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The Great Green North

Sheltered from Atlantic winds by Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, the lovely and temperate (during summer, at least) Prince Edward Island is Canada's golf oasis.

Prince Edward Island, though the smallest of Canada's provinces, is well known for certain things, starting with the sweetness and size of its lobsters, mussels, and Malpeque oysters. Adolescent girls the world over know that the plucky orphaned heroine of the novel Anne of Green Gables grew up here, as did its author, Lucy Maud Montgomery. (First published in 1908, Anne has been translated into 17 languages, and a musical based on the story has played on the island every summer since 1965.) Canadians know P.E.I. as the place where their nation was conceived, at the Charlottetown Conference of 1864. And chefs may know that P.E.I.'s iron-rich soil produces magnificent potatoes—a third of Canada's entire crop.

But there are few golfers south of the Bay of Fundy—where coastal Maine begins—who know that on P.E.I., places to play their game are as plentiful as, well, the potatoes.

P.E.I. slips under the radar largely because of its location. You wouldn't think that an island roughly 500 miles northeast of Boston would have much of a golf season. But P.E.I., nestled in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, is shielded from the open Atlantic by Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Comfortably playable—usually from early June to mid- September—P.E.I. can reach the mid- to upper 80s at the height of summer, though the lusty maritime breeze keeps golfers on their toes and the star-spangled nights cool.

The island's shape suggests a kneeling terrier, its nose facing west and its upraised tail pointing northeast, toward Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. About 140 miles long and no more than 40 miles wide, P.E.I. is so dimpled with bays and coves that one is never farther than 15 miles from the sea. The 500 miles of coastline has sandy beaches on the north side and red sandstone cliffs on the south. In between, the lyrical, gently rolling landscape is as green as Ireland, with soil as red as Georgia clay—a perfect spot for golf.

Across this Acadian setting sprawl 25 courses, from pleasant nine-holers to challenging 18-hole championship layouts. The finest golf is concentrated between the terrier's stubby legs. Upon arrival in funky-quaint Charlottetown, in the belly of the pooch, visitors are immediately surrounded by five courses, each no more than a 15-minute drive away. But true golf pilgrims drive 40 minutes to Cavendish on the north shore, in the heart of Green Gables territory. (The Victorian farmhouse that inspired the novel is now a museum.) Here lies the densest cluster of quality golf on the island.

With its highest point only 500 feet above sea level, P.E.I. won't give anyone a nosebleed. Just a few miles from that point, though, the three premium courses of the Cavendish area (all less than four years old) make the most of their perch, offering enough undulations and elevation changes to raise any golfer's pulse.

Built on the rippled hills above a valley, Glasgow Hills Resort & Golf Club overlooks the placid Clyde river, which weaves through the little town of New Glasgow and its treelined pastures. The glittering waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence can be seen from the first green. The 6,915-yard course offers memorable vistas in every direction as it winds uphill, downhill, and between hills. The 502-yard par-five 17th, for example, begins on one grassy crest and ends on another. In the hollow, the fairway turns sharply left, then ascends to a tricky, angled green. All around Glasgow Hills, grass pot bunkers lurk and the gusty wind is happy to steer you right into them.

Few of the golf architects represented on P.E.I. will be familiar to Americans, but their pedigrees will. Glasgow Hills (2001) is the work of Les Furber, who directed projects for Robert Trent Jones Sr. for 14 years before setting out on his own in 1980. The Cavendish area also features several courses by one of Canada's most prolific and interesting contemporary designers, Graham Cooke. In 1971 this Ontario native was selected as an all-American golfer at Michigan State and has since won more than 40 amateur tournaments, including the Canadian National Mid-Amateur (seven times), most recently in 2002. As an architect he is a master of mounding.

