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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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.

Cabot Cliffs – Anticipating a Sequel to Golf Purity

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I’d argue the 15th Hole at Cliffs is the real show stopper, but my sense is it’s only one of many signature holes. (Photo Credit – Integrative Golf Company)

Cabot Cliffs – Anticipating a Sequel to Golf Purity

Reading the reviews and inevitable accolades piling in it is clearly an exciting time to be affiliated with Cabot Links.  The course; correction, courses, are located in Inverness, Nova Scotia. It has quickly become the mecca of golf in Canada; a true golfing destination now with 36 holes and a completed resort facility, restaurant, and practice facilities.  And while I could argue that Cabot was the crown jewel of a pre-existing golfing destination – Cape Breton Island itself – Cabot’s 36 holes will hold allure on its own for golfers across Canada and around the world.  Both courses are well positioned within the Golf Digest Top 100 List, so there’s no arguing their quality.

But having played the Links course in 2013, it is the golfing experience which was new and so pure.  And it is these memories which stoke my anticipation about a return trip and visiting the new Cliffs course.  While I have written about my golf experience at Cabot Links, in almost three years I have never experienced a golf course like it.  I was forced to play shots I never experienced.  The course, unlike any other, seemed so well suited to the land and the sea.  Add to this, genuine maritime hospitality (and lobster sliders, I mean, c’mon) and it was the most authentic golf experience of my life.

But now there is a new course, arguably better than the original.  Building on the excellence of Links, the Cliffs course brings some unique elements – 6 par 3’s, 4’s and 5’s.  Signature holes?  The stunning 16th is getting a lot of love.  But in seeing the pictures when the course was originally shaped I can think of about 10 signature holes.  This embarrassment of riches creates a level of anticipation I have not experienced since the opening of Links.

Penn Classic 2014 at Cabot Links

A day at Cabot with good friends creates memories to last a lifetime.

I would be remised if I did not follow up on an earlier point to mention the proximity of Links/Cliffs to other outstanding experiences and golf on Cape Breton Island.  Scotch aficionados will need to make their way south to the Glenora Inn and Distillery.  There is the world class Cabot Trail, one of the country’s best driving experiences.  For an authentic seafood experience travel to Baddeck for the Baddeck Lobster Supper.  While in town get 18 in at Bell Bay Golf Club, which is hosting a Mackenzie Tour (PGA Tour Canada) stop.  Cape Breton Highlands National Park hosts the iconic and perennial top 10 course in Canada, Highlands Links, a Stanley Thompson gem.  You could also visit The Lakes Golf Club and round out your golf experience.  If you’re traveling to Cape Breton, take advantage of the opportunity to experience more than just Cabot.

But for this Canadian Bucket List dreamer, Cabot Cliffs now assumes a rightful place on top of my list.  Anticipation is a wonderful thing and will only make the experience of eventually teeing it up at Cliffs (and Links again) as a highlight among many fabulous golf experiences across this country.

There’s just something about Cape Breton Island, the Maritimes overall really, that just does my spirit good.  Congratulations on your successful opening and continued success to Ben Cowan-Dewar and the entire team at Cabot.

Cabot Links 16th

This is my favourite golf hole I’ve ever played, the 16th at Cabot Links.  Will Cliffs offer a challenger to this majestic golf hole?

Interview with Golf PEI’s Mark McLane – Part 2 – Success and the Competition of Cabot Links

@36aday is pleased to introduce interviews with leaders in the game of golf in Canada. Nine questions are presented to probe important issues of the game, personal experiences, stories and insight. Just like 9 holes of golf, I hope you find this enjoyable and that it leaves you wanting more.

A Quick 9 With Executive Director of Golf PEI, Mark McLane

4. @36aday – Mark, you’ve been with Golf PEI since 2012. What is the greatest success story you can share during your tenure?

