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.

Pippy Park – A Breathtaking Round in the Park

http://www.pippypark.com/admirals-green.asp

Bob Weeks advised us years back (on April 1, mind you) that the Canadian Open would be moved to Pippy Park’s Admiral’s Green course. The course may not exactly hold up to PGA standards but the hospitality which people can expect if traveling to St. John’s to play golf is sensational and is world class. The real takeaway here is be sure to read the date in which a golf article is published (and ignore all April 1 posts!). I have written about my positive experience on the west side of the Island, playing Humber Valley. This course will not make bucket lists but make no mistake, it is a fun golf experience based within the city limits.016

The first thing I did upon arrival was prepare a 30 second video which panned around the city from the clubhouse. The clubhouse is set on a crown which overlooks the city including Signal Hill and the ocean to the east. This all culminates with the jaw-dropping par 3 7th hole, which rivals any par 3 I have experienced in terms of beauty and challenge. I suspect the drop from tee to green is about 100 feet and even on a relatively wind-free day (so my playing partners advised) it was a two club breeze. My playing partners, three local seniors, all smiled when seeing my reaction to this hole and the view of the city beyond it; I was in stunned disbelief.

Pippy Park is an understated and approachable golf course. The conditions are good and the course, while walkable, will demand players navigate the up and down of the crown of land which the course is set on. Many holes are generous off the tee and the greens were in very good condition. The layout has some subtle quirkiness to it, especially along the back nine where there is an odd convergence of a few holes in one spot. Trust me, it is nothing that will spoil the experience.

Club rentals are possible, and it is possible for players to get higher end rentals if they wish. Traveling with shoes, a glove, six balls and a few tees I was more than prepared for a relaxing afternoon of golf. The course appealed to me due to its proximity to the airport. And with players who were comfortable playing ready golf we were able to complete our round under 4 hours. There are a couple more blind tees shots than I would have liked but the course was enjoyable, provided enough challenge to engage and afforded views of the city which make the greens fees an absolute bargain.

017As I look back over my afternoon at Pippy Park, it was one of the most unique and enjoyable golf experiences I have had in some time. The variety of golf holes – long/short; narrow/grip it and rip it; and uphill/downhill – makes for a round which will force you to use all the clubs in your bag.

Aura -6 out of 10 – The par 3 7th should make this grade higher and in my research of where to play in St. John’s I did not see an image of this hole. It would have cemented my decision.

Value (cost / experience) – 8 out of 10. Greens fees and club rental for under $60? Sign me up. Again, not a top 100 course but a fun, relaxed golf experience with panoramic views of the city worth the greens fees alone.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – Surprisingly nice. I saw grounds crew on the course working diligently to keep the course looking and playing well. – 7 out of 10

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – This was more fun than I expected and that is not to detract from the course, I simply did not have expectation – good or bad. However, I know there are a couple other courses in St. John’s I would like to experience but I do hope I can return one day. Based on my criteria (how did the round make me feel) I’d have to say it is well worth a return trip. –7.5 out of 10

Highlight (what is great about the course) – The view on 7 is breathtaking. The convenience of being so close to downtown is a bonus for the traveler.  And the people are so gracious and welcoming.

Sensational view!  Fortunate to get a clear day.

Sensational view! Fortunate to get a clear day.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – A minor issue but I wish rental sets had a sand wedge. Playing with a PW as my lowest loft club required some creativity.

Just The Facts
• My cabbie had not been to Pippy Park before so the cab ride should be about $20 from the airport. It is about 20 minutes to downtown from there so convenience is outstanding
• The pro shop is well equipped. A complementary course guide was a real nice treat.
• There are two courses at Pippy Park – the full length 18 hole Admiral’s Green course and a nine-hole course named Captain Hill
• While the season starts late, the fall is a nice time to play and is surprisingly an extended season in St. John’s
• Par 3’s are all impressive; I feel these are the strength of the course.
• Weather in NL can vary. Even within my round I had taken my coat on and off a few times. And have a toque packed in the bag, even in the summer.

To Rent Clubs Or Not To Rent, That Is The Question

To Rent Clubs Or Not To Rent, That Is The Question

My default position on club renting is ‘no’. It is to be avoided at any opportunity. I don’t like it. I have had exceptions to this rule in the past and will admit I am developing an increasing distrust against airlines ability and capacity to manage golf club shipments. Interestingly enough my experiences with rentals have been positive. I played in Arizona in 2011 with rental clubs on two separate rounds, the experience being so positive with the Ping G10 rentals I was sure to buy those as my next irons. In a recent trip to Mexico I rented Nike clubs and was pleased to have access to a SQ Sumo driver which is similar shape to my current (and old but effective) Callaway FT IQ Tour square head driver. So, despite some positive experiences renting I remain very reluctant to do so. The fact is I love my clubs. They feel right, perform well and they are mine.

If I am not coming across as a walking contradiction this next statement may do so. I am traveling next week on business and will make time for a round of golf in St. John’s, Newfoundland and will purposefully rent clubs. The leading reason is fiscal. Value matters to me. It would cost me over $55 to ship my clubs on Air Canada (which does include the return costs). I am able to rent a full set of clubs for under $20 at Pippy Park. I’ll save the money and put it toward seafood! Fact is this is going to be a casual, enjoyable round. If it was a bucket list course (for example, if I was traveling to Corner Brook or Deer Lake and was making time to play Humber Valley) I would pay to bring my clubs for the experience. The qualitative filter is an important one for me.

