When you think about golf in the mountainous regions of western Canada, the first thing that comes to mind is the undeniable beauty and uniqueness of the experience. The second thing, most likely, is cost. Some of the most well-known golf courses set amongst Canadian mountain landscapes, such as Jasper Park Lodge and Banff Springs, can leave your wallet feeling frail. This makes it tough for these courses to become a regular destination for most of us mortals.
Luckily, the game of golf presents us with an array of options, including different styles of architecture, settings, and a wide range of pricing to satisfy all tastes and budgets as we travel and experience the game in different ways.
One of my latest experiences was aimed to seek out the scenic value in the Kootenay region of British Columbia. This region features seven golf courses sprinkled around the charming towns of Kimberley and Cranbrook nestled between the Purcell and Rocky Mountain ranges. All seven of their golf courses are within a 24-minute drive of each other, which makes it a perfect spot for a filthy golf trip.
Luke Elvy, whose silky Australian accent you may recognize from CBS golf broadcasts, assembled a dream team to play all seven golf courses over a four-night stay to see what golf in the Kootenay region is all about. In addition to Luke and myself, epic golf course photographer, Patrick Koenig, and Instagram sensation, Tisha Alyn, rounded out the foursome.
We called the rental condos at Northstar Mountain Village home for our four-night sojourn in the Kootenay region. A ski resort in the winter, our evening arrival at this rustic mountaintop village set the tone for a unique golf trip. With a private hot tub on each balcony (which I utilized each morning to limber up my rig), a spacious living area with fireplace, and a fully stocked kitchen, it was the perfect gathering place to start and end big days on the golf course. After a few beers and heavy golf talk to break the ice our first evening, we called it a night relatively early in anticipation of a big week ahead.
We got aggressive with our itinerary and took in two courses per day for three straight days, and one on our departure day to tackle all seven. Definitely doable for the hardcore golf group who wants to pack in a lot during a short period, or this could also be spread out over a week-long extravaganza.
The seven courses provide an impressive variety to choose from and deliver consistent value. During peak rates, only one of the golf courses exceeds a cost of $100 when you include the cost of a cart. Below is a quick lowdown of the seven golf courses from least expensive to most expensive during peak rates (cart fee included):
Cranbrook Golf Club – $75
Built in 1951, Cranbrook is a very walkable layout, which always scores extra points with me. So feel free to save yourself $17 and get a little exercise here. Cranbrook is a mature parkland layout where what you see is what you get. No gimmicks, just fun and approachable golf for all skill levels.
Cranbrook was our second round of the day on Day 2, so we switched things up here and played a 3-club challenge. It came down to Patrick and Luke in a heated playoff, where Luke canned a 20-footer with his wedge for the win and left Patrick devastated.
Kimberley Golf Club – $75
Built back in 1921, Kimberley was perhaps the biggest surprise of our trip, with a unique hybrid of mountain golf and parkland-style holes to provide variety to your round. To enhance your day, make sure to pop in and say hi to legendary head pro, Simon Jones. This was our first stop on the trip, and while it served as our warm-up round, it’s certainly worth fitting into any itinerary. Another walkable layout, which is cool.
Bootleg Gap – $84.50
Technically the “local muni” but feels like anything but. Designed by Les Furber, the layout at Bootleg is a tale of two nines. The opening nine is walkable and starts out very open before transitioning into the forested back-nine, which features a more dramatic, mountain-golf experience. Bootleg is a common favourite among regular visitors to the area and also features a “Rec 9” course, which is excellent for beginners, kids, or people who only have time to squeeze in a quick nine.
Bootleg was played on Day 3 of our trip, and it was time for Patrick and me to team up for the first time against Luke and Tish. We were such heavy betting favourites that the night before, after a few Moscow Mules, Luke somehow negotiated a 7-up lead to start the match. Patrick and I learned our lesson, and that was the first and only “7-UP CUP” that will be contested.
St. Eugene Golf Resort and Casino – $95
Another Les Furber design, St. Eugene, is a diverse layout that starts and ends on the open valley floor. It takes you on a ride through the forest, over undulating terrain, and alongside the St. Mary’s river through the middle portion of the round. Add in two restaurants, a great patio, a resort, and casino, St. Eugene is an excellent addition to a bigger itinerary, or can serve as a one-stop-shop for a quick weekend getaway.
Wildstone Golf Course – $97.50
The only Gary Player design in Canada, Wildstone has a very distinct feel. The mountains are ever-present in the backdrop, but unlike several of the others, this isn’t a mountain golf course. The undulating fairways, unique bunkering, massive and challenging greens, and impeccable conditioning are what stand out most. I enjoy the variety at Wildstone, from a driveable par-4, both short and long par-3’s, and some gettable par-5’s, it’s hard not to have a good time here. They will also be the first to tell you that they are very proud of their driving range!
Wildstone was also the setting for one of the biggest near-collapses in the history of golf in Canada (this fact still to be confirmed). Tish and I were partners this day, and after a dismal start where we found ourselves 6-down early, we stormed back to even the match late on the back-nine. Somehow, Patrick and Luke managed to unpin themselves from the ropes and squeeze out a victory and avoided being etched into Canadian golf history in the worst possible way.
Shadow Mountain – $99
Shadow might be the most exciting and dramatic courses on the roster, and definitely one of my favourites. While certainly a bit penal for the higher handicap player, I love the contours, rugged bunkering, and elevation changes offered at Shadow. We played Shadow on a rainy morning, and both the course and the experience held up well under challenging conditions.
It was unanimous that we all wanted another crack at Shadow, and it was too bad we didn’t get to play Shadow in the beautiful weather we experienced the other courses in. It’s the kind of place that’ll make you feel uncomfortable the first time around until you learn there is typically more room out there than it may look like from the tee. It’s always nice to have an excuse to go back.
Trickle Creek – $109
Another Les Furber design, Trickle Creek, is a rugged mountain golf experience carved through the dense forest. You won’t find many even lies at Trickle, and the routing capitalizes on several elevation changes well. A bit of tree management on a few of the narrower corridors would bring an intriguing layout to the next level.
Trickle Creek has commonly been ranked or voted the “top” course in the area by other publications, but that wasn’t unanimous in our group. That’s one of the cool things about destinations with this much golf to experience in close proximity, is that everyone will have their own rankings and favourites. It makes for interesting subjective debate over post-round beers. Variety is king!
This golf trip ticked all the boxes — fun golf, beautiful vistas, options/variety, great accommodation and killer value all within close proximity. Of course, having a super fun group to play with adds to any golf experience. With Kimberley and Cranbrook’s down-to-earth vibe, it’s easy to head straight out for dinner in your golf clothes (The Old Bauernhaus Restaurant has my highest recommendation), or pop into one of the local coffee shops or brewpubs between rounds.
To get even more value out of your trip to Kimberley/Cranbrook, you can find specials through Golf Kimberley-Cranbrook, watch for shoulder season promotions, or take advantage of afternoon and twilight rates when booking your itinerary.
I would make this trip over again in a heartbeat.
A special thanks to Luke Elvy for being our ‘golf trip Dad’ and keeping us all fed and watered back at the condo, and to Tourism Kimberley and all of their fun golf courses for hosting us.