Note: This story originally appeared in T&L Golf in 2006. Prices have not been updated.
Tee Times In Atlantic Canada
Greenbacks are golden in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada, where Gaelic festivals and great golf go hand in glove
Atlantic Canada is where the Old World meets the New, where travelers can enjoy the lilting accents and rhythms of traditional Gaelic festivals without leaving North America. Among the first European outposts on the continent, dating back more than five hundred years, this rugged region consists of the aptly named Maritime Provinces: Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia (Latin for “New Scotland”) and little sibling Prince Edward Island (PEI is famous for its succulent mussels and oysters). It’s a place where the best of urban life can be celebrated in the vibrant port of Halifax, Nova Scotia, with its upscale hotels, friendly pubs and thriving music scene. And for rustic charm, there’s Cape Breton Island, where in 1497 the explorer John Cabot unfurled the British royal standard. Today the Cabot Trail, a ribbon of highway strung along cliffs high above the ocean, is a can’t-miss scenic drive” especially since the journey’s reward is one of the truly great golf courses of the world. Stanley Thompson’s Highlands Links is a heroic and utterly unique seaside and forest masterpiece. The course has been the area’s biggest draw for golfers for decades, but the emergence of newer layouts such as Bell Bay and Glen Arbour have helped create as engaging and varied of a golf experience as you’re likely to find on this side of the pond. Best of all, the favorable exchange rate”all prices below are U.S.”only makes Atlantic Canada’s world-class courses even more alluring.
Where to Play
Highlands Links *****
Stanley Thompson, the patriarch of Canadian golf architecture, built his reputation by designing courses with features bold enough to match their majestic surroundings. Highlands Links, which Thompson often referred to with beautiful simplicity as “the mountains and ocean course,” may well be his masterpiece. Constructed during the Depression with only basic shaping equipment, it hits a classical note right from the opening hole, a straightaway par four with a rumpled fairway that resembles the surface of the moon in green. From there, the course sprawls alongside the ocean before heading up into the forests of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. There are many loving references to Scotland”strange hole names, like “Killiecrankie” and “Mucklemouth Meg”; an out-and-back routing; renditions of Alps and Eden holes”but the landscape is quintessentially Canadian, and Thompson was fearless in making his own mark on the Highlands. In a strategy he used regularly, the course is divided equally between one-, two- and three-shot holes, creating a distinct rhythm to the round. Drama and difficulty build and release before Highlands Links hammers players with a stretch of finishing holes to rival any in the world. Rustic, razor sharp and as thrilling a golf experience as can be found at any public course in North America.
Middle Head Peninsula, Ingonish Beach, Nova Scotia; 800-441-1118, highlandslinksgolf.com. Yardage: 6,592. Par: 72. Slope: 141. Architect: Stanley Thompson, 1941. Greens Fee: $77.
Dundarave Golf Course ****
An intriguing design from the office of Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry (with associate Jason Straka taking the lead on the project), Dundarave features a mix of links and parkland styles. Given the differing types of terrain, Dundarave should feel schizophrenic; instead, distinctive flashed bunkering and large greens give the course cohesiveness. The eighth hole, a mid-length par four with a green perched along the Brudenell River, forces players to challenge the dastardly bunkers that abound”quite a task amid such striking scenery. Route 3, Roseneath, Cardigan, Prince Edward Island; 800-235-8909, golflinkspei.com. Yardage: 7,089. Par: 72. Slope: 139. Architects: Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, 1999. Greens Fees: $53–$76.
