© Esther Krahn
Links between me and my country
An MD and his wife golf their way across Canada
The idea came to me when I read Anita Draycott’s “Cross-country tee off” in the June 2009 issue of Doctor’s Review. She had written a roundup of Canada’s top 10 courses. I wanted golf them all. In one trip! I saved the thought and issue.
I was turning 51, and had to address a case of osteochondritis dissecans of both knees taking a premature toll. I had already been “bone on bone” for two years. By 2012 when this golf trip reentered my mind, I decided to go forward with a bilateral arthroplasties at one procedure. It left me blue, like someone had taken a bat to both legs from butt to ankle, and left me with a hemoglobin of 67. Yet after two and a half weeks, I was back doing house calls. By spring of last year, I felt ready to golf. But my perky caddy Esther and I were also anticipating our daughter’s wedding. It was going to be a busy summer.
It was in July, shortly after the wedding, that I went online and got to work. Two weeks later, I had booked all 10 courses and tried to include most of Draycott’s suggestions for places to sleep and eat.
The plan was to start on the east coast: fly from Winnipeg to Saint John NB and do two Maritime courses first; fly from Saint John to Toronto for three courses in Quebec and Ontario; from Toronto to Saskatoon to golf at Prince Albert National Park; fly on to Calgary for a swing at Jasper and Canmore; and finally go from Calgary to Vancouver to play in Victoria and Pemberton. Airfare for two came to just over $3000. Soon I had hotel reservations, five rental car bookings and a new set of clubs to replace my 20-year-old McGregors that had been stolen. Add some sweet golf shoes I received for my 55th birthday, and I was set.
By the afternoon of September 21 we were driving from Saint John via the Confederation Bridge to Crowbush Cove (peisfinestgolf.com) in PEI. We arrived at dusk and enjoyed a light dinner at the Rodd Crowbush Golf & Beach Resort’s restaurant, followed by a walk and an early bed – an approach that paid off throughout the trip.
The next morning was windy off the dunes near Morell. After a very rusty first tee off with some gents from various Canadian cities, we were soon treated to amazing ocean views. I settled in to some good ball striking, especially across water hazards, including a neatly planted ball on the par 3 sixth hole Cattails, two excellent shots at the very difficult 11th par 5 Sully’s Run and a long carry over water near the dunes at the 16th Heron Lookout.
Then, handshakes all around and a brisk drive to the Wood Islands Ferry back across to Caribou, Nova Scotia for the drive to Highlands Links (highlandslinksgolf.com), at Ingonish Beach, Cape Breton. We arrived after dark in a squall and checked into the Keltic Lodge (kelticlodge.ca) and upgraded to a suite with a spiral staircase and a telescope. The weather looked bleak, but we hoped for the best as we settled in after a windy walk past the darkened clubhouse.
The next morning we felt a bit like Sally and her brother in Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat, watching the rain come down in front of the big breakfast windows of the Purple Thistle Dining Room. We did not like it, not one little bit. There was no chance of golfing this course.
That was not about to stop us. We packed the car and headed to New Brunswick where we hoped to find fairer climes. I was hoping for a late afternoon game, maybe nine holes. I had already looked at the regional course rankings in SCOREGolf magazine and had always wanted to take Esther to St. Andrews-By-The-Sea. So the Kingsbrae Arms Relais & Chateaux (kingsbrae.com) was our scheduled lodging. By the time we reached Fredericton, things were looking fairer indeed.
We arrived at St. Andrews by late afternoon where the nearly deserted Algonquin Golf Course (algonquinresort.com)was just waiting for us. We did nine holes and checked into a suite that opens into the Kingsbrae’s private garden. Later we had an excellent home-cooked meal by twilight at the Niger Reef Tea House (nigerreefteahouse.com)overlooking the Bay of Fundy. Early the next morning, one day four, we walked through the stunning Kingsbrae formal gardens, with pluperfect lighting for some great photography in this Butchart of the east. On the heels of that visual feast, we sat down to the finest breakfast ever with a delightful server all to ourselves.
A little to the centre please
The links of central Canada beckoned, so we winged our way to Pearson Airport and took a short drive up Ontario’s beloved 401 to the tranquil lanes of Thousand Islands Parkway until we reached Smugglers Glen Golf Course(smugglersglen.com). Over breakfast the next day, we watched the mist on the headwaters of the St. Lawrence River; it felt like we were on the set of On Golden Pond as the morning sun christened the river. We had a cool dewy first tee off, then whizzed through the first nine holes; making good time, we decided to do the back nine before hitting the road for Quebec.
We got onto Mont Tremblant’s Le Diable (tremblant.ca) an hour early. The tall spruce hallways and fiery red fairway bunkers of this massive beauty greeted us. Add to that the amazing onslaught of fall colours, and we were in for a four-hour treat. The golf course absolutely owned me. By the time we reached the staggeringly beautiful and difficult par 5 15th, I wished I could have downhill skied the hole instead, meeting a mountain biker blazing up the trail while I chopped through rocks and trees. There’s always an upside in golf, and I managed to stay completely out of the full-length fairway bunkers and plant a decent tee shot, avoiding the water on the par 3 third hole Precision. The sun had set in fiery vermilions by the time we finished and checked in at the Westin Tremblant (westin.com/monttremblant). We walked through the village and dined on elk burger and sausage at the little La Diable (microladiable.com).
