Bucket List Overview – Part 4 – Prince Edward Island

This is the fourth of 10 posts that will look back on the current status of my bucket list.  Focusing on all 10 provinces, I’ll share links to courses played and remaining on my list, along with some new courses for consideration.  I’ll share some pictures, stories and wishes for future travel.  Canada is an amazing country for public golf, go play (once the snow is melted, of course).

Bucket List Courses PlayedLinks at Crowbush Cove, Brudenell River, Dundarave, Mill River, Stanhope, Fox Meadow, Green Gables, Eagles Glenn, Glasgow Hills, Andersons Creek

Bucket List Courses Remaining

Other Courses Played

Bucket List Contenders

Other Courses of Note – Belfast Highland Greens

 

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The iconic Anne of Green Gables home is set close to the 11th hole of Green Gables Golf Club

Overview

PEI is a unique golfing destination in Canada.  It is also brings together exceptional golfing quality, value, convenience, hospitality and interests to complement time away from the course.  I have written extensively about my golf experience in Fall 2015 on the Gentle Island and it remains my favourite place to play golf in Canada.  With courses set within the top 100 in Canada you get access to quality courses like Crowbush Cove and Dundarave.  You can play courses built by designers like Stanley Thompson, Graham Cooke, Dr. Michael Hurdzen / Dana Fry, and Robbie Robinson among others.  If you’re fortunate to play the top courses on the Island you may find – as I did – that there are other courses which deserve strong consideration to be on that list, notably Green Gables and Mill River.  This bucket list trip allowed me to play all 10 of my PEI courses in a 6 day span.  I have ranked these 10 courses on the Island and invite you to share your feedback on this list, acknowledging all ranking lists are highly subjective.

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Carr’s. If you’re going to be near Stanley Bridge it’s well worth a visit.

There are four courses which the province of PEI owns and operates; Crowbush, Mill River, Dundarave and Brudenell.  Arguably four of the top courses on the Island, they represent the diversity of golf available on PEI.  Close to Cavendish is a cluster of excellent golf, mere minutes away from each other: Green Gables, Eagles Glenn, Glasgow Hills and Andersons Creek are all in close proximity.  For travelers, the course closest to the Charlottetown airport which we played was Fox Meadow.  If you can only squeeze in a round this would be your choice.  And the most relaxed location?  That goes to Stanhope.  Don’t let it’s benign from nine fool you.  The back nine is simply breathtaking and offers a stretch of golf holes which are arguably the most scenic on the Island.

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There’s a 6-hole stretch on the back nine of Stanhope which is simply heavenly.

Utilizing Golf PEI, I was able to secure Island Green Cards for our foursome, allowing us the chance to play all 17 of their member courses.  While our itinerary only allowed us time for 10, at $399 (+taxes) you can understand why PEI provides such great value for golfers.  To find so much great golf, most of it only an hour from where we stayed, PEI continues to be one of Canada’s leading golf destinations.

Travel Notes

Golf PEI operates as a central marketing office for golf courses and the golf industry on PEI.  In conjunction with the four government owned courses via PEI’s Finest Golf, it excels at service, offering technology, print materials and access to people who can help with all aspects of golf trip planning.  For example, I wanted to surprise my group upon our arrival at our rental home (5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, hot tub, pool table, modern kitchen – $1400  +taxes for the week) with ingredients for a seafood feast.  Golf PEI staff connected me to a small seafood shop 2 minutes from our home and I was able to place an order and simply pick it up when I arrived; they actually offered to coordinate with our rental agency to have it all in the fridge for us.  Amazing.

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A nice way to end the trip. The tour was informative and enjoyable. Conveniently located downtown Charlottetown, the PEI Brewing Company is a great side trip.

In addition to 10 rounds of golf, we enjoyed 2 meals at New Glasgow Lobster Supper and created great value from the all-you-can-eat mussels.  We booked a tour at the PEI Brewing Company and took some time to wander downtown and try some Cows Ice Cream.  While that trip was all about the golf I can share from experience that PEI beaches are sensational, the coastal drives are relaxing and there are growing and diverse options for foodies.  The west coast offers some of the most spectacular seaside driving views on the Island.  But check for yourself.  My new map to bucket list courses will show, if you zoom in on PEI, how close all these courses are to each other and how easy it is to tour around the entire Island.

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Early morning light provides the only filter needed at Eagles Glenn in Cavendish.

While I’ve managed to complete my entire bucket list for this province in one trip, it is a destination I would welcome coming back to and look forward to when I can make a return trip.

