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 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?