Bucket List Overview – Part 4 – Prince Edward Island

This is the fourth of 10 posts that will look back on the current status of my bucket list.  Focusing on all 10 provinces, I’ll share links to courses played and remaining on my list, along with some new courses for consideration.  I’ll share some pictures, stories and wishes for future travel.  Canada is an amazing country for public golf, go play (once the snow is melted, of course).

Bucket List Courses PlayedLinks at Crowbush Cove, Brudenell River, Dundarave, Mill River, Stanhope, Fox Meadow, Green Gables, Eagles Glenn, Glasgow Hills, Andersons Creek

Bucket List Courses Remaining

Other Courses Played

Bucket List Contenders

Other Courses of Note – Belfast Highland Greens

 

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The iconic Anne of Green Gables home is set close to the 11th hole of Green Gables Golf Club

Overview

PEI is a unique golfing destination in Canada.  It is also brings together exceptional golfing quality, value, convenience, hospitality and interests to complement time away from the course.  I have written extensively about my golf experience in Fall 2015 on the Gentle Island and it remains my favourite place to play golf in Canada.  With courses set within the top 100 in Canada you get access to quality courses like Crowbush Cove and Dundarave.  You can play courses built by designers like Stanley Thompson, Graham Cooke, Dr. Michael Hurdzen / Dana Fry, and Robbie Robinson among others.  If you’re fortunate to play the top courses on the Island you may find – as I did – that there are other courses which deserve strong consideration to be on that list, notably Green Gables and Mill River.  This bucket list trip allowed me to play all 10 of my PEI courses in a 6 day span.  I have ranked these 10 courses on the Island and invite you to share your feedback on this list, acknowledging all ranking lists are highly subjective.

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Carr’s. If you’re going to be near Stanley Bridge it’s well worth a visit.

There are four courses which the province of PEI owns and operates; Crowbush, Mill River, Dundarave and Brudenell.  Arguably four of the top courses on the Island, they represent the diversity of golf available on PEI.  Close to Cavendish is a cluster of excellent golf, mere minutes away from each other: Green Gables, Eagles Glenn, Glasgow Hills and Andersons Creek are all in close proximity.  For travelers, the course closest to the Charlottetown airport which we played was Fox Meadow.  If you can only squeeze in a round this would be your choice.  And the most relaxed location?  That goes to Stanhope.  Don’t let it’s benign from nine fool you.  The back nine is simply breathtaking and offers a stretch of golf holes which are arguably the most scenic on the Island.

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There’s a 6-hole stretch on the back nine of Stanhope which is simply heavenly.

Utilizing Golf PEI, I was able to secure Island Green Cards for our foursome, allowing us the chance to play all 17 of their member courses.  While our itinerary only allowed us time for 10, at $399 (+taxes) you can understand why PEI provides such great value for golfers.  To find so much great golf, most of it only an hour from where we stayed, PEI continues to be one of Canada’s leading golf destinations.

Travel Notes

Golf PEI operates as a central marketing office for golf courses and the golf industry on PEI.  In conjunction with the four government owned courses via PEI’s Finest Golf, it excels at service, offering technology, print materials and access to people who can help with all aspects of golf trip planning.  For example, I wanted to surprise my group upon our arrival at our rental home (5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, hot tub, pool table, modern kitchen – $1400  +taxes for the week) with ingredients for a seafood feast.  Golf PEI staff connected me to a small seafood shop 2 minutes from our home and I was able to place an order and simply pick it up when I arrived; they actually offered to coordinate with our rental agency to have it all in the fridge for us.  Amazing.

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A nice way to end the trip. The tour was informative and enjoyable. Conveniently located downtown Charlottetown, the PEI Brewing Company is a great side trip.

In addition to 10 rounds of golf, we enjoyed 2 meals at New Glasgow Lobster Supper and created great value from the all-you-can-eat mussels.  We booked a tour at the PEI Brewing Company and took some time to wander downtown and try some Cows Ice Cream.  While that trip was all about the golf I can share from experience that PEI beaches are sensational, the coastal drives are relaxing and there are growing and diverse options for foodies.  The west coast offers some of the most spectacular seaside driving views on the Island.  But check for yourself.  My new map to bucket list courses will show, if you zoom in on PEI, how close all these courses are to each other and how easy it is to tour around the entire Island.

