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Exploring Nova Scotia Golf: Northumberland Links High on the List

With the pandemic still very much with us, the possibilities of traveling outside one’s own province to play golf could be slim to none. Maybe later in the summer or into the fall and when most Canadians have had a second dose of vaccine, travel to other provinces may get back to being somewhat normal. In the meantime, golfers may have to be content discovering courses in their own province.

Iconic par-3 fourth hole at Northumberland Links

Nova Scotia has a number of very good golf courses that often get overlooked, bumped out of golf publications by the high-end resort courses such as the two Cabot courses in Cape Breton, The Highlands Links also in Cape Breton and Fox Harb’r.

Two-time Masters champion and now golf course architect, Ben Crenshaw, once said, “A good golf course makes you want to play so badly that you hardly have the time to change your shoes.”

But I have found that the definition of “good golf course” can be very subjective. What may determine an appreciation or not of a golf course could be based on a golfer’s skill level and how that adapts to the playability of the course.

I have had the good fortune of having played golf on literally hundreds of courses in over 15 countries including nine provinces and nearly 30 U.S. states. I have even played in Iceland, hardly a golfing mecca but, in my view, very good courses and an experience I will never forget.

I often rate a course on the experience it provides me and over the years I have had several good experiences here in Nova Scotia. We have, after all, some of the best courses in the world.

Among those is Northumberland Links, bordering the Northumberland Strait and near the village of Pugwash and a neighbour of Fox Harb’r. It is hard to deny the “Northumberland” experience.

I have been playing Northumberland Links for over 20 years. It has become an annual ritual. It has the ingredients and characteristics that allow the layout to stand alone and provides a new adventure each time I play it. The Northumberland Strait, so visible on several of the opening holes, brings in that Ocean Playground or links flavour with its gentle breezes or stiff winds. A good friend, who played Northumberland Links last year for the first time, was enthralled with the course’s scenery and with the Strait in the background. I always bring my camera to capture those postcard views.

It is easy to understand how Northumberland certainly falls within the bounds of Crenshaw’s quote. It is a golf course with many characteristics which all add up to a round of golf that you want to repeat. A familiar focal point of many course designs is a signature hole. That one particular hole that’s considered the “attention grabber” at Northumberland Links is the Par 3, fourth hole, called the Lobster Pot which runs parallel to the ocean and is open to all the torment the sea can throw at you. But in reality, from a personal perspective, Northumberland has 18 great holes of golf, each its own theatre if you wish.

Canadian golf course architect Bill Robinson, who redesigned Northumberland Links, had, as part of his design philosophy, to move as little dirt as possible when building the course, let the land dictate the layout.

In Northumberland’s 18-hole routing over its 6,515 yards, you will find a natural diversity in the land that causes thought for each shot. There are elevation changes and there are slopes. There are flat areas and there are open fairways, some narrow and some generous in width. There are tree-lined fairways and there are fairways that border the ocean and ponds. Around a number of fairway sand traps and hazards, swaying fescue grasses can add a pleasing touch to the eye or moments of unwanted challenge. It’s a pleasurable and invigorating walk that can’t be spoiled.

I also learned in my younger days that a good short game and soft hands on the putter can add to the fun and enjoyment of the game. The greens at Northumberland have been much talked about over the years. They have as much variety and diversity as the fairways. They are very readable, sloping and undulating. The high quality on these bentgrass greens makes for consistent speeds throughout. The greens are one of the many reasons I keep going back.

Another of the many course’s features that I like in particular, is the five yardage choices from the tee at each hole. As golfers get older there is the loss of distance factor that plays havoc with our game so having that much yardage selection just makes the game that much more enjoyable.

Golf course architect Geoffrey Cornish, mentor to a young architect Bill Robinson, once said, ‘You give your client a dollar’s value for a dollar spent.’ If you reflect on Mr. Cornish’s comment, it can easily be said that Northumberland provides golfers a one of a kind golf experience for the dollars they spend.

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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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