The Trip Of A Lifetime 2016
Heather and I are currently undertaking a 12 week trip covering various areas in the USA, Wales, Scotland, Canada and finally Alaska.
So how did this come about?
It all started with our hosted trip to Canada.
Canada is a big country, and the trip got bigger as we gave clients choices on to the sections of the trip they wanted to undertake- Nova Scotia & Toronto, Vancouver & The Rocky Mountains, The Rocky Mountaineer train, and The Inside Passage cruise to Alaska.
We settled on August 2016 as the dates, and added an adventure cruise to Alaska option as well to finish with a bang!
Then the opportunity came for me to participate in a Tour Operator conference in Pinehurst in late June. I had been there before and knew of the quality of the courses in the area, but felt I needed to return to bed down the logistics with different hotels, transfers, activities and golf outside the Resort itself.
With our son Daniel and family now living near San Francisco, a stopover with them en route was a given…
Over the years I have been fortunate to get to know a lot of keen golfers all around the world, and had always aspired to play the wonderful courses in Philadelphia and Long Island, and after much discussion Heather and I decided that if ever this was going to happen, this was the year.
We now had a schedule in the USA from mid to end of June, and started the Canada trip in early August. It is a long way from New York to Melbourne, and then back to Nova Scotia a few weeks later- so when the Wales Tourism Board invited us to do our research around the links courses of Wales, it had immediate appeal- a flight of only 7 hours!
So that’s how it all came together. Stay tuned for updates on our progress on The Trip of a Lifetime 2016! ( click on highlighted links for more detailed information )
Peter & Heather Wood
The Travelling Golfers
After spending some quality time with son Daniel and family, I headed to Pinehurst for the North American Conference.
We send clients to Pinehurst Resort each year, usually for 3 or 4 days maximum visit, as an add on to The Masters. Clients usually play Pinehurst no 2, maybe twice, and then perhaps Pinehurst no 8. There are 9 courses in the Resort, and of these I prefer 2, 6,7, 8, & 9.
But there are over 40 quality courses in the Sandhills of Nth Carolina, and some of them are very special. No trip to this area should miss Tobacco Road- which is up there with North Berwick and Barnbougle on the fun factor.
My aim was to gather info on accommodation, transfers, non golfing activities, restaurants etc- so we could put together trips to suit different groups & budgets.
Pinehurst Resort is known as the 'home of golf in the USA'.
Pinehurst no 2 is regarded as one of the best courses in the world, and regularly hosts championships including the U.S. Open. As part of our conference we played a tournament on no. 2, the same day as the famous North South Amateur finals were being played. With the greens running at 12-13 on the stimp, we played with the final day U.S. Open pin positions. It was hard enough to hit greens, but it was easy to putt right off them!
It just made me realise just how good the pros are...
Those guys are good!
The Sandhills of Nth Carolina are home to over 40 quality golf courses- most within a few minutes of the Pinehurst Resort. Courses include Pine Needles, Mid Pines, CCNC, Tobacco Road, Dormie Club...
My favourite is Tobacco Road- one of the most fun courses you will play anywhere. It even has one hole that is really easy, according to Mr Greenwood, who aced it...
Dormie Club is another outstanding course, just 10 minutes from Pinehurst. No 'real' golfer should miss the opportunity to play this Coore Crenshaw gem. The course is very rustic, literally carved out of the pineforest in the sandhills of Nth Carolina. The course starts with some wonderful par 4's, and all of the par 3's are outstanding. But the par 5 17th with a quarry to carry uphill to the green is the star of the show.
After leaving Pinehurst, I flew to Philadelphia, where I met up with the love of my life. She had spent more precious time with the grandsons, and it must have been touch and go whether she would actually prise herself away. But she did, and we embarked on a 4 day adventure in beautiful Philadelphia. We were so impressed with the city, the people, the way of life...
The houses around the area we stayed were large and magnificent, and everything was dominated by the beautiful trees..
We lucked out with our timing as it was Independence Day weekend, so we had one whole day in the city doing a refresher on early days USA. We visited gardens, and were fortunate to have some very generous friends who took us to some special golf courses...