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Early morning light provides the only filter needed at Eagles Glenn in Cavendish.

While I’ve managed to complete my entire bucket list for this province in one trip, it is a destination I would welcome coming back to and look forward to when I can make a return trip.

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My favourite picture of Mill River is the par 3, downhill 5th hole. Stunning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bucket List Review – Part 3 – New Brunswick

Bucket List Review – Part 3 – New Brunswick

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The stunning 12th hole at Algonquin

This is the third of 10 posts that will look back on the current status of my bucket list.  Focusing on all 10 provinces, I’ll share links to courses played and remaining on my list, along with some new courses for consideration.  I’ll share some pictures, stories and wishes for future travel.  Canada is an amazing country for public golf, go play (once the snow is melted, of course).

Bucket List Courses PlayedAlgonquin

Bucket List Courses Remaining – none.

Other Courses PlayedMactaquac, Kingswood (quite some time ago for both)

Bucket List ContendersGowan Brae; Fox Creek; Royal Oaks;

Other Courses of NoteHerring Cove

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Opening hole at Algonquin

 

Overview

There may be no other place in Canada more underrated in terms of golf then New Brunswick.  I can appreciate people arguing otherwise.  And while a it is a strong statement it is really meant to shine a light on the richness of golf in this beautiful Maritime province.  My experiences in New Brunswick are diverse and go back many years but one common thread emerged as I reflect back, and it is that I need to get back there and explore more of it.  Same can be true in terms of NB golf.  Over the years I have played three of New Brunswick’s finer courses; Algonquin (a perennial Top 100 course in Canada); Kingswood (a course Golf Digest once placed as a Top 100 play outside of the US) and Mactaquac (a tree-lined, tranquil course set outside of Fredericton within a provincial park).

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Algonquin, set in picturesque St. Andrews-by-the-Sea and so close to the border of the United States you can see it from the 12th tee, receives the most accolades.  Canadian Golf Magazine placed it as their 77th best course in Canada in their 2015 Top 100 list.  An historic course, over 100 years old, Tom McBroom recently completed a redesign in the early 1990’s.  Some holes on the back nine are being redesigned today by Rod Whitman to maximize the layout and prominence of water which makes the back nine so majestic.  Wait until the 11th hole is completed in July 2017, it will give 12 a run for best hole on the course.  And perhaps it is that sense of adventure and discovery which make golf in New Brunswick so special.  From Fredericton, centrally located in the province, you’re never more than 3-4 hours away from most courses, many excellent courses considerably closer than that.

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Sneak peak at the work to rebuild the 11th hole at Algonquin

Sites like SCOREGolf and Golf NB have details on courses available in all geographic areas, price ranges and ranking.  For the adventurous type, New Brunswick would make an excellent golfing destination.  Explore and play would be my choice of motto for this underrated golfing destination.

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Algonquin hosts Canada’s Oldest Golf Clubhouse

 

Travel Notes

My first trip through New Brunswick was when I was 16.  An overnight stop enroute to Cape Breton allowed for a round of golf at the Mactaquac Golf Course.  Minutes from Fredericton and along the Saint John River, I was captivated by the area and the province itself.  New Brunswick has a population of about 750,000.  You can drive from the Quebec border to the Nova Scotia border in less than 5 hours.  The TransCanada in New Brunswick is efficient and well maintained. But I recommend you make time to get off the highway, explore a local course, try the Covered Bridge potato chips, maybe a pint or two of Picaroons, enjoy the scenic drives throughout the province and as I am always apt to do when in the Maritimes, enjoy the seafood.  In the summer, make time for a nice swim in the waters along the Northumberland Strait; it’s surprisingly warm.

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St. Andrews by-the-Sea

My most recent trip to New Brunswick had me rent a car and drive from Fredericton to St. Andrews.  The drive was quicker and easier than expected and the seafood in town better than I hoped.  The remarkable Bay of Fundy tides over my 24 hour stay had ample time to show itself and a cool, sunny round of golf at Algonquin capped off a great stay in a part of the country I simply need to get back to more regularly.  I regret not being able to have the time to visit and play Herring Cove which from all accounts is a stunning 9-hole course nearby.

