The Fairmont Banff Springs looks like a castle set on a cliff and features 768 rooms.
if Jason Zuback, the one-time pharmacist who has won a record five RE/MAX World Long Drive Championships, hadn't ended up a long-drive competitor, Hollywood most certainly would have made him one. Built like a stocky circus strongman and possessing a whipsaw-like swing that makes it look as if he's competing in the Olympic hammer throw, Zuback routinely hits 400-yard drives and once broke the record for the longest drive in the world finals by some 50 yards. But one of his favorite drives is through the Canadian Rockies of his native Alberta, where the peaks can be more than two miles high and the drives (his, anyway) can seem nearly that long.
"There's nothing like mountain golf," says Zuback, who likes a trip that takes you northwest from his home of Calgary to Banff and Jasper. "When you're up there and it's all pines as far as you can see and you follow your drive framed up against the mountains, it's a pretty cool golf experience. On the right day, you feel like you can reach any of the par 4s."
You can play some great golf when you land in Calgary (Heritage Pointe
is my home course), but save your energy for the mountains. Canmore is about a 1½-hour ride from the Calgary airport on your way to Jasper. There, you'll find Stewart Creek G&CC and Silvertip Resort, two stunning layouts with mountain views of the Three Sisters Range. I did an exhibition for Stewart Creek's opening day in 2000, and though I liked smashing tee shots for the crowd, I had more fun just playing the course.
Newer layouts such as Stewart Creek and nearby Silvertip seem full of holes that play like theme-park thrill rides (Silvertip's 18 has a Slope Rating of 153), but farther north are a pair of Stanley Thompson classics in Banff and Jasper that are in their eighth decade and remain as bouncy and hair-raising as the most legendary wood rollercoasters. Thompson is the grandfather of Canadian golf-course architecture, and his classic bunkers grab almost as much of your attention as the spectacular views from every tee box.
WHERE TO STAY
The Thompson courses are part of Fairmont resorts at Banff and Jasper, and if I had to pick one, well, I wouldn't. The Fairmont Banff Springs looks like a castle set on a cliff and features 768 rooms, and the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge offers the option of several luxury cabins, including the 7,075-square-foot, eight-bedroom Milligan Manor over- looking the first fairway.
You'll have to adjust your game to altitude, not just for extra distance but also for increased fatigue. One way to fight it is to eat well, particularly with a good breakfast. In Banff, go for the pancakes at Melissa's or the back bacon- stuffed French toast at Coyotes. For dinner the views from the patio at the Iron Goat Pub & Grill in Canmore are a great way to end the day. In Banff, if you're after something casual, try the province's best fondue at the Grizzly House, or if you want a formal dinner with a great wine list, The Banffshire Club in the hotel is exceptional. When I'm in Jasper, I like the laid-back atmosphere at Evil Dave's Grill in the park or the Moose's Nook at the Lodge.
The drive from Calgary to Jasper can be exhilarating all by itself, but make sure you get out of the car. Take a walk on the Athabasca Glacier, a tongue of the Columbia Icefields stretching nearly four miles, or ride the Banff Gondola and see six mountain ranges. North of Jasper are the Miette Hot Springs, where the hearty can alternate between a long soak in a 104-degree pool and a quick dip in a 45-degree pool. In Canada, we like our extremes.