After a misty morning walk through the Tremblant village, we headed south and west into the blazing colours of Algonquin Provincial Park. We arrived on the evening of September 26 on the shores of Georgian Bay just north of Owen Sound. Here we found the Cobble Beach Golf Resort (cobblebeach.com).
We checked into the Lighthouse Suite, had dinner and a walk in the dark through the new subdivision surrounding this lakeside course. Next morning dawned a clear, warm day for one of the toughest 18 holes of this adventure. Fall aeration had started on some of the fairways, but all in all, this course had very good conditions and we were even accompanied by a small flock of wild turkeys up near the roadway. The golf became very demanding, almost overwhelming through 16 holes. But then, at the signature 17th par three hole Lighthouse, I dropped a high tee shot just over the front greenside bunker and watched it trickle down the slope rightward to within three feet of a hole in one. Reality check: this so-so golfer settled for a par, but the round did get turned around with a back-to-back par on the par five 18th Bluff back near the inn and clubhouse.
By five o’clock the same day we were on a plane to Saskatoon and pitch-black when we entered the Prince Albert National Park. The weather was considerably chillier than in southern Ontario. We were due for a good night’s rest after a long golf and travel day.
We woke to crisp blue skies and golden birch trees – and quite near the Lake Waskesiu Golf Course(waskesiugolf.com). Yet at the clubhouse, we were greeted by frost. We walked in to be told we’d lose our tee time because of the frost “policy.” I protested, insisting they’d have to do better; I even explained that we were on a carefully scheduled cross-country adventure here. We got a few nods and winks from locals hanging around, and before I knew it, I was being sent out to the driving range with some ball tokens to cool off. Sure enough, not long after our scheduled tee time, we were paired with a friendly couple and off we went.
It was a perfect fall day. We heard -- but never saw -- elk trumpeting throughout the round. The course proved very difficult until, once again, things settled down for three of the last four holes. We bid our company farewell and enjoyed the daylight drive back to Saskatoon for our evening flight to Calgary then an overnight stop in Canmore.
The next day, we encountered low hanging clouds and snow on the Icefields Parkway; yet it all dissipated by the time we reached Jasper. We checked into the Jasper Park Lodge (fairmont.com/jasper) and set out onto the scenic links. Canada’s #1 ranked public course, designed by Stanley Thompson, proved also to be where I had my best overall round.
On Monday morning we retraced our steps through a mix of fall colours and icing-sugar snow back to Canmore for a brief lunch before winding our way up the side of the Bow Valley to Stewart Creek Golf and Country Club(stewartcreekgolf.com). Despite the horrendous flooding of just a few months earlier, Stewart Creek had possibly the best course conditions of our trip. It proved a very demanding course again with steep contours, rewarding pars on the par 5 sixth hole and par 4 14th, and another near hole in one, closest to the hole shot of the trip, on the par three 17th (bit of a theme with 17th holes here). After the round, we returned to Calgary for an overnight stop and a morning flight on to Vancouver.
By the afternoon of October 1, we were on a big ferry with a large Chinese school group bound for Victoria and theWestin Bear Mountain Golf Resort (bearmountain.ca). We hit significant rain sailing through the Gulf Islands, but navigated without incident off the ferry and on up to the resort.
It had been raining for days and the lads in the clubhouse did not feel optimistic about a tee off, especially on the Mountain Course, which I had booked. They were, however, delighted with the story of doing a Top 10 golf trip across Canada, which included their course. Once again, within less than an hour, we were escorted to start our round on the 10th hole of the mountain course. I was, after all, trying my best to stick with Draycott’s recommendations! After some drizzling rain on the island green 11th hole, the weather played in our favour on a more-than-demanding Jack Nicklaus-designed course through towering fir trees. The guys in the clubhouse even designed a nametag for our cart which read “Top 10 Canadian Courses Trip.”
By early afternoon we were heading up the island highway towards our final destination. We crossed by ferry again from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay, watching the snowy peaks of the coastal mountains rising straight out of the mainland inlets. We drove up the Sea to Sky Highway and arrived after dark at a chalet-style B&B in a high mountain valley north of Whistler. We settled in for the night and awoke to a fully fogged-in mountain morning. After a pastoral walk past horse and cattle pastures, apple trees and flower gardens, we headed for the final golf course of our tour. Soon the heavy mist began lifting to reveal the glorious slopes of Mount Currie, which would be the backdrop for our next round of golf at Big Sky (bigskygolf.ca). The links here were radiant in the late morning sun. Three-and-half hours later, with another challenge behind us, basking in the sunshine, we quietly acknowledged the end of an amazing golf trip. Thanks for the inspiration Anita. Our cross-country tee off was realized.
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