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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Dog Days of Summer

Dog Days of Summer

Being a statistics geek regarding my golf game I recently looked at my rounds per month over the past 7 years (yes, I keep data around my game going back many years). Within the golf season in southern Ontario (May to October), the month I play golf the least is August. This also explains why for two summers now with this blog gets a little quieter for me. For me, I will call it my golfing dog days of summer.

The hottest weather I have ever golfed in was outside of Phoenix, Arizona. It was an early August morning and once the round was completed the temperature was 108 F (42 C). The dry heat matters to me. I had a round at Grand Niagara one July which was so hot and humid I needed to wear rain gloves to keep a grip on the club. That was a hot one, too. Fact is, I am growing increasingly uncomfortable playing golf in the humid summer heat of Ontario.  AZ golf

The numbers back this up. My busiest months to play are May (6.4 rounds) and October (5.8 rounds). August is my least active with only 3.1 rounds on average. And this year may see me below that number. I expend considerable emotional energy thinking about this game. From January to March the obsession is quite high leading up to the first few courses that open and disregard the dormant, grey-green grasses. I go the Toronto Golf and Travel Show and plan in earnest for an early season golf trip. But in August, upon reflection, I am ready for a physical and emotional break. 3 months of regular play and practice has been replaced by lower energy reserves and a desire to keep at it. With high temperatures this week and humidity levels over 100 F (38 C) I realized my desire to play golf was low. Not having touched a club for over a week (which is rare anytime throughout the year) I decided to look over my statistics of play and see if this was unusual.

This is not a criticism, more an observation of a trend over time. Fact is, my energy level and interest to play golf is greater in October than it is in August…at least in Ontario in August.

So bring on the cooler and wet weather. The dog days of the golf season in Ontario are a time for me to give my body and mind a brief break from the game. And to me that is ok.

I’m curious to know if others give themselves time away from the game – playing, planning or reflecting – asidAZ golfe from when the weather dictates play is not possible? I can appreciate if you think it’s odd I choose August for this break.

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.

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.

Grand Niagara – Quality Course, Quality People

Grand Niagara – Quality Course, Quality People

http://grandniagaragolf.com/

Once it reaches 38c the humidity index is irrelevant when you’re on the golf course in Canada in July. The hottest day of the summer (or so I’m convinced) was spent with a good friend playing as a guest at his home course in Niagara Falls.  I had not heard of Grand Niagara – I’ll confess, I do not have much experience golfing in that part of the Ontario.  With rain gloves on both hands to help keep a grip on the club, we ventured out for a memorable and very enjoyable round!  My feelings afterward were a mix of gratitude, satisfaction and enjoyment.

Arriving early, the staff greeted me and set up my clubs in our cart and offered me a couple bottles of water.   It also permitted me some time to enjoy Grand Niagara’s excellent practice facilities.  However, as I always do before playing somewhere new I checked out the website.  I was impressed with the level of information it provided me.   I acknowledge a little sticker shock about the greens fees, but I was prepared and based on all I had heard from my friend and seen on the site, sensed this was going to be a special experience.

The condition of this course is a significant strength for Grand Niagara. Very few courses I’ve played on public courses are as well maintained.  This included practice facilities.  The pro shop was well stocked (well air conditioned, too!) and the change facilities appeared brand new and very clean.  When it was time to play, the starter offered more water and advised that with the heat we should not be held up by any groups in front of us; seems the temperatures were keeping some people away.  We were offered a cold cloth and more water.  The drive to the first hole swings around a couple hundred meters and we arrived on the first tee.

The layout of the course is straightforward but does provide significant risk-reward opportunity. A Rees Jones design, I found the subtlety of the course layout – from bunkering, subtle greens elevation changes and overall green design – to provide the challenge.  This is definitely a second shot course, meaning the approach shots are critical.  There is very little elevation change here and while critics may argue it is a mundane layout, I disagree and felt there sufficient variety through subtlety of design elements, hazard positioning and a mix of targeted and generous landing areas.  I was very pleased with the course but what truly impressed me on day where the humidity was over 40c was the care and commitment of the marshals and staff.  They understood well their role was to care for the players on the course.  We saw staff every two holes, minimum and were offered bottled water and a chance to cool our towels.  At the turn they were insistent we take a 15 minute break and consider cooling down and getting refreshments (which we wisely did).  I had not experienced this level of service on a golf course, and while I acknowledge the unique weather conditions, this seemed to be very sincere and genuine…a fact my friend reinforced to me.

There were only a couple holes I found to be ho-hum; 4 and 14 (despite its beauty on 14, I found the hole is rather pedestrian). All others I quite enjoyed, utilizing the landscape, hazards and subtle change in elevation (even if only around the greens) effectively.  I would welcome a chance to play this immaculate course again, on a cooler day perhaps.  Local knowledge is very helpful to score well.  I did not make many mistakes but the ones I made were costly.  In closing I can see why my friend is so proud to be a member here, the people are amazing and help place this course and a golf experience at Grand Niagara as a very special one!

Aura –7 out of 10 – Rees Jones brings a certain cache and having a testimonial from Bob Weeks about the conditioning was also something that piqued my curiosity.  The website provided me good information in preparation.  I expect continued positive publicity will help move this score up.

Value (cost / experience) – 6 out of 10.  Regular rates during the summer are $95 or $110 but there are some options for early bird discounts and their shoulder season rates are $75 or $85.  This is not going to rank as the greatest value I have experienced outside the GTA, but it is a quality golf experience.  The value really shoots up if you’re a Niagara area resident, as my friend is, where for $3000 you get an unlimited membership.   If I resided in Niagara Falls, I’d be very pleased to call myself a member and play this course every day!

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 9 out of 10 – There is very little to criticize about the layout and conditions.  The subtlety of Jones’ design elements and the quality of the course do create a unique and very good golf experience.  The greens were very approachable; they are fair in terms of slope and speed.  The sand traps were well maintained (but no surprise, given the overall conditioning)

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 8 out of 10 – I would like to get back and play here annually, bringing some other friends to join Member #1 for a casual round!  A course of this quality, complemented by a caring and professional staff (especially you, @lubster83) makes the trip worthwhile.  Travelling from the GTA, a chance to play one of SCORE Golf Top 59 public golf courses is worth the drive and expense.  In fact, I feel this course should be higher on this list than it is.

Highlight (what is great about the course) – The first hole sets a great tone for the round with water left, generous areas right but a demanding green on your approach.  Many of the par 3’s require a well struck shot to avoid hazards.  The signature hole, #13, is an impressive par 5 but watch the winds. And after a great round in that heat, it was awesome to enjoy a pint and a bite to eat at Riverside Grill – full serviced restaurant with all the classic clubhouse food and drinks.  Gabby and the girls took good care of us!

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – I really loved the course and the need for such precision; any misplayed approach shots would be funneled off the green.  As a value conscious golfer the fees are steeper than what I am used to paying, so if pressed on this, if I am waving my magic wand that may be it.  But as mentioned the condition and the staff support are superb.  It is worthy of its high rankings as a public play course!

Just So You Know – There are plans to build executive homes around the course and there is also consideration of making the course private in the future. For now, enjoy a tremendous golfing experience in a beautiful location.  The lack of infrastructure around the course (for now) is a real treat.

My Best Shot – I’ll have to defer here.  The downwind straight par 4 14th saw my friend hit a majestic drive which we measured to be well over 315 yards.  I caught my ball on the centre of the club face; my best drive of the day, and I was still 25 yards behind him!!  He got his birdie; I was not as fortunate settling for a tap in par.