The first time I made a stop at JPL was in the fall of 2009, fresh out of high school. I was making a road trip from Edmonton to Vancouver, and was obligated to get in a round on the way. Jasper was the first Thompson layout I had seen, and despite the high acclaim I wasn't quite sure what to expect. What I experienced was a step back in time, into the world of an 85 year-old Canadian gem.
The simple yet spectacular entrance to Jasper Park Lodge
On my first visit, I had the good fortune (and priviledge) of being grouped with the head professional's wife. Not surprising, she had a reasonable amount of local knowledge, which made the day that much more enjoyable. I played during the first week of October, which added to the course's rugged mountain appearance.. despite being just 3 degrees (or about 37 for you Yanks).
A year later I made the trip out again, this time in late August. While the tempurature was much more pleasant, the course didn't have that 'mountainous edge' from a year before. I've included pictures from both trips, you'll likely notice the difference if you go back and forth over the pictures.
2nd tee "Old Man"
The first two holes are what one might expect from an old, mostly unlengthened golf course: rather short and not overly challenging. Hole #1 is a reasonably short par 4, with an uphill approach to a large green. The somewhat blind nature of the second shot is the only real defense. In contrast, the 2nd hole is a downhill par 5 playing to a smaller green. The pro's wife made note of the hole's name, "Old Man", and the mountain in the background for which it is named. Spot the face! As you can see, the hole (along with most on the course) is quite wide open. With a downhill tee-shot at elevation, I reached the par 5 in 2 with 7-irons both times I played. At this point of the first round I played at JPL, I was thinking: pretty, old golf course.. kind of easy and boring. Hard to see how such a benign track could be so highly ranked.
That opinion didn't last long as I reached the 3rd and 4th holes. The third is a long, tricky par 4 with a partially blind tee shot and an uphill approach to a small green perfectly tucked into the hillside.
Approach to the 3rd
As I came around the hill on #3 and snapped the photo seen above, I thought 'this is what a Stanley Thompson course looks like'. It instantly went from an overrated, outdated layout, to possibly my favorite in Canada. The next stretch of holes built on this feeling. #4 is the first par 3, and a stern test at that. At 240 yds from the tips, the 4th would've required a well struck driver when the course opened in 1925 (and still does for many golfers!). Luckily, I can draw a 3 iron a really long way. Regardless, it is an outstanding hole with a variety of options. There is room short of the green to allow a run-up shot, but a high shot from the elevated tee will also hold the green.
The par 3 fourth
The large bunker 75 yds short of the green is a recurring theme, which is hardly in play on many holes. However, it can play with the mind, making the hole appear more treacherous than it is.
The fifth is another down hill, reachable par 5, which has little defense to a lower handicap golfer (since the bunker in the middle of the fairway can be carried). This characteristic is completely forgiveable, as it is surely one of the most aestetically pleasing holes anywhere to be found.
The view from the 5th tee - early October
5th tee - late August
I'll take a minute here to make note of the aforementioned difference between playing JPL in summer and fall. As you can see from these two pictures taken less than a year apart, the impression of the course is very different at varying times of the year. The second picture, while beautifully set in the mountains, does not possess that rugged mountain-like quality of the first. I personally preferred the snow covered mountains and slightly browned rough, even if it was barely above freezing.
Climate aside, the hole also has a trademark Stanley Thompson trait: the greenside hills and bunkering. A ball in a bunker (particularly the back bunkers) will often lead to a down hill lie. These, along with a small green, provide the main defense of the hole.
The distinct mounds that frame the green were designed by Thompson to shadow the mountains in the backdrop. They too are a recurring theme; part of what makes Jasper special.
I understand that my descriptions of the first 5 holes has taken an entire golf course worth of writing and pictures, but it is just that good! There really is no boring stretch on the course, especially considering the scenery. That being said, for the sake of finishing this post today I won't include 2-3 pictures from each hole onward. If you want to see more, I have plenty, just post a quick response at the bottom!
Back to golf. The 6th is a gentle dogleg right, with a large target bunker straight ahead off the tee. A fairway wood to the generous fairway leaves a mid-short iron to a moderately flat green, protected by a few bunkers. It is not a world class hole as others may be, but it flows perfectly with the layout and takes nothing away from the course. The 7th is a mid-length par 3 that plays to a slightly plateaued green, guarded by one front-left bunker. Like the last hole, it is refreshingly simplistic. Certainly not the signature hole, but it compliments the rest.
The 8th tee at Jasper Park Lodge
The 8th hole is one of two bunkerless holes on the course, and in my opinion the most difficult at JPL. From the tips it only measures 427 yds, but unless you thread the needle through the gap ahead, it will play much longer (as well as blind). It doglegs to the right, as do many of the holes on the front nine. From this view above, the green is on line with the right-hand mountain peak, and is guarded by a deep depression on the left side, and tall grass to the right and back.
Likely the most famous hole at JPL, the par 3 9th hole is often considered the signature hole (if there is just one). It is also considered one of the best par 3's in Canada.. for good reason.
9th tee "Cleopatra"
At 231 yds (given it plays a few clubs shorter with the drop), the third par 3 on the front 9 is another hole with greater length than one would expect from a course nearly 90 years old. It plays over two large bunkers to a green that sits about 12 ft. above the ground from the left, right and back (pictured below). There is an interesting legend of how this hole earned its title. During the construction of JPL, Stanley Thompson had been short-paid for his work. His plan for vengeance: construct two large mounds on the right of this hole to resemble a "curvaceous woman lying on her back". In the 1920's this was extremely crude. Thompson was paid the remaining amount in order to do away with the design. He did so.. but the remnants of Cleopatra remain to this day.
