Waterproof jacket and trousers? Check. Wellies? Check. Watertight bag for shoes and camera? Check. And, finally, lifejacket? Check.
Not the normal equipment you need when setting off for a round of golf. But this is no ordinary golf trip and neither are the modes of transport or transfer. I clamber aboard an inflatable Zodiac boat to join nine fellow golfers, all similarly togged up, from the gangway of a cruise ship anchored off the north shore dunes of Canada’s Prince Edward Island. A fresh breeze is whipping up waves that occasionally send spray over the bows, and us, when we set off towards land — where we wade ashore once the Zodiac is beached. Hence the protective kit.
It’s day five on the eight-day Fiddles & Sticks East Coast Canada golf cruise, the inaugural dedicated golf cruise by One Ocean Expeditions. The British Columbia-based company is better known for its polar expedition cruises and our floating base is a Russian icebreaker built as a polar research vessel, the Akademik Ioffe.
The cruise takes us from Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island to Prince Edward Island and Quebec’s Magdalen Islands and includes rounds of four of Canada’s most spectacular and top-rated golf courses. Today we have come to play PEI’s leading course, The Links at Crowbush Cove (green fees from £44).
Leaving our waterproofs, bags and lifejackets on tarpaulins, we swap wellies for golf shoes before waiting buggies ferry us six at a time from the beach directly to the clubhouse, no more than a drive and a couple of iron shots away. Our golf clubs have already been brought ashore, also on the Zodiacs, and they are ready for us on the fleet of assembled golf buggies, each set matched to our pairings.
The clouds clear as we tee off on the Tom McBroom-designed course, the centrepiece of the Rodd Crowbush Resort. It’s a delightful mix of inland holes playing through fir, pine and beech trees and holes set among the coastal dunes. A tough course with some long carries over water hazards, it revitalises you after inevitable double and triple bogeys with stirring views of the coast and Atlantic Ocean — notably from the beach-side 7th and 15th greens, on the lofty back tee of the par-5 11th and on the final three holes, with the crescent-shaped beach, white horse-flecked Atlantic and, for us, the gleaming white cruise ship forming the backdrop.
Having set sail from historic port town Louisbourg, where a visit to the Fortress of Louisbourg and musket firing precedes boarding, the ship spends the first two nights anchored off Cape Breton town Inverness, almost within touching distance
of glorious sister courses Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs. They are both modern masterpieces that wow from the first tee and are part of the Cabot Links Golf Resort (green fees from £53) masterminded by Bandon Dunes’ owner Mike Keiser, which stretches for a mile along the coast.
Designed by the Canadian Rod Whitman and opened in 2011, the par-70 Cabot Links is heralded as Canada’s only true links course — albeit one that has two holes adjacent to the Inverness Harbour Inlet and several that play over and around marshes — and gives views of the sea from every hole. Six holes play alongside the beach and the par-4 4th hole ends by the Inverness Miners Museum, underlining the town’s mining heritage.
Cabot Cliffs, a par-72 by dream team Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, is ranked as Canada’s top course by Golf Digest and at number nine in its list of the world’s greatest courses (Cabot Links is only just behind, at fifth and 43rd respectively). It is laid out over the cliffs that rise up from the sea just beyond its sibling, offering dramatic vistas and culminating in a breathtaking stretch of holes hugging the cliff edge.
Both courses are walking only and have caddies available. For those not in a floating hotel like us, the resort offers accommodation in a 72-room lodge and 19 villas.
Our final golfing foray is on another top-rated course, Cape Breton’s Highland Links (green fees from £50), which has on-site accommodation in the venerable Keltic Lodge spa resort. Transferring to a jetty at Ingonish, there’s time to pose by a statue of its celebrated designer, Stanley Thompson, before teeing off. The course was created in 1941 and is set within the pristine beauty of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, its undulating fairways framed by majestic mature trees.
There’s an opportunity to play golf when we visit the isolated Magdalen Islands, but the prospect of a dawn Zodiac ride to play the nine-hole course doesn’t appeal. Instead, I join a group kayaking around soaring red cliffs, while others try stand-up paddleboarding, cycling or take wildlife-spotting boat trips. A beach picnic with traditional maritime fiddle music is followed by a guided bus tour of the islands.
On another non-golf day, we visit the tiny, remote Sable Island — known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic for its 350-plus wrecks — to hike across grasslands and towering dunes and see its resident wild horses and seals.
The beauty of a golf cruise is waking up each morning by a different course, and having your clubs taken to and from them for you. Arriving by Zodiac seems odd at first, but it’s part of the adventure and is fun — even if you do get a bit wet. The convivial atmosphere of dining together at breakfast and dinner, with entertainment including music, a quiz and an oyster shucking contest during the alfresco barbecue, plus a distillery tour and whisky tastings over dinner, helps you bond with fellow passengers in a way you don’t on a normal golf trip. Non-golfers have their own activities, so they don’t feel left out.
For 2019, One Ocean Expeditions is using a bigger and more luxurious icebreaker cruise ship, the Resolute, to repeat its Canada golf cruise in July and add an Ireland and Scotland cruise from Dublin to Edinburgh before that in June, stopping off at courses including Ballyliffin, Machrihanish, Royal Dornoch, Castle Stuart and Royal Aberdeen.
I can just picture arriving by rubber dinghy to play them.