MM – I think the online booking. And I didn’t mention this before, in February 2014 we launched an online booking engine where you can book your accommodation and your golf and pay for it online. So you can, in Prince Edward Island, you can book a 7 night package, 3 nights at one hotel, 4 nights at another, 7 or 8 rounds and you can book that from your home, at 8 o’clock at night and pay for it. We call it self-serve bookings. We were pleasantly surprised how many people use that service last year. It has real time inventories for both tee times and hotels. So again, if the standard room is not available at that hotel it will show that and if you can’t play a course it won’t show access. It has made our reservation centre so efficient. For those people who know the product they don’t need to make 10 phone calls. It’s similar to how you would price your Sunwing vacation; what if I want an oceanview room and what if I go in March? What if I go in April? And the customer can do that now and do it in less than two minutes. We have groups; we had a guy from Kingston, Ontario, 8 guys, gave us the dates, and while I’m talking to him on the phone I can actually give in a taxes in price before we get off the phone. And he said ‘that’s all I wanted to know, I didn’t know if it was $600 or $1200’ so we’re getting really efficient in that to make that golf vacation planning easy.

@36aday – It sounds to me like a real commitment to strengthening service.

MM – Definitely. And again for us as a marketing organization it helps us with origin of golfer data; we know where people are booking from. And that online booking engine again is another great source because you book the time yourself, so you put your address and credit card information and all that so we would know more accurate percentages of who’s on the first tee and where they’re from. Know your customer (laughs).

The challenging 8th hole at Dundarave - Photo Credit - Golf PEI

The challenging 8th hole at Dundarave – Photo Credit – Golf PEI

5. @36aday – Golfing in maritime Canada has enjoyed considerable growth and prominence over recent years, led recently by the development of Cabot Links and soon to be accompanied by Cabot Cliffs. How does Golf PEI view this competition and what steps, if any, are planned to address what is an increasingly competitive environment?

MM – Is Cabot Links a competitor? I would say yes it is but it’s on a different scale. From a pricing perspective, a weekend at those particular courses is probably 2 to 3 times more expensive than ours. I view it as a positive for the region, especially for the US market as people will figure out it’s not that hard to get there, the weather is better than they think it is and the quality of the courses. So what I always say, I think Cabot will get the first trip or two from the US visitor. I think we’ll get the second or third or we’ll get the family trip from that perspective so I think it’s a win-win. It’s like the car dealership model, that’s why they are all together; there are some synergies there so we’re only two hours away. We do cooperate sometimes on some media and fan opportunities in the US. It’s a positive. You have Bandon Dunes marketing machine there too. When Crowbush was built 25 years ago we had our honeymoon period so again it’s nice to have a close neighbor 2 hours away so it’s positive.

Mill River which has hosted Big Break PEI - Photo Credit - Golf PEI

Mill River which has hosted Big Break PEI – Photo Credit – Golf PEI

6. @36aday – There has been much written about Crowbush Cove Golf Links – ranging from a possible sale from the government to desired reinvestment to improve the course? What are your views on this and what role do you see for Golf PEI raising the profile of Crowbush Cove and – as critics say – bringing it back to a truly world class golf course?

MM – I would disagree with the statement that it has fallen behind. Its world class conditioning and it’s a world class layout. I think the big issue; again, the provincial government is in the golf business. They entered into the business with no real exit strategy and I guess looking back they should have thought of how to get out of the business but there would be no golf industry without that initial support from the government. The courses are for sale because our provincial government has taken the position they don’t want to compete with the public on that. It’s hard to sell those investments. I would really say they are a true partner in the golf industry. They are not ultra-competitive which the industry really is right now so I think it is win-win. Crowbush has a beautiful Rodd resort built on the course. Last year it might have been 12th in Canada, I would take that any day from a ranking perspective.

@36aday – I am looking forward to playing it next fall and be able to provide an informed opinion, I mean it is in a very unique and nice location.

MM – We host journalists from time to time and this year we hosted a television commentator from China who played the course. He would be the guy who provides commentary for Chinese majors in that market. He played Crowbush and was floored by the place; he could not believe the price, the location, the beauty and the overall experience of PEI. That’s one I think as a destination, I mean I know we’re a golf destination but we’re not typically seven rounds in seven days. We’re three rounds, with lots of beaches, culinary activity, festivals, and events. And that’s our competitive advantage is that we have a really strong golf product but we have a really strong destination overall, we really do. We had 1.3 million visitors last year.

