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Highlands adds Stanley and make time for Le Portage

The fall foliage or the Celtic colours as they like to call it in Cape Breton, had pretty much peaked this week (mid-October) as I drove the Cabot Trail to the Cape Breton Highlands Links.
It was my second trip to The Highlands this year and if I could I would be here every week to play this course but it’s a five and half hour drive each way. Course operations manager Graham Hudson had given me a heads up that Ian Andrew, who had been hired by Parks Canada to restore this Stanley Thompson course to its original design, had completed all the Thompson sand traps. I had to have a look and it was an excuse to go back to The Highlands.
The course is in amazing condition thanks to Hudson and his great crew. They have put the time and effort into putting this little piece of Heaven into such fabulous condition. Kudos to Parks Canada as well for financing the work which has taken the last three or four years. It hasn’t been an overnight wave of the wand type project.
In addition to the great restoration work of Mr. Andrew, there have been a couple of other neat touches added to the course. As you approach the first tee you are greeted by Mr. Thompson, or to be more correct, a bronzed statue of the famous architect donated by the Stanley Thompson Historical Society. The other neat touch is a number of 1941 photos of the course showing what it looked like back then. The photos are mounted and being placed in their appropriate locations around the course. It’s the little things that add to the feel of the place.
This all kind of brings me to wonder what lies ahead for the Cape Breton Highlands Links. Parks Canada doesn’t want to operate the course anymore and has called for expressions of interest from the private sector. Deadline is Nov. 14. If the golf course was the only part of the package then getting an operator, I think, would generate more interest. But the operation includes Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa which is owned by the province but managed by the feds. Say what you will, but Keltic, regardless of its glorious location, is a tired property that needs a lot of work to bring it up to snuff and to justify some of its high rates.
My concern is the next course operator, if there is one to take over from Parks Canada, may not give the course the TLC it deserves. Golf courses cost money to operate and maintain but if you want the results you have to pay the price.
If there is a new operator I hope they are truly committed and realize this is not just another golf course, this is part of Cape Breton’s history, part of the local fabric and a breathtaking piece of Canada that hasn’t been compromised by outside influences.
After leaving Ingonish, on my way around the Cabot Trail, I made a stop at Le Portage Golf Club, in the French Acadian community of Cheticamp. Le Portage is in kind of an enviable position being located between the newly opened and highly acclaimed Cabot Links in nearby Inverness and the Cape Breton Highlands Links. It is so easy to fit this stop into a western Cape Breton golf itinerary.
I had played this course only once, a number of years ago. I hadn’t remembered too much about it only that it has the Cape Breton Highlands as a backdrop to the east and the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the west. And the winds can get worse than fierce in this area of Cape Breton so a 50 km to 70 km wind here is like a gentle breeze to local golfers.
Le Portage’s head professional Dave Deluzio welcomed me and said I would enjoy the course. He was more than right. Conditions were a bit wet after a lot of rain in late September and early October but my playing partner, Ian McNeil, who does some media work with some Cape Breton golf courses, had, as they say, “a large day.” The course is very easy to walk and plays a bit longer than it appears with some holes slightly uphill. The greens were flawless and fair. From my perspective there wasn’t a weak hole on this course. The first nine holes were designed by Robert Moote and opened in 1987. The second nine were designed by Moote’s son, David, and opened in 1998.
The course plays 6,777 yards from the back tees and has lots of challenge and variety. Le Portage also features a very comfortable and well-appointed clubhouse. Not large by any stretch, but very nice. So if you are in the vicinity, on your way to or from the Cape Breton Highlands or Cabot Links, take time to play Le Portage.-end-

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Tom Peters

Tom Peters is a freelance writer based in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, a suburb of Halifax. In December 2009 he retired after 41 years with The Halifax Chronicle Herald. He covered competitive golf regionally for the paper in his early days as reporter and over the years has freelanced golf travel articles to a number of major golf and business publications. He is a member and a director of the Golf Journalists Association of Canada.

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