ST. ANDREWS-BY-THE-SEA, New Brunswick -- It's a Kodak moment the entire way, starting from the turn off Highway 1 and stretching to the tidal waters of Passamaquoddy Bay.
Past century-old heritage buildings, unique country craft stores, the Kingsbrae Garden, to the short drive across the ocean floor (ensure you try it only at low tide!) to Ministers Island, one of Canada's oldest and best preserved 18th-Century towns.New Brunswick's St. Andrews by-the-Sea oozes tradition from every nook and cranny.
"There's just so much history and lore in this old place," says Charlie Scott, a resident of Bangor, Maine, and frequent visitor to St. Andrews for some 35 years. "You know F.D.R. [former U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt] had a summer home just over there on Campobello Island and he loved it here. Of course, one of the reasons my dad came to St. Andrews in the first place was for golf. I played my first round here as a kid on the old golf course. The place has sure changed the past couple of years but I like what they've done. To me, it looks a lot different but it still feels the same."
The mere thought of blowing up a century-old golf course imprinted with the signature of the legendary American architect, Donald Ross, and transforming it into a modern facility for today's golfing times normally would be enough to force the game's traditionalists to the streets in protest.
Not here at St. Andrews by-the-Sea. Today widely known as the Algonquin Golf Course, Thomas McBroom's stunning makeover of this former Ross "mail-in" design has breathed new life into an 18-hole facility which, while quaint and charming, had simply lost its playability edge to Father Time and was devaluing its incredible seaside location.
"When I first looked at the property and knowing Donald Ross was responsible for what was laid down, there was some apprehension," says McBroom, one of Canada's finest course designers, "but the more time we spent there, the more I realized what was possible. Our goal was simple: To make the course function better while still maintaining the traditional integrity and enhancing the spectacular vistas of the location."
Mission accomplished. Now a vibrant 6,986 yards from the championship tees, the Algonquin arguably has become the top golf course in New Brunswick and one of the finest in the Atlantic Provinces.
Backdropped by the historic Fairmont Algonquin Hotel, the McBroom course offers two distinctive flavors: a tree-lined, tougher outgoing nine and a seaside, more serene inward side offering spectacular views to Passamaquoddy Bay and the rugged Bay of Fundy shoreline.
"We think we have the best of both worlds here," says Todd Duplessie of the Algonquin Golf Club. "The accomplished player loves the front nine for its challenge and requirement of proper course management while our resort guests are totally appreciative of the back nine's ambience and scenery. And with the last four holes being a little more straightforward and not as difficult as some of the others, everyone has a chance to either turn around a tough day or make their round even better. Whatever happens we still have an awful lot of players coming in saying the same thing: 'It's tough to concentrate on the back nine with all the postcard scenery.'"
That is especially true on the spectacular 156-yard 12 hole, which pays homage to the seventh at Pebble Beach. Equally beguiling is the short 16th, a 319-yard "risk-reward" with multiple options including going for the green from the tee.
"I think it's the variety which Tom has incorporated into the golf course which makes it so memorable," says Murray Blair, director of golf for Fairmont Hotels in Canada. "The routing is absolutely brilliant and he takes advantage of the seaside location with a view of the water from every hole on the back nine. We couldn't be more pleased with what we have now at the Algonquin and that's shown up in the comments we've received from our customer base. People who play there absolutely love it."
The Algonquin is bentgrass from tee to green and the conditioning is superb. Another notable attribute is the dedication to service, a Fairmont hallmark which does not receive the attention it should given the high standards and memorability of its collection of courses across the country.
An expansive 15-acre practice facility, the Algonquin Golf Academy, features 1.5 acres of teeing area, seven varied target greens and even a fairway practice bunker to work on those trouble shots.
Equally impressive is a tucked away short-game practice facility with a 10,000 square-foot green, two greenside practice bunkers and a separate 7,000 square-foot putting green. Under the direction of Teaching Professional Gary Bernard, individual, group lessons and schools are available for all ages and all skill levels.
"You won't find too many better teaching and practice academies anywhere," says Bernard, one of Canada's finest teaching professionals. "With being kind of separated from the golf course, I find students and people who come here do so without distractions. They come to learn and we have one of the finest staffs and facilities available to help them to do that."
In the midst of this modern facelift, many people, including Charlie Scott and other visitors, appreciate how the golf course has never forgotten its heritage. Inside the brand-new clubhouse on a knoll looking over the town and towards Navy Island is an impressive display of Donald Ross's original hole drawings he sent for renovation of the golf course in the early 1920s.
Adjacent to the new 17th tee, the oldest clubhouse in Canadian golf history remains standing and will eventually be turned into a museum of history about the golf course and the area.
The second clubhouse built in the 1930s near the fourth hole has also been preserved with plans leaning toward some specialized accommodation option for small groups of golfers.
"You don't throw away more than 100 years of history under any circumstances," Blair says. "A big part of our focus from the beginning was to make sure we celebrated this golf course and its long standing tradition for great golf."
At the end of the golfing day there's no shortage of diversions in this picturesque seaside town. Some of the best whale watching in the world is available nearby, either in a 24-foot Hurricane Zodiac boat, a 50-foot catamaran or a tall ship.
Deep-sea fishing, sea-kayaking, day trips to Campobello Island to see the Roosevelt estate, to Irving Nature Reserve or to King's Landing Historical Village are immensely popular as is shopping in the many boutiques and studios found in downtown St. Andrews-by-the-Sea.
Of course, what would a trip to St. Andrews be without either staying or visiting the world-famous Fairmont Algonquin, one of the crown jewels of the Fairmont Hotel chain and one of Canada's most recognizable hotels?
"We pretty much have it all for the golfer and the non-golfer. Whatever your pleasure, we wrap everything up in Maritime hospitality," says Duplessie. "There's nothing quite like it anywhere."
December 29, 2003
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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