Venturing to golf resorts in Newfoundland.

“Did you hear the one about the Newfoundlander who built a world-class resort and what Scoregolf magazine rated as Canada’s best golf course for 2007?”

It’s no joke.

On the west coast of our most easterly province, dubbed “The Rock,” things are really rolling, thanks to the chutzpa of Newfoundland entrepreneur, Brian Dobbin. With a philosophy of “build it and they will come,” Dobbin decided to think outside The Rock and market his vision of a four-seasons luxury resort to Brits and Europeans.

Humber Valley Resort, located just north of Corner Brook began in 1996 when Dobbin bought an estate called Strawberry Hill. He turned it into an inn and built and sold eight chalets. Dobbin then negotiated with the government to buy 2200 acres of neighbouring crown land. His company, Newfound Property, markets Humber Valley in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe. To date about 400 homes have been sold to folks from across the pond who are buying into the Great Canadian dream complete with salmon fishing, skiing, sailing and a 7199-yard, par-72 River Course by award-winning architect Doug Carrick.

Tucked into the Appalachian Mountain range, on the northern bank of the Humber River and Deer Lake, Carrick’s layout affords dramatic views at every turn. But the real show-stopper is the magnificent par-four 10th. Typically played into the teeth of the wind, this 458-yarder plunges 180 feet into a valley below, followed by a long approach shot across a large swale, past bunkers and up to a tricky contoured green.

Humber Valley Resort offers guests a Canadian cocktail mixing wilderness and the great outdoors with luxe creature comforts. Most of the privately owned chalets go into a rental pool and provide ideal accommodations for foursomes or more. My golfing pal, Shirley and I had room to spare in our two-storey, three-bedroom chalet, complete with full kitchen, gas fireplace, hot tub on the deck and a Jacuzzi in the master suite. We could have headed into Cornerbrook for groceries but cooking wasn’t what on our agenda. Instead we indulged in non-fattening Chocolate Bliss body treatments at the resort’s Found spathen headed across the bridge to dinner at Strawberry Hill where the menu features such sophisticated offerings as gin and tomato soup, seared scallops in a Sambucca sauce and white chocolate soup. And not a cod cheek in sight.

All in all, Newfoundland and Labrador boast more than 20 golf courses. At the newest Gros Morne Resort in the wilds of Gros Morne National Park, another Newfoundlander is building his retirement dream project. Alphonse Hutchings, who made his fortune in construction in Fort McMurray, Alberta, is creating a destination resort, complete with marina, jet air strip, indoor beach and 18-hole golf course. When we visited last summer, seven holes were completed with the remaining eleven scheduled to be finished by summer 2008. This is not a project for the faint of heart. Most of the golf course is routed through bog so each fairway needs to be dug up and the foundation lined with rock blasted from a nearby quarry. Then the bog must be put through a huge sieve to create topsoil. At a cost of approximately one million dollars per hole, I can only hope there are enough avid golfers to make the trek to this spectacular setting with views of Eastern Brook mountains and where you are likely to catch a glimpse of moose, eagles, black bears or caribou in between shots.

While the golf scene on Newfoundland’s west coast is still in its infancy, the courses on the east coast are more established and certainly worth the six-hour trek across the Trans Canada Highway.

(Alternatively fly???)
We arrived at The Wilds at Salmonier River, about an hour south of St. John’s in the middle of the Avalon Peninsula, and, at first glance, in the middle of nowhere. A charity tournament to raise money for the Children’s Wish Foundation was about to begin. There had been some confusion with our tee time and it looked as if we might not be able to play until three locals insisted that Shirley and I join them. One of our fivesome, Bob, had lost his daughter to cystic fibrosis a few years ago and he and his group were avid supporters of this charity that raises money to grant terminally ill children a wish.

Aptly named, The Wilds, designed by Robert Heaslip, is a swath of giddying golf playing up, down, over and through mighty rock outcroppings, stands of fir and spruce, ponds and rivers. It’s arguably the toughest test of golf on The Rock.

Number 18 has to be one of Canada’s best finishing holes. The gushing sound of a waterfall is a tad distracting at the tee of the 508-yard, par-five. You must fly your ball over a gorge to a landing pad and then cross the Salmonier River to get to the green. It’s a wow.

Our gracious hosts insisted we join them for a steak dinner and silent auction for the Wish Foundation. I have it on good authority (from a friend who works for Newfoundland tourism) that Newfoundlanders donate more to charity, drink more beer and have more sex than the rest of their fellow Canadians. While I can’t vouch for the latter, I can say that our new golf buddies did their best to uphold their reputation as philanthropists and imbibers.

At the end of the dinner, the master of ceremonies warned that a moose had been spotted on the road so “drive carefully.” Shirley and I didn’t have to contend with the antlered roadblock because we had booked comfortable rooms upstairs where, as luck would have it, we tuned into the island’s very own Rick Mercer. xxx

Shirley and I had to leave early the next morning before the dining room opened for breakfast.
“But you must have at least a hot cup of tea,” said the receptionist, noting our wake-up calls. She then arranged for the night watchman to let us into the kitchen so we could make some tea and toast. I can’t see that happening in Toronto.

At the crack of dawn we headed along the Trans Canada West past pristine miles of forests and ponds with morning mist rising from them and towns named Hearts Content, Come by Chance and Tickle Harbour.

Our destination was Terra Nova, dubbed the Pebble Beach of Newfoundland and located in the National Park of the same name. Twin Rivers, the resort’s premier course, awarded four and a half stars by Golf Digest magazine, opened as a nine-hole tract in 1984. It was designed by the late Robbie Robinson. In 1991, Doug Carrick was hired to create nine more holes running between dense forests, the Atlantic Ocean and two salmon rivers. The first hole is a knock-out—from elevated tees it doglegs right to a raised green with sparkling Bonavista Bay ahead of you. Number two xxxxx.

The air was so fresh it stung my nostrils. Most of the fairways are wide enough to tempt you to let it rip enough to drive The Titanic though. xxx

Perhaps what makes Terra Nova so special are the outstanding par threes. Number eight, for example requires crossing a raging river of white water to an elevated green well-protected by bunkers. Number 18, another downhill par three across a salmon river to a postage-stamp green, leaves you feeling exhiliarated and wanting more. And thanks to the second, xxx , a 9-hole xxx and a very attractive “stay and play” package you can play ‘til your heart’s content.

For our last round we headed south to Pippy Park’s Public Golf Courses near St. John’s airport.
The nine-hole Captain’s Hill course was built by a group of volunteers in the 1970s. As the game became more popular, architect Graham Cooke was hired to design the championship 18-hole Admiral’s Green that opened in 1993.

Admiral’s Green is a roller coaster made all the more challenging by the Sou’ Wester blowing 60 kilometres an hour according to the blackboard in front of the pro shop.

Number seven is the signature hole—a par three with a panoramic view of St. John’s Harbour, the Marine Institutute and Cabot Tower (where Marconi sent the first radio signal). On the tenth green my pants were flapping so loudly I could barely concentrate on my putt.

“This is quite a gale,” I yelled to Frank, a local who was playing with us.
“Oh, this is grand weather,” he said. “No flies.”
“How could a fly last in this wind?” I asked.
“Ours have muscles,” came the wry reply as he galloped across the green to rescue his cap.

I doubt many other destinations can tempt golfers with iceberg sightings but should you teeing off in spring or early summer you might well spot one. These ancient alabaster mountains, calved from massive glaciers of Greenland and the Arctic, are funneled by the frigid Labrador current along the east coast of Newfoundland, known as Iceberg Alley.

By Anita Draycott