First up was Merion, one of the top 10 or so courses in the world, and home to the 2013 U.S. Open
Then we played the Old Course at Stonewall- Tom Doak's first private course
And finally I was blessed to get invited to play Pine Valley, universally regarded as the best course on the planet...
Merion Golf Club in Philadelphia, USA boasts the famous East Course where a number of U.S. Opens and other championships have been played. It is a private club, and has a rich history. Bobby Jones won the U.S. Amateur there in 1930, thus winning the Grand Slam. A plaque commemorates the feat on the 11th hole. Ben Hogan is also part of that history. In 1956 after a long recovery from a near fatal car crash, and with his legs painful and heavily bandaged, he tied the Open, and then won the 18 hole playoff.
The East course rates as one of the top 10 courses in the world and is an unforgettable experience. Heather and I were very fortunate to have friends invite us. It is absolutely unique!
Heather and I came to know Tom Doak when we were part of the team that built Barnbougle Dunes. His design portfolio speaks for itself- Pacific Dunes, Barnbougle Dunes, Cape Kidnappers, Tara Iti, Ballyneal...
Stonewall in Philadelphia is a 36 hole club in a rural setting. The Old Course at Stonewall was Doak's first private club commission, and he did such a good job that the club invited him back 10 years later to build a second course.
Needless to say when the opportunity came up to be invited there, we jumped at the chance..
The Old course is beautifully routed through some dramatic terrain, but with generally quieter greens and bunkering than Doak is known for. However for the second course ( playfully known as the Udder Course in rural speak ) the club asked Doak for wider fairways, and more interesting greens- and they got what they asked for!
We had a lovely day playing the old course and then putting around the second...golf carts and putters only!
Pine Valley Golf Club has been rated as the best course in the world since ratings began. It is a very private members course, and one of the harder courses in the world to get access to. So when we embarked on 'The Trip of a Lifetime' it was a bit of a pipe dream to even contemplate playing there. When the invitation came out of the blue, I was very excited. But it was boys only- Heather was not even allowed inside the gates, and had to pick me up at a local Dennys afterward. In this day and age, that's a little bit sad, I think. Normally we do these things together, so it was disappointing not to be able to share it with her.
The course itself is amazing. It is clearly the best course I have played, and I have played many of the top 100 in the world. The course is set in pine forest and dunes, and nearly every shot requires a pretty decent carry over sand, undergrowth and occasionally water. It is a course for good golfers. You need to hit straight, and consistently carry, carry, carry the ball to the next island of fairway or green.
I had a good day. I played ok, and enjoyed the constant challenges.
Unfortunately I doubled the last for 79.
Still, it was a memorable day...
After Heather picked me up at the local Denny's near Pine Valley, we drove to Long island where our accommodation was the old world Southampton Club in the heart of Southampton. Perfect!
We had been here years ago, but again enjoyed the very distinct air of upper class Long Island in peak season. And again we were fortunate to have some good friends and gracious hosts and played National Golf Links of America, Maidstone, Shinnecock Hills & Sebonack. These are all highly rated, beautifully maintained, very private courses. And this is the land of high end caddies!
Playing Sebonack with architect Tom Doak was a thrill.
Four games in four days, then off to JFK to lose Heather's suitcase...
National Golf Links of America is one of the iconic private clubs on Long Island. It dates from 1909, and was designed with each hole being a replica of a famous links hole in the U.K., or one that uses the same concepts. It has consistently rated as one of the top 15 courses in the world, and is a wonderful golfing experience. Our knowledgable hosts educated us on the background and intricacies of each hole..
And it has the biggest flagpole!
Maidstone Club is a wonderful facility right on the beach at East Hampton. The club includes a thriving beach club and tennis club. So if you are one of the fortunate who live in East Hampton you have it all on your doorstep. Fred was our host for the day, and he organised lunch in the beach club before golf. Very nice!
The golf course rates in the best 60 or 70 in the world, but has a lovely relaxed feel about it. It starts with a number of holes in the wetlands, with water a feature- then moves into some classic links land before emerging again into the wetlands.
We mades some birdies and had a really lovely day
Shinnecock Hill Golf Club on Long Island is generally regarded as one of the best 5 golf courses in the world. It is a real championship course, and famous for hosting the U.S Open.
And when you step on to the first tee, it looks like a championship course!
