Humber Valley Resort Hole by Hole
I’ve waited many years to play the Humber Valley Resort, widely regarded as the finest in Newfoundland and Labrador and on a recent visit finally got that opportunity. I can say without reservation that it more than lived up to its reputation. Please join Alison and me in a hole by hole description of what it is like to play this beautiful and challenging course.
History of Humber Valley Resort
In the last post I described why the Humber Valley region of western Newfoundland is one of the pre-eminent tourist destinations in Atlantic Canada. Long known for its legendary Atlantic salmon fishery the Humber Valley is just a natural magnet for outdoor enthusiasts. Not only does it include the Humber River, but also Deer Lake which is surrounded by the high forested hills of the Long Range Mountains giving it an almost alpine look. It’s a simply beautiful part of Newfoundland and Labrador and in the early 2000’s entrepreneur Brian Dobbin recognized the potential for a world class four seasons resort that would attract wealthy Europeans and Americans. The near by Deer Lake airport was a key part of the equation. He managed to convince the government of the day to sell him a prime piece or real estate right where the Humber River flows out of Deer Lake and thus Humber Valley Resort became a reality.
Along with all the existing attractions of the Humber Valley it was reasoned that a world class golf course would be the icing on the cake in guaranteeing that Humber Valley Resort would be financially viable. To that end, Canadian golf architect Doug Carrick was given the job of designing the golf course and that turned out to be a wise decision. Carrick is the man behind no less than twelve of the Top 100 golf courses in Canada as selected by the highly respected SCORE Golf course evaluation system. From the moment it opened Humber Valley Resort was recognized as a great course, earning Best New Course in Canada in 2007 by Score golf and Best New International Course from Golf magazine. Currently it is rated #23 on the Top 100 and #11 in the Top 59 Public Courses which, considering that there are over 2,300 golf courses in Canada, puts Humber Valley Resort in the top 1% of all courses.
It is no secret that as a financial asset Humber Valley Resort has not been profitable, but that in no way detracts from the experience of playing the golf course. With that history, let’s play some golf.
You get to the gated entrance to Humber Valley Resort by crossing the Humber River not far from where it flows out of Deer Lake which you can see in the background of this photo. The fellow below has opted for salmon fishing over golf on what is promising to be a great day for golf. There are elevation changes of over 400 feet on this course and that becomes readily apparent as you make your way up to the Eagle’s Perch which is the aptly named clubhouse. Given these changes, this is not a walking course (thank God!) so everyone gets a cart with their green fees which at $100.00 is an absolute bargain compared to other Top 59 public courses which can be as high as $440.00.
The Humber Valley Resort course has five sets of tee boxes ranging from 7,199 yards from the tips to 5,484 from the traditional women’s tees which Alison will be playing. I will play from the 6,049 yard green tees. The greens and tee boxes utilize creeping bent grass which is known for its resistance to browning. The fairways are dwarf Kentucky blue grass and the rough the ever dreaded fescue.
Humber Valley Resort #1 – 501 Yard Par Five
This is a really good and fair starting hole that gives a preview of what Humber Valley Resort is all about – a lot of holes that play downhill which I will never complain about. Initially I was thinking that what goes down, must come up and that for every downhill hole there would be a corresponding uphill one. Not so. Mr. Carrick has eschewed a walking course so that he could use the mobility of carts to create an abundance of holes like this first one. For me, downhill holes with undulating fairways and slight doglegs give a natural flow that you just don’t get on holes that play uphill.
This fairway is generous enough that the second shot should look something like this, offering the chance of going for the green in two or playing safe and coming on with an easy pitch on the third shot. From this photo you can see that the fairways are in excellent condition. You can also see that there is a first cut of blue grass and then a narrow band of fescue beyond which is certain death for you ball. You have more chance of seeing a moose than finding a ball that gets beyond the fescue.
The greens at Humber Valley Resort are a treat for the eye with a brighter green than the fairways. They hold very well and my only complaint about them is that they are deliberately kept quite slow by resort standards. A couple of weeks earlier I had played the Algonquin Golf Course in St. Andrews, New Brunswick and the greens there were very fast. You would think that slow greens would be much easier to adapt to than fast ones, and that is the intent I believe, but it took me at least six holes to come to grips with the speed or lack thereof. Now, who would think a golfer would complain about slow greens when it’s usually the other way around? Someone who blew an easy par by three putting from 25 feet.
#2 – 155 Yard Par Three
The first par three at Humber Valley Resort is also not a difficult hole, playing downhill to a capacious green. It is the easiest hole on the front nine and the only real risk is not clubbing down enough to account for the elevation drop which is much more severe than it appears in the photo. If you go over this green you are screwed.
