Green Gables – PEI’s Iconic Thompson Design

Green Gables – PEI’s Iconic Thompson Design

Course Reviews – Green Gables – An Iconic Thompson Design

http://www.greengablesgolf.com/

 

Located in Prince Edward Island National Park of Canada in Cavendish, PEI, Green Gables Golf Club is the second Stanley Thompson designed course our foursome has played located within a National park, the first being Highlands Links in Nova Scotia.  The experience led one of my playing partners to state, “every national park in Canada needs a Stanley Thompson golf course”.

My bias of Thompson designs is well known to many, I simply love the look and playability of the natural, rugged design.  Green Gables is no exception.  This is my favourite course in the Cavendish area and reflects, once again, the incredible diversity of golf courses for players on the Island.  While properly billed as a seaside course, I found Green Gables to be a tale of two nines.  The opening nine is carved from forest and moves inland from the opening tee.  In fact, the course changes significantly on the back nine with a move seaside.  From the iconic Anne of Green Gables home off to the left off the 11th fairway to the first view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence beyond the 13th green, the back nine is certainly the more scenic of the two nines.

The front nine opens with a straightaway par 5 carved out of the forest.  But don’t assume here forest means tight.  The forest frames the holes on the front exceptionally well.  At Green Gables, the landing areas off the tee are fair and in many cases generous.  As is consistent with Thompson designs, the course fits the land extremely well.  There were no holes which seemed out of place or gimmicky.  There is enough diversity in the front nine to avoid the course feeling mundane.  Bunkering, a strength of Thompson, was brought back to its original glory through excellent renovations in 2008 by Canadian architect Thomas McBroom.  My favourite hole on the front was the par 4 2nd hole, with one of the most well protected greens I have experienced.  Bunkering all around except for a narrow opening requires focus on a seemingly small target.  Going long is not an option with OB just right and forest set behind the bunkers.  A stern test early in the round, but given the hole is 326 from the tips it does allow for players to ensure they can control their approach.  Reflecting back, this need for course management and thoughtful play is one reason I love this course.

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Anne’s house, situated off the 13th hole.

Water is a subtle feature on the front nine, with a carry over a creek on the par 3 5th hole, but on the back nine water is a more prominent feature.  As the course moves toward the ocean, the creek, ponds and the Gulf of St. Lawrence all present themselves, creating diversity of play and in scenery.  The stretch of holes from 13 to 17 are arguably the most beautiful stretch of golf holes on the Island.  The par 4 13th is a dogleg left with the Gulf visible on the background; it’s a stunning golf hole.  But the green is superbly guarded with bunkers and very little room for shots going long.  My favourite hole is the beautiful par 3 16th but also boasts one of the toughest greens on the course.   The course ends like it began, with a par 5, the last one arguably more challenging.

Overall, the golf at Green Gables was thoroughly enjoyable.  We were the dew sweepers on the beautiful fall morning and staff worked hard to make sure we were able to access the range and get to the first tee in advance of our morning tee time.  The opportunity to experience another Stanley Thompson design was a highlight of my trip.  Green Gables is an iconic Thompson design, with its commitment to natural ruggedness where the land, not the architect, is the true focus.  Add to it exceptional service and tremendous course conditioning and Green Gables will need to be on any travelers must play list when going to Prince Edward Island.

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Another beautiful view on the back nine.

Aura –8 out of 10 – Built in 1939 and renovated in 2008 Green Gables is an important stop on the Stanley Thompson golf trail, his only work on PEI.  Located within the National Park and within the most popular tourist region of the province as well as close to other championship courses, Green Gables has its own unique history and style to complement the great golf on the Island.

Value (cost / experience) –8 out of 10.   Hard to argue a full membership of $1050 which also allows players access to Anderson’s Creek course, which is literally minutes away.  Peak rates in the summer are $100, not ideal value, but they do offer a weekly rate of $300.  For vacationers in the area who are looking to get a convenient daily round in, this is a great alternative.

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Our view as we stepped onto the second tee.  Loved how the sun and the mist helped frame this beautiful golf hole.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 8.5 out of 10 –As was found throughout the Island, the overall condition of the course was exceptional.  Greens were firm and quick, consistent and well maintained.  The tee boxes provided excellent views of the landing areas.  Bunkering, as to be expected, is stout.  Critically, they were a little firm but performed their role exceptionally in penalizing errant shots.  Nothing unfair, just tough.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 8.5 out of 10 – My sense of this course is I could play it 100 times over a season and still feel I had things I could learn about positioning off the tee, approaches, breaks on the greens and generally just how to score better.  I’d never get bored playing here and would welcome the chance to return.

