Course Review: Stewart Creek GC, Canmore, Alberta
Designer: Gary Browning
Outside of Alberta, hardly anyone knows Gary Browning’s name. And even within Alberta, hardly anyone would have recognized Browning if he had not created Stewart Creek, an understated mountain course that while not perfect, is intriguing from both an architectural standpoint and from a playability perspective.
Built for a couple of owners, Browning wasn’t likely the first project for this site, a spectacular natural setting sitting under the Three Sisters mountain range in Canmore, Alberta’s version of Muskoka. In fact, there was talk of using bigger names, but when it came down to it, Browning won out.
Perhaps due to budget issues, Stewart Creek is relatively understated. There are only around 40 bunkers on the course, and they are carefully placed. Browning mixes holes and shot values well throughout, from the ultra wide 10th, to the tough three shot 11th, the designer mixed things up. And unlike a lot of mountain courses, Browning didn’t just go for the money shot — the hole with looming mountains that doesn’t really ask for more than a 5-iron to a plunging fairway. Instead, he provides an interesting selection of shots, from the quirky short four 14th, at 294 yards with a naturalized area 30 yards in front of the green, through to the terrific 478-yard par four fourth, with a tough tee shot to a perched green, Browning gives players enough variation without showing off.
Though the greens are typically manufactured, Browning still manages to sneak in some interesting natural ones, like the 10th, with its on-grade approach, or the previously mentioned 14th, with its devilish contours.
That doesn’t mean it all works. The 9th (see below) is a strange mountain hole that one would expect to see on Silver Tip, the wreckless design across the road constructed by Les Furber. Stewart Creek’s 9th is essentially a double par three. That means you aim a carefully guided 4-iron off the tee to a bowled landing area and then punch a short iron to an artificial-looking green perched between holding ponds. Given that many of the surrounding holes are strong, the ninth sticks out like a sore thumb. Maybe even a thumb hit with a hammer. The thumb is bright red. You get my point.
Other than that there are a few things I could do without. I’m not a big fan of trees in the middle of fairways — like the one on the par five 11th, or the one protecting the 14th. But that’s a minor offense.
These days Browning is a busy chap. He’s in the planning stages for courses in Calgary with an oil baron and another for a family that made their cash in cable. His projects have bigger budgets, though he is still envious of Nicklaus and the like with their projects that cost $20-million plus to build. There’s also a second course at Stewart Creek that has been cleared and will be open for 2009. It is a wider, more resort-style layout that will likely have more width than the existing course, partly in an attempt to mimic the the scale of the surrounding views.
Stewart Creek put Browning on the map, and deservedly so. It would be nice to see him break out of the Western Canadian market and head east. His vision is clear and would come as a breath of fresh air.