Solid as a Rock: Outstanding golf in Canada’s eastern province

This travel feature by Ian Cruickshank initially appeared in an earlier issue of Fairways Magazine. It has been updated.

I didn’t get it the first time. About a decade ago, I made my inaugural trip to Newfoundland. It was March and I was mostly confined to an hotel meeting room in St. John’s although I snuck away for a wander down Water Street –  the oldest road in North America – for a pint in one of the dozen pubs on George Street , the happiest byway in Canada. I loved the people but never dialed in to the primal, almost ferocious attachment Newfoundlanders have for their home ground.

Not long ago, I returned to the Rock for golf and by the time I played my first nine, I was hooked, ready to sell the house in Toronto and settle down for a life in one of the tidy, frame houses painted deep blue or bright yellow that hang on the edge of the tiny harbours that still dot the coastline. In this new life, I’d spend my days teeing it up on the province’s 20 golf courses, all of which are open for public play.

The alliterative Pippy Park in St. John’s is a great start for any golf trip to Newfoundland and Labrador. The park, which is home to 27 holes, rolls over the heights that rise above the city and the sea. The course was built in the 1970’s when the province was in the midst of its first golf boom. Up until that time, there was only one course anywhere near St. John’s and it was then a purely private layout where according to one local, “You needed a letter from God himself to play.”

The Admiral’s Green course at Pippy Park is fun but what make the place are the views. On at least half the holes you’re looking out above the city, to the rocks and the water. You can see Signal Hill, where Marconi launched the modern world of communications and the coastline where icebergs whales and cruise ships slide past the entrance of the harbour.

The Admiral’s Green at Pippy Park

Heading west from St. John’s, be sure to play The Wilds, where the Salmonier River barrels through the course and moose appear out of the early morning mist. Two hours outside of the city, you’ll find the Terra Nova Golf Resort. I’d heard great things about the course and they were all true.  The holes bend between the river and just off the fifth hole, I watched a fly fisherman, hip deep in the cool water, casting a figure eight in his search for the elusive salmon. The course is mixture of holes designed by the late Robbie Robinson and Doug Carrick and it is one of the top  courses in the province.

While coming back from Terra Nova, instead of taking the Trans Canada Highway all the way to St. John’s, we strayed onto the back roads, past villages like Brigus and Holyrood. My friend Sandy pointed to a handsome home overlooking the water and said it belonged to Danny Williams, Newfoundland’s former premier. Williams was as much folk hero as politician, famous for taking on the Feds and big oil companies. About ten seconds after seeing the house we actually passed Danny Williams who was out for an after-dinner stroll. Sandy insisted I meet the premier and pulled a U-turn. Turns out that Williams is a big golf fan and we chatted for a couple of minutes about the game and the Rock.

My next stop was the Newfoundland’s west coast. I flew from St. John’s to Deer Lake but you can also make the four hour drive from Terra Nova on the Trans Canada. (Air Canada also offers direct flights from Toronto to Deer Lake.) I started at the  Blomidon Golf Club in nearby Corner Brook. I thought it might be an ancient Celtic name but found out it was slang for Blow Me Down. The winds were quiet the day we played but the views to the rocky crags and the Bay of Islands almost blew me away.

River Course at Humber Valley Resort

The  nearby River Course at the Humber Valley Resort outside Deer Lake would be a big league headliner if it was located in central Canada or BC. But its isolation adds to its mystique. Designed by Doug Carrick, the course was voted best new course in Canada in 2007 and recently Golf Digest ranked it as the 20th  best course in Canada. It is an incredibly powerful course, notched into the side of the mountain, winding up and down the high ground, to the banks of the Humber River and the shores of Deer Lake. For years, Newfoundland was considered one of the `have not’ provinces. Today it is very definitely, a have province.

Green fees in Newfoundland are very reasonable, ranging from around $30 to $80. For more information on planning a golf trip to the Rock, click HERE.

Fairways Magazine

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