PEI, a present for England's Prince Edward.
There are almost as many left handed golfers in Canada as right-handed. We all know Mike Weir, he being the most famous Canadian ‘leftie’ after his 2003 US Masters win. Why I know this and why I am sharing this dinner table trivia is that recently I spent some time on Prince Edward Island. A tiny speck of green in the Gulf of St Lawrence and between New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and guess what … it’s full of left handed golfers.
Prince Edward Island has been inhabited for more than 9,000 years but it only got 'discovered' back in 1534 when a stout seafaring Frenchman, Captain Jacques Cartier, landed in a bay with such intense heat that he called it the ‘Bay of Chaleur’. This started 200 years of French claim to the ‘Isle St Jean’. It was only in the mid 1700's when, a Dutchman working for the English crown, Captain Samuel Holland landed on the island that PEI started developing. The English hunger for land ownership was huge and even the little speck that is PEI was not immune to it. The French came to realise that the only way to survive on PEI was to work with the native Mi’kmaq and Acadian population. The English thought no better than to evict them and put their own mark on the island. PEI received its name from Queen Victoria’s father, Prince Edward, to whom it was given as a present and consequently the island was divided in 67 pieces, all given to English nobles living in … England. What the English did not expect was, behind it’s friendly appearance, the island was very inhospitable and hunger struck. The English then left as in the meantime in several European countries, people were getting economically and religiously suppressed and found no alternative than to head west. In 1772, Scotsman John MacDonald and his 210 Highland Scots landed on PEI and they immediately thought of home. Not too long after, over 10,000 Irish settled on PEI and contrary to popular belief, they were all pre-famine immigrants from all counties of Ireland. They mainly got involved in fishing and farming. This history gives Prince Edward Island its distinctive Celtic feel.
The golf industry on PEI has developed significantly over the past few years with 21 courses dotted around the island. The oldest one, Green Gables, dates back to 1939. Green Gables itself was made famous by Lucy Maud Montgomery’s ‘Ann of Green Gables’, a series of children’s novels popular in the UK and Japan of all places. Charlottetown, PEI’s capital is a cosy little provincial town with typical wooden houses bordering the streets, Celtic bars and seafood restaurants. Wood is the only source of building materials on PEI as all stone has to be imported. It’s also in Charlottetown where in 1864, the foundations of the Canadian State were laid. The town lies virtually in the middle of the island and forms a good base from where you can get to all the golf courses quite handily.
Most of the courses on PEI are designed by Canadian golf architects and are all modern designs and constructed according to USGA specifications for the tees and greens. Dundarave is the first course I was presented and what a present it was. The course hides in a 500 acres domain and each hole seems to play in its own amphitheater. It’s definitely a course I can appreciate, in great condition with very quick and true greens. I am in a privileged position being able to play the world’s best courses which also allows me to come up with a fairly objective scoring system to rate a golf course. A mix of excellent, mediocre and uninspiring golf holes gives Dunderave a score of 9-6-3. Some of the holes are truly spectacular and remind me of the Loch Lomond’s of this world. Dunderave was selected to host the 2006 ‘Legends of Golf’ which saw Jack Nicklaus take on Tom Watson.
Charlottetown is a bustling little town where the ‘islanders’ flock together to celebrate life in general. The motto on PEI is ‘Your Game, Our Way of Life.’ and so it figures. Golf is very much a part of everyday life on PEI and you will be very unlucky not to meet a local that has just come off the golf course. The town has a population of around 40,000, it has an airport and a deep sea harbour with cruise terminal where around 85 cruise ships dock every year. It also has a harness race horse track dating back from 1888. My stay in the ‘Great George’ hotel was extremely enjoyable and comfortable. The hotel consists of 15 historic buildings, all saved from ruin and meticulously restored on the outside but very modern and with all amenities on the inside. It’s a family owned hotel where the service level is among the best I have experienced. On PEI, Seafood is the dish of choice with locally cultivated oysters, lobster, the famous PEI mussels and freshly caught fish, a lot of which you can find in the Seafood Chowder. Enjoy, according to Celtic traditions, home brewed beer in the Gahan Pub and listen to the bands that frequent the Olde Dublin Pub. The Irish and Scottish influence is omnipresent with names like Grafton Street (Dublin’s main shopping street), Connaught Square, the town of Kildare, the River Clyde, Glasgow Hills etc.
PEI depends on the visiting golfer, all the golf courses are very welcoming and always seem to give that little bit extra. Many courses give you complimentary mussels after your round which is a nice touch and obviously causes the taps to flow. There is a lot you can derive from the course names. On Fox Meadow you have to be careful that the wild foxes don’t head off with your split down the middle drive while on Crow-bush Cove you need to keep all bling out of sight as before you know it, it’s been taken out of your buggy by the always watching … crows. Fox Meadow is a popular course on PEI, it offers a challenging but friendly casual round without being extremely difficult and it’s very walkable. The Links at Crow-bush Cove on the other hand is a true and spectacular championship course on the North shore of PEI. It bears many similarities with links courses on this side of the Atlantic apart from the turf. This course offers one spectacular hole after the other, each with their own level of difficulty. Crow-bush nominates the eleventh as their ‘signature’ hole and with an amazing 360 view, I can understand why. As a golf hole however, I found it too difficult. As a long Par 5, it’s a bit unfair because even with your best drive to the fairway about 30 yards below you, you will find it difficult to clear the water on your second shot so you are faced with chipping it closer to the water to set yourself up for an equally as difficult third shot. Just that little bit unfair, apart from that, nothing but praise for the Links at Crow-bush Cove.
Both Eagles Glen and Anderson’s Creek near Cavendish are proud of their Scottish heritage and on Anderson’s Creek during the summer months, golfers are greeted by a bag pipe player who happens to be a young girl and is also world champion, thank you very much. Afterwards, a portion of PEI mussels and some locally brewed ale sets the mood. Nearby you can also play Glasgow Hills situated next to the river Clyde. The course offers spectacular views over St Lawrence Bay and is very hilly which at times makes for difficult putting on the fast and undulating greens.
As mentioned before, the oldest club on the island, Green Gables Golf Club, is a course that I like. It reminds me of the old traditional tree lined courses in Europe. Green Gables is a very traditional set up of mainly dog leg holes meandering through the trees and is designed by Stanley Thompson. Born of Scottish parents, Thompson is one of Canada’s best known golf architects and, together with Donald Ross, started the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Green Gables offers a small and traditional club house, nothing spectacular but if offers good food and drink and a pro shop. Green Gables is definitely ‘a must’ play course when on PEI.
Prince Edward Island, although seemingly remote, offers very good international connections via Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. All these airports are only a short hop away from Charlottetown. There are plenty of hotels, guest houses and cottages for rent, all of them within 30 minutes from any first tee. The season is relatively short with cold and dark winters but mild and sunny summers with plenty of daylight so you could get in two rounds quite easily, if you so desired. All the courses are part of an association that manages their marketing and bookings. GolfPEI.com is their website and you can find all the information needed to get sorted on the Island. The staff at Golf PEI are extremely knowledgeable and are pleased to be able to assist you and help you with some non-golf activities. They also organise many amateur tournaments, for example, every July, the extremely popular ‘PEI Couples Festival’ takes place over different courses which also has a social program attached.
It was my first time on Prince Edward Island and I already want to go back. The courses are spectacular and in good condition, the staff in the golf clubs like to see you come and more importantly … they like to see you return. The food is fantastic and I like the Celtic atmosphere in Charlottetown with its many pubs and restaurants.
For more info, go to www.golfpei.ca.
Words: Jo Maes, President of the EGTMA.