Review: The Links at Crowbush Cove
Designer: Thomas McBroom (1993)
[photopress:crowbush9_1.jpg,full,centered]The Links at Crowbush Cove is a bit of a misnomer. It isn’t really a links. Sure there are some links holes within it, but it has many of the elements of the hybrid links found in and around Edinburgh, Scotland, where courses wander down to the see, before turning and running inland into parkland elements.
The background to the course is almost as interesting as its creation. With a couple of marginal publicly-owned courses on the island, Prince Edward Island decided to enter the golf business by creating a destination. That started with Crowbush Cove, and an explosion of golf followed, including the terrific Dundarave, as well as other lesser tracks. The buzz about Crowbush was strong from the start. It won Golf Digest’s Best New Course in Canada in its first season, and led to the development of a golf destination within Canada.
These days that doesn’t seem so remarkable. PEI has been eclipsed by other golf destinations — the Kelowna area is now stronger, and Toronto would have better public golf — and that makes it easy to forget just how significant Crowbush was when it opened.
All of this makes the start of the course a bit of a let down. I first played Crowbush in 2000, and returned for a second tour last summer. The opener — a par-4 with tees perched next to an artificial pond and hitting into parkland terrain — is not the type of inspiring hole one would expect from a course with such an impressive reputation. The opening holes of the front nine are not bad — just average and comparable to what McBroom has built in other locations since. The greens are perhaps a little more intriguing than the designer’s recently toned-down putting surfaces, and the flashed bunkering surely makes the holes attractive, though it is far more simple than McBroom’s most recent elaborate traps. The strategies are there — but what is missing is the “wow factor,” one would expect. In fact, there are what one might consider some very average holes — including five, a par five over a pond that many will have seen on lesser courses that aren’t within a short walk of the ocean. And this isn’t Pebble Beach we’re talking here — the average inland holes at Crowbush are average, right down to the contrived pond on five.
Fortunately it picks up from there. Six is an elegant little par three with a green that features a neat pocket at the front; [photopress:crowbush7.jpg,full,centered]seven plays towards the ocean; and eight is arguably the most visually pleasing hole in the course, with its lengthy tee shot over an ocean pond to a large green with a spine running through it. It is certainly the most exhilarating tee shot on the course.
The course picks back up on the 13th, when it returns from a stretch near the clubhouse and heads back to the dunes. The 15th and 16th — consecutive par-4s that play amongst the dunes and over watery inlets, do have the aesthetic appearance of a modern links. The greens have natural settings, with the 16th in particular situated in a site near a rising dune on the left and the beach on the right.
There are some hotly debated holes on the course. The par-5 11th has a splendid view of the ocean and dunes. Too bad that you’re hitting inland. After the tee shot the 11th also feels contrived, though it is a natural wetlands that is situated in the layup area of the second shot that makes the hole so awkward. Those not busting a drive will find themselves laying up in front of the wetlands with a short iron, only to try an approach at the green with a hybrid, wood, or long iron.
The other point of contention is the 17th, a delicate 110-yard par-3, with a severe small green and deadly natural plants [photopress:crowbushoverview.jpg,full,alignright]surrounding it on slopes that fall off on three of four sides. Most feel the hole, which plays uphill to a partially blind green, is out of character with the remainder of the course. I’d argue to the contrary, that its blindness and its quirky nature make it more akin to a real links than most anything on the course. That said, most see it as either exceptional or awful — there’s no in between
There’s a point on Crowbush where you realize the possibilities of the place. Standing on the 11th tee, set on a dune that runs along the ocean, one turns to their right and can see into a landscape of wild dunes that run west of the course. The property is remarkable, and it would appear that a world-class links could have been built on that rumpled land.
But it didn’t happen, and I guess in some regards it isn’t worth pondering the “what could have been,” of Crowbush Cove. Yes, it could have been a links like Portmarnock, but it is still a unique, and occasionally wonderful, course that offers terrific value for your green fee.