Very few golf courses in Canada have been praised throughout history as much as Jasper Park. Some of the game’s greatest architects rave about Stanley Thompson’s first masterpiece. George Thomas (Riviera and Los Angeles Country Club) called Jasper Park one of his favourites and Dr. Alister Mackenzie (Cypress Point, Royal Melbourne and Augusta National) said about Jasper Park:
“It is by far the best inland course in Canada or the United States. It is just as good a test of golf as Pine Valley, but at the same time shares with The Old Course at St. Andrews the unusual characteristics of being equally pleasurable for the long handicap.”
Throughout this review I have included commentary from Dr. Alister Mackenzie.
Beginning with the first hole, Dr. Alister Mackenzie wrote this:
“It might have been better if the green had been placed 20 yards short of the existing position so that the surface would have been more visible. This, however, is a criticism which might give rise to a legitimate difference of opinion, as the suggested alteration would not give such a good length hole. I would suggest that the advantage of playing one tee shot to then left be still further accentuated by running a bunker diagonally across the right of the approach or by some other [?]. If a new bunker be made, it should be constructed in such a way that the bank helps the player who has placed his tee shot in the desired position.”
Like a good novel, Jasper Park starts with a relatively tame introduction and just enough detail to keep the golfer interested. At 391 yards, a bunker on the right takes up the majority of the fairway and Thompson asks the golfer to play short of it.
Those who do will likely have a semi-blind approach up to a green bowling in the middle right.
From the left side of the fairway you get a better view.
Of the second hole at Jasper, Mackenzie wrote:
“This is one of the great holes in golf. The only possible improvement I can suggest is that the right hand side of the tee shot bunker be extended diagonally towards the tee.”
The second is the first of many excellent holes at Jasper, and a short one: a 488-yard par 5 playing downhill. What makes Jasper so interesting is the notion of par not existing. There are two par 5’s that are closer to a par 4.5, two par 3’s over 230 yards, a par 5 over 600, and two long par 4’s.
Like many other Golden Age golf courses, the fairway contouring is absolutely brilliant, essentially splitting the hole into an upper left and lower right section.
There’s a single bunker on the right around 150 yards from the green, really only in play if you have to pitch it out after missing the fairway, and the massive green side bunker, which stretches back some 70 yards from the middle.
Right of the bunker allows the golfer to bail out a bit and use the ground to usher the ball towards the centre. The green’s right side is canted towards the middle, while the left flattens out and even moves a bit to the middle.
Dr. Mackenzie on the third hole:
[Note that the above changes have been implemented since Dr. Mackenzie visited]
“This is also a magnificent hole from the present tee. It would still be further improved by cutting down the second row of somewhat scraggy trees in that the long driver may gain a great advantage attempting the heroic carry over the first clump of trees. The bank on the approach to the green should be mown so as to create a similar type of approach to that on some of the holes at The Old Course at St. Andrews. This will help teach players the pitch and run shot, a shot which few if any North American golfers are able to do.”
The third is the first of the difficult holes at Jasper, and an intimidating one for first (or second) time visitors. At 454 yards, it’s a longer par 4, playing over a ridge. The tee shot is blind, and the line is much more right than you think.
Cresting over the hill, you’re welcomed to the meat of the golf course with a wonderful view of the green benched into the hillside.
The tee shot actually plays a bit downhill, but from where golf balls end up now, it’s back up towards the green. Well-guarded, this green is one of the prettiest green sites in the country.
Dr. Mackenzie’s thoughts on the fourth:
“This is one of the most perfect holes of its length in existence. The suggested extension of the bunker on the left will still further improve it.”
The fourth is no pushover. At 240 yards, this par 3 plays straight into the teeth of the wind.
Alister Mackenzie kept it short with his summary on the fifth:
“The tee shot bunker is splendidly placed.”
Thankfully, after two difficult holes, Jasper eases you back into the round with a 480-yard par 5. A single bunker in the middle of the fairway is in play on a mishit from the back deck, and another left is also in play. Originally, this was actually a par 4 at 430 yards — imagine that three hole stretch.
From there, the layup, if you elect to layup, features a single bunker on the left. For those going for the green in two, a bunker complex short of the front edge awaits and the back side of the green is beautifully bunkered.
The green complex has some wonderful movement.
