IS­LAND GET­AWAY

Prince Ed­ward Is­land on the east coast of Canada is a popular golf des­ti­na­tion, with a va­ri­ety of at­trac­tive cour­ses.

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents 6/15 - ByS­tu­ar­tMcLean

Golf is a big part of sum­mer life on Prince Ed­ward Is­land.

PRINCE ED­WARD IS­LAND IS A CU­RI­OUS PLACE TO VISIT. I trav­elled half­way across the world from South Africa to get there last year, and was dis­con­certed at times by the iso­la­tion and the seem­ingly tran­quil life­style of its res­i­dents. This is a place where you can truly chill out for­ever. On a Fri­day evening af­ter golf we left our re­sort in search of a restau­rant in the near­est town (the dot on the map cer­tainly sug­gested Ge­orge­town was a size­able place), and found it so eerily quiet you might have sus­pected the lo­cals had all been ab­ducted by aliens.

The sun was still up, but per­haps they had merely gone to bed. We found a restau­rant on a beau­ti­ful stretch of wa­ter where the river met the ocean. There were only a hand­ful of cus­tomers, and we soon dis­cov­ered why. It was 8pm and about to close.

PEI can also claim to be a golfer’s par­adise, of­fer­ing 405 holes at 27 cour­ses (10 are nine-holers), which was why we had our clubs with us. Thank good­ness we did, be­cause out­side the cap­i­tal city of Char­lot­te­town (the is­land is lit­tered with names like th­ese which are re­minders of the old coun­try) there are few other no­table adult at­trac­tions. This is the ex­act op­po­site of what you would find at Myr­tle Beach in South Carolina, with its high-rise apart­ments and ho­tels. We played six ter­rific lay­outs, which made our week-long visit worth­while and en­joy­able, not to men­tion re­lax­ing. Golf­ing cou­ples would love it.

Many peo­ple won’t know ex­actly where Prince Ed­ward Is­land is, yet it’s big­ger than you would ex­pect from the 104th-largest is­land in the world. It’s a mar­itime prov­ince of eastern Canada; and PEI only ranks as the 23rd-largest is­land in this enor­mous coun­try. Yet PEI is three times larger than Mau­ri­tius.

A strik­ing fea­ture for me was its so­phis­ti­cated road sys­tem. Ru­ral it may have looked, but it had a fas­ci­nat­ing net­work of good roads, ma­jor and mi­nor, con­nect­ing ev­ery ham­let and house. The Points East Coastal Drive mea­sures 475 kilo­me­tres (!) through some ex­cep­tional scenery. Hope­fully it of­fered some­where to have lunch en route. The is­land is in the Gulf of St Lawrence, just vis­i­ble from the main­land on a clear day, and we were able to drive over on the 13-kilo­me­tre-long Con­fed­er­a­tion Bridge, an im­pres­sive struc­ture built high above the wa­ter and able to with­stand ice floes in win­ter. Con­nect­ing to Nova Sco­tia and New Brunswick, it has only been there since 1997. Pre­vi­ously you took the ferry, which still pro­vides a regular ser­vice, or hitched up your horse and cart over the ice in win­ter. Tourists mainly fly in to Char­lot­te­town air­port from all parts of North Amer­ica.

PEI, as you can sur­mise, is a sum­mer golf­ing des­ti­na­tion. There are nearly 150 000 res­i­dents, and the is­land gets over a mil­lion vis­i­tors each year. In win­ter, the pop­u­lace turns their at­ten­tion to ice hockey and curl­ing, and prob­a­bly even more sleep. It was the birth­place of Canadian con­fed­er­a­tion in the 1860s, but for mod­ern tourists it is more closely as­so­ci­ated with the popular chil­dren’s book Anne of

Green Gables, which has sold more than 50 mil­lion copies world­wide. Anne is a fic­tional char­ac­ter, but Green Gables does ex­ist on the north­ern shore. The house, now a mu­seum, was the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind Lucy Mont­gomery’s book. We played golf on the prop­erty, one of PEI’s orig­i­nal cour­ses, a Stan­ley Thomp­son de­sign from the late 1930s, now mod­ernised, and I came away en­chanted by a rolling lay­out of many chal­lenges whose holes me­an­dered through dense for­est close to the ocean. We passed the Green Gables house on the back nine on our way down to the shore.

MU­SI­CAL IN­TER­LUDE

Play­ing at Green Gables was my first ex­pe­ri­ence of how popular the game is among Cana­di­ans, who flock to pay-and-play fa­cil­i­ties of this na­ture dur­ing the sum­mer. Wide fair­ways make it fun for ev­ery­one. Younger play­ers have also added a mu­si­cal el­e­ment to the game. We set off walk­ing be­hind a four­ball in carts who played the en­tire round with rock mu­sic pound­ing out of speak­ers. At first the mu­sic was catchy, but the noise of grind­ing gui­tars soon wore thin. Af­ter about six holes of this, we dou­bled back to play some of the holes again, and the peace and quiet was ex­tra de­light­ful.

