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Green Gables Golf Course on PEI is a Stanley Thompson design built in 1939.
Green Gables Golf Course on PEI is a Stanley Thompson design built in 1939. (Courtesy photo)

World-class golf has a home on Prince Edward Island

Dale LeathermanBy Dale Leatherman,

CHARLOTTETOWN, Prince Edward Island - Curiosity has brought me more satisfaction than trouble, so I usually indulge it. A question nagging me was how Lorie Kane, a young woman from a small island off Eastern Canada, rose to prominence on the LPGA Tour. Could it be the golf courses she played at home?

Determined to find out, a friend and I caught a plane to Charlottetown, the capital of Prince Edward Island, Canada's smallest province. The island was only accessible by air or boat until the late 1990s, when an eight-mile-long bridge connected it to the New Brunswick mainland.

We soon discovered that the pace on P.E.I. is attuned to the island's three major industries - fishing, farming and tourism. You don't rush any of these. For about six months of the year the leisurely lifestyle and pastoral setting draw 1.2 million visitors, many from the northeast U.S. Some have been coming here for generations to stay at colorful inns and bed-and-breakfasts near the beaches and to play the seaside courses.

We had our choice of more than 25 layouts, including one that Golf Digest once listed in North America's top 10, a couple in Canada's top 10, and of course, Kane's home venue. ScoreGolf Magazine has named it the top golf destination in Canada.

There's a lot of quality golf concentrated on an island twice as big as Rhode Island but with fewer residents (134,000) than the city of Providence. By week's end we found that tee times are easy to arrange,and greens fees are a bargain. Lodging is equally inexpensive, and dining (on great local seafood and produce) is quite reasonable.

Over breakfast in Charlottetown's Fairholm National Historic Inn (a restored mansion near the harbor and a plethora of fine seafood restaurants) I asked the waitress if she had read Anne of Green Gables, written by the late Islander L.M. Montgomery. She blushed,and admitted she had not.

Locals apparently don't share the rest of the world's continuing fascination with the 1900s children's classic that put P.E.I. on the map. The book is a favorite of Japanese youngsters, and thousands of their families make the pilgrimage to P.E.I. and Green Gables every year. In Japan, American builders do a brisk business constructing Green Gables-style houses.

Curiosity struck again. We briefly joined the international throng filing through the reconstructed farmhouse and barn at Green Gables in Prince Edward Island National Park. But we were more interested in what lay beyond the farm's garden gate - the 11th hole of Green Gables Golf Course, one of six courses we had decided to play.

Green Gables Golf Course, a 6,459-yard, par-72 Stanley Thompson design built in 1939 and revamped in the 1980s, is a relatively open track bordered by mature hardwoods. The course is touted as a long-time area favorite, but this must be due to its association with the historic farm and proximity to the stunning sand dunes of the national park. It can't measure up to the newer venues, but Green Gables has some memorable holes are on the back nine, where the Lake of Shining Waters comes into play. The signature 16th hole is a lovely 181-yard par 3that crosses a corner of the lake.

Not far from Green Gables is Eagles Glenn Golf Course, which has been creating a stir since the opening of its first 18 holes in 2002. On 300 acres of pretty countryside, architect Graham Cooke plotted a masterful 18-hole track spiced with four large irrigation ponds, artful mounding, and nearly 80 white sand bunkers. There are 10 par 4s, four par 5s and four par 3s in the layout. Cooke sweetened the pot with a nine-hole, par-27 course and state-of-the-art practice facility.

We stopped off at one of the many village halls offering a feast of fresh local lobster, then spent a balmy evening at the Charlottetown Driving Park, a harness track near the center of town. Horse racing here is a family affair, with grandfathers and teenagers competing in spindly-wheeled sulkies while town folk cheer from the grandstand.

The next morning, a 25-minute drive took us past bucolic farms with buildings painted in bold Caribbean hues, and equally colorful fishing villages mirrored in quiet harbors. All commercial signs are small, uniform, and black-and-white, so the view is unsullied.

On the windswept north coast we found what we'd been looking for - a course that would stick in our memories. In 1998, when the Links at Crowbush Cove was named one of Golf Digest's top 10 places to play in North America, the provincial government capitalized on the attention and began upgrading government-owned courses and encouraging private development of new ones. As a result, the island's standing as a golf destination soared.

