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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Bear Mountain – Mountain Course – A Stunning Track I Wanted to Love

Steve and Jack Nicklaus were provided a very interesting and unique piece of land to work with in developing the original course of a two-course resort layout in Victoria, BC. I’ve had the pleasure of playing this course on two separate occasions and was very impressed with the quality of the course and the natural beauty of the area. This is a course which is worthy of a place on Top 100 lists and should be on the bucket list of Canadian golfers who are seeking exciting, diverse and quality golf experiences. And make no mistake, if and when I return to Victoria I will seek this course out again to play, perhaps as a 36 a day loop with their newer Valley course which I have yet to play. But as much as I liked this course, I can’t bring myself to love it.

There is much to like mind you. There are holes, such as 11 and 14, which are simply spectacular. The optical illusion of 14 is amazing, with a feeling that the uphill approach shot will hold the green or the ball will fall into the harbour. On sunny days you can see Victoria and Port Angeles and are likely able to see Mt. Baker in the distance. Do take time after the hole to admire the view; it’s one of the best I’ve experienced. The conditioning of the course is superb, as one would expect. Greens roll true and quick yet fair. Bunkers are very well maintained and provide a healthy challenge for the player and as a result approach shots demand accuracy. Landing areas off the tee for a mountain course are relatively generous. There are a few holes which require a target approach, and local knowledge is helpful. Hole 15, for example, is deceptive in the landing area and does require a very precise tee shot to remain in play. The par 3 11th hole utilizes the elevation change wonderfully, as opposed to the 4th hole which while extremely scenic is a challenging shot to hold on the green as it’s a slightly uphill tee shot.

The only area in which housing and development comes into play is the first hole. A gentle dogleg right to left on the opening par 5 invites wayward tee shots to the left to approach the resort complex. Once you’re past the first hole, however, this is no longer an issue.

The oddest feature which is unique, exciting and stunning as well as curious, disappointing and detracting is that the best hole on the course is not part of the rotation of 18. Nicklaus saw an opportunity to build a short par 3 after the 14th hole which overlooks the harbour. It’s a visually stunning golf hole which requires a precise shot to a very short par 3. Bear Mountain markets this as their 19th hole but I would like the chance to play this hole as part of the overall layout. To me, this is a serious design flaw and left me wanting.

Playing with a member on both occasions, I can see the pride that members have in this majestic and well-conditioned course. It is a challenging layout but a golf experience which I thoroughly enjoyed and only hope I can experience once again. Look around and take in the marvelous scenery, even look back, for some holes offer an incredible view behind you as well as ahead! My pictures paled in comparison to the pictures available on their website.

Aura – 8 out of 10 – This is a special course with views of Victoria and Washington State which are stunning. The golf course is of a quality that complements the scenery.

Value (cost / experience) – 7 out of 10. Not the value track that others can boast in Victoria, but there is a quality to Bear Mountain which makes playing here worth the expense, it is a wonderful golf experience.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – I would love to rate this higher, and it is worthy of a higher rank save for the failure to incorporate the best hole into the 18. To me, it’s a missed opportunity. – 7.5 out of 10

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – Having played there twice, I really enjoyed it and would welcome a chance to come back and play it again. It is a very stout test of golf on a beautiful piece of land. With a second course alongside it is now a destination for golfers seeking great golf – 8.5 out of 10

Highlight (what is great about the course) – The view after 14 is breathtaking. But before you even tee it up, step outside of the clubhouse and check out the scenery and breathe. You would never know you were mere minutes from downtown Victoria.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – At the risk of overstating it, I’d make the 19th hole the 15th! That and I’d like to have an office in Victoria so I could play here from November to March, affording the chance to golf year round!

Just So You Know – The addition of the new Valley Course provides a great complement to this course and makes the Stay and Play options for this Westin Hotel resort course even more attractive.

Playing Partner Notes – When you play with a member who is a retired golf professional you get some unique insight. My first experience playing with Brian D. was special. It was a damp, foggy December morning and we got off early. After the round he stated he was pleased with his score considering he was seeking to hit close to the cart path to avoid walking far to get to his ball. He demanded I keep my bag on the cart as we played another round in the afternoon as the fog burned off. He was insistent I see this course in all its natural beauty, and wow, what a thrill that was!

What Makes Canada So Great? How About Golf!

Reflection is an important part of how I learn and how I act. So on Canada Day when a friend posted ‘What makes Canada so great?’ I wanted to think on this before responding. The responses she received, many from ex-pats living overseas shared themes of the land, the people and our passion for hockey. Well, they almost got it right. Two of the three anyway; don’t get me wrong, I enjoy hockey and get as passionate as the next person but the pendulum of my recreational passion has swung far to golf and I would respond today stating it is the land, the people and Canada’s passion for golf which are my three reasons why this country is so great.

Penn Classic 2013 at Cabot Links

2013 Penn Classic at Cabot Links

I’ve played golf since I was 10 years old, blogging about it for a little over 5 months. I’ve been fortunate to play some of Canada’s finest public courses having hit 5 of our 10 provinces and with firm plans for #6 in 2015 (and optimistic plans for a seventh). The diversity of our courses is only complemented by the diversity of our landscape. And golf accentuates this. When done right, it draws people to parts of Canada they may not otherwise travel to. Humber Valley, north of Corner Brook, NL, is a superb golf experience complemented by the stunning west coast of Newfoundland. Cape Breton Island is Nova Scotia is quickly becoming a premier destination for golf in Canada and is complemented by one of Canada’s most scenic driving routes, the Cabot Trail. Vancouver Island in British Columbia provides opportunity for year round golf and when the sun shines the views from Bear Mountain rival that of any course I’ve experienced. Even underrated Saskatchewan has diverse and stout golf courses to experience which will surprise and impress. My home province of Ontario is no slouch, with countless courses in golf regions like Muskoka, Niagara and others that offer numerous options for the public player. (Don’t worry other provinces, I have you targeted).

Add to this the chance to meet new and amazing people, like the gracious folks at Osprey Resort in Guysborough, NS, or at Cabot Links in Inverness, NS. Fact is, the game draws great people to it and in one the best countries of the world I get to meet the best of the best. There’s also the chance to meet people who share a similar passion for the game but are well known outside golf circles. Over the recent Canada Day weekend I had the pleasure of playing golf with Toronto Blue Jays play by play announcers Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler; simply two great guys. Along with good friend Andrew Stoakley we pegged it up at Grand Niagara and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon of golf. There was no dissecting the Jays’ playoff aspirations, we were focused on 8 foot par putts, finding the fairway off the tee and shared some laughs and time in the sun doing what we love to do, play golf. (and let me add, Grand Niagara is a must addition to any Canadian golfer bucket list)

Tabby, Mike and Buck

Tabby, Mike and Buck

The chance to play a round of golf with my father is one of my true pleasures and I look back with great memories of his patience and perseverance to teach me the game. I have friends whom I play regularly with and we share a deep passion for golf. I can’t compare it to any other sporting experience. With a compressed golf season as well, we take full advantage!

So as Canada celebrates its 147th birthday I would say it is the game of golf that makes this country so great. We add our own unique elements; land, people and passion and that for me is why this is the greatest country on the planet and why I feel privileged to live here.