I am good at managing my expectations. I suspect I will get an old set which may have a couple brands of clubs involved. For the purposes of a recreational round and a new experience that will be ok. Now, I will bring a shoe bag in my luggage which will have a glove, some tees, divot repair tool, shoes and about 6 golf balls. While renting clubs is something I’d consider, playing golf without golf shoes sounds unfathomable to me.  AZ golf

I inquired about the emerging company ShipSticks, based in the USA. Their business model makes doing in business within Canada impossible. And for a casual round on a municipal course, I’m not going to worry about the additional expense of getting my clubs there. If I was able to make two rounds, perhaps adding Clovelly Golf Club, to my golf itinerary than I’d bring the clubs along.

The forecast is looking almost summer-like for St. John’s next Wednesday; sunny and 15c. I’m excited to tee it up and enjoy a unique golf experience. Sometimes we need to consider exceptions to the rule and I am comfortable doing so next week. I’m curious to know how others feel about club rentals?

Humber Valley Golf – An incredible Newfoundland golf experience

http://humbervalley.com/golf/

2013 was a dream year for me. With business in Vancouver Island and in the west of Newfoundland I had a chance to visit some of the most beautiful places in Canada…and yes, play some of the best golf courses!  Placing Humber Valley as one of the best public golf courses in Canada is both appropriate and necessary.  This was a special experience for me.  I will acknowledge my bias, this is a fantastic course based on a layout I simply love to play!  And playing the front 9 on my own allowed me to experience the incredible beauty of this Doug Carrick designed course in a relaxed pace.

What fascinated me about this course is likely the issue which will challenge its sustainability – location. More specific is its location in relation to any urban centre or other activity.  Humber Valley is south of Deer Lake and north of Corner Brook, just off the Trans-Canada Highway and near the convergence of Deer Lake and the Lower Humber River.  I am not a student of course design, but it played like this course was dropped onto this scenic and mountainous landscape, it did not appear the landscape was manipulated to accommodate the course.

And for a mountain course, the downhill holes were used for majestic effect. Uphill holes seemed subtle (although still challenging).  The first few holes, in hindsight, are quite pedestrian.  By the time you get close to the water the awe of this natural beauty shows itself.  Landing areas are generous and fair, trouble is subtle and course is much more forgiving than other mountain courses I have experienced.  I had taken some pictures but highly recommend that people view the photo album on the course website…the pictures don’t lie and are an accurate representation of this eastern Canada gem.  The clubhouse is well stocked, convenient and close to the first tee area.  Staff went above and beyond to make this a memorable experience for me.  As someone new to the area they were incredibly helpful in supporting a round of golf within my itinerary of traveling to Corner Brook.

The tee boxes were excellent, fairways generous and the greens required attention with some undulation but nothing that I felt unfair or tricky. The elevation change throughout the course was well utilized with distances or climbs between holes making my decision to get a cart a very smart decision!  I learned the course employs a grounds crew of three.  Having seen two of the three staff at work, they were very courteous of players, stopping their work and moving to the very edge of play before beginning their work once I was done play.

The signature hole is 10, with a jaw-dropping elevation change of 180 feet from the tee deck to the landing area below. Stunning is simply not appropriate.  It’s hard to argue how impressive this hole is, but I am a fan of the 11th which plays back toward the mountains and the 17th, a par 3 which plays downhill and require absolute precision.  I played the back nine with two members who raved about this course, the facilities and the staff who work tirelessly to make this course one of the best public Canadian courses.  I am hopeful I get back to western Newfoundland.  I would welcome the chance to play this course again.  It was one of the most pleasant surprises of my golfing career.

Aura – 8 out of 10 – Watch the photo album the course provides and I am guessing  you’d likely tell me 8 is not high enough.

Value (cost / experience) – 9 out of 10. The round cost me $60.  I would shudder to think how much a course like this would cost me in Ontario where I live.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – Fairways were not mown down to resemble Augusta national and rough was not at a US Open level. Bunkering was fair and not too penal.  Landing areas were fair and generous and this course was designed to support public play while challenging top players through tee boxes which accurately reflects gaps in skill. There are vacation cottages around the course but they are set back behind the tree lined fairways and did not come into play – 8 out of 10

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – I have not played a course which is more visually appealing. I’d definitely make time to play this course again if I was in the area –8 out of 10

Highlight (what is great about the course) – Holes 4, 5, 10 and 17 are stunning golf holes.  The staff were so helpful allowing me to make this round possible given my itinerary.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – bugs were a challenge but that’s what spray is for and this isn’t exactly an urban location (and that is just fine!!)

Just So You Know – The course is part of a resort and offers chalet accommodations, water activities and hiking.

My Best Shot – Hole 18, all three of us hit superb drives to the middle of the fairway on this closing par 5. However, when we got down to our balls, mine was the only one on the fairway.  We soon found out there is a fox that has a strong affinity for golf balls (and likely has assembled quite a collection).  We agreed a free drop for the other two was a fair decision!  A closing par ended a strong 9 and a solid 82 on a great course!