There are no strangers on Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.). It’s a place where people are not afraid to say hello to anyone; even people they don’t know.
It does not take long to see why 1.3 million visitors a year make their way here. This little Canadian island (just 220km from tip to tip) is a refuge from the ugliness that sometimes infiltrates the modern world, be it urban sprawl or selfish attitudes.
It is a retreat, an oasis, even a slice of time gone by for the many who visit. That is a part of its charm and why more and more golfers are making it the focus of their golf travels.
The global reputation of this “Cradle of Confederation”, where the first talks of creating what would become Canada were held in 1864, was not always clear to me. I took it all for granted. The reason why? Well, both sides of my family found their way to this former French Colony within a few decades after the British took over government in 1769. To me, P.E.I., was, well, P.E.I. – a beautiful island where I spent part of my childhood, many summer vacations and many, many family visits.
Recently though, I gained a new appreciation for Canada’s smallest province. Spending a week with a group of mostly American golf journalists, I toured the land and communities that were so much part of my youth and got to see it from their perspective.
Even in just a few days, it made a considerable impact on them.
The amazing part is that they only got a small taste of what this little island can offer for the travelling golfer.
Nobody says the people at Golf P.E.I., the cooperative that promotes the sport in the province, are not smart. Some two dozen golf courses dot the island, the same as you might find in a small city. That makes sense given that there are less than 150,000 people that live there full-time. It’s not a huge number of layouts but to give it a little boost the current marketing exalts the number of “fairways” versus the number of courses.
It works. It gets people’s attention. The reality is this though, while the volume of courses may not measure up to a destination like a Myrtle Beach, for example, the quality of the selection in P.E.I. is never in doubt. You only have to look to the courses involved in our trip – Green Gables Golf Course, Glasgow Hills Golf Club, The Links at Crowbush Cove, Dundarave, and Eagles Glenn.
Less than a decade ago the Green Gables Golf Course, found in the Prince Edward Island National Park in Cavendish, received a loving restoration by Tom McBroom. In touching up the 1939 Stanley Thompson design he cleaned up the property nicely, giving it the tidy edge that appeals to modern players while still maintaining Thompson’s intents.
Like all course in the province, the parkland-style Green Gables is immensely affordable, making it attractive to all levels of players.
Pace of play is usually swift here, leaving you plenty of time to head to the beach for a dip, a campfire, or just some family time.
You soon learn on the island that it a stunningly beautiful place. Much like Ireland, every shade of green is represented in the landscape and, when contrasted with iron-enriched red soil, you have quite a canvas.
That must have been well-recognized by not only Thompson at Green Gables, but all the modern architects that followed him. No matter which layout we played I often caught my fellow travellers gazing around in awe, usually followed by the constant snap of a camera.
The golf courses on P.E.I, take full advantage of the terrain, no better exemplified than the 11th tee at Crowbush and the bunkering at Dundarave, two courses in the “PEI’s Finest” group of courses.
At Dundarave architects Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry used the natural red sand in the bunkers, putting a distinctly P.E.I. mark on the property.
The tee on the par 5, 11th at Links of Crowbush Cove provides a 360 degree snapshot of the island. (See a video here on the stairway up to the 11th tee.) From a promontory 52 stairs in the air you can turn and view Acadian forests, marshlands, swaths of sandy beaches, and the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, running all the way to the horizon.
My companions’ amazement carried through to the local culinary scene as they experienced lobster dinners, mounds of mussels, fresh halibut, beef from farms nearby, and all manners of local brews and wines.
With each day the effusive praise for P.E.I grew during our journey. To a person the visitors exclaimed how remarkable the place was and how they aspired to return – to spend more time enjoying the golf courses, the Lobster boat tours, the quaint but modern accommodations, another trip to the harness races, or simply, a walk along the coastline.
In this small corner of the world, they went from oblivious to being huge fans of Prince Edward Island.
I think anyone would appreciate it. Just ask the millions who have visited and return faithfully each year.
Scott MacLeod / @Flagstick