‘This is ex­pe­di­tion golf’

Beach land­ings in a Zo­diac, sea­wa­ter spray on your nine-iron and some of the best cour­ses in Canada are just part of an in­cred­i­ble East Coast golf­ing cruise

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - By Brian Banks with pho­tog­ra­phy by Jeff Topham

Beach land­ings in a Zo­diac, sea­wa­ter spray on your nine-iron and some of the best cour­ses in Canada are just part of an in­cred­i­ble East Coast golf­ing cruise

“WET LAND­ING or dry land­ing?” In the com­pany of golfers, this ques­tion typ­i­cally means one thing and one thing only: did your tee shot carry the water hazard? But not here, not to­day. I’m one of about 60 pas­sen­gers in the din­ing room aboard the One Ocean Nav­i­ga­tor, a six-deck, 6,230-tonne One Ocean Ex­pe­di­tions ves­sel, gen­tly rock­ing at an­chor off St. Peters Har­bour on the north­east coast of Prince Edward Is­land. Af­ter a 5:30 a.m. wake-up and 6 a.m. break­fast call, we’re in the Q&A por­tion of the brief­ing on the day’s itin­er­ary with ex­pe­di­tion leader Kay­lan Worsnop. It’s our fourth morn­ing at sea — July 1, Canada Day — and the mid­point in One Ocean’s in­au­gu­ral eight-day, seven-night Fiddles and Sticks East Coast “ex­pe­di­tion” golf voy­age. We’ve al­ready played rounds on con­sec­u­tive days across the Northum­ber­land Strait in In­ver­ness, N.S., at Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links — Canada’s num­ber one and num­ber four ranked cour­ses, re­spec­tively. So, by this time we’ve learned that the day’s most im­por­tant footwear choice isn’t golf shoes, but what to don for the Zo­diac trip from ship to shore. “To­day will be a beach land­ing,” Worsnop replies. “It’s also a lit­tle splashy out there, so boots and wa­ter­proof suits are rec­om­mended.” For much of One Ocean’s cruise cal­en­dar, the com­pany’s three ves­sels can be found ply­ing icy ocean wa­ters in the vicin­ity of the Arc­tic and Antarc­tic Cir­cles. “We are a po­lar cruise com­pany in our DNA,” says An­drew Prossin, One Ocean’s founder and manag­ing di­rec­tor. But a few years ago, the op­er­a­tion added a pair of East Coast op­tions — a one-way northerly route up the coast of New­found­land and Labrador to Iqaluit on Baf­fin Is­land and a Mar­itimes loop with land­ings through­out the Gulf of St. Lawrence. On one of the re­cent lat­ter trips, Prossin says, they were an­chored within view of a sea­side golf course, brain­storm­ing new ideas, and some­body said, “Why not that?” — and Fiddles and Sticks was born.

I’LL SAY IT RIGHT HERE: the course itin­er­ary might be top-notch (Cabot Cliffs, which only opened in 2015, is spec­tac­u­larly wor­thy of its num­ber-one rank­ing), but as golf trips go, this isn’t

for ev­ery­one. But the same can prob­a­bly be said for One Ocean’s other cruises, too. If you like it soft, over-the-top posh and never too real, move along. Ad­ven­tur­ous spirit? Get in line. The dis­tinc­tions are ap­par­ent the mo­ment we gather in the mid-af­ter­noon sun on the wharf in Louis­bourg, on the south­east­ern tip of Cape Bre­ton Is­land, for the start of the cruise. The Nav­i­ga­tor is an­chored in the har­bour, with our lug­gage and golf clubs al­ready on board. Now it’s the pas­sen­gers’ turn. When our mo­ment comes, each of us gets a stern les­son from the ex­pe­di­tion staff on the right way — the only way — to step into a Zo­diac. Two hours later there’s an­other manda­tory Zo­diac safety brief­ing. Not only are the in­flat­able craft the work­horses of the trip, but our time in them on the water presents the great­est risk.

