodge course measures only 6,663 yards at par 71, but anyone who plays it will be challenged and impressed. The area at 3,300 elevation is lower than Banff, thus allowing a longer golf season, even though Jasper is farther north.

History: On July 17, 1925, Earl Haig, Commander in Chief of the British forces in World War I and a former Captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, officially opened the golf course.

When Thompson died in 1952 many believe he passed his legacy to his protégé and partner Robert Trent Jones. The elder Jones continued to design great golf courses that mirrored many of Thompson’s artistic visions. Later in life Jones Sr. also tutored one of Canada’s modern-day renowned architects -- Les Furber, who designed Canmore’s SilverTip.