By Darcy Rhyno
Simply put, Prince Edward Island is built for golf. Its lush green, rolling farmland and mixed forests are often accented with gentle streams and picturesque ponds. The ocean is ever-present and beaches with sands and dunes of many hues border long stretches of tranquil countryside.
It’s no wonder there are so many golf courses—25 in this small island province.
When it comes to golfing destinations, small is indeed beautiful. PEI is so small, says native islander Ryan Garrett, “If you ask anybody how far anything is, guaranteed they’ll say 45 minutes.”
Garrett is a manager at PEI’s Finest Golf. He oversees Crowbush, Brudenell and Dundarave, the island’s top three courses, all owned by the province. Garrett says, “One of the best things about playing on PEI is that everything is so close. If you’re in Charlottetown, you’re literally 45 minutes from 20 courses.”
It’s not just scenery and accessibility that attract vacationing golfers. Some of the world’s great course designers worked their magic on this landscape—Stanley Thompson, Thomas McBoom, Dana Fry, Michael Hurdzan and Graham Cooke among them—sculpting it into some of the most scenic fairways and greens on the planet. As a bonus, for visitors escaping summer heat in cities to the south and west of Atlantic Canada, golfing PEI offers moderate temperatures and refreshing ocean breezes.
When I ask Garrett to name PEI’s best course, at first, he waffles. “That’s a tough one for anybody to answer.” But then he admits, “Most people consider Crowbush our top course, more for the recognition it’s received and events we’ve held there. In 1994, it was voted the best new course in Canada—that’s quite a feather in your cap. In 1998, when skins games were popular, we had Fred Couples, Mike Weir, Mark O’Meara and John Daly.”
The Links at Crowbush Cove is the full name of the course, but, says Garrett, “I would consider it a hybrid. We have some holes that are very links-like and some parkland holes. When you get down to the shore, you get that links feel.” Eight of the 18 holes at Crowbush run near the beach adjacent to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Persistent winds off the Gulf add to the challenge.
Next on Garrett’s list are the twins, Brudenell River Golf Course and Dundarave Golf Course. In fact, his favourite PEI course is Brudenell. “I grew up in Montague, close to Brudenell,” he says. “My folks played and introduced me early to the game.”
Garrett isn’t the only golfer who cut his teeth there. Famous LPGA golfer Lorie Kane grew up on these courses, and Brudenell is a particular favourite of hers. “She would probably consider Belvedere her home course,” says Garrett, “but her dad was the first professional at Brudenell, so she got her start there.”
Perhaps Garrett and Kane share a passion for Brudenell because it has six each of par-threes, fours and fives. “That’s different than the usual make up of 18 holes,” explains Garrett. “And you usually don’t get beat up.” While the par threes can punish you, Garrett says you can gain ground on the fives.
One of the island’s original courses, Brudenell offers pastoral scenery that is nonetheless challenging. “There are some holes right on the water that go from 120 yards and to well over 200,” says Garrett. “You use every club in your bag when you’re shooting a par three near the water where the wind always comes into play.”
Shimmering Waters—number 10, with the river on the left and a large pond between the tee and the green—particularly captivates Garrett. “It’s very short at 130 yards. On a normal day, it’s a seven to nine iron, but when the wind is up, you can hit anywhere from a three to a five iron.”
Brudenell shares with Dundarave, which opened in 1999, on-site hotel and cottages, a clubhouse and pro shop. Together, they form Atlantic Canada’s first 36-hole championship play. In 2006, none other than Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus met here as part of the “Legends of Golf” tournament. Brudenell is best for those who prefer to walk their 18 holes while Dundarave requires a cart. The latter is a mirror of PEI’s landscape with its lush green fairways, blue waters and red sand traps.
“It’s a memorable course just for the colouring,” says Garrett. “We use a local sand in the bunkers with that red tinge like the island soil.” But those colourful bunkers can be intimidating. “From the tee it looks very difficult—the course is spread over a really large piece of land—but when you get out onto each fairway, you realize there’s quite a bit of room.” Indeed, size has its advantages. “Because it’s such a big property, when you’re out there, it feels like your own course.”
As with Brudenell’s Shimmering Waters, there’s a hole everyone remembers—Emerald Altar, a par four. “It’s the signature hole for Dundarave,” says Garrett. “The tee and fairway are separated by a gully with water. It’s 160 to 200 yards over this ravine with marshland and water to an angled fairway, and your next shot is to the green that sits right on the river. When it’s low tide, the number of balls in that gully is crazy.”
More Great Golf
The three courses that make up PEI’s Finest Golf aren’t the only standouts on the island. The mature Mill River Golf Course and Resort is best known for its many water challenges and great service at bargain prices. “It’s considered the sister course to Brudenell,” explains Garrett. “It opened in 1969 and Mill River in 1971. Both designed by Robbie Robinson, they were built on opposite ends of the island to promote tourism—as anchors in the east and the west—as well as for local recreation.”
At one time, the province owned Mill River as well, but it recently sold to a local resident. “He did a huge reno to the resort, an awesome job,” says Garrett. “He didn’t change much on the course. It’s a great track and a tricky place to play.”
In central PEI, a couple of courses are worth noting, starting with the Green Gables Golf Club, which opened in 1939. “I consider it the original draw for tourism,” says Garrett. “It’s Stanley Thompson-designed, so that brings a lot of people. There are lots of views of the north shore and some really cool holes. Number 11 runs alongside the Anne of Green Gables house.” The whole course is located within the spectacular PEI National Park.
Nearby Stanhope Golf and Country Club is also a fun track, according to Garrett. “It’s one of those courses locals enjoy playing, probably for the same reason they enjoy Brudenell—it’s one of the original designs with lots of water and wind. It’s a fun round.”
Not far away, the Glasgow Hills Resort and Golf Club is widely considered one of the island’s finest golfing experiences. It’s conveniently located between PEI’s two cities—Charlottetown and Summerside—and close to the island’s northern coast. As a bonus, the on-site Piper’s Restaurant is part of PEI’s Culinary Trail.
Garrett says the short nine-hole tracks at Red Sands Golf Course on the north coast and Belfast Highland Greens on the south coast should be included in any best-of list. Of Red Sands, he says, “It’s not an easy track, but always in good shape. It’s just a fun place to go with the family.” As for Belfast, Garrett says the last three fairways look down to the water and 20-metre cliffs. “It’s a really cool place to play, especially in the evening when you’re looking right at the sunset.”
With affordable green fees, availability and stunning settings, the best courses in PEI rival those anywhere. But it’s not just golf that makes an island golfing vacation so satisfying. It would be a missed opportunity to leave the island without partaking in other signature experiences like boat tours and live entertainment. These, added to rounds at some of the country’s best courses, make for a complete island golfing vacation. As Garrett puts it, “There are plenty of things to do after golf.”
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Header caption: Tourism PEI / Carrie Gregory
Intro caption: Brudenell is best for those who prefer to walk their 18 holes.
Intro credit: Tourism PEI/Katelyn Fraser