Stanhope Golf – Relaxed. Fun. Deceptively beautiful.
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If you only had time to play the front 9 of the Stanhope you would understand important and critical things about the Stanhope golf experience, but you would miss something subtle and beautiful.
Everything about Stanhope is done without pretense and designed to accommodate the golfer and make his or her golfing experience relaxing and enjoyable. Of my ten rounds played on PEI, there was no experience like it and no golf course that created such a relaxed environment – on and off the course. It was fun. At the heart of golf the experience should be one of enjoyment. The staff were friendly, accommodating and very polite. They were able to accommodate our group arriving early. The pro shop was nicely stocked and the sandwiches were the freshest I had eaten at any course in quite some time.
The course opened in 1970 and utilizes its location adjacent to Covehead Bay magnificently. The opening nine holes are generous off the tee, utilizing strong dog legs on many instances and play to greens which are moderate to small in size with small mounding and shallow sand traps protecting them in places. There are a few ponds which guard par 3’s and the course conditioning was very good. At 6600 yards from the tips it allows players to use all the clubs in their bag. The routing, along with the prevailing winds near the Bay are defenses which serve this course well. But in relation to other courses on the Island, Stanhope provides scoring opportunity; the opening nine particularly. The prevalence of such strong dog leg holes was a feature which I found odd, but did not detract from play or the overall golf experience.
It is the back nine where this course blossoms. Both beautiful, with the water of the bay playing a prominent role on many holes, and challenging with design increasingly difficult in its par 4’s, the back nine transforms Stanhope into both breathtaking and brutish, demanding strong play to score well. But regardless of the state of your game, you will find – as my playing partners can attest – that the 6 hole stretch from 11 to 16 may be six of the most beautiful and challenging golf holes on the Island. The par 3, 13th will demand focus, playing with water all around. Distance ranges from 110 to over 170 yards. Add prevailing wind and the more benign front nine will seem like a distant memory for players standing on the tee box. I loved the long par 4 15th, tree-lined off the tee and with an approach shot framed by the bay in the background. The optics of the hole makes it seem like any approach long will end up in the water.
Stanley Thompson protégé Robbie Robinson was the architect of this course and was successful in creating a course with incredible subtlety; relaxed, expansive in places – but not ‘easy’, stout and demanding in others. But throughout, the course maintains the feel of its surroundings. Natural, beautiful and like the community in which it is located, very special. There are few courses I have played across the country which align its natural beauty with relaxed and warm hospitality to create a golf experience you will wish you can get from more courses around the country. Together, the 18 holes of Stanhope create a fun and relaxed golf experience set in a natural setting which will make you look back and smile, and want to experience again. Peak green fees are under $60 but the value – as is consistent throughout the Island – is in membership; under $1000. Very walkable, and a nice complement to the more stout provincially owned courses, Stanhope is golf worth experiencing.
Aura – 6 out of 10 – I would contend that there is a strong regional bias and if you’re ‘from away’ than this rating might be lower. If you lived or vacationed in the area this rating would be much higher. In 2016 this course will not make many Top 100 lists, but this course does not try to be more than what it is. It plays to its strengths exceptionally well and is an understated and truly enjoyable golfing experience.
Value (cost / experience) – 9 out of 10. A membership of approximately $1000. A peak fee of about $60. You walk the back nine and let me know your thoughts of this value rating. I’m guessing people would contact me to say it’s too low. And they may be right.
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 7.5 out of 10. The conditioning was very good. Greens rolled consistently though not fast. The course was well framed from each tee box and the trouble around the greens was never too penal. Fair and fun are two words that come to mind. And while I stated my feelings around the numerous strong dog legs on the front, these did not detract from my views of the condition of the course.
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 8.5 out if 10. It would be a relatively easy course to walk and getting in 36 a day would be a treat. Having played three of the Island’s toughest courses the previous couple days this was a welcome, relaxing break and provided an infusion of fun. Do not correlate that to the course being a push over. That back nine is demanding, and breathtaking. It is a course I’d enjoy playing over and over.
Highlight (what is great about the course) – The scenery is stunning and the drive to the course presents Covehead Bay in all its splendor. The expansiveness of the front 9 and the water in the background created a welcoming and relaxed feel to start my round; a feeling no other course on PEI was able to provide before teeing it up. But that back nine, wow.
Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – I would make sure this course was on everyone’s top 100 must play list in Canada, especially in terms of public courses. It complements the world class championship courses on the Island and along with the hospitality, presented a complete and enjoyable golfing experience that all players seek. I can’t wait to get back.