Highlight (what is great about the course) – While many will point to the proximity of the Anne of Green Gables home or the seaside holes and their beauty, I like the fact for me that the opening nine stands well on its own as a strong nine holes of golf with ruggedness and a beauty of its own.  It was likely one of the most tranquil golf experiences I have ever had, playing the opening three holes as the sun was rising.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – Aside from moving to Cavendish, I am not sure what I would change.  While other Stanley Thompson courses get considerably love, such as Highlands Links, Banff Springs and Jasper Park (rightfully so), this course too provides an incredible complement of championship golf and natural beauty.  I would urge golf enthusiasts to check this course and a local Thompson design and let me know of your experience.

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One of my favourite holes on the course is the par 3 16th.  Stunning.

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Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello Golf Club – A Step Back in Time

http://www.fairmont.com/montebello/golf/

The Seigniory Club sign pays hommage to the history of the club and its original name.

The Seigniory Club sign pays hommage to the history of the club and its original name.

Golfing at the Fairmont Chateau Montebello feels like stepping back in time. In fact if I wore my knickers and cap one might think it was the early days of this Stanley Thompson designed course. My afternoon at Montebello was an enjoyable and memorable golf experience. Interestingly, this is not even one of the top three of Fairmont golf properties – according to many ratings. And while ratings are subjective what I do know is that it is worth a trip to experience the Montebello course and area.

You can find my original and full review of this course at Canadian Golf Magazine. Thompson created a unique design that features the terrain, elevation changes and scenery around the Outaouais (Ottawa) River valley. The clubhouse, change room and dining area reflect the rustic feel of Montebello. A majestic log cabin dining area with a floor to ceiling fireplace is impressive. The food is very good and the service is sensational.

The stunning fireplace in the clubhouse dining area

The stunning fireplace in the clubhouse dining area

I love walking courses but this would have been a challenge, with extensive steep climbs and descents. The hole with the most wow factor is the par 5 4th. The drop off from the 4th tee is impressive. The course is not overly long which is a break from more contemporary design and as a mid-handicap player was welcome. As a resort course this is actually very favourable.

I loved the fact all holes, as they are at one of Thompson’s other famous design in Cape Breton, are named, As one who enjoys Thompson designed courses, the 11th hole is a beautiful golf hole with the narrow chute framing the drive well before opening to a receptive and long green. But fact is, there are many unique and beautiful golf holes here. There is an impressive diversity of golf holes which command attention and make for a unique golf experience.

Playing midweek in the afternoon created the feel of a private club as there were very few golfers playing in the cool, damp conditions. The course conditioning was very good. It remains early in the season and the course should only improve over time. Take your time to experience your round at Montebello; the history of the course, the resort and the region offers a wonderfully unique golf experience.

Aura – 8 out of 10 – I have a bias toward Stanley Thompson courses, regular readers are increasingly aware of this. And while this is not one of Fairmont’s flagship courses this is a stout course with a rich history and worthy of its own accolades.

Value (cost / experience) – 9 out of 10. I was fortunate to pay $55 for a course which is one hour outside of Ottawa with a feel like it is 75 years away from civilization. I was fortunate to play as a single and appreciated being able to take my time and enjoy the course and the clubhouse. The peak fee is $85 but you can play for as low as $40

I love the design of the par 4 11th hole.  The approach is framed with a chute entrance.

I love the design of the par 4 11th hole. The approach is framed with a chute entrance.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 8 out of 10. It is early in the season which is following a long and difficult winter. The grounds crew have done a wonderful job to get the course in such great shape tee to green. My only issue resides with the challenging second hole which repelled a good drive left out of play. However, I will throw that in the vault for my next round there. Overall, the layout is simply stunning, definitely one of the stronger tracks I’ve played this year.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – I’d return tomorrow if I could. This is a course I would love to be a member of and play regularly. It provided challenge, was fair and most importantly, fun. The staff are committed to providing a quality golf experience. It reminds me a great deal of another venerable Thompson design in Saskatchewan, Waskesiu – 8.5 out of 10

Cabot Links versus Highlands Links

Cabot Links versus Highlands Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stunning Cabot Trail

