Review: Fox Harb’r Resort (Championship)

Course Name: Fox Harb’r Resort (Championship)

Designer: Graham Cooke (2001)

Location: Fox Harbour, Nova Scotia, Canada

History: In 1987, co-founder of Tim Horton’s Ron Joyce purchased 1,100 acres of waterfront property with the intention of building a gated golf community. Eventually, they built an upscale resort on the property with a two golf courses (Championship and Par 3) designed by Graham Cooke in 2001. The Championship course won “Best New Course in Canada” immediately from Golf Digest. Tiger Woods shot the course record of 63 in 2009. Accolades for Fox Harb’r include:

  • #67 Best Course in Canada – Top100golfcourse.com (2019)
  • #4 Best Course in Nova Scotia – Top100golfcourse.com (2019)

Conditions: 9/10, I’ve heard that Fox Harb’r is the best conditioned course in Canada, and while I haven’t played enough north of the border to weigh in, it was indeed the best of the big ones in Nova Scotia. Without much play, Fox Harb’r features extremely firm, fast greens and lush fairways and rough. Excellent conditioning is one of Fox Harb’r’s greatest strengths.

Value: 3/10, The resort is extremely upscale and the price is likewise expensive. Resort guests receive discounts but the general public will be expected to pay around $255 CAD for a round at Fox Harb’r in peak season (June-October). Even with the US Dollar’s strength, this is still far too expensive for what you get.

Scorecard:

Tee                                         Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

The Challenge                     72           7253               75.4               141

Championship                   72           6777               72.9               136

Regular                                 72           6375               71.2               132

Forward Championship   72            5885               69.3               128

Forward                               72            5260               70.2               123

Hole Descriptions: Located on an isolated peninsula on Nova Scotia’s Northumberland Strait, Fox Harb’r occupies a tremendous piece of property overlooking Prince Edward Island in the distance. Since its opening in 2001, the course has been somewhat controversial and I too found it to be a mixed bag.

First, let’s start with the positives. As mentioned above, the conditioning at Fox Harb’r is excellent. For a public course with such a short season, this is truly commendable. Second, the course is visually spectacular. For much of the back 9, the Northumberland Strait and Prince Edward Island are in view and provide a truly gorgeous setting. Lastly, I want to commend Fox Harb’r for its difficulty. We didn’t even play from the 7253 yard Challenge Tees, but had all we could handle on a chilly day. With thick rough, extremely quick (and generally difficult) greens, and plenty of well-placed bunkers, you really need to be on your A game to shoot your handicap.

My main criticisms of Fox Harb’r largely revolve around the course design and layout. Visitors expecting beautiful water views need to wait a while as the front 9 plays inland through extremely wooded terrain. I quite liked many of the holes on this part of the course, but these will not appeal to everyone. The water is first visible from the 10th teebox, but isn’t prominently featured until the 14th hole. I enjoyed the stretch playing alongside the water from 14-17, but wish the 18th hole continued along the water instead of awkwardly jutting inward. Speaking of the 18th hole and back 9, I have absolutely no idea what the designers were thinking when they designed the par 3 course on prime property right where a perfect 18th should’ve finished. There’s actually room to probably fit at least three regulation holes on this tract and it’s a real shame to see it wasted on a par 3 course that appeared largely empty and run-down. My second gripe is the fact that the course feels very manufactured. The bunkers and greens seem to follow a cookie-cutter formula and even the water holes fail to feel fully one with their environment with an artificial rock wall and relative lack of fescue.

The opening hole plays away from the clubhouse inland as a 410 yard straightaway par 4. A large pond lines the left for the first 200 yards while a group of five shallow bunkers guard the right around 250 yards. Thick mounds of rough line this undulating fairway as well and leave some awkward lies. Like most greens at Fox Harb’r, this green is slightly elevated and surrounded by a false front and bunkers short and long. This is not the hardest hole on the course but a par here is well-earned.

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The par 4 1st

At 540 yards, the 2nd hole is a lengthy dogleg left par 5 playing further into the woods. This hole features a tough drive with forest left and water down the right for the first 200 yards. The dogleg occurs around 275 yards with several large bunkers on the right. The lay-up here is much simpler with a generous fairway and little danger unless you stray far left. This green is large, relatively flat and guarded by another false front and three bunkers.