Brian Banks ( @Bri­an­banks) writes about con­ser­va­tion and out­door ad­ven­ture. Jeff Topham ( @jef­f_­topham) is a pho­tog­ra­pher-in-res­i­dence with One Ocean Ex­pe­di­tions. It isn’t un­til the morn­ing off Prince Edward Is­land, how­ever, with a round of golf await­ing at The Links at Crow­bush Cove, the is­land’s top-rated course, that the value of the board­ing les­son hits home. We’re em­bark­ing into one- to two-me­tre swells un­der low clouds. At the base of the gang­way, I lock onto the fore­arm of the Zo­diac pi­lot and time my move from the plat­form to the side of the boat to catch a ris­ing wave. When we pull away for shore, I turn to look at the beach and a blast of sea­wa­ter catches me in the face. The first two days play­ing in In­ver­ness, we had “dry” dock land­ings (the fourth course on the trip, High­lands Links, at In­go­nish, just in­side Cape Bre­ton High­lands Na­tional Park, is also a dock land­ing). That means our beach land­ing at Crow­bush — 50 or so golfers and a few non-golf­ing pas­sen­gers com­ing to kayak or hike at Green­wich Na­tional Park, ar­riv­ing like cruise-ship com­man­dos in a wave of Zo­di­acs — is not only a first for Prince Edward Is­land but pos­si­bly for any golf course in Canada. Crow­bush staff meet us with elec­tric carts and drive us right to the club­house. By the time we tee off, the sun is break­ing through the mist. Ap­pro­pri­ately enough for Canada Day, one of the course’s res­i­dent beavers also makes an ap­pear­ance, as do swarms of black flies. But on the trip back to the ship, the waves get rougher still — part roller coaster, part log flume. Later that day, af­ter the staff and crew pull off a bar­be­cue on an open deck in a fresh­en­ing gale, we learn that the wors­en­ing con­di­tions nearly re­quired we be brought back early. That news re­minds me that at one of the trip’s early brief­ings, pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor Ian Peck noted that while the itin­er­ary starts at Plan A, some­times the ocean has other ideas. “This is ex­pe­di­tion golf,” said Peck, “so the sched­ule may change.”

BE­CAUSE IT IS ex­pe­di­tion golf, it’s also dif­fi­cult choos­ing what to em­pha­size about the ex­pe­ri­ence. Make no mis­take, the cour­ses be­long on ev­ery Cana­dian golfer’s bucket list, and the game is the pri­mary fo­cus: the days we play, the itin­er­ary and the staff’s lo­gis-

