Golf and Travel in Canada – Part 1

If you’re from away you may not know that Canada is the second largest country in terms of surface area (under 10 million square km).  Canada is also second in terms of the number of golf courses in the world at 2,298 (http://pgaofcanada.uberflip.com/i/834072-golf-facilities-in-canada-2017-report), impressive for a golf-mad country with over 5 million players (according to Golf Canada).

My tip for travel – in any country – is to pick a region or two and spend dedicated time; travel around, play golf and immerse yourself in the food, culture and history of the area.  If you’re not from Canada, for goodness sake, do your homework on the weather…we do extremes exceptionally well.  I pack a winter hat (toque) in my golf bag all year just do you know.  If you’re open to all that’s possible in Canada here are just a few options:

Culture

This is easy, visit Newfoundland and Labrador.  Within Canada this is one of the most unique geographic and cultural places to see and experience.  The capitol, St. John’s is a great base to start your Newfoundland adventure.  Simply some of the most honest kind-hearted people you’ll ever want to meet; the food, music and land (and sea) make this one of my favourite places to visit in Canada.  Leo’s was the most authentic fish and chips location I’ve experienced in St. John’s though Ches’s is a strong option (order the stuffing and gravy on top of the fish and chips).  If you need a quick golf fix there’s a course, Pippy Park, mere minutes from the St. John’s airport though Clovelly is another option in the city.  Worth the drive, a visit to Gros Morne National Park will take you close to Humber Valley Golf Resort.  One of the top public courses in Canada, the view on the 10th tee gets all the accolades but facts are you better have your camera ready earlier than that.  During your visit maybe you’ll get screeched in too?

Fun Fact – Twilingate, NL is the Iceberg Capital of Canada

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Minutes from St. John’s airport, Pippy Park offers this sensational view!

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Quidi Vidi, located within St. John’s, has a rich history, a fabulous brewery and a vibrant artisan community.

Wonders of the World

Niagara Falls is a spectacular sight.  Almost 175 feet in height and dropping over 28 million liters of water a second.  With over 12 million tourists a year this is a very popular destination but for golfers no fear, there are many excellent courses to enjoy too.  Golf complements Niagara’s world class wines and the natural beauty of the Falls. The Niagara Parks Commission administers two courses I’d recommend:  Oak Hall is a 9-hole course and is just over 1000 yards.  Convenient, picturesque and historic it’s fun for the whole family.  Whirlpool is set close to the Niagara gorge and was designed by one of Canada’s best known golf architects, Stanley Thompson.   My last recommendation is one of the area’s newest courses, Grand Niagara.  Developed by Rees Jones, this course is set back and west of the popular Niagara River area.  Immaculate conditioning and a stern test, this will give you some solitude after the lights, sounds and experiences of Clifton Hill (although I am more a Niagara on the Lake guy myself).

Fun Fact – The Maid of the Mist began operating in 1846 and is North America’s oldest tourist attraction.

Island Life

With a relatively season to enjoy summer weather, three of Canada’s most popular islands offer a multitude of activity to complement some of Canada’s best golf:

Cape Breton Island

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The 6th hole at The Lakes offers an incredibly view of Bras d’Or Lake

Located on Canada’s east coast this is becoming Canada’s world class golf destination, hosting three of Canada’s top 5 courses.  Add to this my favourite drive in all of Canada, the Cabot Trail, and seafood options galore, you will find yourself planning your next visit before you’ve completed the first trip.  Travelers tip – while Cabot’s two courses gets considerable love (and rightfully so) take the time to research options for other courses.  I loved playing The Lakes in Ben Eoin, just outside of Sydney.  Bell Bay in Baddeck hosts a PGA Tour Canada event but the Baddeck Lobster Supper may be the real draw.

Fun Fact – Historic Keltic Lodge in Ingonish, NS has been in operation since 1940 from June to October.

