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