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Wampum

Written by Andrew Penner

If you had to choose one hole, one view, to put on a poster celebrating Canadian golf, which hole would you choose? From Newfoundland to Vancouver Island, there are many iconic holes in Canada that could be considered. But for many golf aficionados in our country, the answer would be easy: the 14thhole at the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course – Wampum.

Designed by Stanley Thompson in 1928, the tough-as-nails 14thon the famous layout has it all. A par-4 that tips out at 440 yards, it is, without a doubt, a beautiful summation of what golf in the Canadian Rockies is all about. And it’s a quintessential hole – a poster child! – in Canadian golf.

The historic, castle-like fortress of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel rising on the ridge high above the green, undoubtedly, is the hole’s most potent attribute. However, with the thundering cascade of Bow Falls on the right, the gently-bending pine-lined playing corridor, and the exceptional architectural characteristics of the hole, including an artistic swarm of ragged bunkers left and right of the green, there are many aspects of the hole that make it a true gem. And with all that eye candy – not to mention the intense challenges it presents – playing Wampum is alwayshighly memorable.

Originally the closing hole on the classic “Golden Age” layout, the 14this still, for many, the pinnacle of the round. True, the sublime “Devil’s Cauldron,” the par-3 4th, may get more love from the scribes and photographers. That’s understandable. It’s been considered one of the world’s great par-3s for 90 years. When you consider the stunning setting of that hole – the emerald pond, the natural bowl that cradles the green, the clutch of bunkers – it’s hard to downplay the significance, the near perfection, of “the Cauldron.”

However, as awesome as the 4this, the regal 14th, arguably, packs a more powerful punch. It’s the hole that gathers together all the key ingredients that make this Stanley Thompson course – the first course in history to cost one million dollars to build – a true Canadian icon, a masterpiece in global golf.

The location of the 14th(and, remember, this was Thompson’s “grand finale” in the original route) is, obviously, the key to its success. “When Thompson was commissioned to build the course in 1928 there was a campground in this location,” says Steve Young, Banff’s Director of Golf. “But Thompson fought tooth and nail with Parks Canada to move the campground so this hole could be built. Long story short, he got his wish.”

In fact, in the end, moving the campground opened the door for a handful of “new” holes to be built, including, of course, his ideal closing run along the river and the storied opening hole (now the 15th) on an aerie ledge adjacent the hotel. Not surprisingly, given the affection many people still have for the original routing, the course regularly pays homage to Thompson’s original vision by offering the “Heritage Golf Experience” each year.   

Not surprisingly, along with the compelling creation of this great hole, which is called “Wampum”, are many great moments throughout its long-running history. Fittingly, in the 2006 Canadian Skins Game – the contestants were Stephen Ames, John Daly, Greg Norman, Sergio Garcia, and Jack Nicklaus – the course was played in the original routing. For everyone on hand, a lasting memory of this exhibition was watching the great Jack Nicklaus, in one of his final competitive appearances, stroll up the 14thwith the soaring Rockies and the grand hotel in the background. 

And, long before that, during the filming of River of No Return in 1953, the most famous actress of the time, Marilyn Monroe, strolled the fairways of Banff and filmed a scene near the 14thhole. (She made costume changes in an old building adjacent the 14thfairway – the building is gone but the foundation is still visible). Numerous other famous people – Joe DiMaggio, Bob Hope, Clint Eastwood, Henry Fonda, Bing Crosby, Bobby Locke and Winston Churchill, to name just a few – have also strolled down the 14thfairway and, no doubt, been “wowed” by the surreal beauty. 

Regardless of how well you play the hole, Thompson’s exquisite shaping and powerful vision for the conclusion of the round is still the pinnacle of the golf experience at Banff. And, whether it’s a bogey or a birdie (or something in that vicinity), rest assured, the grand beauty here – punctuated by the majestic “Castle of the Rockies” looming high above – will be a rich reminder of where your good fortune has brought you.


Wampum

This article was originally published in the 2018 edition of The Alberta Golfer Magazine. To view the full magazine, click here.

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