Cabot Links 16th

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

Prince Edward Island

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Anne of Green Gables attracts thousands of tourists and is conveniently adjacent to Green Gables Golf Club in Cavendish, PEI

This is simply my favourite place to play golf in Canada.  The island is barely over 200 kilometers wide yet boasts over 25 courses.  The golf is exceptional, the courses diverse in their layout.  Golf PEI supports the promotion of golf on the Island and provides travel specialists to take care of all your golf travel needs (and from experience they are exceptional).  A vibrant food scene, history, culture and incredible proximity to the sea makes this my favourite golf destination in the country.  And all that without mention of world famous Cows Ice Cream or the fabulous PEI Brewing Company.  I have written extensively about the gentle island, as my 2015 fall golf trip was legendary.

Fun Fact – there is no place on PEI that is more than 16 km from the Sea.

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Stanhope’s seaside views are fantastic.  It also boasts one of the best stretches of golf holes on the island, 11-16, wow.

Vancouver Island

Almost 6000km west of Prince Edward Island is Vancouver Island, set on the west coast of Canada.  Victoria is the capital of British Columbia and is a smaller but vibrant city with an historic charm.  A walk along the harbourfront is a must set near the majestic Fairmont Empress hotel.  I’ve spent a long night sampling local beers at Garrick’s Head but the Bard and Banker along with Bartholomew’s are also highly recommended pubs.  The natural beauty of Vancouver Island is on full display at every corner and a visit to Tofino with its beaches, surfing and storm watching potential is a recommendation I would make to anyone visiting the region.  Golfers do not despair; the Vancouver Island Golf Trail will guide you along 250 kilometers of picturesque coastline of the eastern Island with 13 courses set to break up the drive.  Many of these courses are top rated public courses in Canada including a couple on my own Bucket List of Canadian Courses, Bear Mountain’s two courses (Mountain and Valley) and Storey Creek.

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The Mountain course has integrated it’s famous 19th hole into play and on a clear day there may not be a better view on a golf course on the Island.  (Photo Credit – https://bearmountain.ca/image-gallery/nicklaus-golf/)

Fun Fact – Vancouver Island boasts on the country’s mildest climates and provides year-round golf opportunities.

Of course, these are only a few destinations in Canada where you can easily mix in golf do a diverse agenda of travel and other leisure activity.  I’ll share more destination locations where you can pack the clubs along too and round out a Canadian adventure.  Feel free to contact me directly on Twitter (@36aday) and I’ll share any insight on golf and travel in Canada.  It’s never too early to start planning a golf travel adventure within Canada.  In 2018 I have travel planned for British Columbia (Vancouver…but not the Island), Manitoba (a new adventure for me from a golf perspective) and Saskatchewan (time to revisit this underrated part of the country and explore new highways and courses).  I’ll share my experiences and look forward to experiencing some great public courses.

 

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Forest Golf Club and Inn – My greatest value play

Forest Golf Club and Inn

http://www.golfforest.ca/

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Back in 2010 – a much warmer weekend then 2017 – my Dad tees off on hole 1.

It’s a subtle re-brand, changing the name from Forest Golf and Country Hotel to Forest Golf Club and Inn.  New course ownership, under the GolfNorth consortium is bringing about some changes but what remains the same is 27 holes and some of Ontario’s best value in golf.  You won’t find Forest on top course listings; in fact their 18-hole course doesn’t have a hole over 400 yards.  As a par 66, this windswept course offers value, fun and enough challenge to bring golfers back.

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Looking off the 7th tee to the 6th green and the 4th fairway.

I play this course annually on the last weekend of April with a group of 24.  This year marked our 17th year visiting this rural farming community about 45 km east of Sarnia, Ontario and just south of Lake Huron.  Over the years we’ve experienced hot, summer-like conditions, late winter wet snow and pretty much everything in between.  In addition, Forest has a 9-hole course but it is set more in a valley and is prone to early season dampness or flooding.  This year all 27 holes were open and the course was lush and played long.

