The sand that rims the north shore of Prince Edward Island, or P.E.I., creates some of the best beaches in Atlantic Canada. But not all the sand here is found on the beaches. You'll also be able to see it on some of the top golf courses in all of Canada.

Despite being the country's smallest province, P.E.I. attracted an estimated 130,000 golfers in 2000, helping to fuel overall tourism revenues of $300 million, second only to agriculture in economic terms.

This destination is already known as the "Garden of the Gulf," thanks to being surrounded by waters warmed by the Gulf Stream flowing northward from the Carolinas. It's also well-known for its delectable shellfish treats from the sea -- lobster and mussels.

But over the past decade, the Island is also making a name as a golf destination, thanks to the introduction of several world-class courses and the refurbishing of a few ageless, traditional layouts.

There are some 22 courses on the Island, none more than two hours away from the centrally-located capital city of Charlottetown. The quality and challenge of these layouts and their facilities vary from the modern day designs of Crowbush, Dundarave, Fox Meadow and Glasgow Hills, to the traditional and classic layouts of Brudenell, Mill River, Green Gables and Belvedere. And perhaps best of all, you'll get exceptional value for your money, thanks to an exchange rate very favorable to the American dollar.

The focal point around which golf on the Island has been built is The Links at Crowbush Cove, which opened in 1993.

Located in a formal provincial park at Lakeside, on the Island's north shore near the small community of Morell, Crowbush captures the true essence and feel of Prince Edward Island. Gentle, rolling fairways represent much of the Island's rural terrain. Natural marshlands brimming with waterfowl and wild fescue grasses have been delicately incorporated into the course, highlighting the Island's environmentally sensitive regions. And sand dunes, nearby beaches and cooling ocean breezes helped Canadian designer Tom McBroom put the finishing touches on a clear picture of what the Island is all about.

The ocean views and British-links flavor here have dazzled the likes of PGA Tour stars John Daly, Fred Couples, Mark O'Meara and Mike Weir, who played the course in a televised skins competition a few years ago. McBroom's large and undulating greens, fairway mounding and extensive pot bunkers put a premium on shotmaking.

Water comes into play on nine holes and when the wind blows off the Gulf, as it often does in this postcard setting, Crowbush can be extremely difficult. In those conditions, it may not be an enjoyable place for a high handicapper. But it seldom plays the same from one day to the next. An added feature to Crowbush this year will be an on-site resort, which will include 32 executive cottages and 49 hotel guest rooms and suites.

East of Crowbush and less than an hour from Charlottetown is one of the Island's latest modern designs, Dundarave, which opened in the summer of 1999. Built by private investors but now owned and operated by the provincial government, Dundarave employed American architects Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry to bring out the best in this terrain. Dundarave is actually part of the 36-hole golf Brudenell River Resort that also includes the championship River course and the Brudenell Golf Academy. This golf center, which also features a resort hotel and modern chalets on the shores of the Brudenell River, is the only 36-hole complex of its kind in Atlantic Canada.

The name Dundarave came from Scotland and refers to the home estate of the area's first Scottish settlers.The course is slightly less than 7,300 yards from the back tees, and at sea level those are very long yards.

Built in 117 days, the fastest any 18-hole championship course has been built in Canada, Dundarave is a very strong design with natural ponds, 190 bunkers, marshes, inlets from the Brudenell River, and other environmentally sensitive areas.

Natural hazards come into play often, particularly on the eighth hole. At 387 yards from the back tees, you must carry a tidal marsh from three of the five tees. The dogleg left makes club selection all-important. Too long puts you in the woods and too short means wet. The second shot is to a large green that has the Brudenell River as a backdrop.

The sister course at this complex, Brudenell River, has been a favorite of Atlantic Canada golfers for a long time. The course was designed by Canadian architect C.E. (Robbie) Robinson, who trained under the legendary American designer Robert Trent Jones. Brudenell opened in 1969 and was upgraded 27 years later under the direction of one of Canada's top designers, Graham Cooke. The renovations enhanced this traditional course without detracting from its natural parkland setting.

