IN THE PUBLIC EYE: Bell Bay Golf Club in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, Canada.
THE LAYOUT: Thomas McBroom, one of Canada's most noted designers, crafted 18 exceptional holes 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.
GENERAL MANAGER: Michael Gillan.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: 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 Highland 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
THE LAST RESORT: World Golf Village, which features the King and Bear Course, and the Slammer and Squire Course, in St. Augustine, Fla.
THE LAYOUT: At the top of the list for any golf vacation to Florida has to be the World Golf Village and Hall of Fame, located in St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States.
Not only can golf fans browse through artifacts the greats of the game utilized in their diverse roads to glory, they also can play the two world-class courses on the property, named after four of those all-timers.
The King and Bear Course, about three miles from the Hall of Fame, but still on land owned by the World Golf Village, is the only collaboration in golf course design by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, opening in 2000.
Palmer and Nicklaus played a match that was televised for Shell's Wonderful World of Golf to mark the opening of the course, which also hosted the Champions Tour for the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf in 2001 and 2002.
The Slammer and Squire, named for Sam Snead and Gene Sazarzen, was designed by Bobby Weed, although he received input from those great champions, who were still alive when the course opened in 1998.
The original course on the property, located a short walk from the Hall of Fame and the hotels on the property, the Slammer and Squire hosted the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf in 1999, and also has been the venue for PGA Tour Qualifying School and Champions Tour Qualifying School.
DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Jeff Hartman.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: The King and Bear is the more challenging of the two courses, playing to 7,279 yards and a par of 72 from the back tees, with a course rating of 75.2 and a slope of 122.
It is what the British would call a parkland course, with wide fairways (for which Nicklaus designs are known) on the front nine lined by loblolly trees. The more winding fairways on the back side are framed by 200-year-old live oaks.
The 17 lakes that dot the King and Bear are lined by coquina rocks.
"Arnold and I have varying styles on how we do golf courses," Nicklaus said. "(The King and Bear) reflects both of our styles."
The course opens with two strong par-4s, measuring 426 and 435 yards respectively, but there are five sets of tees and plenty of room in the driving areas.
Stay well clear of the water and sand all down the right side at No. 1, where the green is guarded by a large bunker complex. The water on the tee box at No. 2 should not come into play, and the shot to a green protected by three bunkers on the left is slightly uphill.
The best par-5 on the course probably is No. 7, at dogleg that swings left and measures 573 yards, with a large lake on the left to deal with on the layup and the shot to the green.
The front nine finishes with two more challenging par 4s, No. 3 and 1 in difficulty on that side, at 462 and 448 yards from the back, respectively. The eighth has water on both sides of the fairway and the ninth features a large lake all the way to the green.
Palmer included No. 12, a 412-yard par 4, as one of his "Dream 18" in a Sports Illustrated article in 2006. Considered the signature hole on the King and Bear, it winds around a lake to the left to a green sitting on a small peninsula.
No. 14 is a 200-yard par 3 with water and sand on the right, although there is bail-out room on the left, and it leads to a strong finish.
Following three more exceptional par 4s at 360, 467 and 427 yards, the King and Bear finishes with a 563-yard par 5 devoid of water, although there are wetlands to swallow any shot that goes left of the bunker that runs the length of the hole on the left side.
The par-72 Slammer and Squire Course, more of a user-friendly resort course even though both are eminently playable for golfers of all abilities, measures 6,939 from the tips, with a rating of 73.8 and a slope of 135.
The course plays through native wetlands, hardwood hammock trees and old-growth pine trees.
After a relatively straightforward start, the golfer reaches the No. 1-handicap hole on the course, with No. 4 a par 5 that measures 522 yards from the back tees. Water and sand run down the right side off the tee before the hole doglegs dramatically to the left to a green protected by water on three sides.
The seventh is a 178-yard par 3 on which the water on the left must be carried from the back tees, with bunkers guarding both sides of an elevated green that requires an extra club.
The front nine concludes with a 401-yard par 4 that plays back toward the Trophy Tower that sits atop the Hall of Fame, and although there is no water on the hole, there are eight bunkers to deal with from tee to green.
The best hole on the back nine probably is the par-4, 442-yard 12th, which has a water hazard that cannot be seen from the fairway about 120 yards from the green. Collection areas on three sides of the green make it difficult to get up and down for par if you miss the putting surface.
The finish is challenging, starting with the 576-yard, par-5 16th, the longest hole on the course with sand and water to deal with all the way to the green.
The Slammer and Squire finishes with par 4s measuring 459 and 425 yards, respectively, both bending to the left. The penultimate hole has water on both sides as you approach the green, and the final green has a spectacular view of the Hall of Fame across the water.
The fun isn't over when your round ends at the World Golf Village, because there are hands-on exhibits in the Hall of Fame, which features "Shanks for the Memories," an exhibition dedicated to comedian Bob Hope's career and love of golf.
In addition to the largest PGA Tour merchandise shop in the world, on the property is Caddyshack Restaurant, owned by the Murray brothers, which is a tribute to Bill Murray's role of assistant course superintendent Carl Spackler in the movie "Caddyshack."
If you don't have time for a round of golf, you can still play the 18-hole natural grass putting course, take a shot to an island green on the 132-yard Challenge Hole reminiscent of No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass or watch a movie in the IMAX Theatre.
As Gary Player, World Golf Hall of Fame Global Ambassador, says in TV commercials for the Hall: "For the love of golf, go."
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: The World Golf Village and Hall of Fame are only about a 20-minute drive from TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, home of the PGA, Champions and Nationwide tours. On the property are Pete Dye's Valley Course and the Stadium Course, with its infamous island 17th green, site of the Players Championship every May.
Also in the area are Royal St. Augustine Golf and Country Club, St. Augustine Shores Golf Club, the Golf Club at South Hampton in St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra Golf and Country Club at Sawgrass, St. John's Golf and Country Club in St. Augustine, the Ocean Course designed by Jack Nicklaus at Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, Queens Harbour Yacht and Country Club in Jacksonville, Magnolia Point Golf and Country Club in Green Cove Springs, and Eagle Harbor Golf Club in Orange Park.
About an hour's drive south on Interstate 95 in Daytona Beach is LPGA International, home of the LPGA Tour, with the Legends Course, designed by Arthur Hills, and the Champions Course, designed by Rees Jones.
WHERE TO STAY: Stay on the grounds of the World Golf Village at the Renaissance Resort, the Comfort Suites, Laterra Resort and Spa or the Grande Villas, which all offer golf packages for the Slammer and the Squire, and the King and the Bear.
Historic St. Augustine is the oldest European settlement in the United States, first visited by Ponce de Leon in 1513, and there are numerous hotels and B&Bs in and around the city. Among the best are the Bayfront Marin House, the Casablanca Inn on the Bay, Casa Monica Hotel, the Bayfront Westcott House, St. George Inn, Our House Bed and Breakfast, Alexander Homestead Bed and Breakfast, the Pirate Haus Inn and the Carriage Way B&B.
In Ponte Vedra Beach are the Sawgrass Marriott Resort and Beach Club, Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, the Lodge and Club at Ponte Vedra Beach, the Hilton Garden Inn and the Fig Tree Inn B&B.
Golf resorts in the area include the Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast and Amelia Island Plantation.
ON THE WEB: www.golfwgv.com