The course has a hotel on site along with a restaurant so it is possible for visitors to park their car and not start it back up until it’s time to leave.  The restaurant is not as lively as it once was, with other places in town (only 5 minutes away) providing some stiff competition.  However, despite this, Forest Golf Club and Inn remains one of the best value golf destinations I have experienced.  The shoulder season special of 2 days/2 nights unlimited golf is $140.00. Most of our players come a day before and their 3 day/3 night special is $190.00  They promote the “Unlimited Golf Package” year round so even in the peak season there is value to be had.  Now this does not include cart fees which for our group – given our collective age and skill level are mandatory but for a group of golfers of diverse skill who are all seeking two rounds a day, this is perfect for us.

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Bundled up and battling cold winds, the approach on the island green at 11 is even tougher.

The course starts in the valley for the first two holes with a straightaway par 4 and a par 3.  Moving up, the wind and water come into play.  Despite the 3rd hole being a short 124 yards (and often playing shorter) a crowned green and strong spring winds make it a tough hole.  The course is well protected by water on 8 holes.  Even at only 4600 yards, this provides the course some teeth.  Renovations over the past few years feature Lambton County’s only island green on the par 4 11th.  The approach, always into a strong breeze any time I have played it, makes the short iron approach much more challenging than that yardage would indicate.  The longest holes – 12 and 14 (368 yards and 380) are made tougher by the fact one of them is always directly into the wind.  One year, our group factored four extra clubs because of the wind and still came up short on the approach.

The conditions are consistently good but more attention to the greens would take this course to another level.  But make no mistake, this course is without pretense and provides relaxed, enjoyable golf for players of all skills levels.  Their second set of tees make the 18 hole course just under 3900 yards.  The nine hole course is a par 33, with 6 par 4’s and 3 par 3’s.  At 2057 yards, it uses elevation changes to create fun and challenge.

 

The hotel is clean and built to accommodate groups exceptionally well with one wing extending just adjacent to the 18th green making it convenient to leave the clubs in the cart over lunch before a second round.

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On the tee at Hole 10.  A longer straightaway par 4.

My favourite stretch on the course is holes 4-6 which wrap around a large pond and reflect the risk-reward aspect of Forest.  Driveable greens for sure, with holes 4 and 5 playing 264 and 267, but water and OB await any errant shots.  The 9th hole is also a fun one with players seeking to cut the corner on the dog leg par 4 over water and make their second shot as short as possible.

Forest Golf Club and Inn does not try to oversell itself; it is a shorter, fun and very approachable golf course.  With a focus on value yet possessing enough challenge for all players it remains the home of the Pitch, Putt and Gimme group based in Hamilton, Ontario and next year will be year 18.  Maybe next year I can finally get a birdie on the challenging downhill par 3 17th, only 109 yards but I have bogied that hole more than I’ve parred it and have yet to birdie it in 17 years!  Always good memories, good golf and exceptional value.

For this value conscious golfer looking for a relaxed, fun golf experience this is the place for you.

 

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With 40 km/h winds, approach shots need to carefully thought out.

Aura – 5 out of 10 – Perhaps too far removed from major golfing markets, but under the GolfNorth banner this may change over time.  It has a small but faithful following and focuses wisely on its golf value.

Value (cost / experience) – 10 out of 10.  The focus, given the location, is the stay and play deals and Forest is smart in its marketing efforts.   Even in the peak season, our group could enjoy 3 days accommodation and unlimited golf for $265 pp.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 6 out of 10 – I quite like the layout and appreciate the investments made over years (improvements to bridges and fairways).  The greens remain inconsistent and have been that way for many years now.  And while some feel a par 5 would help add to the course, I like that focus on shorter playability.  Our group includes several retirees who don’t play much golf yet everyone feels they can play this course and contribute in a scramble.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 7 out of 10 – This course is a fun way to kick off my golf season and after the Masters is done, I focus my attention to Forest and the start of my golf season.  I like the fact that the course mixes shorter, more forgiving holes with some challenge (water, design and wind).