Humber Valley Resort #3 – 388 Yard Par Four
The first par four at Humber Valley Resort is another Doug Carrick hole with simply beautiful flow. It reminded me of finding the perfect fall line on a ski hill. This hole is also a perfect example example of the trouble you will be in if you miss the fairway, especially to the left. The obvious play here is to stay well right and don’t challenge the bunker on the left, however that does bring the green side bunkers into play on the approach shot. Number three is not only a great looking hole, but also requires some thought as to how to play it. That’s a great combination.
#4 – 357 Yard Par Four
You continue the descent down to the shoreline of Deer Lake on this hole which is considerably tougher than the first three. Anything left off the tee is dead and anything right will keep on going right making for a precise second shot over the bunkers to an elevated green. The smart play here is to definitely leave the driver in the bag and play a wood or hybrid. That should leave an approach shot that is relatively straightforward.
That being said I ended up in the left bunker. You can see the spot I pitched out from. Due to Covid you don’t have rakes so obviously conditions are not what they would ordinarily be. The sand in the Humber Valley Resort bunkers is somewhat coarse, more like what you might find in Britain or Ireland than in most North American golf resorts. That being said I found it was very fair and not at all punitive like some very fine sand bunkers can be.
This is what I would call a typical green at Humber Valley Resort. There is not a lot of undulation so reading them for break was not really an issue, but as noted earlier, speed was, at least for me.
#5 Humber Valley Resort – 158 Yard Par Three
At number five you arrive at the shore of Deer Lake and from the men’s tees you must clear the small inlet and the waste bunker all down the front right side of the green. We were lucky as the pin was well over to the left which meant we could aim away from the trouble. If the pin was tucked it would be an entirely different story.
I’ve mentioned several times in previous posts about how beautiful the Humber Valley is in autumn and this view of the hills surrounding Deer Lake must be awesome then.
#6 – 359 Yard Par Four
Having reached the lowest point on the golf course, this is where I fully expected to start a string of uphill holes. Instead there is this dogleg left with traps daring you to try to cut off some distance for the second shot. We were fortunate to be playing Humber Valley Resort on a day with next to no wind, somewhat of a rarity in southwest Newfoundland. The first five holes would normally be downwind and the next four into a prevailing wind, making them the 1st, 3rd, 7th and 5th hardest holes on the course in that order. So after a breezy start downhill and downwind you would get this gut punch for the rest of the front nine.
With no wind we did not get that gut punch, but these holes are no picnic even without wind. With my usual right to left ball flight I had to stay way right to avoid trouble here. That left a long second shot which came up short. Bogey is a good score on this hole.
Humber Valley Resort #7 – 489 Yard Par Five
Even though not long by par five standards No. 7 at Humber Valley Resort is a very challenging hole. As you can see you need to position your drive between the two sets of bunkers. With the fairway slanting right to left that’s not as easy as it might look. The smart play here is probably a three or five wood off the tee in acceptance that you are not going to get there in two, or anywhere near it for that matter.
A well placed drive followed by a decent fairway wood leaves this uphill wedge to an elevated green. This is yet another hole on this course where not trying to do too much will be rewarded.
No. 8 – 337 Yard Par Four
At No. 8 you start to make up for some of the earlier downhill holes with this twisty uphill par four. There is a large hollow between the tee boxes and the fairway requiring some length on the drive so for me, driver was the only option. Fortunately this hole favoured my right to left ball flight as there is more room to the left than the photo would indicate. There is absolutely no room for error on the right side with the Newfoundland bush jutting into the fairway to gobble up anything that comes its way.
However, being on the left side is not the best place to be for the approach shot. You must accurately guess how much more club to take to clear the bunkers and reach the elevated green. I didn’t.
No. 9 Humber Valley Resort – 338 Yard Par Four
It was standing on the tee at No. 9 that I finally realized that there was not going to be a series of punishing uphill holes to get back to the Eagle’s Perch to start the back nine. Instead we were treated to this beautiful view of the Humber Valley and another truly panoramic hole. With plenty of room straight ahead the two bunkers and the S-shape of this hole really shouldn’t be a problem. The approach shot is the third in a row to a quite elevated green. This was a very satifactory hole on which to close out the front nine.
No. 10 – 374 Yard Par Four
On a course with many outstanding holes, No. 10 is unquestionably the signature hole. With an 180 foot elevation drop that is stunning you simply don’t expect to find holes like this east of the Rockies. The tee boxes are not large and you almost get a sense of vertigo standing on them. The view of the Humber Valley is the best on the course. Another feature of Humber Valley Resort reveals itself here as well.
Although there are many large houses as part of the development they are not allowed to infringe on the course. There is always a barrier of trees between the fairway and any residences. That adds to the uniqueness of each hole. You don’t have to worry about hitting your ball into someone’s back yard or having a bunch of people staring at you from their patios so you can concentrate on the golf.