The Stunning Cabot Trail

Waskesiu Golf Club – A Venerable Thompson Design Worthy of Bucket List Status

Course Reviews – Waskesiu Golf Club – A Venerable Thompson Design Worthy of Bucket List Status

http://www.waskesiugolf.com/

Lobstick Tree

Lobstick Tree

The Stanley Thompson golf trail makes stops in every province except Newfoundland. The Saskatchewan stop on this trail is set in the beautiful Lakes country in the resort community of Waskesiu Lake, set within Prince Albert National Park.  The layout is classic Thompson and is an underrated, stout course.  From its iconic Lobstick tree (and tournaments) to staff who demonstrate genuine Saskatchewan pride, to the course itself, Waskesiu will provide an enjoyable and memorable golf experience.  I have written about Stanley Thompson’s crown jewel design (in my experience and opinion) at Highlands Links in Ingonish, Nova Scotia.  The similarities make me appreciate more the design brilliance that was Thompson.  Playing as a single in a cold, blustery June afternoon, it would seem Thompson barely moved earth to create this course.

Rolling terrain, so much it felt like I rarely had a level lie but not in an extreme or detracting manner, is a similar feature to Highlands Links.   Some holes require blind shots and I have never seen a course utilize large mirrors to allow groups on the tee a chance to see down the fairway to ensure the landing area is clear.  This was unique for me and it too did not detract from the experience.  The halfway house is set on after the 10th hole and you simply must try the butter tarts (thank me later).  The log cabin-style clubhouse is very well stocked and practice facilities are very good and conveniently placed.  I was unable to stay to try their food and regret that.

The course is not known for its length and is a nice throwback from modern day conditioning standards. I felt the conditions were excellent and appropriate for the historic layout.  A park style design, cut from Boreal forest, a short par four is a nice start but facing the iconic Lobstick tree adds to the first tee jitters.  I heard the tree has recently been replaced following irreplaceable damage to the older original.  I am sure that was a sad day, as the Lobstick tree provides a real identity for this course.  After a short, downhill second hole, the course moves out and provides a good variation of holes over the first nine.

5c at tee time

The defences of this course are the surrounding forest and the terrain which requires imagination and accuracy. Greens are not too large and with recent rains earlier in the week were rolling true, albeit somewhat slow.

The holes are very unique, using slope, mounds and forest to define them. The first is iconic with the Lobstick tree looming in the fairway.  The second is a beautiful downhill par three with trouble left and right for wayward shots.  The par 5 8th hole is a beautiful golf hole, one of the nicest par 5’s I’ve played in some time.  The back nine provides a great risk-reward hole on the 15th, a drivable par 4.  And the home hole rewards a well struck drive with a good luck at the green.  Considering the distance many would have to travel, I’d recommend taking a full day and playing two rounds…you will learn much after your opening 18 to allow you a chance to score well on this great course.

Aura – 7.5 out of 10 – There is a strong sense of history here. While this course makes some lists as a value play, it is when you do your research where you will see this is an impressive, historic track.  I acknowledge my bias as a growing fan of Stanley Thompson designs.

Value (cost / experience) – 8 out of 10. A peak fee of $57 is a solid value for a strong Stanley Thompson design.  Experience is an excellent word for the day of golf I had, including the relaxing and beautiful drive to Prince Albert National Park.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 7.5 out of 10. With recent rains, the course was in surprisingly superb condition.  Playing the day after their annual opening Men’s Lobstick tournament provided me tee boxes which were well mown, fairways that were clearly identified, rough which was not too penal, and greens which were true but a little slow due to the moisture.  A shorter course, accuracy off the tee of more of a need than length.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – I loved it. I could play here every day.  It was a comfortable, relaxed yet respectful golf experience – 8 out of 10

Highlight (what is great about the course) – The drive to the course, especially once reaching the village of Waskesiu Lake is a treat. The log cabin clubhouse creates a relaxed feel and the first tee shot was the real treat.  OK, the Butter Tart gives that tee shot a run for the money too.  But both pale in comparison to the amazing staff who demonstrate great appreciation and respect for their course.  I did not see elk on the course, but evidence of their presence (hoof prints) were evident on a few holes.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – I would make sure this course was on everyone’s top 100 list in Canada. Mind you, I’m just starting my cross-Canada golf journey but struggle to see there being 100 courses in this country better than this.  It is golf the way it was meant to be played – rugged, natural and fair.