Crowbush, a 1994 Thomas McBroom creation playing 6,901 yards from the back tees, has competition on the island, but it is still one of a kind.It looks as if it were scooped from the British Isles and set down on the island. Eight holes skirt spectacular sand dunes and eight holes involve water, usually in the form of salty marshes. Fairways bordered in tall brown grasses pitch and roll like frozen green waves, their surfaces pocked with deep, heavy-lipped pot bunkers.

As we stood on the back tee of the par-3 sixth hole, trees protected us from the wind off the ocean, but we could see the flag whipping on the narrow green 191 yards away. Marshland in front of the tee drains into a lake left of the green. Bunkers guard the right and rear. Aiming20 yards to the right worked for us the first round, but the wind was entirely different the next day.

The back tee of the 11th hole is perched high on a dune, providing a pretty view of the 18th hole as well as the immediate danger ahead. The second shot on this par 5 calls for a water carry, followed by an approach shot over deep bunkers or through a narrow run-up.

After playing we fortified ourselves with big buckets of steamed mussels, an island specialty, in the pretty colonial-style clubhouse.

The course that rivals Crowbush for beauty and toughness is Dundarave. This Michael Hurdzan-Dana Fry track lies next to the venerable Brudenell River Course in the Brudenell Golf Resort.

Like Crowbush, Dundarave is a wild, natural beauty, with knee-deep brown grasses and deep ravines. However, it has an unmatched feeling of isolation as it winds through deep woods along the river. Another natural touch is the indigenous reddish sand used in the bunkers.

Despite its beauty, Dundarave is perhaps too severe for the average golfer the resort draws. Landing areas are usually generous, but good strokes may be punished unduly by a minefield of deep bunkers on every hole. The route stretches 7,284 yards from the back tees, with other options being 6,823, 6,252, 5,607 or 4,997 yards.

The toughest par 3 is the 237-yard seventh hole, which has a stingy green ringed with deep bunkers in the middle of a windswept field of grass. The daunting eighth hole is a par 4 that crosses a deep gully,then doglegs to a tiny, fast green on the river's edge. The finishing hole is a 542-yard par 5 with a dozen well placed bunkers. It's called"Victory Chimes," but Coup de Grace might be more appropriate.

The Brudenell River Course, a traditional layout with level fairways and moderate bunkers, is a sharp contrast to Dundarave, but far from apushover with its dense rough and susceptibility to wind. A longtime stop on the Canadian Tour, the 6,591-yard course hugs the river and is susceptible to wind. Swirling gusts are the norm on the 163-yard fifth hole, called "Ink Pot," and the 10th hole, "Shimmering Waters," a143-yard beauty with water on the front and left.

Not far from where we'd enjoyed our lobster feast in New Glasgow is a new golf resort just five minutes from Cavendish, 20 minutes from Charlottetown and 30 minutes from the Confederation Bridge. Glasgow Hills Resort & Golf Club sports a Les Furber design on a rolling piece of land that, helped by elevated tee boxes, offers long panoramic views on nearly every hole. Ranging from 6,915 to 5,279 yards, the course makes good strategic use of five ponds. The 17th hole, a 502-yard par 5ranked third hardest, begins with a very elevated tee, climbs uphill on the second shot and presents a blind approach to a very elevated and shallow green. Another nine holes are in the works for this inviting golf resort.

Our P.E.I. golf sampler included a 30-year-old favorite of the Charlottetown crowd. The Stanhope Golf Club zigzags 6,600 yards across a hillside overlooking scenic Covehead Bay. Wind off the water constantly buffets its unassuming, open fairways. Every approach shot and most putts are memorable, because the undulating cloverleaf greens are usually set in bowls created by high mounds.

We also played the Fox Meadow Golf and Country Club near Charlottetown, a Rob Heaslip creation stretching 6,836 yards, that opened in 2000. The course was very open when it was new, but the rough of clover and crown vetch have matured into gorse-like toughness. Many of the greens are crowned and shed balls like water. Swirling winds area constant factor, and tend to kill those uphill approach shots.

People of Scottish descent make up the largest ethnic group on P.E.I., and it takes little curiosity to discover evidence of these roots. The island has an official dress tartan, a Piping College for aspiring bagpipers, town names such as Shamrock and New Glasgow - and a selection of golf courses that would make the forefathers proud.

Dale Leatherman is a full-time freelance travel writer specializing in golf and adventure travel. For nearly 20 years her "beat" has been the Caribbean, where she can combine golf, scuba diving and other sports. She has also written about golf in Wales, Scotland, Australia, Costa Rica, Canada and the U.S., particularly the Mid-Atlantic region.

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