Here are Dr. Mackenzie comments on the sixth:
“I would suggest that the fairway be extended towards the open space on the right so as to encourage the bold player to bite off as much of the trees as he can. I would also suggest that the bunker on the left of the green be extended diagonally part of the way across the face, but constructed in such manner that the bank helps the golfer who has placed his tee shot to the right.”
The sixth is a deceiving hole playing only 393 yards. It moves gently up the hill to the right with the outside corner on the left bunkered heavily.
You can see some of the bunkering, which Thompson built to separate the sixth and 10th holes.
The approach is a club uphill although it doesn’t really look like it. There’s good movement in the green, which is the main defense here, as well as bunkering left and long.
Mackenzie’s comments on the seventh say:
“This is extremely difficult but not the best of the short holes. There is too much dead ground in front of the green.”
The seventh is one of the most under-appreciated holes at Jasper. Perhaps it’s because the par 3’s here are so strong. At 178 yards, it plays roughly a full club uphill with a single bunker on the left. The green narrows in the back, but a massive false front awaits as well.
A closer look at what awaits short.
Dr. Mackenzie praised the lack of bunkering on the eighth:
“In spite of the fact that the second shot is blind, this is an excellent dog-legged hole. The contours are splendid—I do not think any bunkers will improve it. The dip in front of the green might be modified and cut closely with the mowing machine.”
Jasper Park Lodge has the distinct honour of being home to three of the most interesting bunker-less par 4’s I’ve ever seen. The first of those holes comes at the 427-yard par 4 eighth. With the fairway sloping hard to the left, the golfer almost plays through the uprights of the mountainous terrain. Those who challenge the right might get a flatter lie, but perhaps a blind look in. Down the left you’ll have an uphill lie and a look at the green, as long as you don’t go too far left. In the summer, the really long hitters can likely get it past these hillocks on the fly.
The approach is quite nice too, with the green angled at 45 degrees. You can barely see the flag on the right side, which is a far-right pin. Anything on the left has to negotiate the depression short.
Dr. Mackenzie wrote of the ninth:
[Dr. Mackenzie provided a sketch with recommended changes, which were later implemented, and the hole now plays very similar to his recommendations, which you can see at the bottom of this post]
“This hole is difficult but at present is not ideal. The best one shot holes are those which give alternative ways of playing them.”
The ninth is another lovely par 3 at 231 yards, but plays drastically shorter with the elevation change. Named “Cleopatra,” Thompson initially shaped this hole to look like a curvy woman before Sir Harry Thornton, head of the Canadian National Railway, saw the shapes and demanded it be changed.
This hole is among the world’s most strategic long par 3’s because of the multiple routes by which you can access the green. Most golfers will try and fly the ball directly to the green, but around the sides and back it falls off some 30 feet into bunkers surrounding the hole. The line over the right bunker actually guides the ball towards the green, making for a safer route. Of course, there’s two bunkers you still have to avoid, but if you don’t have a club to fly it all the way there—or do not want to—it is a great way to feed the ball all the way down.
For reference, here’s the left side of the green with a nasty fall off to the bunkers.
And from the fifth fairway you get a look at the green perched up above its surroundings.
On the 10th Mackenzie would say very little:
“Magnificent—I suggest it be left alone.”
Making the turn another short par 5 awaits the golfer. The 10th is a 492-yard dogleg left with a maze of bunkering (of course, the hole is named ‘Maze’).
After successfully avoiding the “Octopus” bunker on the outside corner, the golfer turns back up a hill. Given the short yardage, this is a good hole to make up a stroke or two.
A single bunker cuts into the fairway from the left, but the front of the green is wide open allowing for running shots for those trying to get home in two. There’s also a wonderful back spine in the green that can make back pins a lot of fun.
When it comes to the 11th Alister Mackenzie wrote:
“Give a great advantage to the golfer who carries the tee shot bunker by extending the green guarding bunker on the right diagonally towards the tee and banking it up on the left hand side.”
The 11th is one of the prettiest golf holes at Jasper, and that’s saying a lot. At 403 yards, this straight away par 4 is all in front of you. For the tee shot, a bunker 190 or so yards serves mainly to frame the hole these days, while a bunker on the right is more in play at about 300 yards from the back tee.
The green complex is wonderfully framed by bunkering left, right, and behind. The bunkering behind is supposed to mimic Pyramid Mountain in the distance, but we played on a cloudy day.