Highlight (what is great about the course) – The 18th hole and its proximity to the hotel can provide a gallery at times.  For our group, add a couple drinks and the pressure of the approach or birdie putt on 18th becomes more pronounced.  Like the 16th at TPC Scottsdale, the 18th at Forest has taken on an enjoyable life of its own on late afternoon rounds.

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Spring 2016 – one of my favourite golf pictures. 14th tee at Forest, Dad and I.

36 Holes. 36 Hours. Golf Tripping to Kelowna, B.C.

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The views at Tower Ranch overlooking Kelowna are sensational.

Kelowna, British Columbia is one of the most picturesque cities in Canada, positioned beautifully in the Okanagan Valley and along Okanagan Lake.  Arriving at Vancouver International Airport on an overcast morning, I had set an itinerary for myself over 36 hours which would allow me two rounds of golf at two of Kelowna’s 18 local courses, and arguably two of their best and both positioned on my bucket list – Gallagher’s Canyon and Tower Ranch.  My GPS identified the drive from YVR to Gallagher’s Canyon at just over 4.5 hours.  As is the case anytime I’ve driven in BC, the journey is just as memorable as the destination.  The drive to Kelowna, along the Trans Canada, and Highways 5 and 97, took me over two mountain passes – Needle Peak and Pennask Mountain.  At Pennask, the elevation change took the rain showers I had experienced from Vancouver and changed it over to a significant snowfall.  Considering I was only about 50km from the course it was eye opening to experience this!  Gallagher’s Canyon is about 35 years old and is set along Scenic Canyon.

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The 9th hole sets players alongside the expansive canyon drop to the left.  But the impressiveness truly starts on the opening tee with one of the best opening tee shots in golf in Canada.  This is an excellent layout with brilliant use of the elevation change throughout the course.  A full review of Gallagher’s Canyon is forthcoming at 36aday but this is an excellent championship course which hosts the PGA of BC Championship.

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Gallagher’s Canyon provides one of the best opening tee shots I’ve experienced in Canada.  Set high above the fairway, tee it high and let it fly!

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The peak at Pennask Mountain is about 1700m above sea level and brought some early May weather I did not expect.

Activities outside the golf course are plentiful with wine tours, craft breweries, arts, spas and farm-to-table tours to mention only a few, and of course there is the lake and the abundance of water activities.  Resting up after a memorable round and sampling local beer and farm-fresh food, I was able to arrive early at Tower Ranch Golf Club.  A Tom McBroom design, this course is one of the most visually stunning I have experienced with intelligence in its design.

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Course designer Tom McBroom uses the terrain so effectively as seen here on the par 5, 15th.

My advice; play one tee forward as the course demands excellent ball striking.  Yet McBroom adds a playability factor for players of all skill level with his design that can funnel shots back into position through effective use of the natural, and very hilly terrain.  It’s a course I’d love to play again and again.  Holes 11-13 may be one of my favourite three-hole stretches I’ve experienced.  Fortunate to catch a sunny day, it only added to the awe of the vistas looking over the entire city from its location high up the hillside.  Finishing my round, it was hard to believe that my quick trip to Kelowna had come to an end.  With business in Vancouver I had to return back and the drive, set in brilliant, mild sunshine was relaxed and easy.

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Get used to views like this on your drive.

Everything about this trip was easy and efficient.  Airport car rentals are extremely efficient to get renters off quickly.  Having booked tee times in advance, the toughest decision I had over the two days was where to go for dinner and what to eat.  Tacking on time over any trip to Vancouver, this two-day, one night getaway is exciting, memorable and will have you wanting to come back to Kelowna for more.

Two days.  921 km.  36 holes.  2 bucket list courses.  One incredible city and a great golfing experience.

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.

Cabot Links 16th

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.