June 29-July 2, 2008
Cape Breton Island: Whether on the golf course or driving the Cabot Trail the visual experience of Cape Breton is like no other. For a golfer, this trip is a must see and play.
Planning your route around Cape Breton isn't difficult. Do you head to the north and loop to the south? Or vice versa? You won't be finding many inland roads here. I wouldn't recommend setting up a base camp as golf courses can be well over an hours drive apart. However, the drive is the most scenic I have ever taken. Be aware that gas stations can sometimes be hard to find so keep your eyes open once you get below half a tank. Minor roads through Cape Breton can be rough and twisty but once you're on the Cabot Trail it's smooth driving with lots of site seeing.
Constructed in the 1930s, the Cabot Trail traverses over 180 miles with elevation changes as much as 1,500 feet between shore and cliff. Early days saw the Cabot Trail closed during the winter and encountering a large vehicle at any time would often mean backing up a long distance to let someone by. Thank goodness roads have improved and tee times can now be met with regularity.
In 1497, when John Cabot landed in Cape Breton he certainly didn't bring any golf clubs. If he landed today I'm sure he wouldn't hesitate at using a rental set to play one of the top golf destinations in the world.
Tip #1: Don't forget your camera!
Dundee Resort & Golf Club (June 29, 2008 - Day 1): Dundee has a beautiful setting overlooking the Bras D'Or Lake, the largest salt water lake in the world. There's never a flat hole and the course plays much longer than the yardage indicates. You'll always be adjusting your club selection for the varying elevations. As well, I consider Dundee to be the most scenic of the four courses on Cape Breton. I found Par 4s in the 400 yardage range near impossible to reach in two when on an uphill climb. This course is a real challenge and I feel the course rating is much greater than indicated on the scorecard.
The Dundee Resort & Golf Club can offer some great deals to stay and play so I'd give them a call before considering other accommodations. When we were passing through a $69 stay and play package was available. I'd grab that deal any time.
A review of the Dundee Resort & Golf Club can be read here.
Le Portage Golf Club (June 30, 2008 - Day 2): The drive from Dundee to Cheticamp is just over 2 hours. Much of the road is rough and twisty but as soon as you hit the Cabot Trail the road improves dramatically. We stayed at the Sea & Golf Chalets which are just a stones throw from Le Portage. The units were clean and tidy but lacked a telephone inside. I mention the telephone because the evening we arrived it was raining and winds were reaching near 90km per hour. A planned phone call home was delayed as there was no chance I was standing outside with these weather conditions.
Cheticamp is an interesting place. Ask any one where there live and chances are it's on the main street (the Cabot Trail) as rarely did I see housing set back from the road.
For dinner we ate at Le Gabriel feasting on a lobster platter and a bowl of superb fish chowder. Everywhere we traveled we tried the fish chowder and never were we disappointed. A Nova Scotia specialty in my book.
At this point in our trip I discovered that Lobster season is not at the same time of the year throughout Cape Breton. While the Lobster season was ending in Cheticamp it was shifted a week later on the other side of the Island. Thank goodness we were heading in that direction.
Late evening our concerns arose whether we would be able to play the following morning as forecast suggested more rain and high winds. We arrived at Le Portage without any rain and only mild winds. The sky looked a bit threatening as the first threesome of the day teed off before us. We followed and midway through the first hole it began to drizzle and the threesome in front of us headed back to the clubhouse stating they had seen lightning strike on the second hole. We decided to chance it and by the third hole we were shedding our rain gear for shorts. Such is the way of the weather in Cheticamp.
A review of Le Portage Golf Club can be read here.
Highlands Links (July 1, 2008 - Day 3): The drive from Cheticamp to Ingonish is a real treat. The scenery along the Cabot Trail is spectacular to say the least. You'll need to pick up a Park permit to enter the Cabot Trail (a nominal fee) and this pass will be required to play Highlands Links. We were told to place the Park permit prominently on the dash, which we did. The first location we stopped our Park permit was whisked out the door and over the cliffs of Cape Breton never to be seen again. Thank goodness we were playing Highlands Links on July 1st and access to the Park is free on this day.
Highlands Links is a very traditional course designed by Stanley Thompson and is considered to be his signature course. I wasn't as thrilled with the course as I had hoped to have been but taking into the account that era and the tools used to construct the course the result is quite an achievement.
Reports of a bear cub up a tree on the 15th was heard throughout our round but it was gone by the time we got there. We often heard stories of eagles and moose seen on the course but we had to settle for a rabbit on the first hole.
We stayed at the Glenghorm Beach Resort in Ingonish; a short 2km drive from Highlands Links. Food was excellent and the bar downstairs, The Thirsty Hiker, features entertainment nightly. We're not hikers but we certainly were thirsty.
A review of Highlands Links can be read here.
Bell Bay Golf Club (July 2, 2008 - Day 4): Baddeck is a 2 hour drive from Ingonish. The drive didn't have quite the same beauty as the previous day but still some glorious photos were taken along the way. Baddeck is a quaint town with a population of approximately 1,000. The village's economy is driven by tourism and it has been estimated that the village experiences almost as many tourists as the provincial capital Halifax. Although small in population Baddeck feels much bigger. It also sports my favourite course on Cape Breton, the Bell Bay Golf Club.
The Inverary Resort is a reasonably large complex which features the Lakeside Restaurant. I had a nice lobster soup with strawberry shortcake for desert. You can watch ships sail in and out of the bay from the restaurant; something I don't get to see every day.
At Bell Bay the bag boys all wear traditional knickers, a nice nostalgic touch. We were greeted by Ted, the head pro, who took time out to talk to us before delivering lessons to a large group of junior golfers.
During our arrival I misplaced my camera and GPS unit in the wrong cart and I'm sure I had every staff member busy combing the grounds for the units whereabouts. Staff service was excellent!
We played with two female members of the club, Carol and Annie, who were most delightful and they both managed to take our ribbing and sarcasm like one of the fellas. Afterwards we were treated to an excellent lunch. Once again, far too much good food for my plump body to resist.
A review of the Bell Bay Golf Club can be read here.
The Stonehame Lodge & Chalets were a good two hour drive southwest. The chalets have a spectacular views of Pictou County. Although the location was a bit out of the way of our travels it really was a nice place to stay.
We had dinner at Piper's Landing in Pictou. The food was excellent but on the high end of the price scale.
Future - The Lakes: The Lakes Golf Club, a Graham Cook design, is Cape Breton Island’s newest golf destination. Currently under construction, this premier course is expected to open in Spring 2009 and is already anticipated to be one of Canada’s finest.