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Nova Scotia: Whales, soaring mountains and full-service gas and golf

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

It's only 350 miles long and Canada's second smallest province, but Nova Scotia has great golf courses such as Glen Arbour and Highlands Links.

Nova Scotia Coast
Nova Scotia is 350 miles long, with beautiful coastal scenery.
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Nova Scotia CoastGlen Arbour Golf CourseHighlands Links Golf Course
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HALIFAX, Nova Scotia - Nova Scotia is full of natural wonders, like huge inland seas ringed by soaring mountains, whales breaching in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and men who will get up, come outside and fill up your gas tank for you, free of charge.

Nova Scotia is Canada's second smallest province, a throwback to earlier times in some ways, at least to an American who hasn't had someone pump his gas since the Eisenhower administration. But it's also got Halifax, one of the most progressive cities anywhere, with an increasingly sophisticated tourist infrastructure.

You can simply drive around the province and enjoy yourself, through the small towns of the interior or past the numerous bays and estuaries near the coast; you're never more than 40 miles from the ocean from any point on Nova Scotia.

The 350-mile long mainland is essentially surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, which makes for cold winters, warm summers and a lot of people who fish.

Or, you can golf. Nova Scotia has some excellent golf courses, almost always complemented by spectacular scenery.

Must-play golf courses in Nova Scotia

Glen Arbour, as you Scottish speakers know, means "a valley of trees," and that is an apt moniker. This excellent golf course has tree-lined perimeters and a valley through which the golf course is routed.

There are natural elevation changes and a lot of water in the form of three lakes, each of which is usually in view from virtually anywhere on the course. The rather grandiose clubhouse overlooks one of them, Sandy Lake.

The course has lush bentgrass tees, fairways and greens, making those of us in southern climates, where the luxurious bentgrass suffers in the heat, envious.

Glen Arbour is a scenic, playable course that's convenient to city dwellers or tourists visiting Halifax. It won't overwhelm you with its length, being 6,800 yards from the back tees.

One of the few complaints you will hear about the course is its relatively high green fees, which range from $105-$130.

Highlands Links: The drive to Ingonish alone is worth the time and effort to reach this stunningly beautiful course on the rugged coast of northern Cape Breton. This is golf in the wild. The views are breathtaking, over ocean waters - where whales can be seen in the Gulf of St. Lawrence - and up to the ringing mountains and over inlets, lakes, ponds and clear, rocky streams holding trout and Atlantic salmon.

Bald eagles feed here regularly, as do fox, and you will most likely encounter a moose or two munching on the high grass around the greens. It's like being inside an Audubon painting.

The course itself is as visually stunning as its surroundings. Noted Canadian architect Stanley Thompson used the natural terrain beautifully, and the layout climbs up and down the coast, and up and around the hilly interior, with mountains rising around you. The first six holes play along the ocean before turning inward.

One gorgeous hole follows another. With the elevation changes, you'll be facing a number of blind shots, both off the tee and into the greens. There is some rough, but usually only fairways and woods; it can be a penal course if your driver is distracted.

Green fees are in the $38-$58 range.

Bell Bay Golf Club is a lovely golf course just outside a lovely village in one of the loveliest parts of the world, Cape Breton.

It goes without saying, with an intro like that, that this is one scenic course.

So scenic, in fact, that many people choose to get married in an area near the 18th tee box, which has a spectacular view over the Bras d'Or Lake, surrounded by high hills and low mountains.

The course itself fits in well with its spectacular surroundings. It has good elevation changes, but not overwhelming, and the fairways have good movement, with some tilted at fairly sharp angles.

Bell Bay also has some interesting green complexes, some banked and mounded. The greens themselves, though, can be very tricky.

Green fees are in the $65-$80 range.

Nova Scotia golf's solid seconds

Fox Harb'r Resort: The main golf course is a mix of links and parkland, on the shores of the Northumberland Strait.

Granite Springs is 25 minutes from downtown Halifax, overlooking Shad Bay, narrow and scenic with granite outcroppings and a variety of wildlife, not to mention its cedar log clubhouse.

Dundee Resort and Golf Club is another course with spectacular views, on Cape Breton. It's located on the side of South Mountain, with views of the Bras d'or Lakes from most holes.

Osprey Ridge was designed by Graham Cooke. Golf Digest nominated it for best new course in Canada in 1999.

Getting to Nova Scotia

"The Cat" (www.catferry.com) is a sleek, high-speed catamaran ferry that's more like a cruise ship. If you want to get to the picturesque Nova Scotia golf courses from the U.S. mainland, it's a great alternative to the long drive.

The seats are wide and plush, with plenty of leg-room, and quite a few of the seating arrangements have tables, perfect for meals or playing cards.

The Discovery Channel called it one of the world's top-10 super ships. The Cat has movie screens, restaurants and even a casino - slot machines only. It holds cars, motorcycles, bicycles, RVs - or you can just walk aboard.

The huge windows make sightseeing easy on the six-hour crossing between Portland, Maine and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

The ferry is used by a lot of American tourists on the way to the Celtic and Acadian cultures of the Canadian Maritime provinces.

The ship travels up to 40 knots, and rates range from $64 to $99 for passengers, with the shorter Bar Harbor to Yarmouth route being cheaper. Vehicle rates are $115 to $164 for cars, with varying rates for trucks and smaller vehicles. There is a port and security fee of $10 each way.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


 
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