tics are or­ga­nized around it; it dic­tates the cruise’s over­all route; peo­ple’s con­ver­sa­tions in the bar at happy hour and in the din­ing room at night are mainly about the cour­ses, con­di­tions and their scores; and there are daily con­tests for long­est drive and near­est to the pin as well as a hand­i­capped four-day scor­ing com­pe­ti­tion. But to write about in­di­vid­ual holes, cri­tique the lay­outs or re­port on any­one’s play feels mis­placed. Com­pared to a land-based golf trip, Fiddles and Sticks is multi-di­men­sional. Be­ing on a ship in the ocean, wak­ing up in a dif­fer­ent set­ting each day, the up-close-and-per­sonal dy­namic with an energetic ex­pe­di­tion staff, and hav­ing the op­tion of other off-ship ac­tiv­i­ties such as kayak­ing, standup pad­dle board­ing and cy­cling — it’s more than just golf. And per­haps that’s the whole idea. In my case, the two non-golf days are both high­lights. While visit­ing the Mag­dalen Is­lands, the small Que­bec ar­chi­pel­ago in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, on day three, I join a dozen or so oth­ers for a cy­cling road trip. The south is­land’s hilly, two-lane roads take us along the shore, then in­land through fields and forests and into the tiny tourist town of La Grave. By the time we get back to the beach for a group lunch, we’ve rid­den about 35 kilo­me­tres. Many pas­sen­gers opt for other ac­tiv­i­ties in the af­ter­noon, but I go back to the Nav­i­ga­tor early. Leg-weary from the ride and keen to soak up some sun, I find my way to the hot tub on the open top deck. A sub­lime af­ter­noon, sip­ping a gin and tonic un­der an all-blue sky and gaz­ing out at the water, gets a lot more sub­lime when I spot the dor­sal fin of one and then ul­ti­mately sev­eral minke whales cruis­ing by. Wildlife also takes cen­tre stage on the trip’s penul­ti­mate day, when we reach re­mote Sable Is­land, which lies in the North At­lantic Ocean nearly 300 kilo­me­tres south­east of Hal­i­fax. Des­ig­nated a na­tional park re­serve in 2013, this 42-kilo­me­tre-long sand­bar is most fa­mous for its feral horses, an­i­mals orig­i­nally re­leased there in the 1700s that now live en­tirely as an un­man­aged wild pop­u­la­tion. Pro­tected since the 1960s, they num­ber about 500. His­tor­i­cally, Sable Is­land is also fa­mous for its ship­wrecks. Even in this era, fog and fickle seas make any beach land­ing a same-day de­ci­sion. For­tu­nately, the morn­ing of our ar­rival is fair. We get the all-clear for our last round-trip Zo­diac ex­cur­sion of the cruise and one by one the boats peel off for shore. At the beach, we’re met by a greet­ing party of large grey seals — at last count, the is­land was home to 240,000 of them, the largest breed­ing colony any­where. We spend four hours ashore, es­corted over the vast, sweep­ing dunes by Dan Kehler, Parks Canada’s Sable Is­land ecol­o­gist, and it doesn’t take long be­fore we see horses. Park rules re­quire ev­ery an­i­mal be given a wide berth. Some never let you get close; oth­ers are less skit­tish, plod­ding slowly over the sand, their long manes blow­ing wildly in the breeze. For im­pact, though, noth­ing beats con­tem­plat­ing the iso­la­tion, ex­panse and rar­ity of be­ing part of only a hand­ful of groups that visit the is­land ev­ery year — and to know that you’re one of fewer than 10,000 peo­ple to have ever set foot here. A pas­sen­ger from the United King­dom de­scribes it as the clos­est he’ll ever come to an “Adam and Eve” ex­pe­ri­ence. The night be­fore, ex­pe­di­tion leader Worsnop framed it in a way that only now, in the mo­ment, truly res­onates. “Why Sable Is­land?” she asked rhetor­i­cally. “It doesn’t seem like a place that has much rel­e­vance to a golf-spe­cific trip. But we felt it was im­por­tant to in­clude on this itin­er­ary be­cause it has a pal­pa­ble ef­fect on peo­ple. It’s a place that teaches per­spec­tive, it’s hum­bling and it awak­ens won­der.” Ex­pe­di­tion golf, in­deed.

Dis­cover how to visit Sable Is­land and what to see and do when you get there at can­geo­travel.ca/fw18/sable.

Clock­wise from ABOVE: Pas­sen­gers get some dis­tance from the ship dur­ing a kayak­ing ses­sion in the Mag­dalen Is­lands; golfers at The Links at Crow­bush Cove, P.E.I.; a Zo­diac land­ing at Cap aux Meules Is­land in the Mag­dalen Is­lands; mu­si­cians Gra­ham Lind­sey and An­drée Mack­ula Théri­ault en­ter­tain at the dock at Louis­bourg, N.S. Pre­vi­ous pages: A One Ocean Ex­pe­di­tions pas­sen­ger on the fair­way at Cabot Links, N.S.

A wild horse on Sable Is­land, the famed sand­bar in the North At­lantic that has been pro­tected as a na­tional park re­serve since 2013.

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