The Prince of Island Golfing Destinations
Story & photos by John Grossmann
I’m bunkered. Badly bunkered.
My nine-iron to the 579-yard par 5 cleared the water hazard and hit the green–but alas didn’t hold and came to rest precisely where I did not want to end up: past the putting surface in one of a pair of sand traps with a ladder. I’ve climbed two rungs down and am now standing over my fourth shot, trying not to think about the water looming on the opposite side of the downward sloping, narrow green. So why am I smiling?
I’m in high spirits because it’s early in an unforgettable golf getaway and I’m about to begin a stunning stretch of holes with one great water view after another. For avid golfers, nothing quite beats a coast-hugging course. The reoccurring water views and tang of the salt air provide a scenic, soothing salve for any golfing woes and make good rounds even more memorable. Which explains why the very words “island golf” excite passionate golfers every bit as much as the menu heading “chef’s tasting meal” primes the appetites of foodies.
Generally, island golf brings to mind palm trees, Hawaiian or Caribbean links, or perhaps Bermuda’s many surf-kissed courses. Not this trip. The flapping flags here feature a big red maple leaf. The offshore locale? Prince Edward Island, one of Canada’s maritime provinces. . Blessed with more than two-dozen courses (some of them 9-hole tracks), the majority offering near or panoramic views of the bright blue Gulf of St. Lawrence, PEI is surely one of golf’s best-kept secrets. (www.golfpei.ca) Granted, the golfing season gets constricted by snowfalls that typically begin in November and can last into April. But that still leaves plenty of late spring through early fall weeks to schedule a golf vacation. And summertime, with temperatures averaging 67 degrees Fahrenheit, offers a second escape for many toting clubs–namely, a refuge from triple digit temperatures.
Since the 1997 opening of the nine-mile long Confederation Bridge linking PEI to New Brunswick, reaching the island by car has gotten easier. Diehard ferry fans can still arrive by boat from Nova Scotia. For many, a non-stop flight from Boston or New York into the provincial capital, Charlottetown, is still the preferred route to Canada’s smallest province. Nearly 140 miles from end-to-end and varying from four to 40 miles wide, PEI covers 2,194 square miles, making it a good bit larger than Rhode Island. But with only 140,000 residents, and with the water never far from view, Prince Edward Island feels smaller, and the pace of life seems slower. Even without the steel drums or grass skirts or pina coladas, island time applies here, too.
“The whole ambiance of the place was very low key. The people were very friendly and polite, kind of old fashioned,” says Boston area retiree Ed Smith soon after returning home from a two-week PEI golfing jaunt with his wife Wendy. “It was nice not to have people beeping their horn if you took a couple extra seconds to make a turn.” Adds Wendy: “We both loved the various colors on the houses and the tasteful attention to detail on the churches.”
The Smiths, who have golfed together at Pinehurst and in Ireland and Scotland, enjoying both the old and the new courses at St. Andrews, played 12 rounds during their 14-day stay on PEI. They enjoyed the trip so much they’d barely unpacked their bags before they were planning their next summer visit. To be within a few minutes drive to a cluster of courses in the Cavendish area, the Smiths opted for a cottage stay, the choice of many vacationers. (www.peislandcottages.com) Those seeking the nightlife and restaurants and shops of Charlottetown–less than 45 minutes from most of the island’s courses–should consider a downtown boutique hotel called The Great George. (www.thegreatgeorge.com) This street-long row of renovated historic buildings offers spacious rooms, gracious service, and complimentary warm cookies and wine and beer in the late afternoon in the living-room like-lobby.
Of the nine different courses they played, Wendy enjoyed Mill River, which makes extensive use of the river for its water views. Ed’s favorite was the Links at Crowbush Cove, with its wonderful stretch of holes along the dunes, which reminded him a bit of his Scottish golfing experience–especially those ladders in the bunkers on the 5th hole.
For the record, I safely escaped my laddered bunker, landing on the apron, and then two-putted for a bogey. Thereafter, my camera reappeared about as often as my putter, as Crowbush Cove lived up to the second part of its name. Recognized by Golf Digest in 1994 as Canada’s best new course, Crowbush Cove was designed by Thomas McBroom, the architect who updated the island’s second oldest and most storied course, the Green Gables Golf Club. Located in Prince Edward Island National Park, this water-hugging links offers, in addition to ocean vistas, an accommodating view of, you guessed it, the legendary green and white house that inspired Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery to write the classic Anne of Green Gables. While typically overrun with tourist buses, the house appears more peaceful from the adjacent fairway.
My PEI golf trip concluded at the Glasgow Hills Resort & Golf Club. Perched atop the rolling hills of New Glasgow, and boasting distant views of the Bay of St. Lawrence and closer peeks at the Clyde River, Glasgow Hills provided a fitting final round. The sharp dogleg par-four 9th hole offers a challenging island green. The changes in elevation, especially on the back nine, demand precise club selection. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a fairway as steep as the billy goat finish to the par-five 17thhole. I’m not saying that’s why the course offers golfers a thoughtful clubhouse amenity, but I most certainly enjoyed the help-yourself, endless supply of Prince Edward Island mussels with my post round beer. I’m not sure what I savored more: the two bowls of mussels or the memory of sinking a 60-foot downhill putt for birdie on the 17th. I am sure of one thing. Like the Smiths, I’m already planning my next trip to PEI.
John Grossmann has written about food and travel for Gourmet, Cigar Aficionado, Saveur, and SKY. He was a finalist in the food journalist category of the 2010 Le Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards. He is the co-author, with acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, of the book One Square Inch of Silence, (Free Press).