The Eagles Glenn and Andersons Creek—Cooke's premium P.E.I. designs—are only three miles apart and share similar terrain: They're more wooded and slightly less up-and-down than Glasgow Hills. The Eagles Glenn (2002) was built to be walked, with each tee close to the preceding green. The network of sand bunkers and grass mounds that defend each green is as aesthetically pleasing as it is strategically challenging. The four par threes each stretch no more than 175 yards from the tips, but the well-nestled greens require parachute-gentle landings.

The stream for which Andersons Creek is named comes into play on four holes, notably the 321-yard par-four 13th. From the elevated tee, the fairway steps down in stages, the last plateau rolling downward toward the creek. A driver is not the answer here, especially given the narrow fairway. Carrying the stream on the second shot may not be that hard, but stopping the ball on the very shallow green is.

Opened in 2003, the course is the newest on the island. It sat untended for a year during construction, when the original investors ran out of money. Some bare spots still dot the area, but the layout is one of P.E.I.'s best and the course is growing in quite nicely. Andersons Creek is also the first track on the island to issue every golfer a handheld GPS receiver, equally useful whether you walk or ride.

If you have time before leaving Cavendish, play the pretty Green Gables Golf Course, designed in 1939 by Stanley Thompson, a member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame whose protégés included Geoffrey Cornish and Robert Trent Jones Sr.

The next essential stop is approximately 40 miles east of Cavendish, on the north shore between Savage Harbor and St. Peter's Bay. The term "links" is often applied loosely, but the Links at Crowbush Cove lives up to its evocative moniker. Half the holes play toward, across, or alongside the grassy dunes and tidal inlets that shape the shoreline. It is a stirring course in every respect—windswept, walkable, full of dramatic tee shots, heroic carries over water, and fairway undulations that swell and subside like the Gulf of St. Lawrence on a stormy day. Its slope, or difficulty rating, of 148 is the highest on P.E.I. (the Eagles Glenn, at 143, takes second place).

One inspired feature of the design by Canadian Thomas McBroom is that the routing returns home every four or five holes. The first, sixth, tenth, and 15th at Crowbush all begin at the clubhouse, so if you're pressed for time or rain clouds threaten (not unusual), you can play a quick loop and end up where you started.

Crowbush Cove also boasts what might be the most outrageously fun hole on this island: the par-three 17th. A blind, uphill 113-yard (from the back tees) alley-oop, this one demands conviction. Devouring gorseand heather await you short and right, cart-path left, and steep-embankment long. The green is small. Don't miss it. For that matter, don't miss Crowbush Cove.

Twenty-five miles or so southeast of Crowbush, the Brudenell River estuary empties into Cardigan Bay, about halfway up the hind leg of the terrier. Within the provincial park lining the river, the championship courses and the Canadian Golf Academy—featuring a nine-hole course—strongly beckon. Dundarave and Brudenell River, two championship tracks, play out of a single clubhouse but they are quite separate in style.

Dundarave (1999), like the 16th-century Scottish castle it's named for, is well defended. At 7,089 yards it is P.E.I.'s longest course, and it has the third-highest slope, with a rating of 139. Its American designers, Dana Fry and Michael Hurdzan, are known for their bold and artful bunkering, which they've certainly delivered here. By filling the bunkers with crushed brick-red native sandstone instead of the usual white silica sand, the two have achieved a distinctively muted look, which may not suit everyone. Dundarave isn't easily walked. The holes are spread apart and the routing is out and back, so when you walk off the ninth green you are as far from the clubhouse as you can get. Still, this is one of the best tests of golf on P.E.I.

Where Dundarave is rugged and stern, the rolling parkland of Brudenell River is gentle and lovely—yet it's no pushover (slope: 131). The course's unusual configuration of six par threes, six par fours, and six par fives is very appealing, since par threes have a special way of firing the imagination and par fives offer better players opportunities to score.

Aside from the quality of the courses, P.E.I. has lots going for it. Greens fees are reasonable ($45 to $75), even more so thanks to the current exchange rate of the dollar. The courses are in excellent condition and there is no madding crowd. People on P.E.I. are relaxed and friendly, the seafood is fresh and local, and if you tire of chasing a little white ball, there are unspoiled beaches and scenic bike trails galore. But you should leave that to others. The little white ball looks awfully good on the marvelous golf courses of Prince Edward Island.


