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There's nothing funny anymore about New Brunswick golf

By Rick Young,

FREDERICTON, New Brunswick, Canada (August 1, 2003) - For years, the cruel jest went like this: "What's the only thing stopping you from great golf in Canada's Atlantic Provinces?"

Answer? "New Brunswick."

You don't hear that one anymore.

Commonly referred to as the weak sister of Maritime golf, the sometimes "forgotten" province has gone to great lengths to shore up its golf destination identity with a collection of new and recently renovated courses which can rival the best in Atlantic Canada.

Whale watching, sea kayaking, a wealth of sandy beaches and fishing continue to be the primary reasons for travellers to stay and play, golf is making increasing inroads, supported by an aggressive marketing initiative.

"For a long time we weren't doing anything except waving golf travellers through to the other Atlantic provinces," says George Conrad, general manager of Royal Oaks Estate Golf Club in Moncton. "Now we're holding up stop signs. New Brunswick courses are outstanding, our service standards are high and our green fees price point offers great value. Those old jokes are a thing of the past. We have something special here."

Three key courses - Royal Oaks Estates Golf Club, the Lynx at Kingswood Park, and the recently renovated Algonquin Golf Club - have fueled New Brunswick's ascent to the lofty status enjoyed by incumbent East Coast golf destinations Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

Several other courses flying just under the proverbial radar are providing steady, reliable support for the higher profile modern trio. Take your pick of traditional layouts Gowan Brae Golf Club, Mactaquac, Edmunston Golf Club, and Riverside Country Club and you won't have gone too far wrong. Each has hosted an array of national and provincial amateur events, including last year's Canadian Amateur in Edmunston.

"Our three signature courses opened at an opportune time and have helped get the word out about our product," says Cletus Levigne, general manager of Gowan Brae, "but to ignore some of this province's other golf options is a mistake. There are some great challenges in New Brunswick waiting to be tackled."

The province's acclaimed signature trio, however, is not a bad place to start.

Royal Oaks is the first course in Canada designed by Rees Jones, the famed U.S. Open doctor. Jones took a dull canvas and invented an inland links with superb shot values, carefully placed bunkering, fescue-covered dunes and some of the best greens anywhere.

"This golf course is going to test every facet of your game," says Russ Howard, Royal Oaks director of golf and sales and a former world curling champion. "Rees gives you lots of room to drive the golf ball and he's framed the greens beautifully for the demanding approach shot. If you come here you'll see why he's one of the game's best and why the United States Golf Association retains him for their Open layouts."

In terms of Canadian content, Graham Cooke and Thomas McBroom, two of Canada's premiere course architects, take immeasurable pride in their latest New Brunswick efforts.

Overlooking the quaint seaside town of St. Andrews by-the-Sea, the Algonquin Golf Club is McBroom's complete nuke job on a 109-year-old Donald Ross course which opened for play in 1894.

While eyebrows were initially raised over tampering with the American design legend's genius (not to mention a slice of New Brunswick golf history), McBroom has made many people forget the former 18 holes, a charming course which had lost its ability to challenge today's better player.

Made distinctive by a woodland outward nine and an oceanfront inward half, the Algonquin's beauty and challenge now are second to none.

"I could not be happier with what we put down at the Algonquin," says McBroom. "After walking the old course I could see the new holes and the routing coming together almost immediately. What's especially gratifying is to hear the positive feedback from people. They really love it."

Cooke and his partner Darrell Huxham complete this signature design trio with Fredericton's The Lynx at Kingswood Park. And if you think the name (and spelling) is unique, wait until you experience what is arguably New Brunswick's most captivating layout.

"It's one of our finest projects to date," says Cooke, well rooted in the Atlantic provinces with several superior courses to his credit. "It certainly has a bit of everything. There are some beautiful ponds, natural marshland and the course is framed by stands of beautiful white pines. The 30-foot waterfall we carved out of a rock wall on the 14th hole is one of the more spectacular features we've ever incorporated into a hole design."

Highlighted with a series of risk/reward opportunities, Kingswood's visual appeal is complemented by traditional bunkering, beautifully contoured green sites and dramatic elevation changes.

Fun, though, is at the heart of the Lynx.

"The course is enjoyable for every level of player," Cooke says. "You hear that a lot in golf these days, but we really strive for it. At Kingswood, we achieved it."

From modern to traditional, Gowan Brae, located in the northern city of Bathurst, may be one of the most underrated courses anywhere in the Atlantic provinces.

Designed by Canadian Golf Hall of Fame architect, Robbie Robinson, Gowan Brae's setting alone is worth the visit: 18 spectacular holes overlooking the Bay of Chaleur and bordering Bathurst Harbor. But Gowan Brae is about far more than just a tantalizing setting. Subtle and dramatic elevation changes, strong routing and "pure golf," a Robinson trademark, underscore the host course of the 1999 Canadian Mid-Amateur.

"You never get tired of playing Gowan Brae," says longtime head professional Eric St. George. "The scenery is breathtaking and every hole here is distinct. I love the course so much I've been here more than 40 years."

New Brunswick also is home to a pair of "must play" gems located in beautiful parks.

Mactaquac Provincial Park Golf Club, also located near Fredericton, was designed by American Abe Mitchell and opened for play in 1970. Spread out over 300 acres of rolling countryside, the 7,000-yard course puts a premium on the short game and places heightened awareness on strategic play from tee to green.

Fundy National Park Golf Club may only be nine holes but it is arguably one of the top such facilities in Canada. Stanley Thompson, the legendary Canadian designer, was retained for the project in 1948 and he did not disappoint.

From the dramatic 100-foot drop from the first tee to the fairway to the 240-yard par-3 sixth hole, a visit to Fundy means leaving room for golf clubs and foregoing some of the camping gear. It's well worth it. If it's salmon fishing you want, the Miramichi River is one of the world's best (just ask Jack Nicklaus, a frequent visitor over the years). If you're looking for great beaches, there are few better in Canada than on New Brunswick's eastern shore. The people are warm, the beer is always cold and the lobster is, well, about the best anywhere. And now there's golf. Real golf. New Brunswick's courses are pleasing to the eye, enjoyable and fun to play and, with the average green fee of around Cdn$65, easy on the pocketbook.

And that's no joke.

New Brunswick Golf Information Central, golfnb.nb.ca 877-TEE-IN-NB.

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