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My favourite picture of Mill River is the par 3, downhill 5th hole. Stunning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mill River – Your Big Break to Western PEI Golf

Course Review – Mill River – Your Big Break to Western PEI Golf

http://www.golfpei.ca/course/millriver

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The approach shot on the opening hole

The drive from Stanley Bridge to Woodstock is a relaxed one, as most drives on Prince Edward Island tend to be, and this allowed our group time to get excited for what lay ahead. Mill River did not disappoint. From the moment we arrived, the experience was first class. Friendly and helpful staff, some of the best practice facilities on the Island and the opportunity to play the course which hosted Big Break PEI on a sunny, mild fall day made for pure enjoyment.

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No denying where you’re playing.  The large, welcoming sign is visible to the right off the first tee.

The course has, in my opinion, the strongest opening nine on the Island. There is no weak hole; from the beautiful layout of the first hole that dog legs left into carved forest that will make you think you’re in the Carolinas if not for the spectacular fall colours which are sprinkled within the predominant pines, to the breathtaking par 3 downhill 5th, or maybe the challenging 7th which gives players an option to play left or right of the spring which cuts across the hole. The halfway house is stunning, just beautiful, and allows several options to refuel for a more demanding back nine. The 10th hole reminds me of Stanley Thompson designed Waskesiu course in Saskatchewan, with a solitary tree prominent in the fairway. The course meanders in elevation and I found it increasingly challenging as it progresses. Strategic play is increasingly important as elevation change and doglegs demand precision in thinking and ball striking

The conditioning is superb, consistent with the quality set by all provincially owned courses, but Mill River sets the bar extremely high. The green complexes may be some of the most challenging on the Island with undulations and speed serving as stout defences. The bunkers were exceptional, playing consistent and not too penal being a resort course. The tee boxes for late in season were fabulous and framed the holes well. Players have several options off the tee on many holes and if you have a chance to play this course multiple times you are likely to learn where to play aggressively and where to be more conservative. Many holes are protected by the forest, creating a tight feel.

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The short, downhill par 3 5th hole.  Just stunning.

The consensus of our group was that this was the best conditioned of the Island-operated courses and, as mentioned, have the most challenging greens. The front nine is very strong and the closing hole is excellent in its challenge and opportunity to score. The views on your approach shot in on 18 are worth a panoramic look. Of the ten courses on the Island, this was one I enjoyed a great deal and rated high on my list of favourites; the quality of the golf experience surprised me. The tree-lined fairways and changes in elevation were visually appealing. Add to it world class service and outstanding conditioning and it is a golfing experience that visitors to PEI should make the time for.

Aura – 8 out of 10 – This course lacks the profile of other courses on the Island such as Crowbush Cove or Dundarave which are perennial top 100 courses in Canada. But the exposure this course received on Big Break and its affiliation as one of the four provincially owned and operated courses more than offsets this. More importantly, it is an exceptional course. This rating will only improve over time.

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Best halfway house on the Island!

Value (cost / experience) – 9.5 out of 10. With rates ranging from $35 to $65 dollars, the value to play Mill River is exceptional. Or, if you live or vacation in the area you can join Mill River for $880 + taxes/fees for the season. And that is not a misprint.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 8.5 out of 10 – The course layout is outstanding and its conditioning for late season was fantastic. The course suffered none of the winter damage on its greens which a few of the courses further east on the Island experienced. The greens are undulating and fast, a couple of which had me and my playing partners grinding to avoid three-putting. The bunkering is sensational. The conditioning, for me, was a real strength of this course.

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Finished strong with a birdie on the par 4 18th.  Take time to enjoy the full panoramic view as you’re set quite high on the property.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 8.5 out of 10 – The people, as with its course, are outstanding. From check in, to the first tee shot, to the halfway house and the view on your approach on 18, you will find the experience at Mill River to be first class, quality and very enjoyable. This is a course I’d be proud to be a member at.

Highlight (what is great about the course) – The first tee shot is framed so beautifully. The large Mill River sign off to the right and the slightly elevated tee shot creates excitement which continues throughout the round. As mentioned, the front nine at Mill River is outstanding. Utilize the practice facilities well and be ready; it’s a great test of golf.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – As a resort course, the slope on a couple of the greens on the back would be extremely challenging for the recreational player. Heck, it was challenging for four single digit handicappers. Nothing that detracted from my golf experience, I’ll emphasize.