COURSE ADDRESS BOOK

Andersons Creek Fee, $60. At North Rd., Cavendish; 902-886-2222; www.andersonscreek.com

Brudenell River Fee, $55. At Roseneath, Cardigan; 902-652-8965; www.golflinkspei.com

Dundarave Fee, $65. At Roseneath, Cardigan; 902-652-8965; www.golflinkspei.com

The Eagles Glenn Fee, $50. At Rte. 6, Cavendish; 902-963-3600; www.eaglesglenn.com

Glasgow Hills Resort & Golf Club Fee, $50. At Glasgow Hills Dr., Glasgow Hills; 902-621-2200; www.glasgowhills.com

Green Gables Golf Course Fee, $45. At Rte. 6, Cavendish; 902-963-2488; www.greengablesgolf.com

The Links at Crowbush Cove Fee, $75. At Rte. 350 Lakeside, Morell; 902-652-8965; www.golflinkspei.com

WHERE TO SLEEP AND EAT ON THE ISLAND

Since most of the best golf on Prince Edward Island is set within a 30-mile radius of Charlottetown, you can make your forays from one or two centrally located places to stay. The best of these are less than an hour's drive from the capital, on the scenic northern and eastern shores.

With its rustic beams, wraparound veranda, and colossal stone fireplace, Dalvay-By-The-Sea (rates, $200-$300; cottages, $345-$380; 16 Cottage Crescent, Dalvay; 902-672-2048; www.dalvaybythesea.com) is an imposing mansion in the Queen Anne style. Built in 1895 by Alexander McDonald, the president of Standard Oil, it has been lovingly restored. Modernity barely intrudes on the placid rooms and cottages, which feature handsome period furniture but no phone, TV, or room service. From Dalvay, the Cavendish area's courses (Glasgow Hills, the Eagles Glenn, Andersons Creek, Green Gables) are a pleasant 20- to 30-minute car ride away.

After playing a round at Glasgow Hills, you'll find yourself just a mile or two from a P.E.I. institution, New Glasgow Lobster Suppers (dinner, $70; 604 Rte. 258, New Glasgow; 902-964-2870; www.peilobstersuppers.com). Decades ago on the island, lobster dinners were held as fund-raisers for churches and farmers. A few morphed into restaurants. Launched in 1958, this family-owned "supper" is the largest and oldest of the lot. Along with perfectly steamed lobsters, look for creamy seafood chowder and P.E.I.'s legendary mussels.

Of the three resorts that hotelier David Rodd and his family own here, the most attractive and modern is the Rodd Crowbush Golf & Beach Resort (rates, $160-$250; Rte. 350 Lakeside, Morell; 902-961-5600; www.rodd-hotels.ca). It features a spa, a fitness center, tennis courts, an indoor pool, and an excellent restaurant. A 30-minute drive brings you to Brudenell River and Dundarave, which share a clubhouse and a first-rate grillroom, Club 19 (dinner, $65; Roseneath, Cardigan; 902-652-2332).

The Inn at Bay Fortune (rates, $120-$270; Rte. 310, Bay Fortune; 902-687-3745; www.innatbayfortune.com), about a half hour's drive from Dundarave and Brudenell, was once an artists' colony and later, the country home of actress Colleen Dewhurst. The 95-year-old building has been extensively restored and expanded, though innkeeper David Wilmer took pains to preserve the weathered-shingle look of the maritime original. Even if you don't stay the night, it's worth visiting the restaurant, as chef Renée Lavallée prepares what last summer was arguably the best food on the island. Her braised short ribs nearly brought me to tears, and I ate the lobster-and-asparagus risotto in tinier and tinier bites to make it last.

ERIC LEVIN WROTE ABOUT REAL ESTATE FOR THE NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2004 ISSUE.