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The Algonquin Resort

All three of the courses I’ve played over the years had unique elements and a real underrated nature to them.  Learning more about the scope of quality golf options in the province, it only piques my interest to get back, explore and play.  I expect there are hidden golfing gems set throughout the province.  If you know of any please do pass them along to me.  From shore to shore to shore, New Brunswick is a unique mix of natural beauty, hospitality and surprisingly golf quality.

 

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The view over the harbour is amazing.  So are their Fish and Chips.

 

 

 

 

Bucket List Review – Part 2 – Nova Scotia

Bucket List Review – Part 2 – Nova Scotia

This is the second of 10 posts that will look back on the current status of my bucket list.  Focusing on all 10 provinces, I’ll share links to courses played and remaining on my list, along with some new courses for consideration.  I’ll share some pictures, stories and wishes for future travel.  Canada is an amazing country for public golf, go play (once the snow is melted, of course).

Bucket List Courses PlayedCabot Links, Highlands Links, The Lakes

Bucket List Courses RemainingGlen Arbour, Bell Bay, Cabot Cliffs, The Links at Brunello, Fox Harb’r

Other Courses PlayedOsprey Shores

Bucket List ContendersDigby Pines, Penn Hills

Other Courses of NoteLe Portage, Northumberland Links, Bluenose

capebreton

 

Overview

Nova Scotia hosts some of the greatest golf courses in Canada and the World.  Yes, they’re that good.  The development of the two Cabot courses in Inverness has placed Nova Scotia at the epicenter of the golfing world with global media reports praising the courses, the resort and the community.  And while Cabot holds its rightful place as a powerful magnet for golf in eastern Canada one needs to look well beyond the their seaside courses – Links and Cliffs – to see other golf offerings which together make Nova Scotia a cherished golf destination for all golfers.  To me, this is one reason why Nova Scotia makes for such great golf; there is something for everyone.

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You may recognize this picture if you’re a regular to my blog.  The 6th tee at The Lakes course.  An incredibly tempting risk-reward par 4. (photo credit – Andrew Stoakley)

Acknowledging the grandeur of Cabot, I’ll start with a focus on fun and value.  Osprey Shores may be the most fun I have ever had golfing, be it as a single seeking to play as many loops of 9 as I could in a day, or, part of a group of 12 on a five day getaway (golfing in a kilt was a memorable experience, too).  Osprey brings breathtaking views, sensational maritime hospitality and an unpretentious nature which all golfers will appreciate.  A 9 hole course, I would recommend it for players to get their legs under them before heading north to tackle the wonderful courses of Cape Breton.  My experience golfing in Nova Scotia is focused mostly on Cape Breton.  So with apologies to courses on the mainland (and there are several on my bucket list) I will focus for now on Cape Breton.  Highlands Links is my favourite course in Canada.  Designed by Stanley Thompson, this course carved from the forests of the Highlands, with some seaside meandering, takes me back in time.  I love everything about it.  It hosts the greatest par 5 I’ve ever played and if I could only play one more round of golf it would be there.  Contrast to this is the beauty of The Lakes at Ben Eoin.  Set along Bras D’or Lake this course is cut along the hillside; creating stunning vistas on many holes.  Well designed and framed, this championship course has hosted the Mackenzie Tour Cape Breton Open (then Celtic Classic).

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Highlands Links – the 15th hole

This is not to forget the golfing perfection that is Cabot.  Links is the best course I’ve played and Cliffs is tops on my bucket list now.  I would advocate for a shoulder season trip to Cabot to get the full experience in terms of weather (could be amazing or raw…and either would make for a great story).  Fact is, the fall season stretches nicely in the Maritimes and can combine beauty and value.  Links is a course where the superlatives just don’t do it justice, though I tried in one of my first reviews on my blog.

Cabot, Highlands Links and The Lakes made for a great golf loop in a 2014 golf trip.  But with Bell Bay and Le Portage as options and a new course at Cabot, you can (and should) stretch your trip out to Nova Scotia longer than I did.