@36aday – that’s amazing, for a province of…

MM – 145,000 people. So ten times our population. So again, tourism is important. The economic impact of golf is high.

@36aday – So to follow up on that, how many rounds would be played on your member courses over a year?

MM – We do track it, we track increases and decreases, but it is about 300,000 rounds a year. From a tourism perspective, about 50% of the rounds are non-resident. Talk about all the courses we have, without the tourism driver there wouldn’t be that many. 2015 is setting up well with the US exchange rate and it will keep many Canadians in Canada this year and the US market will start to come again from that perspective.

Brudenell River Golf Course - Photo Credit - Golf PEI

Brudenell River Golf Course – Photo Credit – Golf PEI

Tomorrow – Part 3 – Challenges, Opportunities and Bucket List Options

My best 18 holes (so far)

Here’s an interesting reflection. Looking over all the courses in Canada that I have played, I’ve drawn up my favourite and some of the most memorable golf holes which correspond to where each hole can be found on its scorecard. From this I am pleased to share my best 18 – and as the title indicates – so far. Most courses have a photo gallery or video flyover and while I am lacking my own extensive photo library I invite you to check these courses and holes on my best 18. Better yet, create your own list. It’s an interesting exercise to consider the best 7th hole you’ve ever played.

1 – Waskesiu (Saskatchewan) – Par 4, The Lobstick Tree

Lobstick Tree at Waskesiu in the first fairway

You can sense the pride and the history when looking out and seeing the Lobstick tree set firmly in the first fairway. Ask the staff about it, it’s a great story.

2 – Grand Niagara (Ontario) – Par 4

The demanding second hole at Grand Niagara.

The demanding second hole at Grand Niagara. Photo Credit – Andrew Stoakley

If possible, the second hole is even tougher than the first. A demanding drive requires an equally precise long second shot. Par is a great score on this golf hole.

3 – Eagles Nest (Ontario) – Par 4
Set high on the Oak Ridges moraine, this elevated tee shot – if executed well – can lead to a short approach and a birdie opportunity. Make it count; there aren’t many birdie holes out there.

4 – Dakota Dunes (Saskatchewan)– Par 4
This is a very tough golf hole. A somewhat blind tee shot gives way to a generous landing area. The approach shot is the real test. Like Hole 2, above, par is a great score on this solid golf hole.

5 – Humber Valley (Newfoundland) – Par 3
Don’t get distracted by the riverside and mountain views, this is a demanding tee shot. If you miss the green you’re facing a tough up and down. Better get it too; the next few holes at Humber Valley are all uphill.  Humber Valley may have the best course photo gallery I’ve seen.  Here’s their fifth hole here.

6 – The Lakes (Nova Scotia) – Par 4
The signature hole on this course is not my favourite golf hole, but it’s high on the list. You’ll see this image as the header image of this golf blog. It really is a stunning golf hole. If you’re far from home, driver all day.

The view of the Bras D'Or Lakes from the sixth tee.  Photo Credit - Andrew Stoakley

The view of the Bras D’Or Lakes from the sixth tee. Photo Credit – Andrew Stoakley

 

7 – Highlands Links (Nova Scotia) – Par 5
From a beauty to a beast – this is the toughest par 5 I’ve ever played. The demanding par 5 has a double dog leg and from the tips is over 590 yards. Good luck.

8 – South Muskoka (Ontario) – Par 3
This downhill par 3 is not the most difficult hole but does require your attention off the tee. A pond short of the green will happily accept your ball if mishit or if you don’t judge the wind properly. Still, par can be expected here.

9 – Lowville (Ontario) – Par 4
I always try to play this local course for me in the fall season. Set along the Niagara Escarpment, this is one of my most beautiful tee shots in golf when set against the red, orange and yellow leaves of the fall season.