Heather and I were fortunate to be invited to play with a member and the assistant pro Kyle, who bombed the ball literally out of sight. It was a humbling experience. The greens were slick but they can be so much slicker. The rough was long, but the fairways could be so much narrower. And to look back from the regular tees and see just how far back the championship tees were made me realise- Those guys are GOOD!
As I mentioned previously Heather and I came to know Tom Doak from our Barnbougle days. We make an effort to play all his courses, and hold them in high regard. So it was a pleasure to play Sebonack for the first time with Tom as our host.
Sebonack was designed by Tom Doak in collaboration with Jack Nicklaus, and is located in wonderful rolling sandy terrain adjacent to National Golf Links and Shinnecock Hills. It is a wonderful course in a glorious setting.
Missing baggage, the pink pants & Northern Wales!
We arrived into Manchester airport to find Heather's suitcase had not joined us. Eventually we found that it was with Delta in JFK- quite amazing since we have never flown Delta!
We hired a car and headed to Nigel & Sue's place to hang out for 24 hours. It was great to catch up with them. We first met them in the carpark preparing to play Royal St Georges, and have been friends since. They are great company and we try and get together somewhere in the world each year. This year they were going to join us for a few days in Wales. Yahoo!
At The Travelling Golfer, it's just work, work, work... and on this occasion our job was to research the golf, accommodation, sightseeing, food, wine etc for potential golf trips. We had met with the Wales Tourism people in 2014, and they were keen to get us moving. So we deputised Nigel & Sue as researchers, and off we went playing golf at Conwy, Royal St David's, Nefyn and Aberdovey.
Sightseeing included the walled city and Castle at Conwy, and the quaint Portmerion. Heather had found us a rather remote, but delightful cottage in the countryside, and with Nigel and Sue's help we sampled some of the local pubs and restaurants.
And of course we scoured the country for golf clothes. It took 4 days for the missing suitcase to arrive, but in the meantime we found the pink pants!
Conwy Golf Club is a links course in Northern Wales, not far from the English Border. The course has unique setting- surrounded by mountains, sea, and the delightful village. It's a very pretty spot, and a delight to play.
Combined with a visit to the walled town, and castle at Conwy it makes a pretty good day.
The highlight was Sue's birdie on the par 3 15th..
Royal St David's Golf Club ( also known as Harlech after the town ) is one of the better known courses in Wales, and sits on the coast by the railway line. The dark Harlech castle overlooks the entire landscape. It's a very relaxed place to play golf and has some delightful holes, particularly the more links like holes set in the dunes in the back nine. It's easy to commute from here to Aberdovey Golf Club by train, and both clubs have Dormy houses.
Nefyn & Districts Golf Club is something very special. It has been compared to Old Head at Kinsale in Ireland, but is much nuttier!
This is one of those courses that everyone should play at least once in their lifetimes. The front nine starts with some very dramatic clifftop holes, but the back nine goes out onto a narrow peninsula 200 feet above the sea, and the golf gets a little wacky!
Remember those silly golfing calendars- think Nefyn!
Throw in the general public wandering through the course, and a pub on the beach which is almost a mandatory stopover, and you have a unique and very appealing golfing destination.
And this day will go down in history as the day that the pink pants were unveiled!
Aberdovey Golf Club was made famous by the doyen of golf writers- Bernard Darwin. He waxed lyrical on the charms of the links by the sea at Aberdovey.
Aberdovey is a little like Royal St David's in that the course is between mountains and sea, and contains some flatter land and some genuine linksland. It's a beautiful place to play golf for sure.
Aberdovey is reasonably remote, and off the beaten track, and has a relaxed atmosphere. The railway line that runs alongside the course connects to Royal St David's GC, and both clubs have decent dormy houses.
As we drove south the weather came in, and our drive took longer than expected. We rescheduled our game at Tenby, and headed to our bungalow home for the next few days, not far from Porthcawl. In southern Wales we were looking forward to catch up with the Haw family, golf at Pennard, Tenby, Pyle & Kenfig & the mighty Royal Porthcawl. We checked out the walled city of Tenby, local gardens and The Mumbles!