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Osprey Shores

Travel Notes

Researching your options for travel and play are very easy using Golf Nova Scotia or Golf Cape Breton.  The two offer excellent access to course information and links to additional details to help plan a trip.  But Nova Scotia is the kind of place you almost want to get lost and explore.  The TransCanada highway provides great access from PEI (via ferry) or New Brunswick and runs efficiently to Halifax and north to Cape Breton.  But sometimes the journey is just as fun as the destination.  Unlike PEI, where you can play days and days of 36 a day (trust me on that one), the distances between courses allow for a relaxed pace and some beautiful drives between communities.  Distractions abound with hiking, food, wildlife, culture, spirits.  It’s all there…not to dismiss the golfing of course.

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This is my favourite golf hole I’ve ever played, the 16th at Cabot Links.  (photo credit – Cabot Links)

The Cabot Trail may be one of the greatest drives in the country, looping around the north and central part of Cape Breton Island.  But Nova Scotia hosts many other amazing coastal drives.  The drive from Guysborough (where Osprey Shores is located on the gorgeous shores of Chedabucto Bay) to Halifax following the Marine Drive route is stunning and underrated.  The proximity to the ocean in many cases is staggering and the small communities and hamlets which dot the coast are lovely.

Similarly, the Sunrise Trail on the north shore from Antigonish to Amherst is just as relaxed.   Stopping along the numerous beaches to dip your feet in the surprisingly warm ocean and seeking that perfect bowl of chowder are two quests to add to your own golfing bucket list.

Traveling to Nova Scotia on a number of occasions now, the consistent take away for me is that I never spent enough time and left with things I wish I had done and seen.  In closing, do your research; take your clubs; tack on a few extra days; take the scenic routes; and do, by all means, order the chowder (better yet, explore the Chowder Trail).

Penn Classic 2014 at Cabot Links

The excitement of playing Cabot with good friends at the 2014 Penn Classic.

Bucket List Review – Part 1 – Newfoundland

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It’s not all about the golf in Newfoundland, as this picture from beautiful Quidi Vidi can attest to.

This is the first of 10 posts that will look back on the current status of my bucket list.  Focusing on all 10 provinces, I’ll share links to courses played and remaining on my list, along with some new courses for consideration.  I’ll share some pictures, stories and wishes for future travel.  Canada is an amazing country for public golf, go play (once the snow is melted, of course).

Bucket List Courses PlayedHumber Valley

Bucket List Courses Remaining – none.

Other Courses PlayedPippy Park

Bucket List ContendersTwin Rivers; The Wilds at Salmonier River

Other Courses of NoteGander Golf Club; Clovelly Golf Club

 

Overview

I don’t know anyone who has traveled to Newfoundland purely for the golf.  It’s not a knock on arguably Canada’s most unique province.  A short golf season, a shorter supply of courses and a multitude of other options to occupy one’s time speak to realities of golf in the far eastern part of the country.  But in my experiences, like the land itself, the golf in Newfoundland is unique, memorable and very enjoyable.

Humber Valley Golf Resort hosts a nationally ranked golf course.  Canadian Golf Magazine placed it as their 37th best course in Canada in their 2015 Top 100 list.  In 2016, it was the 15th best public play in the country on their Top 50 Best You Can Play list.  Justifiably so, I might add.  It’s that special.  However, it is located on the west side of Newfoundland making this a tough course to access.  However, with relative proximity to stunning Gros Morne National Park it is a course well worth visiting; and certainly a course worth its high ranking.  You can find my review of this sensational course here.

I also had a chance to play a course only mere minutes from St. John’s Airport, Admirals Green at Pippy Park.  A delightfully relaxed course set on a crown of land overlooking the city and the ocean beyond to the east.  A benign layout; understated and enjoyable until you hit the 7th hole.  Then, bam, it hits you like a shot of screech after a kiss of the cod.

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Sensational view! Fortunate to get a clear day. This is one of the most underrated par 3’s I have ever played.  Get your yardage right, long is not good.

I will continue to explore unique golf options anytime I travel to Newfoundland.  Just outside of the city of St. John’s is The Wilds at Salmonier River.  Two hours west of St. John’s is Twin Rivers.  Of course, if pressed for time Clovelly Golf Club is a convenient option too, with 36 holes.  Gander Golf Club is another option, less accessible but no less desirable.

