It’s no ordinary Thursday evening in mid-September for the two Marshall brothers. We are deep in the heart of Atlantic Canada’s Nova Scotia having just driven past a sign that indicates the halfway point between the equator and the North Pole. With the automatic set to cruise control and some cool sounds on the radio, we cut a swathe through dense pine forest that stretches as far as the eye can see.
After crossing the spectacular 13km Confederations Bridge we arrive on Prince Edward Island (known locally as PEI), our final destination for a weeklong gourmet golf experience – playing six of the island’s best courses, staying in top-drawer accommodation and sampling some of the planet’s finest seafood. Only 280km from tip-to-tip, Canada’s tiniest province certainly packs a punch in the world of golf. Ten of PEI’s 26 golf courses are ranked in the Top 100 courses in Canada and all are located within a 45 minutes drive of each other.
Characteristics such as stunning scenery, masterful course design, moderate climate, super friendly locals and abundant off-the-course activities have seen PEI named the ‘Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year 2011’ by IAGTO (International Association of Golf Travel Operators). After the golf, seafood aficionados will think they have gone to heaven with the plethora of dining options and delicious local specialties such as oysters, lobster, mussels, clams and scallops.
Our home for the first two nights is the Rodd Brudenell River Resort situated on the east coast, only a short drive from the historic coastal town of Georgetown and featuring 45 holes of quality golf (Dundarave, Brudenell River & the Divine Nine). The following morning after tucking into a hearty ‘Duffers Breakfast’ of two eggs, bacon, sausage with home fries and coffee, we find ourselves on the first tee of the Dundarave course – a red sandstone 18-hole championship layout designed by award-winning architects Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, opened in 1999.
The course is a tricky opener and offers an attractive blend of traditional and contemporary architectural designs with some of the most memorable bunkering patterns in all of golf. Over the years, Dundarave has challenged the skills of some of the best players in the game and hosted some fine professional matches including the 2006 Legends of Golf featuring Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.
Offering a better opportunity of lower scoring is the more forgiving Brudenell River, which we tackle after lunch. This picturesque garden and river course offers six par-3s, six par-4s and six par-5s, and features expansive fairways lined with lush pines and numerous gardens, ponds and water features that surround well-manicured greens. The 135-yard par-3 10th, Shimmering Water played over a lake sums up best what the course is all about.
In the evening, we have dinner at Clam Diggers Beach House & Restaurant in Georgetown, which is typical of many of the island’s restaurants where seafood produce is supplied by local fishermen – scallops arrive in cheesecloth sacks and lobsters caught within a mile or two are dropped off from boat to kitchen. Seated on the Oceanside decking sipping chilled beers, we watch an intense orange sun slowly morph into a gorgeous sunset that competes for our attention with the delicious Clam Digger Mussels and Ocean Fresh Chowder placed before us.
Links & Lobster
Overlooking the island’s north shore dunes is The Links at Crowbush Cove, the third course on our trip. Undulating fairways, water holes with a wisp of wind, pot bunkers, knee-deep fescue grass and challenging greens all come together to create the top pick of PEI’s golf scene and a worthy centerpiece to any golf vacation.
After four run-of-the -mill holes through a parkland setting, Crowbush really kicks into gear, offering a string of classics routed within a coastal landscape of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Two in particular are standouts. The 219-yard par-3 8th, is set among the sand dunes and requires a testing strike over a tidal estuary and the par-5 11th called Sully’s Run played from an elevated tee, offers fabulous 360 degree views especially from the back tees marked by the course’s trademark ‘black crows.’
After playing Crowbush we drive to the capital Charlottetown and The Great George, a gorgeous historic boutique hotel dating back to the 1800s. Located conveniently in the heart of downtown, the Great George consists of 60 tastefully restored guestrooms plus a unique cluster of 15-award winning Heritage buildings along Charlottetown’s most famous street. With the automatic parked in the driveway, we excitedly clamber up the wooden steps to the porch of our own private house and turn the key in the lock – our home –away-from-home for three nights.
Later in the afternoon we stroll down to the waterfront to join fourth generation fisherman brothers Mark & Cody Jenkins who have been operating their Top Notch Charter’s Lobster Fishing Excursions for the past four years. “I’ve been involved in fishing all my life,” says Mark. ”Lobster is a big industry here and tonight you are going to get a crash course on how to catch them. During the two-and-a-half hour trip we will haul two lobster traps, a crab trap and finish off with a traditional PEI lobster supper.”