10 – Humber Valley (Newfoundland) – Par 4
An almost 200 foot drop? Wow, what an experience. Hit it straight and you’ll be rewarded. If not, as I found out, then you’ll be pleased with bogey (and I was). Have your camera ready, but really, the course photo album will be what you should show your friends, it’s spectacular.

11 – Cabot Links (Nova Scotia) – Par 5
This is an underrated golf hole. Set along MacIsaac’s pond, the design features of this golf hole make it a truly special par 5 to experience.

12 – South Muskoka (Ontario) – Par 5
Can’t make it to Waskesiu Lake? Get to Bracebridge where their 12th hole features a mature pine which is a great aiming point…unless you’re hitting it really straight that day. Clip the tree and getting home in two is out of the question.

13 – Dakota Dunes – Par 4
This is a risk/reward dream. Only 270 yards, but a massive putting green you will be thinking birdie all the way but don’t be surprised if you walk off that hole with a bogey. A fun golf hole.

14 – Bear Mountain (British Columbia) – Par 3
Course designers moved this ‘19th hole’ into the course rotation. On a clear day you can see the city of Victoria, it’s simply a gorgeous golf hole. Demanding tee shot, but very pretty.

15 – Highlands Links (Nova Scotia) – Par 5
This is the signature hole at Highlands Links and when facing your approach shot you can see the ocean and Ingonish Island. I can’t imagine how many pictures have been taken on this golf hole but make sure you’re one of many who capture one, especially when the sun is out.

16 – Cabot Links (Nova Scotia) – Par 4

This is simply my all-time favourite golf hole. I’ve written about my near birdie here but as the last oceanfront hole before turning inland, you feel like you’re on a private course. To me, it’s a perfect golf hole.

This is my favourite golf hole I've ever played, the 16th at Cabot Links.

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

 

17 – Black Bear Ridge (Ontario) – Par 4
Slightly elevated, the demanding tee shot can set up a good approach opportunity. But trees left and right require precision and confidence. It’s a well-designed golf hole and to me looks great from the tee box. Playing there, I always look forward to the 17th tee shot.

18 – Timber Ridge (Ontario) – Par 4
The greatest aspect of this shot is the uphill approach shot. Up high, you may see fellow golfers staring down at you ready to make their own assessment of your game and chances to convert for birdie on a very challenging green to putt on. Still, it’s a great way to end a round on an course which is underrated for its conditioning and layout.

All together, my best 18 plays as a Par 73 with 11 par 4’s, 4 par 5’s, and 3 par 3’s.  I look forward to the debates with friends, chances to edit and amend and learn from others about how to complement this great collection of golf holes.

Cabot Links versus Highlands Links

Cabot Links versus Highlands Links

I’m always fascinated by the search queries which bring people to this blog. Recently, I noticed someone arrived after typing in ‘Cabot Links versus Highland Links’ and it made me pause and reflect that is a fantastic query. I have been fortunate to have played them both, most recently Summer 2013. I have course reviews for Cabot Links and for Highlands Links and have also developed a regional review of golfing on Cape Breton Island. Most publications place both courses high in their top 10 publicly accessible courses in Canada. Canadian Golf Magazine has Cabot Links as #1 and Highlands Links as #3.

I’m resisting the urge to take this post on a different tact and avoid the ‘versus’ and implore people to consider them both as options for an extended golf experience on Cape Breton Island. After all, you’re only about 2 hours from the 18th green of one course to the 1st tee of the other. And that drive along the northwest portion of the Cabot Trail is absolutely sensational, one of the best in the country I’d contend. But no, I will address the query as is.

Cabot Links is the best course I have ever played golf on. It is the most unique golf experience I have ever had and is quite possibly Canada’s only true links course. The 16th hole which runs along the ocean is my favourite golf hole I’ve ever played. That said; if I could only play one course for the rest of my life it would be Highlands Links. There is no other layout I have experienced which brings the natural features of the land, and its’ incredible diversity, so close to a player. I’ve cited often my love for Stanley Thompson designed courses and this is beyond a doubt his crown jewel.