I loved playing this hole as your tee shot seems to be suspended in air an incredibly long period of time. The significant elevation change makes it play much shorter than 374 yards.
This look back from the 10th green gives a different perspective of the elevation change and the Eagle’s Perch.
No. 11 Humber Valley Resort – 362 Yard Par Four
Yet another elevated tee box and gorgeous looking par four. The bunkers on the left should not be in play and you’ll get a decent roll by clearing them setting up an approach shot like the photo below.
No. 12 – 378 Yard Par Four
No. 12 marks the final in a quintet of par fours that is as good as any I can recall playing in many a year. This hole is completely different than any other on the course. It is a semi-blind tee shot over a marshy area that is not a problem. The problem arises if you do not clear the ridge and get a decent roll. If not you are faced with crossing the second marshy area on the hole with that small tree dab smack in the middle. While it’s more of a psychological barrier than anything, because most people should be able to clear it on the second shot, I chickened out and laid up short. That resulted in a two putt bogie which was much better than hitting my fourth shot from this spot if I did fail to negotiate the hazard.
This a view of the hole looking back from the really excellent green. You can see that the trees close in to make for a reasonably narrow gap for the second shot. Seeing this I was glad I played safe.
No. 13 Humber Valley Resort – 458 Yard Par Five
The stretch from six through twelve contains a number of stunning holes, but the beauty comes with a price. It’s also by far the hardest stretch at Humber Valley Resort. Just as Mr. Carrick started you off gently, so he now, with the exception of sixteen, decreases the severity of the holes and allows for some very real birdie opportunities starting with this short par five. By now I was asking myself how he could have managed to create so many downhill holes, but I sure wasn’t complaining. I’ll admit it – I love a short par five that plays downhill and to the golfer’s ego.
Once again, if you can hit on the opposite side of the downslope you are going to end up with a huge drive and a second shot like this. Visions of eagles will be dancing in your head. However, those five green side bunkers are an issue. This time I opted not to play safe, but went for the green and caught the first bunker on the left. Idiot! No eagle, no birdie, but I did get an easy par. Thanks for the letup Doug.
No. 14 – 140 Yard Par Three
How’s this for an amazing par three? From the men’s tees it looks like the chances of hitting this small well trapped green alongside the Humber River are not good. But the short length means you can use a lofted iron and have a chance at a birdie putt.
Here’s the view from the women’s tee which is a lot less daunting.
No. 15 Humber Valley Resort – 275 Yard Par Four
This baby par four is the easiest hole at Humber Valley Resort, but only if you play it sensibly. No need for a driver or even a three wood as missing this very narrow fairway will surely mean either water or bush. Anything out 180 yards leaves an easy wedge and another birdie opportunity. Par should be a no brainer for the golfer with a brain.
#16 – 353 Yard Par Four
This is the toughest hole on the back nine. It does require some length off the tee in order to avoid a long approach shot, but there is simply no place for an errant drive to end up safely. However, this is the only bowl shaped green at Humber Valley Resort so if you hit it, chances are good that your ball will end up in a decent position for a two putt par.
No. 17 Humber Valley Resort – 130 Yard Par Three
Listed as the third easiest hole at Humber Valley Resort, I beg to differ. The very narrow green offers the tiniest landing area of any of the par threes, with anything short or long almost certainly landing in a bunker. Selecting the right club and not going for a sucker pin placement like the one here is the sensible option.
No. 18 – 497 Yard Par Five
Humber Valley Resort ends much as it started, with a pretty gentle par five of reasonable length. You tee off with the Eagle’s Perch up above and if you do not try to reach this green in two which was out the question for me, par should not be that hard.
The third shot will require crossing this little pond, but from 100 yards it should not be a problem.
The problem is when you hit the green. I thought I had put the ball stiff when it started to roll backwards and certainly not because I put backspin on it. Reaching the green I saw why. The pin was on the crest of a very deep depression known as the Valley of Sin, the only really unusual feature of any of the Humber Valley Resort greens. The good news was that it was a straight uphill for an easy finishing par. I would not want to have been above this hole as a too bold putt could end up off the green.
From the 18th green it is a long haul back up to the Eagle’s Perch 250 feet above where you must have a drink to celebrate playing this marvellous course. This is the view from the terrace of the lounge.
If you are an avid golfer, Humber Valley Resort has to be on your must play list. With Covid restrictions being gradually lifted you can fly into Deer Lake and get here in about half an hour. I recommend staying at the Marble Inn and Suites which is only minutes away in a beautiful location on the Humber River. The best time of year to play is just coming up so don’t put off playing here any longer.
In the next post we’ll move on to explore Gros Morne National Park. Please join us there.