Prince Edward Island, Canada celebrates fresh air, value golf, mussels and darn friendly people

Cradled in the Gulf of St. Lawrence north of Nova Scotia, Canada, Prince Edward Island (PEI) is literally a breath of fresh air everywhere you go with the sea hardly ever out of sight.

Beaches, red-sand cliffs, dunes along with fishing villages and iconic lighthouses ring the 145-mile-long island, while in the interior, potatoes and other crops grow in fields and cattle graze.

The season is short if you're here to play golf, dip into the bracing waters, boat, picnic, fish and hit the beaches. But what a season it is. In the summer temperatures typically range in the 70s and 80s and everywhere you go, you are seldom out of sight of water while the Green Gables industry booms around the fictional redhead, Anne of Green Gables, heroine of stories by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Golf on Prince Edward Island

More than 20 golf courses are within easy driving distance of Charlottetown, the provincial capital. Green fees -- especially for Americans where the U.S. dollar against the "loonie" gives you 25 percent more for your money -- make a PEI golf vacation especially sweet.

Thanks to varied topography and world-class designers, you can experience a different kind of course each time you tee up. Even the color of the bunkers may change reflecting the part of the island where the course lies: reddish sand in the south, white sand in the north.

Green Gables Golf Club in Cavendish's National Park features sweeping bunker complexes, compliments of Thomas McBroom, who put his own stamp on a Stanley Thompson classic (circa 1939). Very little remains of the original subtlety of the track. McBroom added almost 500 yards to create a muscular layout of about 7,000 yards that will greatly please the young guns, but could disappoint the purists who saw the original course as a historic treasure.

Putting historical pedigree aside, you will enjoy the challenge, including plenty of huge bunkers. Watch for "Anne's haunted woods" to the left of the 10th and her fictional "house" seen through an opening along the 12th fairway. The green used to be located near the building, but the course was rerouted in a nod to tourists who used to stand dangerously near that green.

A good walking layout in spite of some mounding, Eagles Glenn of Cavendish on the north shore is a pleasant play for all levels. Look for Benny McConnell riding his black show horse, Goliath, both officially retired but on "duty" for a few hours each day at the course. Another walkable track, Fox Meadow Golf Course by Rob Heaslip, has a large enthusiastic member base and is close to downtown Charlottetown.

On the north shore at Andersons Creek Golf Club , designed by Graham Cooke, players often walk the front and ride the back, where elevations are more dramatic (like the 15th requiring a carry over a creek). With the Gulf of St. Lawrence as a backdrop, Glasgow Hills Golf Course sweeps up and down the landscape, as designer Les Furber made good use of the terrain's natural elevation changes. The front starts out friendly enough, but the back cranks up the drama starting with the 10th, a blind downhill drive followed by a carry over a valley to the green. After the round, head to the clubhouse for mussels in Piper's.

Dundarave Golf Course in the eastern region of PEI plays 7,089 yards from the tips. Designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, Dundarave is punctuated by the winding Brudenell River, ponds, elevated tees and interesting red-sand bunkers. Next door, Brudenell River Golf Course by Robbie Robinson is a shorter, pretty track with ponds, gardens and lakes. Brudenell River and Dundarave are part of the Rodd Brudenell River Resort.

The Links at Crowbush Cove , overlooking the north shore sand dunes, is arguably the cherry on the PEI golf cake. The McBroom design has elevations, carries, water, blind drives, fickle winds and serious bunkers. It also has intimidating holes like the par-5 11th, where heavy hitters try to nail drives so they can carry water and a bunker to reach the green in four, while others lay-up on their second shot. The par-3 eighth is another beauty requiring a carry over water, marshes and a huge sand bunker.

Off-course activities on Prince Edward Island

Charlottetown, considered the birthplace of Canada and named after Queen Charlotte, consort of King George III, has just 35,000 residents, but you'll find a lively assortment of things to do, most easily accessible on foot.

Peake's Wharf Historic Waterfront (1864) consists of more than 20 shops today. Enjoy a treat from Cow's Ice Cream; take in a concert during the Summer Concert Series; relax on a scenic boat cruise; go fishing for mackerel or pull a lobster trap or mussel sock with a company like Tranquility Cove Adventures, where they will filet and cook the fish you catch right on board. Talk about fresh.

If there are any bikers in your group, suggest they take the Confederation Trail that follows an abandoned rail line from one end of the island to the other.

For an adrenaline rush, visit the harness races at the Red Shores Racetrack & Casino and take a ride in the starting car. You're turned around on your knees in the seat looking backwards over the shoulder of the guy in the back who is working the car's accelerator; the guy next to you is steering. The wing grids of the car are extended on either side, holding back the horses snorting and frothing rearing to race full out as they thunder behind. Suddenly the race is on and the sulky jockeys urge their horses forward as the car pulls ahead of the group and moves aside.

Dining on Prince Edward Island

If you love oysters, mussels, lobster and other seafood along with locally grown potatoes, you will have a hard time not overindulging in PEI. There are fish markets everywhere, and restaurants like the British pub-style Churchill Arms (serving perfectly battered fish and chips), Fishbones, Dalway by the Sea and MacKinnon's Lobster Pound are good choices while PEI's blue mussels can be found in just about every restaurant on the island -- even as freebies after your golf round.

Get your carnivore fix at Sims Corner Steakhouse & Oyster Bar, known for hearty steaks like their 20-ounce Rib Eye and Cigar Tenderloin Cedar Aged steak.

Looking for a power cup of Joe or cappuccino? Charlottetown has several quaint coffee houses like Kettle Black, where they roast their own coffee beans.

Prince Edward Island lodging

The new Holman Grand Hotel in the heart of Charlottetown has a trendy bar and restaurant along with modern, stylish rooms featuring amenities like 42-inch flat screen LCD TVs, spa-inspired baths and super comfortable beds. The hotel is adjacent to Confederation Court Mall, where you can practice your putting and chipping at All About Golf, an indoor championship facility, and get a massage at the Aveda Spa, which offers vibrating waterbeds, perfect for relieving golf-weary muscles.

The romantic Great George, a 54-room boutique hotel in the center of Charlottetown, consists of the original 160-year-old hotel plus a series of semi-detached, townhouses-style and cottage residences.

There are also many traditional island-style inns and cottages featuring gables, porches and peaked roofs like Dalway by the Sea, The Gables and Stanhope Beach Resort, plus golf-oriented places like the Rodd Hotels & Resorts with its three courses.

Traveling to Prince Edward Island

Fly into Charlottetown Airport, take the Northumberland Ferries or drive over the nine-mile Confederation Bridge between Cape Jourimain, New Brunswick and Borden-Carleton, PEI (toll).

Perhaps one of PEI's biggest assets is its people. Certainly you've got to love the guy who swapped stories and laughs with his golfing pals at the PEI Brewing Co. Taproom over a bowl of chili and pint of Beach Chair Lager. From the bartenders to the retailers to the old fellow sitting on a bench along Prince Street, these folks in PEI are just so darn friendly.

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.
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Prince Edward Island, Canada celebrates fresh air, value golf, mussels and darn friendly people
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