Golf architect Gary Browning – one of Canada’s most underrated designers – laid out the original 18-hole mountain course at Stewart Creek Golf & Country Club in Canmore, Alberta on a spectacular site adjacent to the Three Sisters mountain range.
Browning didn’t have his troubles to seek when constructing the course in the late 1990s as the project had to overcome a change of ownership as well as a number of environmental issues - and the fact that it was built over old coal mine workings didn’t exactly help matters either!
Nevertheless, the course was unveiled to the golfing public in 2000 as a relatively understated modern design featuring fewer than fifty carefully placed bunkers. And, as little soil was shifted during construction, it retains a natural, lie of the land look.
The long par four 4th plays to a pulpit green and it’s the favourite hole of many on a front nine that ends with a controversial short par four – some love the 9th for its quirkiness, others think it too contrived. On the inward half, the 11th is a tough three shot hole whilst the 294-yard 14th is a terrific short par four.
Stewart Creek’s routing allows its tree-lined fairways to rise and fall effortlessly over a rugged landscape – even though there are some substantial elevation changes along the way – resulting in a solid, unpretentious mountain golf track.
A second Browning design was started on land immediately to the west of Stewart Creek and, in the opinion of at least one inside source, the new Three Sisters Creek course had even more potential than its older sibling. Unfortunately the project has yet to complete.
Course architect Gary Browning kindly supplied the following article:
Stewart Creek was one of the most challenging design and construction assignments I have ever faced. Combine the fact that the course occupies a primary wildlife migratory corridor; that deposition ponds had to be built upstream of the course (on Stewart Creek) to intercept major debris that washes down the mountain every spring runoff; that the site is riddled with underground coal mines, dictating where we could or couldn't go; and you start to get a sense of the constraints we faced.
Construction timing and windows had to be meshed with wildlife migration patterns and at certain times we were restricted to particular types of equipment that had lower noise decibel levels to minimize wildlife disturbance.
Memories of a grizzly bear swimming across the pond on hole 10, three cougar kittens frolicking on the bridge on hole 14, or a rutting elk charging the flagstick on hole 7 are all still quite vivid. It was that elk that taught us to remove all the flagsticks every evening to prevent major damage to the putting surfaces. This truly was nature’s playground and we were simply allowed to join in the fun.
Although the course was recognized by Golf Digest magazine as one of Canada's best new courses I am most proud of the environmental accolades that it has received through the industry (2004-Environnmental Leaders in Golf and 2006-Environmental Achievement Award). It was our intent from the outset to achieve high environmental standards and be leaders in environmental stewardship for golf course design. I believe we achieved our goals.
Stewart Creek is one of my favourite courses I have every played. Quite literally carved out of a mountain, this track offers unparalleled views and world class conditions. I'd damn near sell my left leg to play here again.