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The tight teeshot on 2
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A flat, uninspired bunker in the middle of the 2nd fairway

The 3rd hole is the number 1 handicap as the longest par 4 on the course at 435 yards. While this hole plays straightaway, the teeshot is again rather difficult playing partially blind uphill with thick forest encroaching on both sides. This approach is a bit more interesting, as the fairway becomes more undulating with a pair of bunkers down the left about 80 yards short of the green. This green is again slightly elevated and features both right-to-left and back-to-front slopes.

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The par 4 3rd
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The approach at 3

The 4th hole is both the first and shortest par 3 at 160 yards. Playing uphill, this hole features a large back-to-front sloped green protected by bunkers short, long, and left. This is a nice hole, but certainly the least memorable of the one-shotters.

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The par 3 4th

Architecturally speaking, the 380 yard par 4 5th is my favorite at Fox Harb’r. A subtle dogleg right, this gorgeous hole features a risk/reward teeshot to a tight fairway lined by water down the right for the first 230 yards and a bunker at 225 yards. I’m almost never a fan of trees in the fairway, but the pair of short trees down the left around 180 yards are actually somewhat tasteful. They’re easy to carry, but subconsciously force you to take a riskier path down the right. This approach plays slightly uphill to a long, narrow green that slopes quickly back-to-front with two tiers and a giant bunker short right.

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The exhilarating par 4 5th
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The approach at 5

At 395 yards, the 6th hole is a nice but somewhat forgettable par 4. With a straightaway fairway lined by fescue right and thick mounds of bunkers left, accuracy is needed off the tee. This green is once again large and elevated with a large bunker short right.

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The par 4 6th

The par threes at Fox Harb’r are a difficult group in general, but none more so than the 185 yard 7th. I haven’t played Victoria National yet, but this hole has the look and feel of the Indiana course with an L-shaped green jutting into a pond left. Two bunkers line just right of the green and leave a terrifying bunker shot with the green sloping hard back-to-front and towards the pond. A back left pin is nearly impossible to attack, but the pin we encountered on the slope between two tiers was almost equally as difficult.

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The brutal par 3 7th

Some people view the 8th hole as the best par 4 at Fox Harb’r, but I’m not sure how I feel about it. At just 355 yards, this short dogleg left epitomizes target golf with a small slab of fairway lined by water down the left and four bunkers down the right between 190 and 230 yards. At about 250 yards, this slab of fairway ends with water and golfers will need to choose to either lay-up short of this or take an aggressive line to reach the second fairway. A lay-up leaves an awkward angle over water to a two-tiered, back-to-front sloped green lined by expansive bunkering right.

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The confusing teeshot at 8
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The gorgeous approach at 8

At 535 yards, the par 5 9th hole features another awkward teeshot with an immediate dogleg right. Due to trees that encroach on the right, a fade is required unless you choose to lay-up off the tee. Once on the fairway, this hole plays straightaway uphill towards the clubhouse with prominent bunkers down the left at 210 and 260 yards and bunkers down the right on the lay-up. This large green runs extremely hard back-to-front with two tiers and a severe run-off short left.

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The par 5 9th
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The approach at 9

With the Northumberland Strait glistening in the distance, the par 4 10th is an excellent hole and the start of a very different back 9. At 435 yards, this lengthy dogleg right features a memorable downhill teeshot providing several options. A trio of bunkers on the inside corner of the dogleg around 250 yards can be carried but there’s plenty of room left for those who opt for a safer option. This approach plays to another elevated, back-to-front sloped green lined by three deep bunkers right and mounds of rough left. A par is well-earned on this lovely design.

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The gorgeous par 4 10th

The 11th hole is both the longest and most difficult par 5 at a prodigious 545 yards. The only three-shotter to play straightaway, it’s impossible to shave off distance on this hole that becomes extremely difficult to reach with the prevailing wind in your face. This hole features some of the most compelling land movement on the course with numerous humps and plateaus on the fairway that yield very few level lies. There are only five bunkers on this hole, but all of them are perfectly placed to punish the golfer, with a giant wasteland covering most of the right landing area, another bunker 170 yards short of the green down the right, and three surrounding this green just short. This giant green is arguably the most difficult on the course with three separate tiers running hard back-to-front. Although a par 5, don’t expect to gain a stroke here.

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The large bunker on the right all but necessitates a lay-up
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The best view of the water so far comes on the 11th approach

I feel like the architect went a bit outside his comfort zone on the par 3 12th, but the hole is better for it. On an otherwise extremely well-bunkered course, this 190 yard one-shotter is the only hole without a bunker playing uphill to a narrow, back-to-front sloped green. Mounds of rough guard the left, and a collection area of tight lies guards right, leaving a very tricky up-and-down.

