From the Archives: This travel story by Ian Cruickshank appeared in Fairways Magazine in 2010.
Perry Cooper looks like a golf course superintendent. Years of rolling out of bed for 5 AM starts and then fueling up with heavy doses of coffee and the occasional cigar have given him a permanently rumpled look. But the years drop away when he starts talking about his golf course. After more than 20 years as the head grass grower at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Perry is still as passionate as a teenager in the throes of a first high school crush. The man they call `Coop’ treats every fairway and green like a first born child and is one of the reasons that Jasper is perennially rated as the number one golf resort in Canada.
I teed it up with Perry the last time I made the pilgrimage to Jasper. On the drive from the Edmonton airport, I realized again that one of Jasper’s greatest strengths is its isolation. It’s about three and half hours west of the Alberta capital and four and half north of Calgary. It’s ringed by stunning mountains, a glittering glacial lake and is crammed with more critters than a Beverly Hillbillies episode. In fact, just after we whacked it off the first tee, a family of coyotes suddenly busted up the silence with a chilling chorus. To paraphrase Leonard Cohen, it was like a midnight choir of drunks howling at a full moon.
By the second hole, the short par 5 that is almost swallowed up by the scenery – the jagged, Old Man summit runs across the horizon – Perry started talking about Stan. The Stan in question is Stanley Thompson, the iconic Canadian golf course architect who is the benchmark by which all other Canadian architects are measured. Thompson has been dead for over 55 years but his impact is so strong that it sometimes feels like he’s just stepped inside the clubhouse for a wee dram.
“Stan walked this property for about 3 or 4 months, routing the course and picking out over 100 par 3 green sites. Once he got those, away he went,” says the superintendent.
Thompson designed Jasper in 1925 for CN Railway, using a crew of 200 labourers and 50 teams of horses. The first nine holes were officially launched on July17th with the second nine opening in 1926. The course was opened by Field Marshall Earl Haig, head of the British Army during WW I and Jasper was an immediate hit, changing Thompson’s life forever. He was suddenly vaulted from being a talented designer to one of the game’s top architects. Within the next five years, he designed both Banff and St. George’s (then known as the Royal York GC) for Canadian Pacific.
Jasper features all of the trademark touches that Thompson would become famous for – shaggy bunkers, topsy-turvy fairways, a mix of very short and very long par 3’s, and a unique way of pulling the beauty of the surrounding landscape into the design. The 14th is a 361 yard par-4 that doglegs and then rises above the banks of Lac Beauvert. The glacial sheen of the turquoise coloured water reflects the lineup of peaks that jut up behind the lodge. As we were about to hit, a couple stopped and watched as I pushed a peg into the tee. Maybe it was the scenery or maybe the gallery but I skulled it straight into the water. They gasped as if I’d drawn a moustache on the Mona Lisa, desecrating some perfect painting.
Thompson would have smiled, he had a sharp sense of humour. The 9th hole is a 231 yard par 3 that plays straight downhill, with the grand Pyramid Mountain filling the horizon. Inspired by the stunning scenery, Thompson named the hole Cleopatra after the legendary Egyptian beauty. He even configured the bunkers, bumps and mounds to resemble the buxom body of the Queen of the Nile. Unfortunately, the hierarchy at CN thought it was a little too cheeky and insisted that the designer smooth out the voluptuous contours.
As Coop and I wandered down the final hole, a stirring par 4 that curls down towards the clubhouse, we talked about the famous names that have played Jasper, from Bing Crosby to Bill Gates.
“Alister Mackenzie was here too,” says Perry, “Before he designed Augusta with Bobby Jones. He was a big fan of Stan’s and of Jasper.”
Aren’t we all?