As the working lobster boat motors away from shore, Cody serves chilled drinks from the cooler, while Mark enthusiastically tells us fascinating facts about the lobster. “The largest lobster ever caught was in Nova Scotia – it was nearly 4 feet long, 44lbs and 130 years old,” he says. “A little bit more on the lobster life cycle and then we will haul some traps.”
Later on, over the crunching sounds of guests tucking into a delicious supper of lobster, potato salad and crusty rolls, Mark reveals more about his life on the island. “In addition to offering our lobster trips, Cody and I spend around 10-12 hours a day during the season on our lobster run checking traps. In the winter time we are true Canadians and play hockey and drink lots of beer,” he says with a grin. “We also make our own lobster traps. We cut the trees, mill the timber and build around 200 traps. They are made of juniper wood, as it doesn’t rot. In fact, there’s still a trap in circulation that my father built some 20 years ago.”
Early the next morning, we drive to Stanley Bridge for 18-holes at Andersons Creek Golf Club. Designed by acclaimed golf course architect Graham Cooke, the island’s newest must-play is laid out over undulating land with water hazards featuring on half the holes, and the course’s distinctive feature is the creek itself, which has to be crossed four times throughout a round.
“Numbers 3, 4, 13 & 15 are the signature holes that a lot of golfers identify with,” says the starter Wayne Denman, as we prepare to get our fourth round underway. Wayne has been a starter at the club for the past 8 years and provides us with some detailed advice on the best strategy for tackling the course. “George is your Marshall today and Erin is your cart girl. And don’t forget the complimentary mussels in the bar after your round.” A plateful of mussels and a pitcher of beer – the very thought gets our taste buds watering and what could be better and more appropriate for a golf trip on PEI?
More seafood is on the menu later that day back in Charlottetown. No trip to PEI is complete without indulging in some oysters, and only a crisply struck 5-iron from our residence on Great George Street is the intimate Claddagh Oyster Bar, one of the best places to sample them. Sitting at the bar, we order a dozen on the half shell with evocative names such as Lucky Limes, Raspberry Points and Shiny Seas and settle down to watch the scene unfold.
Behind the bar, waiter and oyster shucker Brett Wilson is hard at work. Brett feels an oyster to find its most vulnerable point of entry, and then skillfully sweeps the blade of his knife through the muscle connected to the shell.
Within moments an exquisite display of a dozen of the plump mollusks are placed in front of us ready to be savoured unadorned or perhaps with a squeeze of lemon, or a splash of hot sauce. “A stout or a chilled Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect partner for oysters,” says Brett.” Enjoy.”
It’s Monday morning at 9.00 am and we are joining guide Betty MacPhee and two other couples for Taste The Town – a three-hour culinary walking tour of historic Charlottetown (the birthplace of Canada), visiting several venues to sample some of the island’s unique foods, including the town’s premier shellfish market on the waterfront, the Gahan House Pub & Brewery and the Spirit Shop to try some local vodka made from the island’s beloved potatoes.
Talking of potatoes, a potato farm once stood where Glasgow Hills Resort & Golf Club, the venue for our penultimate round now stands today. Located in the beautiful village of New Glasgow (renowned for its lobster suppers), only a 20-minute drive from Charlottetown, Glasgow Hill’s mountain-style layout with panoramic views of the River Clyde makes it unique amongst PEI’s courses and it’s well worth a visit. Back in Charlottetown after our round, we dine at Sim’s Corner Steakhouse & Oyster Bar, a new addition to the capital’s restaurant scene that serves outstanding seafood and cooks up the island’s premier steaks.
World of Oysters
The next day we drive to Fernwood on PEI’s south coast for Future Seafood’s Tong & Shuck oyster harvesting tour. “At first we didn’t think anybody would ever pay money to see people oyster fishing. But you know what? People love the tour,” says co-owner Brian Lewis, as we hop aboard a traditional oyster dory from an idyllic beach setting in Bedeque Bay.
“We didn’t dress the tour up for anybody, this is the real thing. On our tour, everyone gets to try their hand at harvesting oysters, have a lesson in oyster shucking and eat the freshest oysters they will ever taste. We then go back to the plant to show grading and packaging and follow the procedure right through to where the oysters are loaded on to the back of a truck to be shipped to places like Boston.”
Out on the water’s mirror–like surface Brian expertly demonstrates the art of oyster tonging, before we have a go ourselves. Using his two oyster tongs in a scissor-like action on the estuary bed, he digs up a catch and places it on a small platform attached to the boat. Amongst the weed and mud are the jewels of PEI’s seafood crown. A typical oyster will take three years to mature, and any that don’t make the size limit go back in the water for another day.