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The uphill par 3 12th

After teasing you with glancing views of the water on 10-12, it immediately feels like a letdown when you turn back inland for the par 4 13th. Don’t be fooled, however, as this is an excellent hole and one of the best on the course. At 405 yards, this downhill Cape dogleg right features an exhilarating teeshot with bunkers down the left and OB right for those who try to cut the corner. This approach plays slightly back uphill to a back right-to-front left sloped green guarded by a bunker left and water short right.

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The excellent par 4 13th
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The approach at 13

The 14th hole is somewhat of a signature hole for Fox Harb’r as a 385 yard dogleg right par 4. With a triumphant return of the water views, this hole plays slightly downhill with water left and a large bunker down the right between 180 and 220 yards. While the backdrop is gorgeous, I’m not a huge fan of this teeshot, which is a bit confusing and doesn’t give much of a visual. The house in the background is Ron Joyce’s, the co-founder of Tim Hortons and Fox Harb’r. This approach is fairly tricky to a shallow, heavily left-to-right sloped green lined by bunkers left, water right, and a steep cliff long.

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Mr. Joyce had a decent view I’d say
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My friend plays his second shot from the marina left

After a somewhat roundabout path, you reach the final par 3 in the 192 yard 15th. The one-shotters are the best group on the course and I particularly like this one. Playing uphill with a tremendous water backdrop, this difficult hole requires a hybrid/long iron carry over water to a shallow, back-to-front slope green guarded by bunkers short and long.

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The gorgeous par 3 15th

Architecturally, there’s not much to the 345 yard par 4 16th, but for many this will be the most memorable hole at Fox Harb’r. With its teebox jutting out onto a rocky peninsula, this straightaway hole features a mild forced carry over water and the Northumberland Strait down the entire left side. While there’s some rough down the right, big misses will find another fairway so there’s absolutely no reason to take an aggressive line down the left. This hole would be stronger as a dogleg or if there was more danger down the right. A giant bunker complex guards the final 80 yards down the left while an additional bunker guards just long of a large green with multiple plateaus and a swale in the center.

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This is why you came to Fox Harb’r
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Onlooking seals with Prince Edward Island in the distance

While the teebox on 16 is spectacular, the 17th is a much better hole. At 415 yards, this strong par 4 also features a rugged terrain and water down the left, but plays as a slight dogleg left with bunkers constricting the fairway on either side for much of the landing area. After playing pretty poorly the entire day, I was pleased to hit this back-to-front sloped green in regulation only to get up there and not find my ball. I quickly discovered the culprit was a fox that loves to steal balls. While he eventually dropped it, I left it alone – no ProV1 is worth rabies.

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The par 4 17th evokes images of Pebble Beach

As mentioned above, I simply have no explanation why the architect decided to move inland with the 18th hole while the rest of the coastline occupies the par 3 course. The closing hole is an interesting one as a 480 yard, risk/reward par 5 but I’d much prefer another hole along the water instead. The golfer has multiple options on this teebox with a sharp dogleg left at 270 yards lined by bunkers right and water left. With an extremely tight fairway afterward, I’m not sure the reward is worth the risk, but a lay-up off the tee all but necessitates a lay-up on the second shot. This approach plays uphill to one final elevated green lined by an extremely deep, MacRaynor-inspired bunker short left. This green is one of the more interesting on the course, shaped like an hourglass and once again multi-tiered running back-to-front.

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The interesting par 5 18th
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The approach at 18, complete with Swiper the fox

General Comments: While we didn’t stay at the Resort, it’s clear there is much more to do than just golf at Fox Harb’r. With a private runway and docks, I imagine many guests don’t drive to this isolated location. Additional activities at Fox Harb’r include hunting, fishing, a spa, and a winery. The clubhouse is cozy and upscale and the practice facilities are unsurprisingly world-class with a huge grass range and large practice area.

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Fox Harb’r’s expansive range

On an odd note, I was rather perturbed by Fox Harb’r’s scorecard, which is just a printout piece of paper. The pencil also didn’t say the Resort’s name on it. For a resort of its caliber, this absolutely shocked me and is borderline inexcusable at the price they charge.

Verdict: Superb conditioning, world-class amenities, and a beautiful setting make the isolated Fox Harb’r a perfect getaway for couples and families alike. Golf architecture junkies, however, might be underwhelmed with the layout and should focus on Cape Breton nearby.


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