In 2000, Charlottetown native and resident Lorie Kane, a three-time winner on the LPGA tour, brought fellow pros Nancy Lopez, Se Ri Pak and Annika Sorenstam to Brudenell to play in the first Lorie Kane Island Challenge. But well before those stars came here, Brudenell hosted many national and provincial tournaments. Routed through woodland along the Brudenell River, you'll encounter an interesting mix of holes here. The woods tighten many fairways, putting a premium on shot placement and course management.

Cooke has an amazing ability to add strength and character to a course with minimal effort, and that's what he has done at Brudenell. The par-three 10th, appropriately named Shimmering Water, plays about 140 yards over water to a large green. With the ball flight often influenced by wind off the bordering river, getting close to the flag can become an even more difficult task.

In 2000, Charlottetown saw the opening of a much-needed public course 10 minutes from the city's center, just across the Hillsborough River in neighboring Stratford.

Fox Meadow was designed by Canadian architect Robert Heaslip, while Simon Compton, an Island businessman who felt a personal need to give something back to his community, built the course on old farmland.

With a "less is more" philosophy, Heaslip transformed this rural setting into a playable and fair golf course. Taking advantage of the mix of hardwood and softwood trees to create driving chutes that demand accuracy off the tees, Heaslip also cradled greens among the trees to put a premium on course management.

The course, which can stretch from 5,389 yards to 6,836 yards, also has a number of elevation changes that will influence club selection. Some holes are just pure fun, like the par-three seventh, where the green is almost completely surrounded by water.

Fox Meadow, which also has a colonial style-clubhouse, practice range and putting green, certainly ranks in the top echelon of quality and value in all of Atlantic Canada.

While Fox Meadow is the "new kid" on the block in the Charlottetown area, there is also the historic Belvedere, a semi-private course that does make limited tee times available to non-members. Formed in 1893 under the name of the Charlottetown Golf Club, Belvedere is the oldest course on the Island and one of the oldest in Atlantic Canada. First spelled Belvidere, which meant ''beautiful to see,'' the land was originally part of the estate of Alexander Beazley.

It didn't take on the Belvedere name until 1963, when the course underwent some major changes. It has since been upgraded again under the guidance of Graham Cooke, with changes including new greens, tee boxes and additional bunkers.

New Glasgow, a rural community some 30 minutes west of Charlottetown, is known internationally for its famous lobster suppers. This July it will also become home to the new Glasgow Hills Resort and Golf Club.

This track, situated just 10 minutes away from some of Atlantic Canada's best beaches in Cavendish, is the first foray into the East for Canadian architect Les Furber, one of the premier course designers in Western Canada.

In New Glasgow, Furber was able to work with a piece of property that flows naturally over rolling hills, with stunning panoramic views of the River Clyde and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

In design and layout, New Glasgow has been deemed very challenging but fair, and should be placed in the same category as Crowbush, Dundarave and Brudenell.

In addition to the rolling terrain and elevation changes, which by themselves will present some interesting shot challenges, the course features an island green on the ninth hole and a large double green serving the opening and fourth holes. Future plans include nine additional holes, vacation cottages, and residential real estate.

About 10 minutes west of Glasgow Hills lies Green Gables Golf Course, a cornerstone of the Island golf scene for more than 60 years. While new and modern designs offer a different perspective on golf course construction, Green Gables is a classic, traditional routing weaves through the parklands of Prince Edward Island National Park.

The par 72, 6,459-yard course has gone through many changes over the years. Today it offers a strong mix of softwood-lined fairways, marshlands, ponds, and a number of holes that present amazing views of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the world famous Cavendish Beach area.

Designer Stanley Thompson has made the most of natural features here, including ponds (like one on the 148-yard, par-three 16th), streams crossing fairways, and greens tucked into treed corners. A postcard Thompson hole is the 10th, a 180-yard par three that forces you to carry a gully and stream to reach a well-guarded green.

