By TIM BAINES
When you’re on a plane flying home from Prince Edward Island and you’re daydreaming about the week that was – the golf, the laughs, the breathtaking views, the food and those wonderful Islanders – it’s tough to pinpoint just one reason why you’ve had such a tremendous vacation.
It’s one of those things where you check off the final box: All of the above.
There are prime golf courses, for sure. Stand back from the teebox at courses like Links at Crowbush Cove, Eagles Glenn, Glasgow Hills, Andersons Creek, Green Gables, Brudenell or Dundarave and take it in, sniff in some of that fresh air, that east-coast awesomeness. There’s just something special about P.E.I. – and it starts with the people who live there. “Your Game, Our Way of Life” is a slogan used by the island, which has hosted golfers such as Mike Weir, Annika Sorenstam, Vijay Singh, Fred Couples, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and hometown girl Lorie Kane.
“When people stay at cottages, mom and pop operations, they really go out of their way to help you,” said Mark McLane, Golf P.E.I.’s executive director. “They don’t just take your money and make your bed for you, they go the extra mile on making sure it’s a great experience. It’s just a small place, everybody knows everybody. I think people here understand the importance of tourism.”
The golf is fantastic, with price ranges to suit everyone.
Green Gables, a Stanley Thompson course which was rejuvenated by Thomas McBroom, offers views of Cavendish’s sand dunes, the Anne of Green Gables House and ocean vistas. Eagles Glenn was designed by Graham Cooke in the Scottish tradition. Glasgow Hills has views of the River Clyde and Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Links at Crowbush Cove hosted the 1998 Export ‘A’ Skins Game and the 2007 Legends of Golf event. Dundarave, designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, hosted the 2006 Legends of Golf and has expansive fairways lined with lush pines and the tranquil Brudenell River. Brudenell hosted the Lorie Kane Island Challenge, the first women’s skins game, in 2000. The course is unique in that it offers six part 3s, six par 4s and six par 5s.
“We don’t have three or four courses that everybody wants to play; depending on your taste and style, we probably have 10,” said McLane. “We say we have 20-25 courses within 45 minutes of each other, that’s pretty compelling. You spend time driving your ball, not your car. That’s kind of our message.”
The Links at Crowbush Cove is a beauty, a national treasure – ranked No. 9 on SCORE Golf’s Top 59 list of Canada’s best golf courses and 15th on their list of Best Value courses. Dundarave is 27th on SCORE Golf’s Best You Can Play and 11th on their Best Value rankings. P.E.I. has been named Golf Destination of the Year by the International Association of Golf Travel Operators (IAGTO). P.E.I. was also chosen to host a season of Golf Channel’s Big Break.
Food is another big checkmark on your reasons to visit the island, especially if you’re into seafood. We had dinner one night at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, with its wonderful homey ambiance, a family-type atmosphere.
After your golf round, you can also load up on the free mussels served up at Anderson’s Creek and Glasgow Hills. The courses go through 15,000 lbs. of mussels a year.
“We kind of take it for granted, but when somebody from outside Atlantic Canada comes in and gets unlimited mussels at the end of the round, they think it’s pretty neat,” said McLane.
While there’s plenty to do in P.E.I., the quality and quantity of golf will have you coming back for more and more.
“Value is No. 1 for us,” said McLane. “We don’t have any course over $100 in peak season. Proximity is another big one, too. Everything is so close together. You can play your round of golf and be back to your cottage or hotel by noon and have the rest of the day to go to the beach, go downtown, or maybe to a play, stuff like that. Variety, too … there are $30 courses, small courses, challenging courses, not-so-challenging courses. Our marketing this year will say, ‘More than 400 fairways.’ I think 438 is the actual number. We have the most golf courses per capita across the country.
“I say I’ve got the easiest job in the world. It comes back to the brand. When people go home, they rave about their trip. The group of four becomes eight, then that becomes 16. There are a lot of repeat visitors. There are a lot of destinations experiencing double-digit declines, but we’re holding our own. There’s not a lot of doom and gloom in P.E.I. Mostly its weather driven. If we get a good spring, we’ll have one of our best years in recent memory with how it’s going so far.”
Ease of booking is another biggie for vacationers.
“The reservation centre is kind of neat from a traveling golfer perspective,” said McLane. “The girls in the centre are not paid commission, they’re unbiased and they’ve got 40 years of experience of booking golf vacations. We do it as a service, anything to help people get on the first tee. To have that one-call option is kind of neat. You have the choice of about 40 accommodation partners and 16 golf courses in one phone call, that’s kind of unique.
“You can actually pick your tee times. You can just go on the website, click, click, click. We want to make it as easy as possible to come here.”
We stayed at the Holman Grand Hotel, in the heart of Charlottetown, steps away from a vibrant and eclectic collection of restaurants and pubs. It was an excellent experience. It’s good to be central, but there are plenty of options – cottages and rooms – right at the golf courses. There’s also the rugged beauty of P.E.I., the home of Anne of Green Gables. Obviously, P.E.I. is doing plenty right. Ontario and Quebec are very strong markets for the island, but visitors are coming from far and wide.
“I think our brand is pretty strong,” said McLane. “People are coming from Arizona, South Carolina, Alberta … we’re drawing from everywhere. I think our second strongest state in the U.S. Is Florida, people escaping the heat.”
For more info, check out www.GolfPEI.ca