Pennard Golf Club in South Wales is known as 'the links in the sky'. This amazing course is set in rolling dunes high on a headland. The golf is challenging/ stimulating with no two holes alike, and the views are 'to die for'.
To make a good day better we had arranged to meet up with the Haw family for a fun day on the links. Richard & Laura, Eileen & Doc joined us. Everyone agreed that Pennard should be rated a Travelling Golfer 'must play' course.
When we set out for the walled city of Tenby we allowed an hour or so for lunch before heading to golf. But seriously folks this place is gorgeous, and you could spend quite some time exploring the city.
Then we headed for the old course at Tenby Golf Club for a dose of old world golf. The first 4 holes were claustrophobic. I couldn't find my tees on any of the holes without a 5 minute reconnaissance..
Blind shots, extremely tight, bells & mounds- but it was great fun!
And then when the course opened up there were some fantastic beach vistas, and all with the walled city of Tenby as a backdrop. And top class links holes..
Tenby is a Travelling Golfer 'must play'.
Pyle & Kenfig almost abuts Royal Porthcawl, and is a course with a split personality. Most of the course is essentially a nice parkland course originally set out by Harry Coly, but holes 11-15 on the back nine were a later addition in the sand dunes which add a bit of pizzazz to the course. These 5 holes are very linksy with blind shots, and terrain that is much more interesting...
Royal Porthcawl in the south of Wales is a very special championship links course. It compares favourably with the best of the Open Rota courses, and one day may well host an Open Championship. It is that good!
The club was very welcoming, the course was in magnificent condition, and the wind was howling...
Royal Porthcawl is a Travelling Golfer 'must play'
The Lakes District to Turnberry
And so ended our time in Wales. We had played 8 courses and gave 4 our highest ratings- Travelling Golfer 'must plays'. The scenery was at times spectacular, and we learned where to stay, what to see etc. As we drove north to our accommodation in the Lakes district, we stopped off to see the famous Llangollen Aqueduct, before again heading north.
In the Lakes District we had booked to revisit the wonderful Borrowdale Gates hotel in Grange. We had a memorable stay there some years ago when we walked the Cumbria Way. We arrived late afternoon and made the most of the evening, reacquainting ourselves with the village of Grange. Our meal in the hotel that night was absolutely scrummy, and all with a view of the surrounding countryside with it's soft hues.
In the morning we rose early to make sure we got our monies worth and did a quick 4 mile hike to Rosthwaite and back. It brought back memories of our jaunt with Fiona and Gordon.
Then back in the car for the drive to Turnberry!
We arrived in from The Lakes district mid afternoon, having taken the long route up, detouring to catch a look at Silloth on Solway GC. It looked good too!
Given the late hour and the perfect weather we decided to walk the course at Turnberry to view the changes, and take some photos. Turnberry has always been one of our favourite Open Rota courses, and it is where we followed Tim around in 2009 when he played the Open. So it is a special place to us.
The course has only just reopened after extensive remodelling which essentially brings the spectacular coastline around the lighthouse into play more often. They did a brilliant job! Turnberry is now top 10 world in my opinion.
The next day we came back and played the course in some brisk winds. It did not disappoint! The front nine played essentially downwind, and I was excited to have a rare eagle on the par 5 7th, and lipped out for eagle on the par 5 tenth. But coming back into the wind was not as easy...
The Travelling Golfer has quit a few links trips in the pipeline for the next few years, including a few Open Rota trips. Needless to say Turnberry will feature..
Turnberry is a Travelling Golfer 'must play'
Edinburgh & a quick tour of Scotland!
After Turnberry we headed into Edinburgh where Nigel and Sue had very kindly given us the keys to their little flat. We found a park for the car and then abandoned it for nearly 5 days.
Our plan was to hole up, to catch up with work, and to recuperate from 5 weeks on the road, and get ready for Canada.
Each day I would work from 7am through to mid afternoon, sometimes have a nap, and then H would organise an activity, each of which involved lengthy walks around Edinburgh.
First up was walking through the parks, and up Arthur’s Peak. There were so many people out in the parks, walking, jogging, biking etc- it was great to see- and Arthur’s Seat is quite a climb, but worthwhile when you see the views on top.