Another highlight of this very walkable and well-maintained course is the museum home of Island author Lucy Maud Montgomery located alongside the 11th hole. Her early 1900s book series, "Anne of Green Gables," follows the adventures of a feisty red-headed girl named Anne Shirley growing up here. Montgomery's writings are internationally acclaimed and a must read in many Japanese schools, where the character's free will and independent nature is greatly admired.

The Green Gables course is in the center of one of the Island's main tourist areas, Cavendish, so accommodation in the form of seaside and country cottages, small motels, bed and breakfasts, and country inns is very strong in this region. A number of these properties also offer golf packages with green fees included.

An hour west of Green Gables, in the town of Woodstock, is the Mill River Golf Course, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Like Crowbush, Dundarave and Brudenell, this course is owned and operated by the Prince Edward Island government.

Mill River was originally designed by Robbie Robinson and later underwent some modernization guided by Graham Cooke. The course has hosted the men's Canadian Tour, the Canadian junior championships, and a Canadian PGA event in 1997.

Routed through a combination of woodlands and open areas, Mill River has a number of very strong holes. At 120 yards, the par-three fifth hole plays longer than you might expect off an elevated tee. The par-four seventh hole is pure trouble if your tee shot lacks accuracy. It's 419 yards from the back tees with a creek running down the middle of the fairway. You must stay right of the creek in order to have a favorable second shot to an elevated green. A tee shot down the left side may leave your second shot blocked out by trees.

Mill River is one of the best values on the Island. It is an excellent family destination with lots of activities, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and health spa.

Quick Facts
  Links at Crowbush Cove
(800) 377-8337 $64-$80

  Dundarave
(800) 377-8336 $$64-$80

  Brudenell River
(800) 377-8336 $48-$60

  Fox Meadow
(902) 569-4653 $50-$60

  Belvedere
(902) 892-7838 $65 6

  Glasgow Hills
(866) 621-2200 $50-$60

  Green Gables
(902) 963-2488 $33-$43

  Mill River
(800) 377-8339 $40-$50

Green fee rates in Canadian dollars. Please contact the course to confirm green fees.

While these are the major courses that highlight the Prince Edward Island landscape, they are by no means the only courses. The Island has more than a dozen other 18-hole layouts, plus some challenging nine-holers that are likely less formal.

High season is usually mid-June to mid-September and in the early and late shoulder seasons, green fee prices are less. Most Island courses are open for play by mid-May and stay open until the end of October. Most will accept tee off reservations months in advance. There are a variety of accommodations across the Island that offer packages including lodging, green fees and some meals.

After golf there is plenty to do. Swimming and enjoying one of several beaches around the island; deep sea fishing, hiking, and sailing; live theatre in Charlottetown or historical tours of the city; dozens of annual community heritage festivals; family attractions such as scale models of British castles at Woodleigh Replicas and Gardens; and the children's park at Rainbow Valley.

For cyclists, the Confederation Trail is a major attraction. The trail, formerly an unused railroad bed, stretches about 190 miles from one end of PEI to the other.

Charlottetown Airport has most of its scheduled service arriving by connecting flights through Halifax International Airport in Nova Scotia, a short flight away. Cars arriving in New Brunswick from Maine or Quebec can continue east and make the connection over the eight-mile long Confederation Bridge.

Traffic arriving in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia from the U.S. via ferry from Portland or Bar Harbour, can head east toward Halifax, then north to New Brunswick and east to the Island. For sailors there are several small harbors in which to dock and if visitors are arriving by cruise ship, a round of golf can be arranged at any one of several courses.

Prince Edward Island is not the Carolinas or Florida or California, with their hundreds of golf courses. It's a young golf destination with approximately eight excellent courses, a number of solid courses, and some that simply provide a fun round in an informal atmosphere.

But just as the game of golf can be highly addictive, so can the charms of this Island. It is a destination filled with scents of the sea and freshly mown hay. It has warm, friendly people who will treat you kindly and invite you back. It's a place of history, and a place where the importance of a scorecard is far down the list of things to be remembered.

Tom Peters is a freelance writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


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