Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 22, 2017

The Graham Cooke-designed Admiral's Green has panoramic views of St. John's Harbour.

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Rock & roll

Take a walk on the wild side across Newfoundland’s spectacular fairways

If you’re an avid Canadian golfer, you’ve probably hit the maritime links in Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton. But have you played Newfoundland? If not, you don’t know what you’re missing. At last count Newfoundland and Labrador boasted about 20 courses, from nine-hole duffer-friendly tracks to 18-hole championship gems that would challenge even a single-digit handicapper.

Where else but on The Rock can you play award-winning golf, probably spot an iceberg or a whale and enjoy the unparalleled hospitality of Newfoundlanders? Not to mention, greens fees and stay-and-play packages can be had at rock-bottom prices. All of this was enough to have me criss-cross the island.

Running wild

I began my swing at The Wilds at Salmonier River, about an hour south of St. John’s and, at first glance, in the middle of nowhere. Aptly named, The Wilds, designed by Robert Heaslip, is a swath of giddying golf playing up, down, over and through mighty rock outcroppings, stands of fir and spruce, ponds and rivers. It’s arguably the toughest test of golf in the province.

Number 18 has to be one of Canada’s best finishing holes. The gushing sound of a waterfall is a tad distracting at the tee of the 508-yard par-five. You have to fly your ball over a gorge to a landing pad and then cross the Salmonier River to get to the green. Truly spectacular.

The next day at dawn, I dodged a few moose along the Trans-Canada West, passing miles of pristine forests and ponds shrouded with morning mist. Towns named Heart’s Content, Come by Chance and Tickle Harbour beckoned, but our destination was Terra Nova. The course, located in the National Park of the same name, has been dubbed the Pebble Beach of Newfoundland.

Twin Rivers, the resort’s flagship course, awarded four and a half stars by Golf Digest magazine, opened as a nine-hole tract in 1984. The late Robbie Robinson designed it. In 1991, Doug Carrick was hired to create nine more holes running between dense forests, the Atlantic Ocean and two salmon rivers.

The first is a knockout — from elevated tees, it doglegs right to a raised green with sparkling Bonavista Bay ahead of you. The air was so fresh it stung my nostrils. Most of the fairways are wide enough to accommodate the Titanic, tempting you to let it rip.

Perhaps what makes Terra Nova so special are the outstanding par-threes. Number eight, for example, requires crossing a raging river of white water to an elevated green protected by bunkers. Number 18, a downhill par-three across a river to a postage-stamp green, leaves you feeling exhilarated and wanting more. And thanks to the second nine-hole Eagle Creek courses you can swing ’til your heart’s content.

A mighty wind

For our last round on the east coast, I headed south to Pippy Park near St. John’s airport. The nine-hole Captain’s Hill course was built by a group of volunteers in the 1970s. As the game became more popular, architect Graham Cooke was hired to design the championship 18-hole Admiral’s Green that opened in 1993. Number seven, the par-three signature hole offers panoramic views of St. John’s Harbour, the Marine Institute and Cabot Tower.

Admiral’s Green is a roller coaster, made all the more challenging by the sou’wester blowing 60 kilometres per hour, according to the blackboard in front of the pro shop. On the 10th green, my pants were flapping so loudly I could barely concentrate on my putt.

“This is quite a gale,” I yelled to Frank, a local who was playing with us.

“Oh, this is grand,” he said. “No flies.”

“How could a fly last in this wind?” I asked.

“Ours have muscles,” came the wry reply as he galloped across the green to rescue his cap.

I doubt that many other destinations can tempt golfers with iceberg sightings but, should you tee off in spring or early summer, you might well spot one. These ancient alabaster mountains, calved from the massive glaciers of Greenland and the Arctic, are funnelled by the frigid Labrador current along the east coast, known as Iceberg Alley.

While the golf scene on Newfoundland’s eastern Avalon Coast is more established, there’s an exciting new development on the west coast that’s certainly worth the six-hour trek across the Trans Canada Highway (unless, of course, you opt to fly.)

Go for Gros

With a philosophy of “build it and they will come,” Gros Morne Resort in the heart of Gros Morne National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is the brainchild of Newfoundland entrepreneur Alphonse Hutchings, who made his fortune in construction at Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Hutchings’ pride and joy is the 27-hole championship golf course, also designed by Robert Heaslip and framed by the Long Range Mountains. Currently, nine holes are finished for play. The goal is to have 18 ready this August and 27 by summer 2010.

This was no easy or inexpensive undertaking. The property, once a bog, had to be excavated. Then each fairway was given a solid foundation from rock blasted from a nearby quarry. The bog soil was sifted to create topsoil for the grass. Hutchings estimates that each hole costs about $1 million.

Relatively flat fairways are lined with mature juniper, fir and spruce trees and chances are excellent that you’ll encounter moose, black bears, foxes and eagles during your round. Number 13 is a spectacular par-five with an island green surrounded by bunkers.

The resort’s comfortable suites feature fireplaces, wet bars and Jacuzzis. Hutchings also envisions an indoor beach, marina, 500-seat theatre, spa and airstrip. The gourmet restaurant, which Hutchings boasts will “be as good as any you’ll find in Montreal or Toronto,” will serve organic produce from his nearby farm in Cow Head.

Let’s hope Hutchings’ dream has a happier ending than Humber Valley, near Corner Brook, where another entrepreneurial Newfoundlander, Brian Dobbin, built the resort and hired award-winning Canadian architect Doug Carrick to design a golf course that SCOREGolf magazine named Best New Course in Canada in 2007.

Alas, the property is currently in receivership, but we can only hope that someone brings the course back to life. In the meantime, Blomidon Golf & Country Club in Corner Brook, recently re-designed by Graham Cooke, is alive and well and provides scenic views of Corner Brook and the spectacular Bay of Islands.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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