Atlantic Canada is where the Old World meets the New, where travelers can enjoy the lilting accents and rhythms of traditional Gaelic festivals without leaving North America. Among the first European outposts on the continent, dating back more than five hundred years, this rugged region consists of the aptly named Maritime Provinces: Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia (Latin for "New Scotland") and little sibling Prince Edward Island (PEI is famous for its succulent mussels and oysters). It's a place where the best of urban life can be celebrated in the vibrant port of Halifax, Nova Scotia, with its upscale hotels, friendly pubs and thriving music scene. And for rustic charm, there's Cape Breton Island, where in 1497 the explorer John Cabot unfurled the British royal standard. Today the Cabot Trail, a ribbon of highway strung along cliffs high above the ocean, is a can't-miss scenic drive— especially since the journey's reward is one of the truly great golf courses of the world. Stanley Thompson's Highlands Links is a heroic and utterly unique seaside and forest masterpiece. The course has been the area's biggest draw for golfers for decades, but the emergence of newer layouts such as Bell Bay and Glen Arbour have helped create as engaging and varied of a golf experience as you're likely to find on this side of the pond. Best of all, the favorable exchange rate—all prices below are U.S.—only makes Atlantic Canada's world-class courses even more alluring.
Where to Play
Highlands Links *****
Stanley Thompson, the patriarch of Canadian golf architecture, built his reputation by designing courses with features bold enough to match their majestic surroundings. Highlands Links, which Thompson often referred to with beautiful simplicity as "the mountains and ocean course," may well be his masterpiece. Constructed during the Depression with only basic shaping equipment, it hits a classical note right from the opening hole, a straightaway par four with a rumpled fairway that resembles the surface of the moon in green. From there, the course sprawls alongside the ocean before heading up into the forests of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. There are many loving references to Scotland—strange hole names, like "Killiecrankie" and "Mucklemouth Meg"; an out-and-back routing; renditions of Alps and Eden holes—but the landscape is quintessentially Canadian, and Thompson was fearless in making his own mark on the Highlands. In a strategy he used regularly, the course is divided equally between one-, two- and three-shot holes, creating a distinct rhythm to the round. Drama and difficulty build and release before Highlands Links hammers players with a stretch of finishing holes to rival any in the world. Rustic, razor sharp and as thrilling a golf experience as can be found at any public course in North America.
Middle Head Peninsula, Ingonish Beach, Nova Scotia; 800-441-1118, highlandslinksgolf.com. Yardage: 6,592. Par: 72. Slope: 141. Architect: Stanley Thompson, 1941. Greens Fee: $77.
Dundarave Golf Course ****
An intriguing design from the office of Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry (with associate Jason Straka taking the lead on the project), Dundarave features a mix of links and parkland styles. Given the differing types of terrain, Dundarave should feel schizophrenic; instead, distinctive flashed bunkering and large greens give the course cohesiveness. The eighth hole, a mid-length par four with a green perched along the Brudenell River, forces players to challenge the dastardly bunkers that abound—quite a task amid such striking scenery. Route 3, Roseneath, Cardigan, Prince Edward Island; 800-235-8909, golflinkspei.com. Yardage: 7,089. Par: 72. Slope: 139. Architects: Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, 1999. Greens Fees: $53$76.
Fox Harb'r Golf Resort & Spa ****
Ron Joyce, the billionaire behind the ubiquitous Canadian coffee-and-doughnut chain Tim Hortons, commissioned Graham Cooke to design a personal playground for him and a limited number of high-rolling guests. The resulting course is a part parkland, part faux-links design that hits a crescendo on the seaside holes, fifteen through seventeen, where golfers can see straight across the Northumberland Strait to PEI. To play Fox Harb'r, which is so finely maintained you'll be hard-pressed to find a single unfilled divot, guests must stay at the encompassing resort. For those so inclined, Fox Harb'r can be reached by helicopter, small plane or yacht, thanks to a private runway and marina. 1337 Fox Harbour Road, Wallace, Nova Scotia; 866-257-1801, foxharbr.com. Yardage: 7,253. Par: 72. Slope: 141. Architect: Graham Cooke, 2001. Greens Fee: $180