Next up we found the ancient Bruntsfield short course right in the heart of the city. It has 36 pitch and putt holes right in the parklands. Jed Milroy was our host, and we shared an ale at the Golfer’s Inn when the drizzle came in…
Then we toured Hollyrood Palace- one of the existing homes for The Queen, and finally we marched down to the docks to visit The Royal Yacht Brittania…
Toward the end of the week, we got back to work, put our research hats on and checked out some hotels and courses. The 5 star Greywalls hotel looks out over Muirfield GC, and impressed us no end.
Then it was down to The Roxburghe Hotel & Golf Course in the border districts, where checked out the ruins of an historic Abbey, and then played 12 holes of golf- enough to be delighted by the course- which is regarded as top 5 inland courses in the UK. The hotel was most luxurious, and with beautiful gardens, and fine dining it is a treat for anyone.
Finally - on our last day in Scotland we drove the 3 hours to Kingsbarns Golf Course and had lunch with Alan & Audrey- the husband and wife team running operations. Kingsbarns is awesome!
We had time for 9 holes, a quick dinner at St Andrews, and then drove to Glasgow airport to prepare for the next chapter- Canada!
Toronto with Jamie & Kath
We had a few days in Toronto with our good friends Jamie & Kath spoiling us rotten, showing us the sights, and playing the mysterious Goodwood Golf Club...
The Travelling Golfer hosted tour of Canada- Stage 1
And now the main show gets on the road!
The Travelling Golfer hosted tour of Canada- stage 1- starts in Nova Scotia. There are not many places in this world further away from home in Melbourne, I have to say!
We have got the good weather organised ( ?? ), and the crew have arrived into Halifax airport from all over the globe- Toronto (us), Boston, Cancun, Melbourne, Montreal...
We are off to explore a beautiful part of the world and play some special golf courses along the way- Highland Links, Cabot Links & Cabot Cliffs..
We had a relaxed start on day one , as some had arrived late into the night. The Travelling Golfer bus hit the road, and we headed out of Halifax north toward Cape Breton Island. Along the way we stopped off at the Alexander Graham Bell museum where we learned that Bell not only invented the telephone, but also made huge advancements in teaching the deaf, the early airplanes, hydrofoils, and tetrahedron kites...
Then it was on to our destination for the night at Keltic Lodge, located right on the famous Highland Links golf course.
Day two was also pretty relaxed with the girls challenging the boys in pairs matchplay.
Of course the girls won, so everyone was happy!
Highland Links is a Stanley Thompson course set right inside the scenic Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It is a beautiful place to be, and an amazing setting for a golf course which has always been rated in the top courses in Canada
On day 3 we boarded the Travelling Golfer bus for the road north through the Cape Breton Highlands, and the Cabot Trail. Along the way we stopped off at a fishing village, a walking trail, and the Rusty Anchor for lobster lunch.
Our destination was the Cabot Links Resort at Inverness. Our villas were very acceptable- right on the golf course with sea views!
On day 4 we played the now famous Cabot Links course. The course was hard and fast- the ball was rolling, and with a gentle zephyr affecting the ball in flight scores were not all that impressive. But again the girls came to the fore!
After golf we headed out to the Glenora Whisky distillery where we heard all about how they make the magic elixir, and then sampled their wares. Dinner at the distillery was lovely..
What a brilliant day!
Today we played the amazing Cabot Cliffs Golf Course which goes straight into my top ten favourite courses on the planet.
Very spectacular, but because it is so well designed each of us with different handicaps were able to cope with the various hazards, carries etc that we confronted.
The ocean holes were dramatic, but the inland holes were also excellent.
Annette & Dave made 3 & 4 pointers all the way around and submitted a 4BBB score of 49 points!!
The whole crew were excited about their day.
Cabot Cliffs is a Travelling Golfer 'must play'.
Day 6 we boarded the TTG bus to Halifax airport, and flew to Toronto where we set up home for 4 nights...
Days 7-9: Toronto
Our itinerary in Toronto is jam packed. Day 7 we played golf at the wonderfully named 'Devils Paintbrush' GC.
Then we battled the traffic to get back to the city and straight into the Blue Jays baseball game at Rogers Centre. It was a spectacular night and I think the Blue Jays now have a number of Aussie fans...