This is also one of the more aggressive green complexes on the golf course, with a gentle swale in front of the green, and a ton of movement towards the front left.
Dr. Mackenzie kept it short with his comments of the 12th:
Heading away from the high point of the property, the par 3, 12th measures 181 yards to a built-up green. A bunker over the back akin to the ‘Devil’s Assh&!e’ bunker at Pine Valley awaits (although a less extreme version). A ridge divides the green into a left and right portion.
A closer look at the back bunker.
Dr. Mackenzie writes of the 13th:
“The undulations are excellent. Make a new bunker on the right of approach.”
The final par 5 on the golf course comes at the 13th, and it’s the longest by about a full pitching wedge for the average golfer. At 603 yards, it’s a monster, and plays over some of the most interesting terrain at Jasper. For the tee shot, anything left of the bunkers on the right side will be good.
As you trek over the hill, you see the wild terrain you play over—with no green in site.
For almost everyone who will be laying up, the play is right of the bunker cut atop the hill on the left. This will give you a view of the green behind the hillside.
The green complex is cut wonderfully behind the hill and is bunker-less. In the summer, this hole plays roughly 45 yards shorter as balls at the top will and can dribble down to the front edge.
Dr. Alister Mackenzie wrote only two words about the stretch of golf from the 14th-16th:
The 14th starts one of the great three hole stretches in golf, playing around Lac Beauvert. At 361 yards, it’s not overly long, but the lake comes into play on the left.
The wonderful nature of this bunker-less hole comes with the hard fairway tilt towards the lake, which provides a strategic decision: challenge the water (and trees) on the left for a flatter lie, or head up to the right (safer off the tee), but face a more right handed draw-biased lie going into the green. Take a look at the tilt below.
On the approach shot a hook lie is most common coming into a green with the lake back in play on the left. Another wonderful strategic golf hole without a bunker and superb restraint from Thompson.
The 15th is the shortest par 3 on the golf course but is by far the trickiest hole on property. At just 138 yards, it’s a gentle looking hole. In fact, every play this hole gets harder and harder because you know what lurks ahead.
Short is no good.
Right is even worse.
The 16th is the third of the wonderful bunker-less holes, and another short one at 380 yards. The tee shot is a strategic masterpiece forcing golfers to take their medicine and have a semi-blind approach from the right side or challenge the left with the lake in play for an open view.
You get a sense of the Hog’s Back fairway in the photo below, which is hard to capture because the contours are much more extreme than they look.
The approach shot plays over a small inlet of Lac Beauvert, and the green slopes hard towards the front left with a ridge dividing the green into left and right portions. Short right provides a bail out as the topography will carry the ball down towards the green.
On the 17th Mackenzie suggested a new bunker on the left:
“I would suggest that a new bunker be made for the tee shot on the left, and that the bunker on the right of the green be extended diagonally towards the tee. This would make it essential to place the tee shot to the left to open up the hole.”
The 17th, wonderfully titled “Climber,” is another nice hole. A short par 4 measuring 360 yards, it plays quite a bit longer working as it works its way out of the low end of the property around Lac Beauvert. A single bunker on the right comes into play, and the best line to the green is from the right.
The green, gently angled to the left, has bunkers surrounding it except in the front.
From the bunker on the right, you can see down the gut of the green, as well as a nice view of Old Man Mountain as it began to clear up.
Jasper’s closing hole received wonderfully high praise from Mackenzie, who stated:
“The best finish in the World of Golf.”
The 18th hole is the longest par 4 on the golf course at 463 yards. Playing downhill and doglegging to the left, the Tiger line is up the left, while a more conservative line is over the two bunkers that are not in play cut into the hillside.
For those who bail out right, you’ll be met with a hanging lie down the hill. You can get a sense of the terrain below.
The approach shot is absolutely lovely with quite a few beautiful Thompson bunkers framing this green.
The green is dominated by a ridge running east-west splitting the green into a front and back portion.
Jasper Park is one of golf’s most special settings. Thankfully, Stanley Thompson rose to the occasion to deliver a golf course chock full of world-class golf holes. It’s a great walk and a wonderful trip back in time.
Full of quirk, challenge and variety, Jasper Park Lodge is one of the most fun golf courses in the country, and that creates a golf course you could play every day.