At­lantic Fair­ways

Cruis­ing for ea­gles and birdies (and birds!) in the Mar­itimes

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SPLASH­ING WA­TER, side­ways winds and deep sand could cloud a duf­fer’s ex­pec­ta­tions of play­ing the fair­ways, but these are the stuff of dreams for my fel­low ar­dent golfers hud­dled along­side me in the zo­diac. Bounc­ing across waves, the cheek-slap­ping wind merely boosted our ex­cite­ment as we veered to­ward land, ea­ger to dis­em­bark on the sandy beach for an­other round in Canada’s cel­e­brated world of mar­itime golf.

By this, the fifth day of a week­long golf itin­er­ary with One Ocean Ex­pe­di­tions, we had honed our ex­pe­di­tion cruis­ing rou­tine. With our ship an­chored in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, we were skilled at don­ning wet gear and PFDs (per­sonal flota­tion de­vices), descend­ing the gang­plank into a zo­diac, zip­ping ashore to a dry pier, doff­ing our wet gear, then shut­tling to a golf course. This day was unique, how­ever, and thrilling be­yond imag­i­na­tion. We forged a “wet-land­ing” on to the dune-fringed beach right at the sea-level en­try to The Links at Crow­bush Cove and, min­utes later, ar­rived at the club­house. Play­ing through this gem of Prince Ed­ward Is­land’s golf scene – marked by chal­leng­ing emer­ald fair­ways, car­ries over wa­ter and grassy dunes – the el­e­vated tees and greens pro­vide vast views of the coast­line, our zo­di­acs bob­bing shore­side and, our ship, the Akademik Ioffe, gleam­ing white on the hori­zon.

When One Ocean Ex­pe­di­tions (OOE) an­nounced that – be­tween its Antarc­tic and Arc­tic sea­sons – the ice­breaker ocean re­search ves­sel Akademik Ioffe would sail an in­au­gu­ral Fid­dles and Sticks golf itin­er­ary, in­clud­ing Cape Bre­ton’s Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links, High­land Links and P.E.I.’s The Links at Crow­bush Cove, I was hooked by the idea of play­ing Canada’s mar­itime beau­ties within a week with­out driv­ing dis­tances be­tween them. The rare chance to visit re­mote Sable Is­land added al­lure.

Em­bark­ing the voy­age at Louis­bourg Harbour af­ter a morn­ing tour of his­toric Fortress of Louis­bourg, it was ev­i­dent that OOE’s team had re­fined com­plex lo­gis­tics to com­bine ex­pe­di­tion cruis­ing with golf and lo­cal cul­ture. As the crew cinched our PFDs for the first zo­diac shut­tle out to the ship, we were greeted by Celtic mu­sic from a kilted bag­piper and the ship’s two res­i­dent mu­si­cians, one play­ing a fid­dle, the other a man­dolin.

That evening, we dined on lob­ster, and pro­gram co-or­di­na­tor Ian Peck out­lined the next day’s plans for ar­rival in In­ver­ness, Cape Bre­ton. “This is Plan A,” he said, “but this is ex­pe­di­tion cruis­ing, and things can change.” Non-golfers had op­tions to tour Bad­deck, visit the Alexan­der Gra­ham Bell mu­seum and go cy­cling or hik­ing with the ship’s nat­u­ral­ist guide.

Early next morn­ing, we ar­rived at Cabot Links, ranked 43rd in Golf Digest’s World 100 Great­est Golf Cour­ses, to see the crew un­wrap­ping golfers’ clubs from pro­tec­tive “dry bags.” Though Cabot Links’ rick­shaws are light to ma­noeu­vre along long, rolling fair­ways, I felt smart to have booked a cad­die to pull my clubs and guide my shots. A true links course skim­ming the wa­ter line, it is rem­i­nis­cent of Scot­land’s cour­ses, de­mand­ing long car­ries over

scrub, ac­cu­racy to avoid bunkers chis­elled around greens, and a good eye for wavy greens. As I strode ex­cit­edly to my drive from the 11th for­ward tee, my golf mate – an English­man who drove from the black mark­ers – said, “Yeah, this is a gor­geous links en­vi­ron­ment, but these fair­ways are wider, more for­giv­ing than the U.K.’s nar­row links.”

Later, when all pas­sen­gers min­gled ashore for whisky tast­ing and Celtic din­ner at Glenora Dis­tillery, it was an­nounced that the ship’s bi­ol­o­gist Matt had scored the men’s long­est drive at 400 yards and ea­gled the 11th.