Brian then quickly shucks an oyster and savours its briny flavour. “What a finish on that one, it’s like tasting the ocean,” he says, tossing the empty shell back into the oyster bed. “One of the perks of my job is that I get to eat oysters as often as I want. They are packed full of zinc, which is important for sperm production. It’ s a wonder I don’t have more children.”
After our thoroughly enjoyable insight into the world of oysters, we cross to the island’s north coast, where standing proudly near the east end of the Prince Edward Island National Park, and overlooking the beach named after it, is the historic mansion of Dalvay-by-the-Sea built in 1895. Easily the most stunning accommodation on the north shore, Dalvay-by-the-Sea was thrown into world consciousness, when Wills and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited as part of their Royal Tour to Canada in July 2011, where amongst other activities, they tasted some of the chef’s seafood delicacies.
On the morning of day six, we drive from Dalvay-by-the-Sea to the far west of PEI for our final round at Mill River Golf Course. Mill River’s claim to fame is that it’s the only Canadian course to host the Big Break in 2009, a Golf Channel reality show where male and female contestants from across North America competed in a variety of challenges that tested physical skills and mental toughness.
“This mature forest course is a test for anyone, and you would have to go a long way to find as many dog-legs as here, ” says head professional Mark Roberts. “It’s a strategist’s course where you have to really plot your way around. If you try and cut corners you will be in trouble. Keep an eye out for our signature hole, the par-4 7th that is featured in 1001 Golf Holes: You Must Play Before You Die. You have to pick a side and commit to it.”
From Mill River, a short scenic coastal drive takes us to some unique accommodation for our last night. Built in 1875, the historic West Point Lighthouse is the island’s tallest, and sections of the former lighthouse keepers’ quarters have been elegantly converted into a thirteen-room inn, the only one of its kind in Canada.
After visiting the museum’s extensive collection of lighthouse artifacts and climbing the tower for a breathtaking view, we sit down on our own private deck and uncork a bottle of chilled wine. With the waves crashing in the Northumberland Strait and the striking black-and-white lighthouse to our left, we raise our glasses to a fantastic week on Canada’s Prince Edward Island.
Explore the traditional and atmospheric fishing village of North Rustico on PEI’s north coast. Cycle the coastal tracks or paddle the waters in a kayak. Bike and kayak rentals are available from Outside Expeditions in North Rustico. www.getoutside.com
Gorge yourself on Prince Edward Island’s famed shellfish by enjoying a traditional PEI lobster supper in New Glasgow or St Anne’s.
Wander the quiet colonial and Victorian streets lined with gracious trees and elegant 19th-century mansions of Old Charlottetown (PEI’s capital and the birthplace of Canada.)
Enjoy typical Maritime scenery of weathered fishing boats, neatly-stacked lobster traps and fisherman’s houses in Malpeque famed for its large fleshy oysters.
Visit Green Gables National Historic Site in Cavendish, the original site that inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery to write Anne of Green Gables.
Time your visit to PEI to coincide with one of the island’s most colorful festivals – the PEI International Shellfish Festival (A Falls Flavors Signature Event), featuring gourmet chefs, celebrity cooks and world-class oyster shuckers.
Discount Car and Truck Rentals
60 Sky Boulevard at The Quality Inn, Halifax Airport, Nova Scotia
WHERE TO STAY
Rodd Brudenell River Resort – www.roddbrudenell.com
The Great George – www.thegreatgeorge.com
Dalvay-by-the-Sea – www.dalvaybythesea.com
West Point Lighthouse – www.westpointlighthouse.com
WHERE TO PLAY
Dundarave Golf Course – www.golflinkspei.com
Brudenell River Golf Course – www.golflinkspei.com
Links at Crowbush Cove – www.golflinkspei.com
Andersons Creek Golf Course – www.andersonscreek.com
Glasgow Hills Resort & Golf Club – www.glasgowhills.com
Mill River Golf Course – www.golflinkspei.com
PLACES TO EAT
Clam Diggers (Georgetown)
Claddagh Oyster House (Charlottetown)
Lobster on the Wharf (Charlottetown)
Sims Steakhouse & Oyster Bar (Charlottetown)
St Ann’s Church Lobster Suppers
Taste the Town
(A Culinary Walking Tour of Historic Charlottetown)
Top Notch Charters (Lobster Fishing Excursions)
Future Seafoods (Oyster Harvesting Tour)
FURTHER INFORMATION & USEFUL WEBSITES
Golf Prince Edward Island – www.golfpei.ca
Tourism Prince Edward Island – www.gentleisland.com
Atlantic Canada – www.AtlanticCanadaHoliday.co.uk
Canadian Tourism Commission – www.canada.travel
Story by Andrew Marshall