Day 8 saw the group split with most opting for a day trip to Niagara Falls, going out on the maid of the mist, behind the falls, on top of the falls, below the falls...
Apparently Hank was the fall guy!
Three hardy golfers braved the heat and humidity to play St Georges Golf & Country Club which has until recently been regarded as the no 1 course in Canada.
Day 9 at Toronto Golf Club was a delight. Toronto is regarded as one of the top 5 courses in Canada, and is a private club. Our contact was a former Captain of the club, and they put on a show for us. The Aussie flag was flying on their flagpole, we had drinks on the lawn, a 3 course lunch- 18 holes of golf, and more drinks.
It was another wonderful, exhausting day. Dinner at the Keg was the ideal finish. And so ended Stage One of our hosted tour of Canada.
When we rose early on Saturday morning to head to the airport, rain was threatening- but it did not worry us as we headed west to Vancouver arriving mid afternoon- giving us down time to shop, experience Stanley Park, or just wind down. Our little troupe of Travelling Golfers swelled this day as Gibsons & Hazeltines had made the short flight from Melbourne to Vancouver to join us for Stage 2. It covers Vancouver, Whistler & The Rocky Mountains.
Stage 2, Day 2 started with a visit to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. The bridge itself, and the cliff walk were brilliant!
Then it was back in the bus for the short drive to the very private Capilano G & CC, which rates in the best 6 or 7 courses in the country. We had arranged a match with members so our 7 couples played a variation on 4BBB matcchplay against 7 host couples. We did the polite thing and let our hosts win- but demanded a rematch! They put on a lovely lunch, and then we joined them for dinner as well. Capilano is a gorgeous course, our hosts were very accommodating, the weather was perfect- what's not too like?
After dinner we boarded the Travelling Golfer bus, and made a late night drive to our accommodation in Whistler.
On day 3 we had a sleep in before heading up the mountains on the Peak to Peak Gondola rides. Then we forgot how old we all are and headed out on the zip lines. Some headed up into the ether on chopper rides..
What a hoot!
Day 4, Whistler
Sunny, no wind, 34 degrees
Chateau Whistler Golf Course
One of the prettiest courses anywhere, but testing.
A black bear make a quick visit to our fairway, and whilst he commanded our attention he was gone in the blink of an eye.
Apparently he moves much quicker than any golf cart can...
Peter Gibson & Hank Den Elzen brought home the bacon with 46 pts..
Leaving Whistler early we boarded The Travelling Golfer bus for a very scenic 4 hr trip to Tobiano Golf Club. Relatively new, Tobiano has been voted the best course in British Columbia, and is carved out of barren hills overlooking a vast lake. The course is absolutely spectacular, and was an instant favourite with the Travelling Golfers. It was boys v girls again today and the boys prevailed this time. The victory dance was one of relief for having finally chalked up a boys win.
Dinner at Tobiano was a treat, and then off in the bus again to our accommodation at Sun Peaks
All agreed it was a special day...
On Day 6 we left our accommodation at Sun Peaks Resort and headed toward Jasper. We stopped for lunch and took the Blue River Bear Cruise. We spotted 3 black bears- swimming, eating berries, and ambling along the shoreline.
Then it was back in the bus to head deep into the Rockies to Jasper. We stopped for a brief photo stop at the Mt Robson park sign. Our destination was the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge- one of the beautiful places to stay in the world...
On day 7 we got active playing Jasper Park golf course- designed by Stanley Thompson- and rated as one of the 10 best courses in Canada. It is not overly long, and not really a course that would challenge the professionals- but it is cleverly designed using surrounding mountains as a focus, and just a lovely place to play in a majestic setting. Holes 14-16 are set on a peninsula by the lake and are the highlight...
We headed out to Maligne Lake and boarded the lake cruise which is rated one of the best in the world. The destination was Spirit Island- a most picturesque part of the lake where we all took the mandatory pics.
In doing so we launched into an impromptu Travelling Golfer promo: "We take you places!"
Then we boarded the bus for Maligne Canyon where the more active viewed the torrent below from 4 bridges.
We got back to Jasper Park mid afternoon and the group split to undertake some of the different activities available in the resort. Some played evening golf, some rode bikes, or went for a swim, some walked, some went horse riding- all had a great day!