Bleak skies and brisk breezes did not dampen our ex­hil­a­ra­tion for Cabot Cliffs, ranked ninth in the World 100 Great­est Golf Cour­ses. Stun­ning views un­folded as I fol­lowed the lush fair­ways uphill over rolling to­pog­ra­phy to reach the crest of a jagged cliff fac­ing spec­tac­u­lar, daunt­ing fair­ways. On the 16th par-3, my cad­die’s tip made my day. He said, “Hit left, and your ball will roll right to the pin.” A birdie would have been nice, but I loved the “ping” sound of my par putt. By the round’s end, the sky was clear and breeze light. Back on board, when peo­ple shouted, “Whales!” I raced to the stern just in time to see a tail flip and dis­ap­pear un­der wa­ter.

That evening, the ship nav­i­gated to­ward Mag­dalen Is­lands, an ar­chi­pel­ago in the St. Lawrence where Que­bec and Mar­itime cul­tures min­gle. Ex­pe­di­tion leader Kay­lan out­lined op­tions in­clud­ing a zo­diac tour of the red stone cliffs, kayak­ing, pad­dle-board­ing, cy­cling and a bus tour of La Grave, in­clud­ing his­toric, cul­tural and culi­nary de­lights.

The sky was clear blue, wa­ters calm as the zo­di­acs beached La Grave harbour, and pas­sen­gers joined var­i­ous groups. In a zo­diac with mas­sage ther­a­pist An­nie at the helm, my group cruised along the es­carp­ment in a slow tour along the cliffs to­ward a dis­tant, rugged promon­tory thriv­ing with sea birds. Be­sides see­ing huge great black cor­morants and North­ern gan­nets div­ing for fish, we were mes­mer­ized by how hun­dreds of birds had col­o­nized in what I can best de­scribe as a cliff­side condo for birds. Tucked into ev­ery crevice of the ver­ti­cal stone was a bird or clus­ters of birds guard­ing a nest, some with fluffy chicks. As An­nie si­lenced the mo­tor, we rev­elled in the sounds of na­ture, the birds’ songs, the lap­ping waves. Look­ing up, we spot­ted a fox peer­ing down from the cliff top, likely schem­ing for a kill.

When we gathered on the ship’s deck for a feast of oys­ters fresh from the sea, or­nithol­o­gist Christo­pher iden­ti­fied our bird pic­tures as species of great black-backed gulls, her­ring gulls and black-legged kit­ti­wake.

Af­ter the beach de­par­ture from P.E.I.’s The Links at Crow­bush Cove – where non-golfers had hiked the par­a­bolic dunes of Green­wich Na­tional Park – we sailed to In­go­nish, Cape Bre­ton, for a fi­nal round at High­land Links. Built in 1941, this glob­ally famed hall­mark of ge­nius golf course ar­chi­tect Stanley Thomp­son am­bles through dy­nam­i­cally shift­ing to­pog­ra­phy and el­e­va­tions, giv­ing scenic views of sea and forested moun­tains. Com­pared to the pre­vi­ous, fairly man­i­cured cour­ses, this clas­sic course ap­peared rus­tic, though a bril­liant test of golf­ing skills.

Back on board, rem­i­nisc­ing over high­lights, my table­mates’ chat­ter turned to fu­ture golf dreams. It turns out that next year, One Ocean Ex­pe­di­tions is in­au­gu­rat­ing a golf cruise to the top links in Scot­land and Ire­land on its new RCGS Res­o­lute, a larger ship, specif­i­cally de­signed for tourism.

Ar­riv­ing by sea makes sense. Cruis­ing to play had put my game and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Canada’s mar­itime na­ture to the fore. For the love of golf, I thought, why not cruise to the birth­place of the game? I’ve al­ready booked my caddy.

IF YOU GO www.oneo­cean ex­pe­di­tions.com. Do Take the Sable Is­land ex­cur­sion. The last day at sea proved a true ex­pe­di­tion as the Akademik Ioffe an­chored in the At­lantic Ocean about 300 kilo­me­tres south­east of Hal­i­fax. Scoot­ing in zo­di­acs across white­caps, past dozens of cu­ri­ous seals bob­bing in the waves, we landed on the is­land’s sandy beach. Re­ally a 42 kilo­me­tre-long sand­bar, Sable Is­land is Canada’s new­est Na­tional Park, in­hab­ited only by wild horses, seals, mi­gra­tory birds and a small group of sci­en­tists man­ning a sta­tion. Fol­low­ing a Parks Canada guide, I felt priv­i­leged to ex­plore this pris­tine patch of the world. www.oneo­cean­ex­pe­di­tions.com/ north-at­lantic-is­lands/scot­land-golf

Tee­ing off at Crow­bush Cove

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