Travel Notes

My first trip to Newfoundland back in 2006 (and before I was savvy enough to know to bring my golf clubs) had me staying at The Beach House in Portgual Cove,  only 10 minutes outside of St. John’s.  It was the convenient for me to get to my meetings at Memorial U and I liked staying outside the city.  On the weekend, I enjoyed my ferry ride to Bell Island and the tour of the old iron mine.  Learning that German U Boats were seen patrolling around the bay during the Second World War was amazing to hear.  I had lunch and dinner for all three days at the Beachy Cove Café – a large bowl of the chowder.  It was so good I couldn’t bring myself to try anything else.  I walked the Island and meandered west, through someone’s backyard (sorry) and literally found the end of the Island.  I was staring at about a 100’ drop off to the ocean below (I backed away slowly and stopped to take in the breathtaking views).  My time at the Beach House had me parked on an Adirondack chair watching the whales breach in the harbour along with a good book and a glass of wine.  My first Newfoundland experience was one of wonder and bewilderment…and amazing seafood.

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Before (and) or after a round there’s always time for seafood and Newfoundland enjoys an abundance of fresh options.

A recent trip had me centred in Corner Brook.  While in close proximity I did not make time to visit Gros Morne National Park; this was a mistake and one I will not make again next time there.  I have also placed Twillingate (Iceberg alley) and Fogo Island on my must visit list when I can make the time.  And with no experiences yet on Labrador, I hope to have the opportunity to visit there.  Perhaps I can even get a round in at Tamarack Golf Club.  Golf Newfoundland has excellent information on the courses available in the province.

Business Travel and Golf

 

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It’s under two hours to get from Fredericton, NB to the beautiful shores on the Bay of Fundy in St. Andrews By the Sea, NB.

Business Travel and Golf

It is now customary for me to tag along a day or two when traveling for business to get in some golf and tick another great course off my Canadian golf bucket list.  My approach is consistent.  I’ve done this already this year in British Columbia and Alberta.  Here is my itinerary from a recent trip to New Brunswick to share my planning process:

Finishing work at 4:00 pm gave me 28 hours before flying home.  This window of time allowed me to get to the airport, rent my car, drive to my destination, check into my hotel, eat dinner, sleep, wake up, grab breakfast and get to the course.  After the round, I would grab lunch, quickly tour town and drive 90 minutes back to the airport.  28 hours created some purposefulness but the trip never felt rushed.  Besides, it’s hard not to relax when you’re in maritime Canada.

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The famous 12th hole (as seen up from the left of the green) at the Algonquin Resort Golf Club.  If this won’t help you relax after two days of business then nothing will.

Here are my tips and golf travel essentials to help you make the most of your next trip.

  1. Golf course access – the focus of your pre/post trip is golf so make sure you can access the course(s) you’d like to play before committing further. Easiest thing to do is to contact the course and ask if there is tee time availability on the date/window of time you’re planning to play.  Stating you’re from away and coming in as a single helps them understand your situation and can avoid surprises for you (perhaps the day you plan to arrive is the day after aeration of the greens, or worse, they are hosting some charity event and while there are tee times the first one is too late for you).  In some cases it may open up access you may not otherwise get access to.  Calling Algonquin resort in advance allowed me to access the earliest tee time available on my day of play which helped considerably.

 

  1. Know the fixed variables – Being clear on when work ends and when the flight home are the two most critical factors. I seek to ensure I have a window of time that is realistic.  Car rental agencies are generally much more flexible than airlines (Unless you’re willing to pay) but any significant changes to the itinerary could help you by calling them in advance.  As for variables beyond your control, do give consideration to the weather forecast on the day you want to play and pack accordingly.  And always have a toque in the golf bag.

 

  1. Accommodation – My philosophy on accommodation revolves around convenience and price, (with a caveat of some standard of cleanliness and user satisfaction). I like researching prices on an aggregator site and tend to use the same one to accumulate frequent user rewards (after using the site 10 times I get a free stay).  I like reputable chains but am willing to try a quaint place that receives great reviews.

 

  1. Golf Clubs – There are two camps here – to rent or to travel with your clubs. I personally prefer to travel with my clubs and as a result there are three golden rules: lock your golf travel bag; use a Club Glove stiff arm (or reasonable facsimile) and don’t skimp on your golf travel bag.  If you’re comfortable renting then consider these three rules: bring your own golf shoes, glove and a small bag of balls, tees, etc.; research in advance about the rental club options as some courses have two levels of rentals; and lastly, be accepting.  You chose not to bring your new driver so don’t get frustrated when you get a model of club you don’t prefer.