Raised 9th green, seen from behind on the 5th fairway
Any shot left, right or long is a near certain bogey at best. If anyone thinks Pete Dye's 15 ft. deep bunker on the 16th hole "San Andreas Fault" at PGA West is an original, take a long look at this one. What a hole.
Hole 10 is a classic old style par 5 with hills and bunkers lining the suble dogleg left (a new trend on the back 9). At under 500 yds it is also reachable in 2. This brings to attention another interesting characteristic of the first 10 holes: the par 3's are much more difficult than the par 5's. While I usually consider 5's to be scoring holes, the contrast between 3's and 5's struck me. At some point, the par 5's are only 200 yds longer than par 3's (an example being the 4th hole which stretches to 240, and the 5th which plays 444 from the white tee). I found my scorecard containing a lot of 4s. That is, I birdied many of the par 5's, parred most par 4's, but did good to bogey many of the par 3's.
The 11th is a straight par 4 which plays in the same direction as "Cleopatra", and therefore has the same breathtaking backdrop. From an aerial perspective, it looks an exact mirror image of hole 1, but plays very different. The fairway bunker on the right side of #1 must be laid-up to, while the bunker on the left of #11 can be carried. The tee shot on 1 is flat with an uphill approach, while the tee shot on 11 is downhill with a flat approach.
As pictured above, the 11th green is also surrounded by dramatic mounds, which reflect the mountains in the distance.
The 12th hole is another mid-length par 3, with a reasonably large green. It is more exposed than other areas of the course, and I found that the wind can be a greater factor on the 12th tee than anywhere else on the course. I played this hole from the black tee (tips), as well as the blue/white tee, because the hole plays quite differently from both. Oddly enough, I found it more difficult from the forward tees because it forces a carry over 2 bunkers that are off to the side from the back tee. I almost wonder if the current blue tee was the original back tee. Anyone know for sure?
As I walked up to the 12th green, I encountered another surprise. Two black bears in the tree above. Such is the charm of Jasper Park Lodge.
The gallery, with a birdseye view of the 12th green
#13 is the without doubt the most daunting par 5 at just over 600 yds. Even better is the fact that this hole hasn't been lengthened.. it was born 600 yds in 1925. Although it is downhill and easily reachable in 3 shots, the partially blind approach to a small green ensures that no one will be getting off easy. It almost makes up for the previous par 5's (which I consider to be par 4 1/2) in terms of difficulty, but it is not overly penal. Just a really good tough par 5.
If the 9th is the signature hole, 14 surely is not far behind. The tee box on this short par 4 is a small extension of land which hangs out onto the glacial Lac Beauvert. It is almost impossible to focus on the task at hand when this is in your peripherals.
14th tee box
The tee shot plays back over the lake, to a sloped fairway that runs diagonally along the water's edge. It is the second of the two holes with no bunkers.. they would be completely unnecessary on this hole.
14th hole from tee
The green is visible through the gap in the trees to the left, but is out of reach for even the longest hitters. While the tee shot ahead seems straight forward, it is risk-reward because a shot threaded down the left will have a flat lie, while safe shots to the right will be on a side hill lie. I tried to play safe, but having been distracted by the view to the left I thinned my 5-wood. Luckily, it carried, and my soft lefty cut put me in perfect position. Sometimes you have to be lucky to be good.
Hole 15 is quite appropriately named "Bad Baby". At only 138 yds from the tips it is by far the shortest hole on the course; hence "baby". It also seems quite vulnerable from the tee; rather baby-like.
Par 3 fifteenth "Bad Baby" from the tee
Don't be fooled, this baby has teeth. Serious teeth. The green is about the size of a no-longer-in-production Canadian penny. There is no room for error. The left side runs down to the water, and the right practically falls off the earth. The hill partially blocking the back-right bunker gives the illusion of flat terrain to the right; far from reality. Like the 9th, any shot right of this green will end up about 12 ft. below the surface of the green, as pictured below... hence "BAD baby"... very bad baby.
Hidden crater to the right of the 15th green
The 16th tee is a good place to calm your emotions after taking a ridiculous number
on a 135 yd hole. A subtle dogleg left of 380 yds, with gently rolling hills and plenty of room to miss to the right. The approach shot reveals what was blind from the tee; an inlet of Lac Beauvert that must be carried on the second shot.
The approach to #16
Hole #17 is an uphill par 4 of 360 yds. It is one of my favorite holes at JPL, but for one reason or another I failed to capture a picture from the tee on both of my rounds. Probably just tickled at the amazing experience I was having. The fairway slopes severely from right to left, and a long, accurate drive up the hill is required to allow for a view of the green on the approach. The green is well protected by a few large bunkers on either side.
The 18th is a classic. A dramatic dogleg left par 4, over 100 yds longer than the previous hole. Despite its length, it plays mostly downhill, and a well positioned drive will run an extra 20-30 yds. The approach continues to fall down the hill, towards a narrow, well protected green.
The approach to #18
Upon visiting JPL after its opening in the 1920's, Alister Mackenzie said the finishing hole was the greatest he had ever seen. Quite high praise from someone who would go on to design Cypress, Augusta, Crystal Downs, and the famous group of Australian sandbelt courses.
I can't help but emphasize again how timeless this course is. There are hardly any changes that could enhance the layout that exists today. After a few hours alone on this masterpiece you'll be convinced the clocks have been turned back 80 years. The first round I played here was one my top 3 favorite rounds of golf I have ever played. The second wasn't so bad either! The mountains are far more spectacular than any of my pictures can do justice. My recommendation: if you're within a few hours of JPL and you have any interest in seeing the best Canada has to offer, stop in. Make it happen. It's that good.
'Til next time, keep your stick on the ice!
The Golfing Canuck