Dundarave – Reflects the Uniqueness of PEI Golf

Dundarave – Reflects the Uniqueness of PEI Golf

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The view from the first tee at Dundarave.

www.golfpei.ca/course/dundarave

 

I defer to PEI’s Finest Golf in their description of this championship course because it is true, “the most stunning beauty that PEI has to offer”. This expansive and stunning course is located adjacent to Brudenell River golf course but location and quality may be all they share, as this course is considerably more challenging than its sister course. Designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, this course opened in 1999, almost 30 years after Brudenell River. The iconic, unique red sand bunkers and its bunkering pattern gets proper due but this course is an intelligent and challenging design, creating both beauty and brawn.

Considerably more expansive than Brudenell River, Dundarave reminded me of courses in Muskoka, in Ontario, with many fairways carved out of the tall pines. However, this course brings diversity of design which makes any identification of course type difficult. Perhaps this is why – as its website indicates – Dundarave is an appealing blend of traditional and contemporary design. I enjoyed the opening holes which stretch over a considerable swath of property, making walking challenging but certainly visually stunning. Hurdzan and Fry, who demonstrated their bunkering genius at Devil’s Paintbrush in Ontario, created a signature hole which showcased one of their strengths on the par 4 8th hole, with an elevated tee to a true risk-reward hole which is dotted with bunkers (of course). While the 8th gets considerable attention, justifiably, each hole brings intelligent design elements to it. Elevated tees, fairway bunkers, collection areas around the greens and tree-lined fairways all create unique elements of beauty and challenge to each hole. The river, which is so prominent to its sister course, is only a subtle feature on this course and is featured on the 8th and 9th holes.

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The beautiful 8th green and a nice GIR.  Fixed the ball mark and since I was away, enjoyed the view after my putt.

While most courses have a memorable stretch of holes, I cannot say I had a favourite stretch. Fact is, I truly enjoyed all 18 holes and wish I had the time to play another 18 upon completion of my round. I appreciated the opening holes, which introduce the challenges of design and conditioning. The middle holes bring in the river, along with an increase prominence of water hazards, and the closing holes bring scoring opportunity with clear risk-reward options and more dramatic elevation changes. There is nothing mundane about Dundarave. You will need to have all facets of your game working to score well. If pressed on the issue, I would state the opening four holes – par 4-5-4-5 – are a great opening which will test players. As a resort course, the landing areas are relatively generous but the approach shots require more precision.

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My favourite picture from 2015, Greg A teeing off the 2nd hole of Dundarave. Not quite Ben Hogan’s approach at the US Open, but artistic in its own right.

One aspect I want to emphasize, and that contributes to the golf experience, is the outstanding condition of this course. Playing on a sunny, cool fall morning and the day after a soaking rain I was impressed with how well this course played. The greens were sensational; the tee boxes tightly mown and framed each hole so well. The bunkers were firm but consistent and the fairways were immaculate. Bunkering is respectful of the fact this is a resort course; they are not too penal but are certainly prominent. Unlike Brudenell, the greens at Dundarave were larger and had some undulation in spots but more slope and pace overall. They were fair, firm and fast and a real treat to play.

This course has been rated 61 on the Canadian Golf Magazine 2015 Top 100 Golf Courses of Canada, 27th best public course in the country. Along with Crowbush Cove which is a perennial top 10 public course in Canada, Dundarave anchors the quality of golf on the gentle island. The Island may be gentle, but golf at Dundarave is stout…and fun.

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Joel G after teeing off on the spectacular downhill par 3 17th

Aura – 8.5 out of 10 – It’s a top 100 course and was high on my bucket list. Certainly on the Island’s best courses and part of the Rodd resort holdings. The aura is high, but in a uniquely discreet PEI kind of way.

Value (cost / experience) – 9.5 out of 10 – Sit down for this one. You can become a member of Brudenell River AND Dundarave for $1275. Just looking to play one round? Your peak fee is $80. For the quality of golf and the overall experience that is sensational.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 8.5 out of 10 – It is hard to critique the condition of this course for early October; it was outstanding and really added to the overall enjoyment of the golf experience. Press me on the issue and I’d say the bunkers were too firm for my liking but it had rained hard the day before so the conditions were understood. But it is clear that the players and staff take pride in this course.

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Our last look at Dundarave after finishing up on 18.  Beautiful.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 9 out of 10 – I’d love to come back, and plan to at some point. I left wishing I could leave the bag on the cart and just go around for another 18. Challenging? Sure. But it is fair and fun and great test of golf.

Highlight (what is great about the course) – I really appreciated the diversity of golf holes. The expansiveness of Dundarave created a feeling of tranquility for me. Add to it that we were first off in the morning and it felt like we played early at a private club – pristine and alone.

