KANANASKIS, Alberta - From the fourth tee box of the Kananaskis Country Golf Course's Mt. Kidd design (one of two 18-hole courses here) in the Canadian Rockies of Alberta, it's clear to see that No. 4 is one of the layout's best holes.
It's an elevated tee shot to a green set between two mountains in the distance. The gurgling Kananaskis River runs along the right side.
It feels like part Rockies, part Florida - without the humidity.
"We've been using photos of the fourth more and more for marketing," noted Bob Paley, head professional at Kananaskis, about an hour drive from Banff Springs in the heart of the Canadian Rockies.
Another charmer is the Mt. Lorette design's sixth hole, a gorgeous, water-heavy par 3 with its own dramatic mountain backdrop.
After about two minutes of debating whether No. 4 warranted a "signature" standing, a grizzly bear and cub waded across the Kananaskis River and onto the right side of the hole, sniffing out the bunker and wandering around the edge of the golf course.
Evidently, the bear and cub had been wandering (peacefully) around the course for the last two weeks. Score one point for No. 4 earning "signature" status.
The grizzly sighting was thanks in part to Robert Trent Jones Sr.'s recommendation to move the golf course from its originally intended location on the other side of the valley. When Jones took a helicopter tour of the area before construction, he said they had found the wrong place for the golf course. When he saw the opposite side of the valley, he noticed the river and better mountain backdrops and urged them to let him build there.
Thankfully, the Canadian government, which owned the land, obliged, and here we are today, watching the grizzly bears wander downstream from the Mt. Kidd's fourth tee.
Kananaskis Country Golf Course a local favorite
Kananaskis Country Golf Course's Mt. Kidd and Mt. Lorette layouts are both named after the mountain peaks that dominate their backgrounds. Both measure up to a championship standard with four sets of tees, the back sets playing more than 7,000 yards. Mt. Lorette has a reputation for being more water-heavy and more of a shot-makers golf course, while Mt. Kidd is a bit friendlier to the wayward shot.
While the masses come to Banff Springs from all over the world, Kananaskis is lesser known, and it's closer to Calgary, about an hour's drive, making it more popular with locals, especially with its affordable prices. Peak season rates are $90 for 18 holes, a bit cheaper than Banff Springs, Stewart Creek and Silvertip. Alberta residents pay just $70.
That said, you'd be well advised to book in advance here, as tee sheets stay pretty full. For the money, Kananaskis is the top golfing value in Alberta's Canadian Rockies.
Kananaskis Helicopter Tours
To get a bird's eye view of Kananaskis and the Rockies, do like RTJ Sr. and head up, up, up with a helicopter tour.
Kananaskis Heli Tours (kheli.com) does everything from mountain fly-overs to packages that include hiking and picnics. The pilots talk to you through your headphones the entire time, providing educational information while easing nerves. Soaring over these jagged mountain peaks will make your stomach sink at least once.
Stay-and-play: Delta Lodge at Kananaskis
Kananaskis hosted the skiing venues during the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. To house the athletes, the Kananaskis Village was built. Today it's the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis, a mountain resort set in heavy forest.
Comprising three buildings all next door to each other, the village features a mix of shops, restaurants and bars, as well as numerous outdoor activities, from white water rafting to horseback riding and fishing expeditions.
On site, dining and bar options are numerous. Enjoy a drink and billiards at Woody's Lounge, fine Italian dining at Grappa or a steak at Seasons Steakhouse. A visit to Alberta is not complete until you've had a big cut of tender, red meat. They know how to raise cattle around these parts.
The Delta Lodge also offers golf packages with the spectacular Silvertip Golf Resort in Canmore and next-door Kananaskis Country Golf Course.