Saturday, June 21, 2008

ARTICLE: "A good walk - with a grand view"

A good walk - with a grand view
Canada’s ‘best new golf course’ a stone’s throw from a fiord, caves and a national park

HUMBER VALLEY, N.L. It appears on the surface to be an almost ludicrous statement. Nevertheless, here it is: to do nothing but play Canada’s best new golf course repeatedly during a week’s vacation would be a huge mistake.

The River Course at the Humber Valley Resort is most deserving of winning Score Golf Magazine’s best new course in Canada award last year. It’s a spectacular design by Doug Carrick, who seems to top himself with every new course. It’s a fun and challenging course with spectacular views, including at least one tee shot that will take your breath away.

You can chase after foxes, as they trot onto the green and nonchalantly steal your ball, then have to wait to tee off the next hole as a moose slowly saunters across your fairway. Why, then, wouldn’t you play this course every day? Simply, it’s because this part of Newfoundland, an area not as well known by visitors from the rest of Canada as St. John’s and the east coast of The Rock, has so much else to offer.

In about an hour from Humber Valley, you can be in Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and take a boat ride down the length of Western Brook Pond, Canada’s only fiord, looking straight up at cliffs that tower thousands of feet over your head And only half an hour or so from the resort in the opposite direction, you can try your hand at salmon fishing, kayaking, rappelling, river rafting, hiking and caving.

During a trip to the resort last year with a group of golf writers, I was moved almost to tears by the majesty of Gros Morne and Western Brook Pond. I also surprised myself when two teenage guides for My Newfoundland Adventures helped me overcome a tendency toward claustrophobia and through a caving experience that was way beyond anything I expected
or thought I could accomplish.

But first the golf course. Built on the side of a mountain, the course flows down to the shore of the Humber River and Deer Lake and then back up again . The clubhouse, for example, sits 400 feet above the 18th hole. And from the tee on the par-4 10th hole just outside the pro shop door, your ball will fall 180 feet before it hits the fairway. The 10th will easily become one of the most photographed holes in Canada.

“To me, one of the big things here is that it’s so tranquil,” says Jamie Digby, who moved out from Ontario to become Humber Valley’s head pro and has fallen in love with not only the course but the lifestyle. “You don’t see too many people when you’re out there. You feel like you’re alone on the golf course. And the views are so panoramic.”

The course can be played from four sets of tees — 5,484, 6,441, 6,858 and 7,199 — and it doesn’t really eat you up. Carrick is known for designing courses that are forgiving off the tee and Humber Valley is no exception. The fairways are wide but the changes in elevation — and this course is all about elevation changes — can trick your eye and your judgment of distance. That
makes the shots into the green tricky.

Humber Valley is not your typical golf resort, either. Guests stay in large chalets each located on a one acre, heavily forested lot. That provides a real sense of privacy. The resort has an Aveda spa and restaurants and can provide guests with a myriad of activities on and off the property. “Fundamentally, we’re trying to make sure that we’re not just seen as good golf,” says Mike Clewer, managing director of Humber Valley resort. “We have some class-one salmon rivers here that are a major attraction, and touring and sightseeing are the others, with the main one being Gros Morne.”

The drive up to Gros Morne from the resort is about an hour, taking you up and over tree-covered hills and along the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In May and June you may even see icebergs floating by.

To get to Western Brook Pond from the highway, you have to hike three kilometres along a trail through bogs that have peat three metres deep. It’s not uncommon to see moose and caribou grazing along the path. Interpretive boards along the way explain how the Canadian fiord was
created by glacial activity over millions of years and how 11,000 years ago, when the last glacier retreated, the land that you’re crossing actually rose from the ocean bottom, cutting the pond off from the sea. The boat trip, which is heaven for photographers, runs the 16.5 kilometres down the length of the lake with huge cliffs rising almost straight up from both sides. There are also several spectacular waterfalls dropping over the cliffs, including Pissing Mare Falls, which has one of the highest single drops in Canada.

Most of our group chose to take the trip to Gros Morne but there were only a couple of us who picked caving as one of our optional activities. Caving, I thought. I mean, how hard can it be?

I’ve been in big caves in the U.S. before. You pay your fee, go down a flight of stairs onto a platform, look into the well-lit cave and then walk back up the stairs into the gift shop. We got an idea this would be different when our two young guides, Mike Wakeman and Jamie Harnum,
outfitted us with rappelling gear and then drove us into the woods.

This cave, it turns out, was caused by an underground river — which still runs through the caves — eating through the marble and limestone. We entered through something called “the back door” and hiked in. Not surprisingly, it got dark fairly quickly, but that wasn’t a major problem because we hadlights on our helmets. Other than having to bend over a lot, it wasn’t a bad hike — even for someone like myself, who is overweight, has bad knees and is claustrophobic.

When we got to the cavern we had to rappel down. “You have to trust me,” said the young guide. “You have lean back, step out on to the wall and just walk down.” After a brief picnic in the darkness of the grotto, we started to hike back out. That’s where things took an unexpected twist. “Do you want to go back out through the back door, the way we came, or go out the side door?” asked the guide. He chose the latter when we left the call up to him. The side-door exit involved climbing over, under and around a lot of rocks into some spaces that were a lot tighter than I ever thought I could fit into.
After a couple of minor miscues, including one where I was briefly given the lead and headed the
whole group crawling down a dead-end tunnel, we finally popped up through a hole into the light. “You’re never going to forget going into the caves or going to the mouth of a 1.2 billion-year-old fiord. “It’s all part of the intrinsic value of being here,” says Martin Hanzalek, who operates My Newfoundland Adventures. ( caving)

That and the best new golf course in Canada makes a trip to western Newfoundland pretty
Garry McKay - The Hamilton Spectator View PDF
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