Just So You Know – $1475 can get you an annual membership and with extended summer daylight hours the chance to play 36 holes a day would be so easy. It’s a family friendly course but can provide good challenge for skilled players.

My Best Shot – Hole 18, after a poor drive I hit a hybrid pure to 4 foot. Lipped out the birdie putt but it left a great feel after a fun round of golf.

P.S. – My sincere thanks to the marshals and pro shop staff who went above and beyond to make sure my experience at Waskesiu was a memorable one. Your book on the history of your course is a cherished keepsake of a golf experience I will never forget and hope to enjoy again in the future.

24 Hours of Memorable Golf in Saskatchewan

I will admit that Saskatchewan was not at the top of my list for golf destinations in Canada. But a business trip with a chance to carve out 24 hours for golf is an opportunity I will take any chance I can get.  This was a truly unique and quality golf experience.   The itinerary was flawless, the weather not so much.  But the golf and the people more than made up for the weather challenges.

Waskesiu Golf Course

I have developed a bucket list of public play golf courses in Canada and two courses on this list from Saskatchewan are almost 3 hours apart. Arriving mid-morning at Saskatoon, the airport is very convenient and easy to navigate.  From touching down, I had my baggage and rental car sorted out within 30 minutes.  Just like that I was on the road to the Stanley Thompson design in Prince Albert National Park, Waskesiu Golf Course.  A more detailed review of both Saskatchewan golf courses played on this junket will be featured soon.  The drive from the airport was a relaxing 2.5 hours before entering the National Park, complete with a brown bear sighting on the side of the road north of Prince Albert.  After checking in and getting my clubs unpacked, I was able to tee off as a single just before 2:00 pm.  This is a venerable old course, an iconic Thompson design.  The staff all had a deep sense of pride for this course and the marshals stopped regularly to check in on me and ask about my experience.  My constant raving about the course – I loved the layout – must have struck a chord, after the round the pro shop attendant offered me a complimentary copy of a book of the history of the course.  As a growing fan of Stanley Thompson’s course designs (I had written I could play his jewel, Highlands Links every day) this will be a cherished possession for years to come.  My drive back allowed me to warm up from a chilly but enjoyable day on the course (teeing off in June in 5c is something I am not used to).  I felt privileged to play this majestic old course, even with a new Lobstick tree!

The next morning was a quick turnaround, with an alarm going off at 4:45 am, just as the sun was rising. My drive south to Dakota Dunes was peaceful and serene and provided a completely different topography from the drive north from Saskatoon and the Lakes country.  Gently rolling dunes gave me the sense that this would be a completely different experience than the park style course the day before.  Again, showing up as a single, I was relieved when another player asked if we could play together.  The relief turned to joy and bewilderment when my playing partner introduced himself to me as a Head Superintendent of the course, Tyler McComas.  Our round felt more like a 3 hour conversation (yes, we walked 18 holes in 3h 15).  Tyler was able to share many stories and local knowledge about the course.  I also learned much about the role of a course superintendent, which following the winter back in Ontario where courses were dealing with issues of winter kill on greens and fairways, was a topic of conversation for us.  Dakota Dunes had its own challenges in areas on the fairway, with limited snow cover the winter before.  Talking over breakfast, Tyler shared the excitement and challenges of preparing the course to host the annual PGA Tour Canada event which is featured in Whitecap, SK.  The pride in his voice about being able to showcase this course on such a stage reminded me of the previous afternoon.  His gift of a Dakota Dunes flag, I was not aware he was the person I had written too, seeking to purchase one on my visit, will be a reminder of his hospitality, friendship and generosity along with a truly quality golf experience.  Dakota Dunes is worthy of its high rankings in quality and value in golf in Canada.

Playing so quick, I returned my car back to the rental office only 24 hours from when I rented it. The whirlwind of experiencing two completely different courses where the quality was only matched by a deep sense of pride and a modest confidence by staff and players alike was something I will never forget and hope I can return to experience again.

Over the course of one day I was able to cross off two courses on my bucket list. And that is nice, but what I experienced was two of Canada’s finest courses for completely different reasons.  I met great people with a common and unique bond of deep pride and respect for their local course, the game and genuine hospitality for others who share similar values.  It is a 24 hour stretch that reinforced and energized my passion for the game and my quest to fulfil my bucket list of great public play golf in Canada.  Don’t be fooled, there is quality golf in Saskatchewan.  Quality people too.  The license plates don’t lie, Pride. Lives. Here.