My Best Shot – I didn’t play my best at Dundarave and seem to be able to recall some poor decision making on the closing holes where I was either too aggressive in spots, or the opposite, where I was too conservative and was left with much more challenge than I should have. I was pleased with a number of great tee shots I had early in the round. My consistency off the tee kept the round from getting ugly. I’ll be back, Dundarave, seeking that elusive memorable shot!

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

Crowbush Cove – The Crown Jewel of PEI Golf

Video provided by Eat Sleep Golf.  To see hole by hole flyovers of Crowbush, click here

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Andrew S teeing off on the challenging par 5 5th hole

My experience can attest that PEI is blessed with a rich diversity of quality golf courses. Playing what I determined to be the Island’s 10 best this fall, there were natural differences in course quality. Some were clearly of a quality to be considered for national ranking and others, while not on prominent lists, perhaps should be. However, one course on PEI stands above the others. This course is natural, rugged and blessed with a seaside location that is spectacular – both visually and its impact on play. Crowbush Cove is located on the north coast of PEI, about 45 minutes north and east of Charlottetown and was the consensus crown jewel of golf on the Island for me and my three playing partners.

Playing on a fall day where ‘blustery’ is not quite appropriate; we witnessed Crowbush in all its glory. Winds of 50 – 70 kmh greeted us and to complement the winds were intermittent showers and sleet. Looking back though, it really added to the allure of this course. Staff were welcoming, professional and helpful as it was our first time playing. As the parking area is set away from the course slightly, we were directed the clubhouse and were able to check in and get off early. The course begins to play away from the ocean and the first six holes loop inward and back toward the ocean. The par 5 fifth hole would be a brute on a calm day as the approach shot plays to an elevated green with a narrow landing area. With water short, and large, receptive bunkers long make for an intimidating shot. The slope rating, even from the white tees is over 130 and we realized the greenside protection is varied and penal. Whether it is bunkering, swails or elevated greens, the design of this course makes approach shot accuracy at a premium. This is challenging in a 3 or 4-club wind!

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Whitecaps on the ocean and a bent flagstick on the stunning 16th hole

The beauty of the ocean holes – the majestic par 4 7th; par 3 8th; the par 4 15th and iconic 16th are a treat to play. Be sure to take a moment to look back from behind the 16th green to see the beach and ocean. Have your camera handy. And while these beautiful holes, rightfully so, get much of the attention, the opening holes on both nines which move inland provide enough variety and challenge to keep you engaged. I was very impressed with the par 5 11th. All shots pose opportunity and challenge and a uniquely guarded green will create a myriad of recovery shot options if you miss. The elevated tee allows for many of us to feel like big hitters. The design of each nine is similar in how it starts away from the ocean and returns toward there after a few holes.

It is certainly a course you would want to play more than once as local knowledge on where to miss could shave strokes. Some holes allow, almost favouring, aggressive play whereas others need patience and an understanding of where to play to. There was nothing that seemed cookie cutter about this course; its layout and conditioning were superb. Even the more benign opening holes (which do afford scoring opportunity) have design elements which are impressive and challenging. The greens were some of the faster ones we experienced on the island but there was significant difference in uphill putting (which required a little more pace) versus downhill (which seemed to run extensively). The bunkers were outstanding, fairways and rough easy to identify off the tee and played fair. The tee boxes were in very good condition for late in the season. My only critique was of our own making; scheduling. Not allowing more time to warm up and really appreciate the facilities and the location is something I would amend when I return.

Because make no mistake, it is not a question of ‘if’ but a question of ‘when’. Allow yourself the time to truly experience Crowbush. It provides a strong diversity of golf holes which will challenge you and several beautiful golf holes which will wow you. Prince Edward Island is blessed to have a course of this quality and beauty. It really is the crown jewel of golf on the island.

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A well hit approach on 15 comes up well short.  The green is framed so well with grasses along the dunes in the back.

Aura – 9 out of 10 – National Top 10 public course. Highest ranked course on PEI. Seaside location. Hard to refute the score here. It is a course which is very special and unique and was a treat to play and experience.

Value (cost / experience) – 8.5 out of 10 – A peak green fee of $100.00 is not unacceptable for a course of this quality. However, plan ahead and get a PEI golf card and if you can get all 16 rounds in than you’re at an after tax green fee of $25. As it stands, our capacity to play 10 rounds make the value about $40 each. And that is 10 out of 10 value. You want even better value? A membership at Crowbush is less than $1500.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 8.5 out of 10 – Each nine follows a similar out and back in routing with a couple holes which skirt along the ocean. The layout is fantastic and each hole provides a unique challenge. Truthfully, the opening four holes and most benign but after that the course is dynamic and very challenging. The tee boxes were in very good shape given the time of year we played. Greens rolled fast and true. The greenside protection was diverse and penal at times but never unfair.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 9 out of 10 – We weren’t out of the driveway onto the highway and I was wondering when I could get back to play this course again. The weather made it a most unique experience, as it can, but this course, perhaps more than others, would present a new and unique challenge each and every round.