 

  1. Transportation – for me, it’s usually a vehicle rental. I love driving and find it relaxing.  Here, again, loyalty can pay off with rewards offered at most outlets.  Airport rentals are generally processed faster and their vehicles are newer.  One important item is to map your route and budget for some extra time in the event of unexpected traffic issues.  My buddies swear by an app called Waze to get you somewhere as quick as possible.  Last, sure you’re in a rush to leave and get to the course but take the time to get the seat and mirrors properly adjusted…and if possible to sync up your smartphone so you can enjoy some travel tunes.
  2. Keepsakes – I’ve practically walked from the rental car to the first tee (with a quick check in) but I always try to make some time afterward to check the pro shop. I love pin flags and also collect golf balls and markers with the course emblem on them.  Of course, the sale rack can unlock some great value too.   Here is a good alternative to airport shopping for those at home (especially if they like golf)

 

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Took a break from my pint of Picaroons and my Lobster Roll to capture this fiery sky.

 

  1. Food – this is one area I stretch the budget. My affinity for seafood and a          willingness to ask and try local favourites means I avoid fast food and seek out local flavours.  Trip Advisor and Yelp allows me to filter user satisfaction with food types.  Sometimes it’s a pub, other times finer dining.  Food is often part of the experience for me.  I’ve traveled with people who would eat on the cheap and spend more for accommodation (meaning they’re comfortable eating McDonalds but want the assurance of a high end place to stay).  Make your own determination and know what’s important.  It is always ideal when you can get both.  When I have time, I actually like to eat at the course before or after a round.  Many courses create a dining experience that rivals their golf experience.

 

  1. Pictures – As a rule I get to a course with close to 100% battery power on my phone to allow me to take pictures. I advise playing partners I’ll be taking some pictures for my blog so as to manage their expectation.  I keep the phone in my left pocket for easy access as I seek to minimize the impact on pace of play.

 

  1. Manage expectation – The number one goal of golf while traveling on business should be fun; you’re playing a course you may not otherwise access to. Shooting a high score, especially if you’re using rental clubs, should be irrelevant and not keep you from having fun.  Besides, maybe the rental putter is the magic club you’ve been seeking for years (take a picture and note the make and model…that’s why e-Bay was created!).  Smile and enjoy the fact you’re on the course.

 

  1. Be a good visitor – I always seek business cards from the courses I play. In many cases, upon learning I am a blogger with journalist accreditation they welcome the chance to host a guest reviewer.  I like to extend thanks to courses for allowing me access to their course.  My philosophy is simple: the currency of my blog is the relationships I am able to cultivate.  I sincerely appreciate the chance to experience their home course and want to let them know that.

 

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A most appropriate place to eat in St. Andrews.  The Lobster Roll did not disappoint.

Lastly, and perhaps most important, is to budget for the side trip.  I set funds aside throughout the year to allow me to tack on the day or two and enjoy a guilt-free and pleasurable experience without impacting the bottom line.  With a flight covered from work, the additional expenses create value, help me experience great golf across Canada and help make a significant dent in my bucket list.

 

The chance to have played golf in 8 provinces now has taught me a few things about business travel and golf.  I know I am not alone.  I’d welcome hearing your tips for maximizing golf experiences on business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Banff Springs – Breathtaking Golf in the Rockies

Banff Springs – Breathtaking Golf in the Rockies

http://www.fairmont.com/banff-springs/golf/

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Another beautiful morning at Banff Springs

One does not have to look very far to locate Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course on top course ranking lists in Canada.  Arguably one of Stanley Thompson’s finest works, this course set adjacent to the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and the majestic Bow River.  The golf course is majestic, the views expansive and powerful with the river and the mountains providing a stunning backdrop.  It may well feature the greatest opening nine I have experienced and possesses signature hole after signature hole.  Both Canadian Golf Magazine and SCOREGolf place this course well within their top 10 in Canada.

