Golfing the rock

The highlands around Lake Gander add a lot of interest to the holes at Gander Golf Course. (Photo...

The highlands around Lake Gander add a lot of interest to the holes at Gander Golf Course. (Photo courtesy Gander Golf Course)

JONATHAN JENKINS - Sun Media

, Last Updated: 4:33 PM ET

It's a crime how little it costs to golf in Newfoundland.

At least it was a crime how little I spent to visit six of the finest courses the island has to offer -- which was of course zero. But that's because I was on an important fact-finding tour -- I'm told we're not supposed to call them junkets -- so while visiting duffers will have to pay more than I did, they still won't have to pay much.

Respectable courses can be played on all year for about $800 and the most expensive round in the province is only $100, a price most GTA golfers would barely think twice about.

Now golf is hardly the first thing that springs to mind when the average Canadian thinks of Newfoundland, which is no doubt why Golf Newfoundland invited the cream of Toronto travel journalism on this fact-finding adventure. They couldn't make it, which is why I found myself sipping pints of 1892 and sending my slice further east than it's ever been before.

The trip was scheduled for early October, so I packed every sweater and piece of rain gear I own. I needn't have bothered. The weather was pleasant enough with temperatures in the mid-teens and while often grey, only one of our six rounds over five days was rained out.

First stop, and a real focus of the trip was the Humber Valley Resort, a vastly ambitious project on the still sparsely populated west coast of Newfoundland. The multi-million dollar venture started up in 2003 and has already lured scores of high rollers -- many Europeans -- to plunk down big bucks for roomy chalets sprinkled around a very, very nice golf course.

Crafted by Canadian golf design guru Doug Carrick, it's 7,000-plus yards of classy playability for both expert golfers and hackers alike. It is $100 a round but well worth every penny.

Set in the hills above Deer Lake, the first four holes trickle down gently to the shoreline before the par three 5th, which curls around the beach. It's quite a dramatic opening, especially if the sloping ground is wet underneath your golf cart and you slowly fishtail out of control down the second fairway, giving you a 360-degree panorama of the hills, the trees, the water, your life flashing before you.

That was certainly breathtaking but no more so than the view from the 10th, with its waterfall tumbling a good 125 metres into the valley below, the Humber River laid out before you and the Long Range Mountains drifting off to the north.

Hazards abound -- there are 107 bunkers on the course, some of them mirroring the geography -- but none more frustrating to hit into than the local foxes. One patrols the 10th fairway and snaps up any golf ball he comes across, with scant regard for the quality of the drive that sent it in his direction. We came across another of the bold reynards on the idyllic 14th and had trouble chasing it off, so indifferent was it to our presence.

It's quite a climb back to the clubhouse and the occasional cart has been known to peter out before the top, but the views are well worth it.

Just about 20 minutes south of the resort is Corner Brook, home to about 30,000 people and the only other 18-hole course on the west coast of Newfoundland, the Blomidon Golf and Country Club.

This is a bit more mac and cheese compared to the gourmet meal up at Humber Valley but it's still satisfying -- a nice homey course, 5,700 yards of tight fairways and small greens inside a bowl of mountains looking out onto the Bay of Islands.

The 10th and 14th holes are particularly pretty, although you do have to contend with some views of a paper mill and the wind off the bay can be a little more than brisk. It's a private course but the public can get on for $43 a pop, or you can bulk buy 10 rounds for $390.

That's pretty much it for 18-hole courses on the west coast, at least until Humber Valley gets a planned second course up and running, but since you're in Atlantic Canada, you can drive for less than three hours and get most of the way across the province, if you want.

It's a great drive along the Trans-Canada -- especially when the sun comes out. The rocky hills drenched in pine with an occasional red flash of maple slowly give way to the boggy interior, a green wall of conifers hiding sloughs, salmon rivers and thousands of moose.

Any native-born Western Canadian will immediately notice the complete lack of section roads -- indeed, any kind of road -- feeding into the highway, as Newfoundland's interior remains largely forest.

Good golfing can be found in the northeast in Gander, which has a lovely track overlooking Lake Gander. Lake Gander feeds the Gander River, which flows all the way to Gander Bay, so it comes as no surprise the course is called the Gander Golf Club.

The ubiquitous Doug Carrick had a hand in the course's 2001 redesign and it makes great use of its height -- the holes stacked up one on top of each other to afford multiple views of the glistening lake below. There's a lot of up and down to the holes as they ride the edge of the hill and a couple of rocky creeks cutting across the narrow fairways.