Fox Harb’r Golf Resort & Spa ****
Ron Joyce, the billionaire behind the ubiquitous Canadian coffee-and-doughnut chain Tim Hortons, commissioned Graham Cooke to design a personal playground for him and a limited number of high-rolling guests. The resulting course is a part parkland, part faux-links design that hits a crescendo on the seaside holes, fifteen through seventeen, where golfers can see straight across the Northumberland Strait to PEI. To play Fox Harb’r, which is so finely maintained you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single unfilled divot, guests must stay at the encompassing resort. For those so inclined, Fox Harb’r can be reached by helicopter, small plane or yacht, thanks to a private runway and marina. 1337 Fox Harbour Road, Wallace, Nova Scotia; 866-257-1801, foxharbr.com. Yardage: 7,253. Par: 72. Slope: 141. Architect: Graham Cooke, 2001. Greens Fee: $180
The Links at Crowbush Cove ****
Of all the courses to open in the region in recent years, none is more responsible for the surge in interest in Atlantic Canada golf than Crowbush Cove. The Thomas McBroom design is renowned for a stretch of holes that brush against giant dunes and the Northumberland Strait. The course teases players with a glimpse of the ocean at the close of the front nine, while the back nine runs into the dunes. Some sensitive environmental areas forced McBroom to make the occasional design concession”notably the awkward carry over wetlands on the par-five eleventh”but a round at Crowbush Cove is still a grand golf experience.
Route 350, Lakeside, Prince Edward Island; 800-235-8909, golflinkspei.com. Yardage: 6,903. Par: 72. Slope: 148. Architect: Thomas McBroom, 1994. Greens Fees: $72–$85.
The Algonquin Golf Course ***1/2
Donald Ross, as legend has it, visited the site of the Algonquin so briefly that the course was designed on the back of a napkin. The resulting layout was”no surprise”one of the great Scot’s minor works, leaving Thomas McBroom plenty of room for improvement during his renovation in 2000. McBroom’s routing retains the resort flavor”it’s walkable, with wide, forgiving fairways”but makes better use of its seaside location. The best holes, including the par-three twelfth, take in the ocean. Playing 154 yards downhill to a windswept green perched by the sea, the twelfth is an Atlantic version of the seventh at Pebble Beach. 465 Brandy Cove Road, St. Andrews, New Brunswick; 506-529-8165, algonquingolf.com Yardage: 6,908. Par: 72. Slope: 134. Architect: Thomas McBroom, 2000. Greens Fee: $89.
Bell Bay Golf Club ***1/2
The newest layout in Cape Breton, Bell Bay is about an hour’s drive south of Highlands Links, and it’s the perfect warm-up for the main event. This is partly due to its terrific fifteen-acre practice facility, one of the best in Canada (and Highlands Links doesn’t have one at all), as well as for the course itself: a challenging, modern affair with wide fairways giving way to tricky, undulating greens. There are few courses in Canada that can rival Bell Bay’s stretch from the long par-four fifteenth through to the finale, a 566-yard par five overlooking the glittering Bras d’Or Lake. 761 Highway 205, Baddeck, Nova Scotia; 800-565-3077, bellbay.ca. Yardage: 7,037. Par: 72. Slope: 137. Architect: Thomas McBroom, 1997. Greens Fees: $58–$71.
Glen Arbour Golf Course ***1/2
Located twenty minutes from Halifax airport, Glen Arbour is an upscale public facility created by Montreal architect Graham Cooke. The course leads golfers into an isolated world of hardwoods and tranquil lakes. The fourteenth, a par five with Bottle Lake threatening the entire left side of the fairway, and the long par-three seventeenth, with its small green perched amid wetlands, are standouts on a course with multiple remarkable holes.
40 Clubhouse Lane, Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia; 877-835-4653, glenarbour.com. Yardage: 6,800. Par: 72. Slope: 138. Architect: Graham Cooke, 1999. Greens Fees: $85–$108.
Best of the Rest
For a full tour of Cape Breton Island, also check out Dundee Golf Course (800-565-5660) and Le Portage Golf Club (888-618-5558). Slightly off the beaten path in Nova Scotia is Stanley Thompson’s Digby Pines Golf Course (800-667-4637), which recently received a face-lift from Graham Cooke. Cooke was also the force behind the award-winning Claws Course at Kingswood Park (800-423-5969) in Fredericton, New Brunswick.While it’s overshadowed by neighboring Fox Harb’r, Northumberland Links (902-243-2808) has several strong seaside holes and can be played at a fraction of the cost. Finally, if you’re looking to extend your trip farther afield, Doug Carrick’s Humber Valley (709-686-8100) up in Newfoundland is part of a luxurious new year-round resort.