Highlight (what is great about the course) – The old real estate adage – location, location, location.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – critics of the course state that with investment the course holds greater potential to be viewed as truly world class. Perhaps the success of Cabot may provide cause for consideration. The strength of this course is how it marries quality with affordability and availability. There is clearly a high end golfing market with an appetite for this and as Crowbush is now 20 years old, the time may be right for some strategic investment in the course. I don’t see this as a pressing need, more articulating what could be.

Just So You Know – I don’t have much experience in 4 club winds. Playing the course shorter due to the wind and the slope rating, the 15th, a par 4, was dead into the wind. A low drive left me 150 to the hole and I felt a strong 4 hybrid should cut the wind and get me home in regulation. Wrong. The ball caught the wind and fell like a feather, about 35 yards short of the pin. Yes, a well hit 115 yard 4 hybrid.

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The stunning 16th at Crowbush Cove…on a calm day – Photo Credit – Golf PEI

Making a Case for PEI as Canada’s Premier Golf Destination

Making a Case for PEI as Canada’s Premier Golf Destination

Nova Scotia, ok, more specifically Cape Breton Island, has enjoyed a resurgence over the past few years as Canada’s hottest golfing destination. And it makes sense with perennial favourite Highlands Links, and newer courses, Cabot Links and now Cabot Cliffs. All this, in addition to other stout public plays like Bell Bay and The Lakes, even Le Portage, make for a compelling case for Cape Breton Island to be viewed as Canada’s premier golf destination. Highlands and the two Cabot courses are world class and will draw golfers in from all over the world. It is an excellent golfing destination; there is no disputing this.

Meanwhile, just a few hours west is Prince Edward Island. Perhaps more quietly than its’ neighbour to the east, PEI boasts its own complement of golf courses and stakes its own claim as Canada’s Number One Golf Destination. Just back from a 10 course, 6-day golf trip there I will not refute this claim. I’d like to focus on two reasons: value and service.

Canadian Golf Magazine, in its Top 100 golf course list of 2015 placed The Links at Crowbush Cove (54) and Dundarave (61); both well within the list. In 2014, both of these courses placed inside the top 20 of the best 50 public courses in the country. In addition to these two gems, our group was able to play 8 other courses which I felt to be the best 10 on the Island based on my research. The courses were consistently of exceptional quality and provided real diversity around style and layout. Where the value comes to the forefront is that in pre-ordering a ‘Green Card’ from Golf PEI, we were able to play all 10 of these courses for $379.99 plus taxes. Had we chose to play Crowbush and Dundarave at their peak rates they would cost $100 and $80 respectively. With our itinerary, we played them for $37.99 each. Had we the time to play all 16 courses, it would work out to under $25 per course. I have yet to find golf value like that for a golfing destination in Canada. My determination of value combines the merging of costs and the overall golf experience. PEI scores top marks here.

The Island has two offices that help support and enable this value. PEI’s Finest Golf is a consortium of provincially managed courses – Crowbush, Dundarave, Mill River and Brudenell River. These four, along with several other courses on the Island, are part of a larger consortium led by Golf PEI. One example of the marketing genius of Golf PEI is the Green Card, and is good for 16 rounds of golf; one for each of their member courses participating. Golf PEI also provides central support around the marketing, promotion, and golf trip planning for all its member courses. Here, their philosophy is the success of one course supports success for all. Our group utilized this office to help map an itinerary which worked exceptionally for us – from advising on tee times to ensuring we allowed for sufficient travel between courses as well as recommendations for a rental home. They do offer service taking care of all these details. I have never experienced a commitment to service like this in the golf industry. This marriage of quality golf, exceptional customer service and value for the dollar creates value that golfers across the country will appreciate. For me, this places PEI as a premier golf destination in Canada.

The filter becomes simple: Cape Breton offers elite, world ranked courses; PEI provides unsurpassed value on top Canadian courses. Pick your filter and enjoy! Better yet, go and experience both and make your own determination. PEI, as it did for me, will make a strong case for a return visit.

(Note – There is a limited number of Green Cards available each year.  The website shows a $399.99 retail price.  I acquired ours in January 2015, well before the golf season)