In early June of this year, I had a golfphone (made-up word) conversation with Steven Young, the Director of Golf at Canada’s Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course. We spoke of grizzly bears, hickory-shafted golf clubs, and Steve’s breathtaking Rocky Mountain golf course, designed by the legendary Stanley Thompson. And, you’ll soon read why I couldn’t help but mention the 1960s TV show, F Troop.
Golf Conversations: Hi, Steve, it’s Robert Blumenthal.
Steven Young: Great to hear from you, Robert.
GC: Should I call you Steve or Steven?
SY: When I was younger, Steve. Now everybody tells me I should be Steven – it sounds more mature.
GC: Well I’m telling you right now, I’m not calling you Mr. Young.
SY: I appreciate that!
GC: Steve, are you young?
SY: I am young, yes.
GC: Gimme an age range.
SY: I’m over 40 but I’m not quite 43.
GC: Ok, so you’re probably not familiar with an American TV show from the ’60s called F Troop.
SY: I am not.
GC: They had a great episode about Banff.
SY: Did they?
GC: Yes. It was very funny. They couldn’t say Banff. They kept calling it Banff–f-f-f.
I’ll send you the YouTube link. It was quite amusing to a 10-year old boy. And to this aging AARP member.
SY: That would be great.
GC: When I saw you’re located in Banff, I was transported back to my childhood and I thought of F Troop and Banff–f-f-f.
SY: I never heard of that! That’s great. That’s the great thing about YouTube; you can dig up a lot from the past.
GC: Here’s something else from the past: when I was a kid in New York, a slice of pizza was 15 cents and a grape drink was a dime. But let’s talk about Banff–f-f-f. Ok, here’s my first question. If you get this one right, you get 500 Bonus Points.
GC: You ready?
SY: I’m ready.
GC: What is the derivation of the name Banff?
SY: Derivation of the name Banff?
SY: I don’t know; you got me.
GC: Well, I didn’t know either until I did a little Googling. So here it is, Steve: the name Banff is derived from Banffshire, Scotland, the birth place of two of the original directors of the Canadian Pacific Railway. What do you think of that?
SY: That’s great!
GC: These two guys were from Scotland, and we’re talking about golf today and Scotland is the home of golf so it makes a nice little segue.
SY: We have adopted the crest from Banff that we use on some of the merchandise that people really enjoy. I know we have a good Scottish connection.
GC: Merchandise??? I didn’t get any merchandise! Did you guys lose my address?
I’m kidding, I’m kidding.
SY: I think your stuff is being sent second-day delivery.
GC: I’m second-day delivery, ok. My stuff is probably coming via grizzly bear. Hey, speaking of grizzly bears, what should you do if Mr. Grizzly starts ambling through the fairway while you’re golfing?
SY: You just watch. Usually they’re just trying to go about their business, sniffing out food. They keep going and you talk about it later.
GC: And if the bear has little cubs with her … then you high-tail it to Calgary?
SY: Yes, watch more quietly and get ready to go to Calgary. I agree.
GC: I was looking at your web site and the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course … I’ll never be able to say Banff again with a straight face.
The course looks spectacular. What a gorgeous place to play golf. It’s a Stanley Thompson course, right?
SY: That’s correct.
GC: In a few weeks, I’m going to be playing another of Stanley Thompson’s heralded courses, Highlands Links in Nova Scotia.
SY: An absolutely fantastic course. That’s certainly a gem and one of Stanley’s other masterpieces.
GC: I’d love to do a Stanley Thompson Daily Double one of these days and get up to see your course ‘cause it just looks breathtaking.
SY: We’d love to have you out and if you make it this way, you’ve also got to take one of the top-10 drives in the world which is between Banff and Jasper. See the ice fields on the way and Jasper Park Lodge – which has another Stanley Thompson course. It was built the year before ours. It is a gem in its own right.
GC: When were they built, Steve?
SY: Jasper’s was completed, I believe in ’26, but don’t quote me. Ours was completed and opened for the first nine in 1928. We started in 1911 when W. Thomson – no “P” and no relation to Stanley – was recruited out of Winnipeg. He was a Scotsman. He was our first pro and our first designer – he designed a 9-hole course. We began here July 13th in 1911. So this is our 100th anniversary.
GC: Happy anniversary!
SY: Thank you. We’ll be having a big celebration.
GC: Another party I’m not invited to. What will you be doing on July 13th?
SY: In the morning, we’ll have some of our industry partners in … we’re gonna have a whole bunch of product for people to try down at the range. We’re also going to do clinics for kids … have a pancake breakfast … we’re gonna do a fun hickory event. And in the afternoon we’re going to have a big celebration tournament that will culminate in the evening with dinner, dancing, and music.
GC: I heard from a little birdie that you’re pretty good with the hickory-shafted golf clubs.
