With the fluctuating dollar value and a tumultuous political scene in the United States, a greater number of Canadian travelers are choosing to stay at home for their vacation, golfers included. One destination that is increasingly catching their attention is Prince Edward Island.
The smallest Canadian province has always been a favourite for family vacations. Visitors have come for decades to enjoy their many fine beaches, fresh seafood, peaceful scenery, and amiable people. Now golfers are joining them to appreciate the island’s delights.
Of course, I am a little biased about the island, generations of my family have called it home for more than two centuries. So, admittedly, it takes little to get me back to the province for a visit. Subsequently, I have convinced more than a few friends to make the trek through the years; to few complaints.
So, when it came time to choose a spot for an annual Fall Golf Road Trip with good buddy and Flagstick Publisher Jeff Bauder, I knew what had to be done. My experience with P.E.I. was deep but his, well, amounted to nothing.
So, it was set, it was time for Jeff to get his first taste, and I was happy to be his guide. Enlisting the help of Mark McLane of Golf P.E.I., we set off in late September last year on a memorable journey of golf, camaraderie, and island hospitality.
This was my journal as the trip unfolded…
Day 1: Glasgow Hills/Mill River
I can’t shake it. Each time I head for P.E.I. I am like a kid all over again. Even at 48 years old the anticipation of being back in a land that has so thoroughly impacted myself and my family still gets my attention. That surges even more when I am introducing a friend to the place I love so much. It was even more so today when Jeff and I took off from Ottawa, dipped into Montreal, and, two hours later, were descending over a patchwork of farm fields as we made our approach into Charlottetown. Sadly, low cloud cover kept us from a full panoramic view that welcomes most visitors arriving by plane, but the beauty of the island was still obvious to Jeff as we set down.
After weeks of planning, we were ready to play some golf, no matter what the weather planned to throw at us.
Rain is falling hard as I write this in the confines of the newly renovated Mill River Resort (more on that in a bit). We endured much of it today, but it did nothing to impede our joy.
After catching up with Mark at the airport and locking in our plans (we’ll see him later this week), we had a few minutes to spare so we made a little side trip to kick off our arrival.
Five minutes from the two-gate airport, we were sitting in my parent’s kitchen. A quick catch-up over a welcomed coffee was all we had time for, but it helped to quickly grow our tally of friendly faces we are sure to encounter over the next few days. There are visitors to P.E.I., but nobody is a stranger. That’s just the way it is in a place that counts just 150,000 people as permanent residents.
“The service, hospitality, the friendliness of the people has been second to none. I expected that from past trips to Atlantic Canada. Seeing it here was not unexpected, but it makes me happy to be back,” Jeff mentioned to me as we prepared to record a day one trip podcast. (You can listen to the daily podcasts we recorded on Flagstick.com)
He was more than right. As soon as we drove up to the parking lot at Glasgow Hills Golf Club, we felt welcome. It was pouring rain and the place was desolate, yet we were not starved for personal interaction. The bag drop crew were out to greet us immediately and the chain of helpful staff contact continued throughout the day, from the pro shop and Head Pro Chris Ferguson to all the restaurant staff (hot tip: try the fish & chips or chowder).
By coincidence, we also had a special greeter. Parked just back of us when we arrived (one of only a couple cars in the lot) was a familiar red Mustang (for Islanders at least). At the wheel was none other than Lorie Kane, the four-time LPGA winner, and the island’s greatest golf ambassador. A group selfie in the rain and a brief chat ensued. Lorie and a group of regulars endured nine holes in front of us before packing it in.
In contrast, we embraced the stormy weather coming in from the nearby Gulf of St. Lawrence and trundled on through the full eighteen.
Nae wind, nae rain, nae golf the Scots say, and we took on the challenge with delight, despite a 3:30 a.m. start to the day.
Tired as we were, our games were a little worse for wear (I was making some extra smooth swings due to some recent surgery) but the hilly terrain, interesting holes, and the fact we had the course pretty much to ourselves left us smiling. Tired, but delighted.
Glasgow Hills is located in the Cavendish area, so it makes for a strong option for those staying locally. It’s an easy half hour drive from Charlottetown (as are many things on the island) and their policy of unlimited mussels for guests to eat after their round makes it immensely popular. While we did not get to sit on their deck today, with the clubhouse positioned high on a hill it normally is option #1 after a round. From there you can see much of the course and the Gulf waters beyond.
Reminiscing about the course took up most of our time on the one hour drive west to Mill River Resort where we currently reside, given the rain dulling the scenery a bit. Nevertheless, it gave me time to share some insight on the island with Jeff on how easy it is to get around, and why that makes it a place where you can enjoy a lot of golf and attractions. You won’t spend all your time during a trip behind a wheel, although the laid-back attitude of people makes it about as far from a day on Highway 401 as you could possibly imagine. Here, as we saw, people even pull over on the shoulder to let you pass.
Polite? You bet.
We’ll spend just one night here at Mill River but this is a visit I have been eager to make. Don McDougall took over the resort from the province just a couple years ago and he has proceeded to sink multiple millions of dollars into much-needed renovations. From stem to stern it has a new look and amenities and the small touches like the handmade blankets in the room (from a company in the small P.E.I. town where MacDougall is from) cap the ambiance. The former beverage industry executive has also brought new life to the restaurant and bar, Callaghan’s, with first class food options. It’s been years since I was to Mill River Resort, but it won’t be long before I return; the changes are that dramatic and appealing.
