July 28 2011
by Justin Brisbane, Rocky Mountain Outlook
The long and storied history of the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course has close ties to the emergence of Banff as a massive tourism destination.
From meager beginnings, it quickly became a course of note, attracting royalty and celebrities to its greens.
“It was nothing to start with and was only nine holes,” said long-time Banff golfer Eddie Hunter. “It was a pretty crumby looking course. But Bill Thomson was behind it. His energy got everything going. He created a community feeling to it, but it was meant for society types.”
However, it emerged into the crown jewel of Canadian golf and played a big role in Banff’s business community.
“It meant a lot to the business people and from the start there was a commitment for local representation,” Hunter said.
By 1910, when Parks Canada came into existence, Banff was the most famous Canadian destination in the world and Thomson was the man chosen to design its signature nine-hole golf course.
At the time, according to Banff Springs Golf Club Celebrating 100 Years author Ted Hart, Banff was still swaths of remote wilderness. Banff Avenue was a rough and unpaved trail and the Banff Springs Hotel and Cave and Basin were still burgeoning new attractions.
Thomson previously worked as a golf pro in Winnipeg before arriving in Banff, and the Scottish expatriate apprenticed under Tom Morris from St. Andrews in Scotland before coming to Canada.
Inspired by the landscape, he set out to weave the course between the valleys and glacial ponds near the grand hotel. It soon became the first golf course in the world that cost more than $1 million to build.
Opening day featured sand greens, since flooding had hampered much of the construction effort. However, on July 15, 1911, A.M. McMahon drove the first ball off the opening tee.
Initially, between 20 and 30 people a day were found on the nine-hole course and the following year the sand greens were replaced with proper turf. Thomson himself had the early course record, shooting a 32.
Donald Ross expanded the course to 18 holes and the federal government purchased the course in 1917 before it was expanded to 18 holes – thanks in part to the work of several ‘interned aliens’ forced to work at gunpoint who had been housed in internment camps near Castle Mountain. By 1917, more than 2,000 golfers per season were using the course and memberships cost $15 for the season.
In 1927, Stanley Thompson created the current layout, which pays homage to links courses while emphasizing the mountains on each hole. The influential golf course designer is credited with creating about 125 courses – 100 in Canada – and wanted “each tee to present a different picture of some vast mountain snow peak.”
The approximate pin placement still lies up with the surrounding peaks, which act as a guide for the golfer and Thompson created several holes that are still classics today.
His par 3 ‘Devil’s Cauldron’ was voted one of the best golf holes on the planet in 2000.
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