Vir­tu­ally all the cour­ses on PEI are pay-and-play, most of them built since the 1990s when golf ex­ploded in pop­u­lar­ity in Canada. They are typ­i­cally in the coun­try­side, rather than in ur­ban ar­eas, and lo­cat­ing them took us a fair bit of driv­ing around the pas­toral land­scape of rolling hills and woods. We ini­tially stayed in the com­fort­able Hol­man Grand Ho­tel in down­town Char­lot­te­town – my room had su­perb views over the har­bour, vis­ited by cruise lin­ers – and would drive out west each day to cour­ses such as Green Gables, Glas­gow Hills, Ea­gles Glenn and An­der­sons Creek. There were good qual­ity pubs in the small down­town area, a few smart restau­rants, while the out­skirts of Char­lot­te­town were de­voted to shop­ping malls. Canadian su­per­mar­kets are hugely im­pres­sive by com­par­i­son to those in South Africa. They are gi­gan­tic, with an ar­ray of choice we don’t find here. The fruit and veg sec­tions alone were as big as most av­er­age-sized Pick n Pays.

We made an overnight sortie to Mill River in the far west, and this ma­ture lay­out be­long­ing to a lowkey Rodd re­sort was one of the stand­out cour­ses we played. Be­ing so far from Char­lot­te­town it was pleas­antly quiet, and in­cor­po­rated some bril­liantly testing golf holes in the usual at­trac­tive set­ting. PEI golf re­sorts are dif­fer­ent from those we gen­er­ally find here or in Mau­ri­tius, be­ing dis­tinctly old-fash­ioned in com­par­i­son. How­ever, we were there in early June – the cour­ses only open in the sec­ond half of May fol­low­ing win­ter – so the re­sorts weren’t ex­actly throb­bing with ac­tiv­ity. They get busier in the height of the sum­mer sea­son. The rooms were com­fort­able though, the beer cold, and the kitchen staff cooked good pub fare.

The Rodd Bru­denell re­sort on the eastern side of the is­land, closer to Char­lot­te­town, was big­ger and busier, and this had a su­perb 36-hole fa­cil­ity bor­der­ing the broad Bru­denell River, th­ese be­ing the older Bru­denell River lay­out, and the mod­ern Dun­dar­ave, which with its cre­atively de­signed greens – in su­perb con­di­tion – and va­ri­ety of chal­lenges, was great fun to play, although you did need carts to get around, as it tra­versed a large area of prop­erty.

Vet­eran Canadian LPGA star Lorie Kane grew up in Char­lot­te­town, and Bru­denell River was where she played golf – her dad was the club pro. The course, which has six 5s, six 4s and six 3s, once hosted a Skins match be­tween Kane, An­nika Soren­stam, Se Ri Pak and Nancy Lopez. “The golf on PEI is un­known,” Kane told Golf Di­gest in a 2011 in­ter­view. “We’re still a se­cret. But when peo­ple do come here, they re­ally en­joy it. It’s one of the most af­ford­able places in the world to play.” Part of the en­joy­ment comes from the friend­li­ness of the peo­ple at the golf clubs, both staff and fel­low golfers. There’s a re­laxed en­vi­ron­ment. As far as the weather goes, we had a week of bril­liant sun­shine, although it rained over the week­end. Isn’t it like that ev­ery­where?

The is­land’s top course is The Links at Crow­bush Cove, opened in 1994 and recog­nised as one of Canada’s best public cour­ses. Also at­tached to a Rodd re­sort, it sits on an empty stretch of the north shore. It’s not a links in the true sense of the word, and dis­ap­point­ingly had only a hand­ful of holes close to the sandy shore­line. Oth­er­wise it was a re­ally good de­sign, in pris­tine con­di­tion.

There were two fear­some par 5s on this Thomas McB­room de­sign which I will long re­mem­ber, first of all the sixth, but more par­tic­u­larly the 11th which played away from the sea from a high tee­ing ground in the coastal dunes. The av­er­age golfer usu­ally has to lay up with his sec­ond in front of a wet­land, and then take on nearly 200 me­tres of carry to reach the green. The Canadian de­sign­ers are quite cre­ative in their chal­lenges. They leave golfers lots of room off the tee; then toughen up the ap­proach shots.

We com­bined our visit to PEI with golf in neigh­bour­ing Nova Sco­tia (Septem­ber 2014). They’re a great dou­ble act.

The back nine at Green Gables has su­perb sea views.

The Links at Crow­bush Cove.

Char­lot­te­town is the is­land’s cap­i­tal and PEI wel­comes more than a mil­lion vis­i­tors each sum­mer.

The North Shore on Prince Ed­ward Is­land.

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