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There are few spots at Bell Bay Golf Club where you don't have broad views of the lake or mountains or just big, blue sky.
There are few spots at Bell Bay Golf Club where you don't have broad views of the lake or mountains or just big, blue sky. (Courtesy of bellbaygolfclub.com)

Bell Bay Golf Club on Cape Breton: In a word, lovely

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,

BADDECK, Nova Scotia -- Bell Bay Golf Club is a lovely golf course just outside a lovely village in one of the loveliest parts of the world, Cape Breton.

It goes without saying, with an intro like that, that this is one scenic course.

So scenic, in fact, that many people choose to get married in an area near the 18th tee box, which has a spectacular view over the Bras d'Or Lake, surrounded by high hills and low mountains.

The French name means "arm of gold," and it is indeed a dazzling lake, fed by both the Atlantic Ocean and freshwater rivers flowing down from the mountains. The lake is so big - around 60 miles long and 30 miles wide in places - it's sometimes referred to, accurately, as a gulf or an inland sea.

Cape Bretons haven't rushed to over-develop the lake's shorelines, and populations of bald eagles and other wild critters can be seen regularly.

Architect Thomas McBroom knew what he had to work with and laid out the course beautifully; there are few spots on the course where you don't have broad views of the lake or mountains or just big, blue sky.

"It reminds you of Prince Edward Island out here," said Ray Grath, one of about 150 members at the semi-private course. "Big sky, nobody else around."

The golf course itself fits in well with its spectacular surroundings. It has good elevation changes, but not overwhelming, and the fairways have good movement, with some tilted at fairly sharp angles.

Still, with the angles and elevation, McBroom doesn't throw anything too tricky at you, no blind shots or drastic lies, with the result that Bell Bay is very playable.

"Most of the holes are right in front of you," said General Manager Ted Stonehouse.

As beautiful as the Bell Bay course is throughout, it really picks up steam after you make the turn.

"The back nine is what we're known for," Stonehouse said. "Especially the last four holes. That's what people talk about. Some golf writers say it's the best closing sequence in Canada."

Bell Bay Golf Club also has some interesting green complexes, some banked and mounded. The greens themselves, though, can be very tricky.

"The greens are the hardest part of the course," Grath said. "They have some subtle breaks. People come out here and say they played well, but had a bad day. It's the greens."

The fairways, though many are tilted, are relatively easy to hit, being fairly wide. The course has an excellent collection of par 3s: No. 6, a long one-shotter; the downhill No. 8, which plays through a tree-lined bowl; and No. 17, called "Banshee," with tees benched into the hillside overlooking a wooded ravine and creek.

Bell Bay Golf Club has a good practice facility, with a driving range, and attracts quite a few corporate outings.

Cape Breton hotels

The Inverary Inn Resort was originally built in 1850 and still retains that old-time feel even if it now has all the modern amenities, including a spa, indoor pool, fitness center, meeting facilities and wireless Internet.

The inn sits on 11 acres by the beautiful Bras d'Or Lake, with a waterfront boardwalk, and rooms as well as cottages. It has the Thistledown Pub and an excellent restaurant.

Baddeck is the home of Alexander Graham Bell, whose estate can be seen from the inn; Bell's gravesite is on his former estate.

Getting to Nova Scotia

"The Cat" (catferry.com) is a sleek, high-speed catamaran ferry that's more like a cruise ship. If you want to get to the picturesque Nova Scotia golf courses from the U.S. mainland, it's a great alternative to the long drive.

The seats are wide and plush, with plenty of legroom, and quite a few of the seating arrangements have tables, perfect for meals or playing cards.

The Discovery Channel called it one of the world's top-10 super ships. The Cat has movie screens, restaurants and even a casino - slot machines only. It holds cars, motorcycles, bicycles, RVs, or you can just walk aboard.

The huge windows make sightseeing easy on the six-hour crossing between Portland, Maine and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

The ferry is used by many American tourists on the way to the Celtic and Acadian cultures of the Canadian Maritime provinces.

The ship travels up to 40 knots, and rates range from $64 to $99 for passengers, with the shorter Bar Harbor to Yarmouth route being cheaper. Vehicle rates are $115 to $164 for cars, with varying rates for trucks and smaller vehicles. There is a port and security fee of $10 each way.

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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