Where to Stay
The Fairmont Algonquin For more than a hundred years, this historic hotel, which is only a short walk from the village of St. Andrews, has been a popular retreat for vacationers from Canada and the eastern United States alike. The 234 rooms were recently renovated, bringing the Algonquin’s elegant interiors in line with modern comforts. Make sure to catch the superb Sunday brunch. 184 Adolphus Street, St. Andrews, New Brunswick; 506-529-8823, fairmont.com/algonquin/. Rooms: $271–$362. Suites: $408–$517.
Fox Harb’r Golf Resort & Spa Gazing from your window across the metallic blue waters of Northumberland Strait, it’s easy to slip into a deep reverie admiring the remote beauty of Ron Joyce’s Fox Harb’r. Guests stay in large suites in one of twelve manor houses equipped with a host of luxe amenities, including high-thread-count linens and heated marble bathroom floors. There is also a world-class spa and hunting retreat on-site. 1337 Fox Harbour Road, Wallace, Nova Scotia; 866-257-1801, foxharbr.com. Standard Suites: $295. Executive Suites: $363.
The Halliburton There’s no better place to get accustomed to Maritime life than this intimate nineteenth-century boutique hotel comprised of three connected townhouses in Halifax’s downtown core. With a mix of comfortable rooms and suites”some offering views of the hotel’s well-tended gardens”the Halliburton is a great place to recuperate from the journey and start exploring the historic city. 5184 Morris Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia; 902-420-0658, thehalliburton.com. Rooms: $171. Suites: $211.
Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa With its commanding position on a rocky bluff high above the Atlantic, few hotels can rival Keltic Lodge’s location. The lodge, which was originally part of a private estate, is a smooth seven-iron from the first tee of Highlands Links. Visitors can stay at the main lodge or in one of twelve cozy two- to four-bedroom cottages. Everything about Keltic Lodge, from its use of native timbers to the colorful Muskoka chairs scattered here and there on the grounds, conjures up a harmonious sense of place that is hard to forget. Middle Head Peninsula, Ingonish Beach, Nova Scotia; 800-565-0444, signatureresorts.com. Rooms: $135–$268. Cottages: $433–$829.
Rodd Crowbush Golf & Beach Resort Prince Edward Island’s only five-star resort, the Rodd Crowbush offers all the amenities”from tennis to an excellent spa”expected from a modern golf retreat. Several rooms overlook the Links at Crowbush Cove and the island’s north shore. One- and two-bedroom cottages are also available.
Route 350, Lakeside, Prince Edward Island; 800-565-7633, roddhotelsandresorts.com. Rooms: $183–$202. Suites: $238–$275. Cottages: $290–$332.
Where to Eat
Da Maurizio (Italian) Executive Chef Maurizio Bertossi takes Northern Italian cuisine and fuses it with the area’s bountiful seafood. The handmade agnolotti pasta stuffed with lobster and served in a tomato cream pesto is especially fine. Da Maurizio’s location in trendy downtown Halifax makes it a great treat to start or finish your golf trip.
1496 Lower Water Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia; 902-423-0859. $$$
The Inn at Bay Fortune (Maritime) After tackling Crowbush Cove, consider dinner at this quaint inn, one of only eight restaurants in Atlantic Canada given a four-star AAA rating. The Inn at Bay Fortune serves contemporary cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere. Try the five-course tasting menu”it changes almost daily”to get a real feel for Maritime cuisine. Bay Fortune, Prince Edward Island; 888-687-3745. $$$
Kingsbrae Arms (French Canadian) The Kingsbrae Arms is a turn-of-the- century country manor house set high on a hill overlooking vast gardens and the sea. The restaurant, which specializes in seafood and game, also excels with its wine pairings. Should one overindulge, there are a handful of well-appointed rooms available upstairs.