Sadly we departed Jasper as our Travelling Golfer bus headed down the Icefields Parkway- one of the most famous roads in the world. Our first stop was the Athabasca Falls- where the raging torrent has carved it's way through the rock...
Then a very special activity as we boarded the unique glacier buses and drove up on to Athabasca Glacier. A very cool experience!
Our next stop was Lake Louise where we agreed the Chateau Lake Louise was an ugly building, but the lake and glacier were anything but...
We took lots of photos.
Our last stop for the day was the picturesque Moraine Lake- then off to Banff!
Banff Springs GC
After a morning off we headed to the famous Banff Springs GC for the final showdown in the golf tournament. The Pulls McNulty trophy has been been played all over the world over nearly 3 decades, so who was going to stand up in the final round?
We had been conditioned to fine sunny weather over a number of weeks with temperatures ranging from mid 20’s to 30’s- but this day the weather gods played a different card- the actual temperature while we were playing was 9 degrees but with drizzling rain, and a significant wind chill factor it felt like 3 degrees…
The course is surrounded by mountains , and by the end of the day they were painted in white with snowfall.
The golf course has ever been rated one of the top 8 in Canada, and is a good test of golf, and very pretty. The club claims that the par 3 fourth hole named ‘Devil’s Cauldron is one of the top 18 holes in the world! It is certainly an impressive hole.
But it is not the only great hole with holes 8, 9, 10, 12 & 15 super holes along the Bow River.
Another highlight was seeing the elk grazing around the course.
In the end of the day Hank Den Elzen stood up in the wintry conditions to record an emphatic win for the day and for the tournament. Daylight was second. Well done Hank!!!
After golf we dined in the clubhouse and celebrated a special birthday with a special lady
Up early we headed to Johnson Canyon, and headed along the catwalk in the canyon to the lower falls. Then we checked out the iconic Banff Springs hotel, and Lake Minnewanka ( which we all had our own way of pronouncing. The Canadian pronunciation sounded a little like Willy Wonka, but our way of saying it was a little different…
Then the big finish to the trip, as we made our way to Kananaskis for the white water rafting. More than a few of our crew were a little jumpy about the prospect, but to their credit they all donned the fashionable wetsuits, booties etc and strapped in for a very wet and adventurous couple of hours on the river. There was lots of splashing, laughter, and some rated it as a highlight of the trip.
All agreed it was just great fun
And that was that. The golfing trip across Canada was behind us.
At dinner the highlights of the trip were discussed, and it was interesting to note that the choices ranged from golf courses, sightseeing activities, and the camaraderie of the group.
It was certainly a memorable trip!
We boarded the cruise late on Saturday afternoon August 27, and set sail immediately from Sitka. We had a hearty meal and went through safety precautions, and plans for the day ahead.
Our cabin was tiny, and it took quite some time to work out where to store 11 weeks worth of luggage including 2 large suitcases, and golf bags. Answer: under the bed!
On Sunday we engaged in our first uncruise activities. In the morning we joined a guided kayak tour in Deep Bay encountering harbour seals and bald Headed Eagles. In the afternoon we went bush-whacking. Constantly shouting ‘hey bear’ the group mades a lot of noise as made our way through the beautiful Alaskan undergrowth for a couple of hours. Thankfully we saw plenty of bear scat, but no bears…
After dinner we were all out on the deck watching the most amazing sunset when a pod of humpback whales made their appearance, then a rarely seen school of jellyfish.
On Monday morning the weather was perfect, the water was like a millpond- so we signed up for an open paddle in the kayaks…Soon after we started out in Hoonah Bay, the pod of humpback whales appeared and we spent the rest of the morning following them in out kayak. It was an amazing experience to be feel so exposed in a little kayak way out in the bay, and to see such powerful creatures breaching so close by…
After lunch we undertook a shore walk with a guide. As soon as we landed we headed from the beach upstream in a babbling creek and as it was shallow we were able to walk in the stream in our gumboots. The exciting thing was the salmon were running upstream at the same time, so we had many encounters with them as we went. On our way back downstream we spotted a large black bear 120 metres downstream on the creek. Fortunately our little troupe of 7 shouted ‘Hey Bear’ ferociously enough to have the bear decide to toddle off and give us a miss. Nevertheless we took no chances and headed off the other direction and took a long route around him.