I do not mean to firmly place myself on the fence here. I’m not trying to avoid the question. I sincerely feel I am providing you with unique answers that are grounded in important context. The character of Cabot Links despite being less than five years old will not allow one to view these courses around a ‘new’ versus ‘old’ argument. Cabot looks like it’s been around for ages and in some ways it really has as the manipulation of the land to create this course was relatively minimal, in my understanding. In fact, with recent renovations which are aimed to bring Highlands Links back to its former glory, one could argue that Highlands is a newer design. Removing trees along some holes on the back nine and working hard to support the oceanfront holes which have historically been susceptible to flooding has really improved the play and the look of Highlands.

Perhaps one needs to view these courses as one would two boxers with a ‘tale of the tape’ but numbers truly belie the character, beauty and absolute uniqueness of them both. The fact that both have ‘Links’ in their title is also cause for possible confusion; Highlands Links was originally meant to be titled The Mountains and Ocean Course. That, to me, is more accurate a representation of the course.

Character? Cabot has an active caddy program and the greatest sound you’ll ever hear when your ball falls into the cup, as it hits a metal plate below with a hole in for the flag (which is also now the tone I get when receiving text messages). The 10th and 11th holes run adjacent to MacIsaac’s Pond and are stunning in their own right. Highlands Links has each hole named in Gaelic and the Clyburn river is a prominent early in the back nine and this gives way to the impressive views of the ocean on the par 5 15th. The 7th hole, Killiecrankie, may be the greatest par 5 I’ve ever played. I won’t even try sharing pictures of my own. The pictures available on the Cabot and Highlands site will provide breathtaking images that may have you booking flights to Sydney or Halifax tomorrow morning.

I hope you’re able to experience both courses for yourself at some point. To me, with my limited experience golfing throughout Canada, these are my top two courses in the country…by a wide margin.

The Stunning Cabot Trail

The Stunning Cabot Trail

Embracing Fall Golf in Canada

OK, so I’ve been a little quiet of late. But I have to admit that the fall is my favourite time of year for golf. Temperatures are a little more comfortable for someone like myself who prefers walking. The colours in Ontario in October are spectacular and on a dry day, the course conditions are often some of the best they will have been all season long. Let’s not even talk about value because this is hands down the ideal time for a value conscientious golfer (this is where GolfNow provides its real value). Carlisle Golf Club, Carlise, ON

As days get shorter and the window of the golf season across Canada (with the exception of some areas of British Columbia) is coming to a close I have a heightened appreciation for the limited opportunities to play. The fall tends to attract the more avid of golfer as well; fair weather players have long but their clubs away in the garage for the season. As someone who plays more than my fair share of rounds as a single, the solitude of a course on a crisp fall day is one of the highlights of the golf season.

Another reason to embrace fall golf is it is likely you’re playing your best golf of the season. The rust of the spring is long gone and the hard work in the summer to refine and re-find your game has come to a peak. My handicap has dropped a full stroke in the past 4 weeks with some outstanding play. And while my putting remains as mysterious as ever there is confidence and consistency with ball striking which means I am less likely to lose balls in the fall leaves.

OK, fall golf has its draw backs. It’s not perfect. But taking a page from the Morning Drive relaxed rules of golf, proposed earlier this year; I drop a ball where I felt I should have found it and play on…no penalty. Leaves are bothersome and not all courses take care to blow leaves away regularly. But me, I liken myself to a squirrel who is preparing for winter. I’ll get out and play as often as I can during this season. I know there will be an extended stretch where I’m hitting into a net or a dome and putting on my basement carpet and not into the sweet sound of a cup (and I do encourage you to listen to this great cup sound which Cabot Links have, with a metal plate on the bottom to make that drained putt sound even better!).

Put on a sweater, book a tee time and enjoy the fall golf options which are out there across the country. This time of year passes far too quickly and before long courses will close for another winter. And here’s hoping it’s a kinder winter than last year, but for now layer up and get out there!  Maybe I’ll see you Friday…and Sunday!