Thomas McBroom, one of Canada’s most noted designers, crafted 18 exceptional holes at Bell Bay Golf Club on Cape Breton Island with sweeping views of the Bras d’or Lake–North America’s majestic inland sea.
Also in view across Bell Bay is Beinn Bhreagh (Gaelic for Beautiful Mountain), the estate of Alexander Graham Bell, where the inventor of the telephone spent the latter part of his life and died in 1922.
The Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site houses the largest collection of Bell artifacts and archives in the world.
Bell Bay Golf Club, which plays to 7,037 yards from the back tees, has a course rating of 74.3 and a slope of 136. However, Bell Bay is eminently playable for all golfers, with a rating of 69.9 and a slope of 125 from the white tees.
The season at opens in May and runs through October, weather permitting, at Bell Bay, which was voted best new course in Canada in 1998 and hosted the 2005 Canadian Amateur Championship in addition to the 2006 Canadian Club Champions Championship.
Bell Bay Golf Club received international recognition in 2001, when the Wayne Gretzky and Friends Invitational was held there and televised on the Golf Channel.
NHL stars Gretzky, Brett Hull and Joe Sakic played a match against Mike Weir, the left-hander who won the 2003 Masters and is considered the best Canadian golfer of all-time.
Every hole at Bell Bay is named for a ship that sailed the Seven Seas from Baddeck, which was settled by Scottish shipbuilders. The course starts with three strong par 4s, measuring 407, 415 and 433 yards from the back tees.
The best of the opening threesome is No. 3, a 433-yard hole named for Scrapper, a legendary craft built at Bell’s laboratories at Beinn Bhreagh. The hole gets its difficulty from the second shot, which is uphill from between 135 to 175 yards into the prevailing wind.
No. 6 is the most challenging of the par 3s at 227 yards from the tips to a green guarded by seven bunkers. The hole is named for Typhoon, a 45-foot ketch that crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a then-record 15 days in 1920. The voyage was made even more remarkable because it was accomplished entirely under sail after the engine failed two hours into the trip.
When you make the turn at Bell Bay, the best is yet to come, especially what the locals call “The Final Four.” But before the golfer gets there, he must navigate No. 13, a 508-yard par 5 named for the brig Challenger, which was built in Baddeck in 1848 and lost at sea the following year on a journey from Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Boston. Like the ship, many golf balls find a watery grave in the lake that runs nearly the last half of the hole and guards the left side of the green.
The last four holes are considered one of the best windups in Canadian golf.
No. 15 is Perseverance, a daunting 463-yard par-4 with one of the smaller greens on the course. The hole was named for a brigantine built in 1845 that was later re-rigged as a schooner.
The 16th hole is Argyle, named for a brig built in Baddeck that was given the name of a town in Scotland. This is the shortest par 4 on the course, at 365 yards, but perhaps most scenic, routed through a densely wooded corridor of trees that is especially impressive when the fall colors are in their glory.
But the best at Bell Bay is saved for the absolute last. No. 17 is the signature hole, while No. 18 has the signature view.
On the 182-yard, par-3 17th, called Banshee, the tee boxes are perched on a hillside and the shot must carry a spectacularly wooded ravine. Banshee was a female spirit in Gaelic folklore whose wailing warned the clan of danger. The cry is similar to that heard from golfers as their tee shots disappear into the ravine.
The 18th hole is named for Bradalbane, a 101-foot barque that is believed to be the largest and best vessel built at Baddeck. It was instrumental in Rev. Norman MacLeod’s expedition to New Zealand in 1857. There is a spectacular panoramic view overlooking the Bras d’or from the tee box on the 566-yard par-5 hole, and the prevailing wind from behind the golfer allows him to let out the sails with the driver.
OTHERS COURSES IN THE AREA: For the perfect golf doubleheader, play Bell Bay and Highland Links in Ingonish Beach, a classic Stanley Thompson layout on the edge of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Highland Links was selected as the No. 1 course in Canada in 2000 by Score Golf magazine and has been rated one of the top 100 courses in the world several times by Golf magazine.
Also worth the trip are Dundee Resort and Golf Course in West Bay, Le Portage Golf Club on the banks of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the Cabot Trail in Cheticamp, Passchendaele Golf Club in Reserve Mines, Lingan Golf and Country Club (established in 1895) in Sydney, and Seaview Golf and Country Club in North Sydney.
WHERE TO STAY: The Inverary Resort in Baddeck, known for its Celtic charm and lakeside boardwalk, offers stay-and-play packages for Bell Bay Golf Club, as do Glenghorm Beach Resort in Ingonish and Ceilidh Country Lodge in Baddeck.
First-class lodging also can be found at Dundee Resort in West Bay, Castle Moffett in Baddeck, the Maritime Inn in Port Hawkesbury, Chanterelle Country Inn in Baddeck and Haddon Hall Resort Inn in Chester — Nova Scotia’s version of the French Riviera near Halifax, where many of the Titanic victims are buried.
ON THE WEB: www.bellbaygolfclub.com.
–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre