WALLACE, NS — I gaze in wonderment as the setting sun silhouettes a small lighthouse standing on the jagged coastline where the mind-blowing Fox Harb’r Resort drifts off into the Northumberland Strait.
It’s a Maritime scene worthy of a frame.
Only “he” could create something like this, I think to myself, but in this case the “he” is Ron Joyce, co-founder of the Tim Hortons coffee empire, who built Fox Harb’r Resort just a few kilometres down the road from his boyhood home in Tatamagouche, a small community on Nova Scotia’s economically challenged north shore.
Canada’s Mr. Coffee is revered in these parts because he’s created badly-needed jobs — Fox Harb’r is the north shore’s largest employer in the summer months — and introduced its stunning raw beauty to the many tourists who come and stay at arguably one of the country’s Top 5 resorts and the best in the Maritimes.
Since opening in 2000, Fox Harb’r has only gotten better with age. And while the resort’s championship golf course was its original drawing card — it, too, continues to get better with maturity — Fox Harb’r now offers a smorgasbord of activities that keeps every guest engaged during a visit.
Left: The resort course is among the best in the world. Right: The Joyce-family jet flies over the course. Resort has its own landing strip.
Want to ride a horse?
Fox Harb’r has lots of friendly steeds in its stable.
Want to paddle out to watch seals catch rays on a rocky island?
Fox Harb’r has a fleet of kayaks — two tandems, six singles and two juniors — waiting for adventurers.
There’s also tennis, archery, hiking and mountain biking along well-groomed “Fox Trot” trails that meander throughout the wooded 1,100-acre property.
Fox Harb’r is also a learning experience for me:
• Under the expert guidance of Peter Phillips, the resort’s Director of Sport Shooting, Hunting, Fishing and Water Sports, I watch guests learn how to shoot clays at a range designed by world clay shooting champion George Digweed.
• The resort’s horticulturalist Michael Stewart, a mountain of a man with an emoji happy face, takes me on a tour of the Fox Harb’r greenhouses, where he passionately educates me about the resort’s commitment to growing organic products, which are then offered in its fashionable main dining room, Cape Cliff, and its casual pub-style restaurant, The Willard. This is farm-to-table goodness at its very best.
• Experts teach me how to flyfish in one of the resort’s two deep ponds that are well stocked with trout. I don’t get a nibble, much to the amusement of the massive bald eagle sitting in a tree nearby watching my clumsy attempt.
• Executive Chef Shane Robilliard educates me on how Fox Harb’r became Atlantic Canada’s first sustainable seafood restaurant and proudly points to Cape Cliff’s recent certification as an Ocean Wise restaurant — it’s a Vancouver Aquarium conservation program that educates and empowers consumers about sustainable seafood. That’s especially important to the people of Wallace, a lobster port which has a long history with the sea.
• In the resort’s state-of-the-art spa, well-trained therapists explain how their advanced treatments can help my golf game.
Left: Rooms at the resort are all 5-star beautiful. Right: The resort's state-of-the-art spa is manned by world-class therapists.
Oh, golf! I’ve been so distracted by the other activities offered at Fox Harb’r I almost forgot my prime reason for coming here — to play golf.
“Enjoy the round but don’t wander onto the runway,” the pro shop attendant advises.
When he built Fox Harb’r, Joyce added a 4,885-foot-long runway — complete with a massive hanger — capable of accommodating the family Challenger jet and other private planes that bring well-heeled guests to the resort and to the residences built around the stunning championship course.
When you stand on the first tee of the Fox Harb’r course, you stand in the footsteps of legends — Tiger Woods is among the many sports notables who have played here and he still holds the course record of 63.
“I’ve never been to this part of Canada before and it’s beautiful,” Woods reportedly said when he teed off here in 2009.
After opening in 2000, it didn’t take long for the Fox Harb’r course to turn heads —the well-respected Golf Digest magazine named it Canada’s best new course in 2001. After playing it, I’d nominate it as Canada’s best resort course, period.
The Graham Cooke-designed beauty is a combination of parkland and Scottish links golf — the front nine is routed through a sheltered forest, wetlands and around deep lakes and each of them qualify as a “signature hole” in my opinion.
But wait, it gets even better.
The back nine is among the most stunning combination of holes I’ve ever played — the setting equal to my favourite golf course in the United States, the Pete Dye-designed Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in South Carolina.
Most of the back nine traverses the breathtakingly beautiful Northumberland Strait and Cooke’s 14th (par 4), 15th (par 3) and 16th (par 4) combo may be the best trio since the Three Tenors.
From the elevated 16th tee, with its amazing views, you’re required to launch your ball over a watery gorge to reach a landing strip-sized fairway. It’s pretty intimidating but if you lack the power, move up a few tee blocks and the hole suddenly becomes very playable.
Cooke leaves the best for last — the 18th, with its dogleg left routing, can be rewarding if you land your ball well right on the fairway, which gives you a good look at the pin on this par 5 beauty. Big hitters take aim at an eagle on this hole.
What a finish!
Left: Clay shooting is just one of the many activities at the resort. Right: The resort even has its own vineyard.
The resort plans to add another nine championship holes — most along the water — to give guests some combinations to play during their stay, but the original 18 will be hard to displace. This is one “resort” course that doesn’t require the skill of Tiger Woods to play.
The day doesn’t end with a round of golf at Fox Harb’r — Chef Shane and his kitchen staff have a pot of lobsters — and many other culinary treats — waiting for me at the fashionable main resraurant with the gorgeous sunset view.
I wash the lobsters down with a glass of the area’s surprisingly good wine and for desert I overindulge on the eye candy outside the Cape Cliff dining room.
Canada’s Mr. Coffee’s Fox Harb’r resort is my cup of tea. •