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Looking back from behind the second green

On a cold spring morning, I was fortunate to tee off as a single where I could take my time, take lots of pictures and enjoy a true, unique golf experience.  The starter advised me holes which I should have my camera ready – 4 and 14.  He may well have said all 18 of them.  After the opening hole, the course faces the mountains and holes 2, 3 and 4 build in magnitude.  The 3rd hole is an underrated par 5, and if not for Thompson’s genius design of the 7th hole at Highlands Links, I would state this to be my favourite par 5 of any I’ve played.   However, the 4th hole is a breathtaking beauty, unlike any I’ve played.  A downhill par 3, aptly named Devil’s Cauldron, this hole is guarded by water in the front and classic Thompson bunkering protecting short and left of the green.  While admiring this bowl shaped design and readying to take my shot, a golf cart pulled up.  They were a touring the course, not golfers.  In asking if they would take my picture following my swing, the gentleman stated he’d be delighted and that he was a photographer.  I marveled at my fortune.  And to close off; my shot – witnessed by tourists both behind me as well as behind the green, the shot landed softly beyond the green and avoiding the traps.  I’ll never forget that.

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A picture I will always cherish – holding the finish on the famous 4th hole.

The course returns to the relatively new clubhouse after nine than moves toward the hotel where it loops around and back, allowing for a stretch of tree lined holes and stout par 3’s before returning back in a more expansive stretch alongside the mountains.  The effort it must have taken back in the 1920’s to build this course is staggering to imagine.  The course offers something for so many; historians, nature lovers and of course, golfers.

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Hard not to get distracted by the scenery

The tranquility of my clear, cold morning allowed me to play a relaxed round and appreciate the genius of Thompson who, once again, used the land exceedingly well.  There are no holes which are too close in proximity to others.  The back nine provides challenge in terms of length and demands a level of accuracy which is less prominent on the front nine.

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The 9th hole runs alongside the Bow River.

The conditioning of the course is fantastic, complementing the exceptional layout and natural setting.  A true bucket list course, this will not be your most inexpensive round.  But it is entirely possible that it may be your most memorable.

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The 14th hole shows the best view of the Banff Springs Hotel

Aura – 9.5 out of 10 – This is a national top 10 course and top 5 public course.  For many, it is their favourite course in the country and is entirely worthy of planning a trip around.  If blessed with a sunny day, your camera will get a strong workout.

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Value (cost / experience) – 8 out of 10 – Peak fees are $239 + tax.  There are afternoon and shoulder season rates but this will set back many players.  However, I acknowledge value is in the eyes of the beholder.  And for the quality and natural beauty of this course, the chance to play it once (in the shoulder season for me) makes this a solid value pick, not exceptional.  Understand, it’s a golfing experience and a true bucket list course.

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Even the practice facilities are stunning.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 9 out of 10 –  Course staff were hard at work on the fairways, greens and even the bunkers while I was there in late May. The layout is brilliant, one of Thompson’s strengths, but the conditioning of the course complements the quality setting.  The tee boxes were in exceptional condition.  Greens rolled true and consistent, not too fast for a public resort course which helps ensure good pace of play.  The greenside protection was diverse and penal at times but never unfair.  Fairways were superb.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 9.5 out of 10 – I would return in a heartbeat.  Understand that you’re in Banff and there is much else to do – hot springs, the town, the hotel – but the golf course stands on as an experience worthy of the investment and complements the scenery of this gorgeous town.

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Highlight (what is great about the course) – For the purposes of managing space, I’ll let the pictures speak to this.  Safe to say practically everything is great about it.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – aside from moving to Alberta to take advantage of a residents discount, there really isn’t anything specific I would change.  This is a truly special course and well worthy of its prominent places in national course rankings.  As a public play, it is on my top 3 list.

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One of my favourite images is this view of the par 5 3rd hole.

Just So You Know – Practice facilities are very strong.  There is also a 9 hole ‘Tunnel Mountain’ course available to complement the 18 hole Stanley Thompson course.

 

5 Underrated Courses in My Canadian Travels

Playing golf in Canada can be about the journey as it is the destination.  Courses can surprise and amaze in aspects of beauty, quality and fun.  Over my years here are five which I have experienced that I loved.  You likely won’t see any of these on top course lists across the country so I’ve created my own modest list which places these gems front and centre.  Here they are, in no particular order.  The course link will open to my full review:

Waskesiu GC, Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan

It’s a Stanley Thompson design so right off the top I suspected I’d love it.  I drove direct from my flight to Saskatoon north of Prince Albert to the stunning Waskesiu Lake area in the heart of Prince Albert National Park.  The drive was peaceful and the course was sensational.  The rich history of this course and its iconic Lobstick Tree is worth asking about.  The butter tarts that the course sells may be the best in country but that’s another bucket list in itself.  My only wish was that I could spend time in the resort community adjacent to the lake and play this course again (and again).  Not the easiest course to access, but the memories made the drive well worth it.  My conversation with the Marshall the day I was playing was amazing as he regaled me about the history of this beautiful course.  I felt I had gone back in time.