219 King Street, St. Andrews, New Brunswick; 877-529-1897. $$$$
Purple Thistle Dining Room (Seafood) Located at Keltic Lodge, the Purple Thistle’s decor may be a throwback to another era, but the ocean views are spectacular and the food is as good as you’ll find anywhere in Atlantic Canada. Ask for a bib and order the lobster, which may have just been caught in the water the restaurant overlooks.
Middle Head Peninsula, Ingonish Beach, Nova Scotia; 800-565-0444. $$$$
At least sixteen different whale species, including the great humpback, migrate to Atlantic Canada’s waters in the summertime. The pods often travel close enough to shore that they can be seen from the Cabot Trail, but the best way to get up close and personal is through one of the region’s many whale-watching outfitters, reasonably priced at around $25 per person. Captain Cox’s Whale Watch (888-346-5556, aco.ca/captcox) at the north end of Cape Breton Island is among the most popular.
There are more than ninety picturesque beaches on Prince Edward Island, with a color palette of sands ranging from white to brick red, and you’ll sometimes have them to yourself. PEI boosters love pointing to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream on the local waters, but you’d still better be hardy if you’re planning on a swim, as the water won’t be much above seventy degrees. On the island’s north shore, Thunder Cove, with its surreal red sandstone cliffs, is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Canada, while the south shore’s Basin Head, well-known among locals, features “singing sands””by a rare geological phenomenon, the beach emits a mysterious whistle when you walk on it.
With its Celtic flair and connection to maritime traditions, Halifax is a surefire spot to find some great watering holes. Consider hitting the Argyle Street strip, especially the trendy Economy Shoe Shop (902-423-7463, economyshoeshop.ca), a ten-year-old Halifax institution that is actually an eclectic complex of interconnected bars. Monday night jazz at the Shoe, as locals call it, is a highlight. Next door, rock bands are a regular feature at the Seahorse Tavern (902-423-7200, theseahorse.ca). On tap: Horsepower SS, the pub’s “super secret” house brew.
Cape Breton Dancing
Ceilidhs (pronounced “kay-lees”), or gatherings, are the distilled essence of the region’s Celtic culture. Expect to see everyone from eight to eighty dancing up a storm to the kinetic musical brew of fiddles, dulcimers, Irish flutes and bodhrans (Irish frame drums). Ceilidhs are frequent Saturday-night entertainment in the provinces and usually take shape from the grassroots. You can look in local newspapers or ask at your hotel for details, but you’re just as likely”at least in a town like Baddeck”to see a pub sign stating there’s a ceilidh here tonight.
Atlantic Canada is a region large enough to have its own time zone, so expect to take a week or more to cover its sporting and cultural highlights. Fly into Halifax International Airport (only ninety minutes from Boston); from there you can tackle the best eastern Canada has to offer by car. Starting at Glen Arbour just outside Halifax, take the unforgettable six-hour drive to Highlands Links, potentially broken up by a stop at Bell Bay Golf Club in the charming village of Baddeck. After Highlands Links, a multitude of possibilities exists, including driving west along the Trans-Canada Highway toward Fox Harb’r Golf Resort & Spa and Northumberland Links, or taking the ferry from Pictou, Nova Scotia, directly to Prince Edward Island. For drivers from New England, the Fairmont Algonquin should be the first stop”it’s located in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, which practically straddles the international border.
Golf is best played in Atlantic Canada from the middle of June until the end of October. The main consideration should be when Highlands Links opens, as shoulder-season visitors have been known to discover the course still blanketed by snow well into May. In summer months, only the occasional mosquito should keep you from wearing shorts. Fall golf in the region can be breathtaking, as the brilliant reds and yellows of the turning leaves present a cascade of color behind a well-struck shot. Just make sure to pack for crisp weather.