The golf has always been an attraction here (the course played host to the 11th season of Golf Channel’s Big Break reality show) but the aging nature of the resort had hampered the place’s popularity.
Let’s hope the rain expected for tomorrow decides not to appear with a round in our plans.
Day 2: Mill River Resort
“At least the rain didn’t hurt today, not like yesterday,” was a notable comment from Jeff about our second day on Prince Edward Island.
Unfortunately, the heavens did open today but that did not detract from our adventure as we played eighteen at Mill River, took a side trip to the Confederation Bridge, strolled through Charlottetown’s waterfront, and attempted a beach visit on the north side of the island.
For those who have never made the trip to Mill River, the course is a Robbie Robinson design that takes full advantage of the natural landscape. The terrain within the course undulates nicely, adding interest to many holes. Most notable early on is the 5th, a short par 3 off an elevated tee to an hourglass shaped green. Of course, the hole most people talk about after a round in the 7th, a par four where eleven small ponds split the fairways. After all these years (it opened in 1971), I am not sure anyone has definitively determined the best course of action to play it.
The rain and wind pounded us all day but in the rustic setting of the Mill River course, surrounded by typical island forest, and serene surrounds, we still enjoyed the time. The course was our personal playground, save for the maintenance staff, and as we reached the final green, we were content and smiling. Our only disappointment was not being able to stay around longer.
Warmed by the car’s heater, we trundled our way back east, with Charlottetown in our sights. I was at the wheel, however, so I could not resist taking the time to show Jeff around a bit.
We slipped into Summerside for the requisite tour of my youth. You know, school, house, etc., and took in a jaunt down the main drag, Water Street, noting a growing number of new restaurants and coffee shops.
Twenty minutes later we were looking up at one of the greatest engineering marvels in Canada, the Confederation Bridge, which links to the Island at the small village of Borden. The 13-kilometre span, opened in 1997, changed life on the island. You can still get to the province by ferry from Nova Scotia, but the bridge provides a convenient paid method to guarantee your arrival. 197 feet high at its peak, you don’t get a full sense of its size until you stand below it.
It was worth a stop, but we needed to get moving. Fortunately, the sun was finally making an appearance and a glorious island drive, one that allows you to take in green fields contrasted against blue skies and the intermission of picturesque villages, was ours to behold.
After an early start we were tired by the time we reached the Quality Inn in Cornwall, on the outskirts of the capital city and an affordable and comfortable option.
We ducked into town for a quick walk around, grabbed a coffee at a favourite locale, Receiver Coffee, and took in a few streets. There were two cruise ships tied up in the harbour, so the town was full of tourists. Like them, Jeff was admiring the beauty of this small city, nestled by the water, and full of historic buildings.
With the sun still out, we tried to visit Brackley Beach, the closest beach to the capital, but it did not go well. It takes just 20 minutes to get to the north side of the island, but the rain and wind returned about a quarter of an hour into our drive. Undaunted, we kept going and our only reward was the sight of grass on the dunes waving wildly in the wind, heavy waves crashing in, and sheets of rain lashing us.
We bailed, noting we would save a beach visit for another day, and headed back to the comfort of the Victorian era buildings downtown.
Eventually, we tucked into one of them, the Row House, on Victoria Row (a pedestrian-only strip of shops and restaurants). They enlightened Jeff about the island being known for more than seafood as we dove into flavourful local steaks. Accompanied by fresh cut fries, of course. It is the potato capital of the world after all.
It was a fantastic way to cap a day that had taken us across half the island.
Day 3: Cavendish Bound
After a day prior where we spent much of our time headed east, we turned around today and slipped back to the west. But only slightly.
Sunshine was set to be the entrée today, so we eagerly anticipated a visit to the Green Gables Golf Course. This classic Stanley Thompson creation has been greeting guests for some eight decades and was recently renovated to improve conditioning, reshape some bunkers, and clean up some design features.
We expected to play alone but were pleased when Ben King, the gregarious manager, decided to join us.
For those not aware, Green Gables is in the Cavendish area, the most popular region for visitors due to its spectacular beach, amenities, and the house from which the course derives its name. The Green Gables Heritage Place depicts the home that inspired the creation of the Anne of Green Gables, the key figure in one of the Canada’s best-known pieces of literature. You can spot it easily from different parts of the golf course, although the layout itself is more than worthy of keeping your attention.
The bones of Stanley Thompson’s course for Parks Canada remain, although the original holes that took you close to the sand dunes on the north shore are long gone. No matter, the parkland layout that remains is a pleasant one. It’s an easy walk, and on a crisp Fall day with the sun shining it was nothing short of glorious. You’ll get your fill of bright green grass and fresh breezes.
We played briskly, shared a few stories, and appreciated the history of the course as the second oldest on the island. Recent work has improved much of the course conditions, peeling back decades of over growth, cleaning up the bunkering and modernizing overall conditions current standards.
It’s almost as if she is new again, and we appreciate it. As will every visitor.
Ben is the perfect host, and the carries through to his staff as well. Strangers are made to feel welcome and regulars, well, they do the same for guests.
If you haven’t had enough golf by the time you finish, be sure to grab a beverage and enjoy the deck overlooking the 18th green. A few golf lies have been told there through the years; so be sure to add a few more to the pile.
Part 2 of the Road Trip Prince Edward Island: A Tale Of Two Golfers will be posted on Tuesday, June 11.
Mill River Resort
Quality Inn Cornwall
Rodd Crowbush Resort
Links of Crowbush Cove
Brudenell River Resort