SY: Yes. I enjoy playing hickory clubs. I’ve been fortunate since I arrived at Banff to meet collectors of hickory … and I’ve been amassing my own set of them. With those, I like to go out a couple of times a month and play with them. One nice thing about our facility is that it was designed back in the 20s which was the era of hickory golf. The bunkering, the flow of the fairways, and the putting was built for that type of equipment.
GC: How would you compare the hickory shafts to today’s equipment?
SY: The biggest difference is … today we fit the club to you. Are you a 9.5 degree driver? A 10.5? Are you better with maybe a 12-degree because of your launch angle and speed? What shaft is better for you? An extra stiff? Do you want to make the tip stiffer? Are you graphite or steel?
GC: When you play with your hickory clubs and two days later you play with your modern clubs, what compensations do you have to make?
SY: I have to hit a lot less club into the greens. I swing the same with them and people say I have a Payne Stewart type of swing: long, slow, and smooth. So I found out that when I tried the hickory, it was quite an easy transition in terms of my existing swing.
In the hickory game, there are a lot of made-up shots around the greens. You’re taking your niblick and you’re making it do a lot of different things: bump-and-run, cut it out of a sand trap, flop it. Whereas with the modern club, I take a 6-iron, a 60-degree, a 52-degree, or a pitching wedge and I might apply a similar stroke using different lofts and angles.
GC: I’m sure you’ve seen those old Bobby Jones movies on Golf Channel?
GC: He was doing what you’re talking about with the hickory shafts. It’s just amazing how they played with those clubs and balls and on the types of courses they had. I think golfers don’t realize how lucky they are to have today’s hi-tech equipment. They’re still shooting 105 … but they’re lucky.
SY: It’s true. It’s a different game. You get a nice appreciation for the scores they shot with those clubs when you go out and use them.
GC: You also have a 9-hole course here?
SY: Yes. In 1989 we added a 9-hole course called our “Tunnel Nine.” We use it as a stand-alone 9-hole course and then we have our 18-hole Stanley Thompson-designed course from the 1920s.
GC: I like a golf resort that has a 9-hole course. So often, you just don’t feel like playing 18 or you’ve got other things to do.
SY: I agree. You can play it under two hours. It’s very walkable. I take my kids out and I’ll just take a couple of clubs and they can play around and have a great time. You can also go out with non-golfers and have a great time.
GC: It’s not an executive course, is it?
SY: Ours is a regulation nine. Two par 5s and two par3s and five par 4s.
SY: And if we have to do maintenance on one of our other nines, we will take one out of play on the Stanley Thompson course and insert the other nine. We call it a mixed rotation and it’s a great combination of holes to play.
GC: The Stanley Thompson course, is it difficult to walk?
SY: Nope. People do walk it. There’s just one point where there’s a bit of a jog up a hill. We have ambassadors that tend to hang around that hole and they do assist people getting up the hill.
GC: Speaking of ambassadors, your Skins game is coming up in July?
SY: July 25th and 26th. We have Stephen Ames representing Canada. We’ve got Anthony Kim and Lucas Glover out of the States. We have Jhonattan Vegas from Venezuela, and Paul Casey from England. We’re looking forward to seeing how they play our course.
GC: Is that going to be televised?
SY: It will be. It will be taped on those days and then televised shortly thereafter.
[NOTE: The following video clip is from the 2011 Telus Skins Game]:
GC: Lucas Glover doesn’t live too far from me. Of course, his house costs 20 times more than mine does. He and I both have beards. He’s going to look like quite the mountain man there in the Rockies.
SY: One of the nice things about our facility … we’re fortunate to have a number of quality golf courses in the area. So someone looking to come up here is able to play not just here at the Banff Springs … as I mentioned earlier, there’s Jasper Park Lodge with a Stanley Thompson course. Kananaskis has two lovely courses; Robert Trent Jones, Sr. was the designer there. Then we’ve got Silver Tip, Stewart Creek, and the Canmore Club which are just next door to Banff in the lovely town of Canmore.
So when you come up, you get the opportunity to play seven different but very scenic golf courses all within a short drive. Although we’re very proud of what we have here in Banff at the Fairmont Banff Springs, there are a number of other facilities that golfers can also enjoy and that we work closely with.
GC: Steve, where would you say most of your guests are traveling from?
SY: We get them from a lot of different places: Korea, Japan, Brazil, England, Germany. But predominantly our traffic will come from the U.S. and tends to be from the southern U.S. And from across Canada with B.C. and Alberta making up a large number of our guests, but also coming from Saskatchewan and Ontario.
GC: So Steve, as an American, if I come up there are you going to ask to see my long-form birth certificate?
SY: I can promise you I won’t.
GC: Thank you. Maybe next year, Steve – I’d love to come up and see you in Banff–f-f-f.
SY: We’d love to have you.