Lobstick Tree

Lobstick Tree at Waskesiu in the first fairway

Stanhope GCC, Stanhope, Prince Edward Island

I have written much about my 2015 golf trip to the gentle island.  PEI is a golfer’s paradise, providing exceptional value (possibly the best in Canada) with variety, quality and diversity of post-golf activity to make everyone happy.  Stanhope didn’t make my top 5 list of courses on the Island but that speaks more to the quality and value options than it does about any shortcomings at Stanhope.  A true community course, this course brought a level of enjoyment and relaxation on the Island I had not experienced.  Add to it a stunning back nine, with a stretch of golf holes from 12-16 which may be the most underrated golf on the island in terms of sheer beauty.  With a breeze off the ocean on a peaceful afternoon, it was a golfing experience I need to get back and relive.

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A late afternoon sun shining down on the back nine at Stanhope

 

Talking Rock Golf Resort, Chase, British Columbia

The Thompson-Okanagan golf region of British Columbia provides more diversity for golfer than one might expect.  My spring 2016 trip west included an early morning drive (very early!) from Surrey to Chase for a morning round at Talking Rock.  First, the drive is amazing through the mountains – so peaceful and relaxing.  Arriving in Chase, just north of Kelowna, and the Little Shuswap First Nation community is the Quaaout Lodge and Spa which also houses the Talking Rock Golf Resort.  The large log-cabin style conference centre, pro shop and clubhouse set a tone for a tranquil and peaceful golfing experience.  The closing holes, notably 15 and 18, are jaw-dropping showstoppers and reflect the natural beauty of the region.  It’s well worth the visit.  Playing most of the round as a single created a sense of calm and peacefulness I appreciated.

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Teed up and ready to play the stunning 15th at Talk Rock overlooking Little Shuswap Lake

Batteaux Creek GC, Nottawa, Ontario

The Niagara Escarpment cuts along southern Ontario from a swath from Niagara to Tobermory and at various points along the way shows impressive prominence in the landscape.  Such is the case in Nottawa, south of Collingwood, where Batteaux Creek Golf Club has existed since 2002.  While not an annual play, I do try to make time in the fall season to travel the almost two hours north from Toronto, to enjoy this course in all its splendor.  Immaculate conditioning, diversity of golf holes, natural hazards and a stunning fall backdrop with leaves changing in golds, reds, oranges and yellows throughout the property and west along the escarpment.  It’s more a spiritual exercise than it is a golf game.  And for anyone who has experienced this course in the fall, you will know why it makes my list of underrated golf gems in Canada.

Early morning at Batteaux Creek on a flawless fall day.

 

 

Osprey Resort, Guysborough, Nova Scotia

https://36aday.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/osprey_andy2.jpg?w=660This is a rustic, 9-hole course set on Chedabucto Bay in scenic Guysborough, Nova Scotia.  The Marine Drive from Halifax to Canso is simply a must if you have the time.  From Canso, simply head west to Guysborough.  Don’t miss the Rare Bird Pub where after 9 holes (or 18…even 36) you can look over the water and lose yourself in the beauty of this part of the province.  The course is simple in its layout and players of all skill level will be welcome.  Take time to enjoy the views, what I think to be some of the best you will experience in eastern Canada.  My advice for travelers who have time; stop here to get your golf legs and your fix of seafood before making your way north to Cape Breton Island where you will find some of the greatest courses in the country and the world.  I love this course, its people and community.  It reflects everything I love about golfing in Canada.

 

Osprey 5th Hole

Beyond the 5th hole at Osprey, overlooking Chedabucto Bay.

 

This is not an exhaustive list.  There are more courses I’ve played I would categorize as underrated.  But I would love to hear your experiences, learn about your courses that would make your list (and that I’d need to add to mine!).