There's a beautiful A-frame clubhouse overlooking three holes and if you smoke your wedge on the 18th, you just might get a lucky bounce off it back onto the green. Actually, that's not recommended as most of the A-frame is plate glass window but it can be done. The 6,137-yard course can be played for $38-$43 a round but it's the only game in town.

Fortunately, there's an absolutely incredible golf course down the road in Terra Nova National Park.

Twin Rivers, one of two courses that make up the Terra Nova Golf Resort (Eagle Creek is a new nine-hole), is 6,500 yards of stunning beauty. Carved up by the Salmon and Northwest Rivers and set against the watery finger of Clode Sound, the fairways melt seamlessly into the exquisite scenery and it's not unusual to see anglers trying their luck between holes.

The 1st tee stares out onto the Atlantic just beyond the green and the placid waters of the sound haunt the par five 2nd hole as well, salt water is never far from your right along the fairway. The two rivers dominate after that, the waters bubbling over rocks that invariably stand between you and the green.

It makes for some magnificent par threes in particular, with the 8th hole requiring unerring accuracy to clear the river without finding the bunkers to one side of, or the rocks behind, the green. The 18th presents another intimidatingly gorgeous shot, the tee boxes cascading down onto jagged rapids before opening onto a small bowl of green, fringed with bunkers and oblivion beyond.

The menacing waters aren't the only danger either, as there's a wealth of wicked-looking sand traps, including a trio of high-walled dungeons on the 16th the locals have dubbed Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

It opened in 1984 as nine-hole designed by noted Canadian golf architect Robbie Robinson, and the second nine was added in 1991 by who else but Carrick.

Tragically, a steady rain doused any hopes of playing the course. Having said that, it looks to be a remarkably difficult as well as remarkably beautiful 18 holes and the high handicappers may find it very testing.

Terra Nova seems intended for the accomplished golfer. And it's a complete steal, with greens fees running from $39-$56 -- every inch as pretty as Banff Springs at about a quarter of the price.

Obviously a tough act to follow but The Wilds at Salmonier River in the heart of the Avalon Peninsula held up pretty nicely in comparison.

It's another course that blends into the geography with wide, austere fairways separated by small stands of trees, wetlands and vicious rough. The wide-open design felt even more so on account of a ludicrous, flag-shredding wind that threatened to blow even good drives back onto the tee box. It made a demanding 6,750-yard course even more challenging but still satisfying.

The 9th hole features a spectacular gorge that must be cleared on approach to the green and there's another massive canyon slicing through the 18th fairway.

Literally plunked in the middle of the wilderness near the Salmonier Nature Reserve and the Avalon Wilderness Park, The Wilds is about 45 minutes south of St. John's and has a hotel. Greens fees are $50-$60 and play and stay packages are offered in golf season.

Last stop on this fall golforama of Canada's fourth-largest and easternmost island was the Clovelly Golf Club in St. John's. Clovelly offers two 18-hole course -- The Osprey, a championship 6,500-yard course and The Black Duck, a newer executive-style par three and four affair, both designed by Graham Cooke.

While it is a little flat, The Osprey is meticulously maintained and makes good use of its spaciousness. It's easy to forget the course is parked in the middle of a city and the holes rarely intrude on each other. There are plenty of ponds and wetlands too and water comes into play on half the holes. It also features a superb clubhouse well-stocked with art and a massive fireplace, quite comforting after a brisk round of fall golf. Needless to say, it's inexpensive at $50-$60 a round.

So to sum up, while there's not a lot of golf in Newfoundland, there are some wonderful courses and a couple of tremendous ones, all for very little scratch. Plus the beer is excellent, the cod tongues unexpectedly edible and the salmon exceptional. The people are real nice, too.

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BOTTOM LINE

GETTING THERE

Air Canada has daily service commencing May 14 from Toronto to Deer Lake. WestJet flies six days weekly from May 14 to Oct. 26. Sunwing Airline has flights every Thursday from Jun 28 to Sept. 6

FORE

Most golf courses are open from June to October. For more, see:

- Humber Valley Resort, humbervalley.com OR 1-866-686-8100.

- Blomidon Golf and Country Club, blomidongolf.com or 709-634-5550.

- Gander Golf Club, 709-256-4650.

- Terra Nova Golf Resort, terranovagolf.com or 709-543-2525

- The Wilds at Salmonier River, thewilds.ca or 709-229-5444

- Clovelly Golf and Country Club, clovellygolf.com or 709-722-7170

- Golf Newfoundland, golfnewfoundland.ca or 709-722-2470.

MORE INFORMATION

Visit explorenewfoundlandandlabrador.com.


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