What an exciting day!
On Tuesday morning we woke up in Freshwater Bay having moved during the early part of the night. Vern & Christine, Heather and I had our names down for bushwacking, and on the way to our destination on Chechigof Island we stopped off to see a waterfall close by where a mother brown bear and two cubs were feeding at the base of a waterfall. The bears were so busy feeding off the salmon that they were quite tolerant of us in our boats just 100 metres away.
Then we set course for our island where we immediately headed inland, following established game trails through the apparently virgin forest. The forest was so untouched it was a magnificent setting to journey through. We sampled huckleberries, and blueberries- all the while making conversation at full volume to the bears: Hey Bear!!!
Perhaps the highlight of the walk/hike was finding the muskeg- a patch of the forest that appears to have evolved, and gradually increases it’s size over time. Not unlike Alaskan Tundra in appearance the Muskeg has earthy tones, and spongey mosses that are feet deep. The plant life there- trees, shrubs etc are stunted like Bonsai. And there are dark pools of water up to 6 feet deep- not the place to wander around in the dark…
In the afternoon our cruise ship put on the afterburners as we headed toward Icy Strait and Glacial Bay. Before dinner I visited the bridge and was chatting to the Captain when he thought he spotted an Orca dorsal fin. When He went down for dinner I stayed in the bridge and spotted the Orca again. The ship followed the Orca, which turned out to be a lone male, and then two females and calves appeared and we tagged along behind them. It was magical…
At midnight we were woken by the announcement from the bridge that The Northern Lights were visible in the night sky.
After travelling all night we woke early and donned our warmest clothes. Around 6.30 am our vessel reached the northern tip of Glacier Bay, and positioned us for peak viewing of Marjorie Glacier. We took lots of photos and got some nice video of the glacier calving. Awesome!
During the day the ship cruised south through Glacier Bay, stopping along the way to view brown bears, mountain goats, sea lions, otters, and puffin birds- and take in the amazing views. We had really lucked out with such a perfect day. Late in the afternoon we docked at Gustavus and engaged in a bush walk for a few hours. That night we had a good view of Aurora Borealis.
Thursday morning we woke to find our floating home dropping anchor off George Island. Again the sunny was shining, and it was a beautiful day in South East Alaska. Our first activity was a visit to George Island where we donned the walking boots, and navigated the game trails up and down to find the old cannon and other remnants of war. We climbed out on the rocks and savoured the amazing views of the snow capped Fairweather Mountains. In the afternoon we went bushwalking on Chichagof Island, following a stream inland. And finally we spotted a Sitka black tailed deer.
But we still had some day left- with the sun shining, no wind, and kayaks available we squeezed in 45 minutes paddling before dinner…
And after dinner the four of us sat in the hot tub on the back deck taking in another beautiful sunset.
Friday was our last day of activities for the cruise, and we chose a yak’n’whack ( kayak & bushwhack ) which took up most of our day. There were no major sightings today, but after a few hours in the Kayak, and more pushing through the bush, we were tired little vegemites.
The final activity was The Polar Plunge where a succession of passengers and crew jumped off the boat into the depths of the Alaskan waters- which needless to say are rather chilly. It was an entertaining spectator event.
And that was the end of our Uncruise adventure.
Saturday morning 3 September we docked at Juneau, where we spent our last day in Alaska. After checking out the local town, and shopping in the morning we signed up for dog sledding. The helicopter trip to the glaciers was mega dramatic with the most amazing glacial scenery we have seen. The dog camp was located high on a glacier. They housed hundreds of huskies, and we flew in, got to know the dogs then jumped on the sleds and scooted around the tracks on the glacier. It was a surreal experience, and a fitting finale to our Trip of a Lifetime.
Then came the long haul back home: Juneau-Sitka- Seattle- Los Angeles- Melbourne.
So our 'trip of a lifetime' was done and dusted. Seventeen flights, 28 different beds, 35 games of golf- and a lifetime of amazing experiences. We were away nearly 12 weeks, at times cooped up in a cabin the size of a large cupboard. Surely this would test any relationship?
No, we loved every minute of it…