Follow My Lead

Thank you for flying American Airlines. Our pilot has just landed from Boston,” a serene female voice announces. “He’s walking across the airport now and we’ll depart as soon as he arrives. Thank you.” I’m seated in a 727, half asleep, about to be en route to Nova Scotia. Five minutes later, the same attendant is back on the horn: “Attention passengers. We’re sorry, but there is no pilot. The flight is canceled.” A pause of incredulous silence, then grumbles, and then shouting. I grab my carry-on and slip out ahead of the herd.

I find myself in line behind a beautiful blonde woman wearing a very yellow dress and bright blue sneakers. The ticket agent explains she can either wait at JFK for a flight in three hours or she can take a cab to LaGuardia for a United flight in just over two hours. “You’ll land at about the same time. It’s just a matter of whether you want to sit around here or spend the time in a cab and going through security again at LaGuardia,” she says.

“I’ll wait here,” the blonde says and she strolls off to nowhere.

“I’ll go to LaGuardia. I don’t like waiting around,” I tell the agent before she even asks. Fifty minutes later, I board my second flight to Nova Scotia of the day. I step over a middle-aged man to get to my seat. His polished, black dress shoes leer out from a rumpled suit with an American Airlines pin stuck to the lapel. He has a dark, bushy mustache, but no beard, and that makes me wary.

The attendant soon comes by with drinks. Mustache and I order two beers each. “Cheers,” he says to no one in particular. We’re four beers into the flight before he speaks again. “Ever been to Nova Scotia?” he asks, again, to no one in particular.

“You talking to me?” There’s nobody else. “Yeah, first time. Supposedly some of my ancestors were from Baddeck. A great grandfather of mine married a Micmac Indian. I always thought it was a joke because he was Irish.”

He downs the rest of his beer and motions for two more. “Don’t make me cut you off, Captain,” the attendant says as she serves him two more beers.

“Why you heading to Halifax?” I ask.

“Mind your fucking business.”

I chuckle at first then realize he’s serious. We sit in silence until the plane lands. Mustache says, to nobody in particular, “Nice meeting you. Enjoy Nova Scotia. That’s Latin for New Scotland. Or French. Or Gaelic…”

He walks off the plane ahead of me, grumbling something about an Acadian witch. As I meander though the airport, the blonde in the yellow dress appears and steps up to the baggage carousel. Across the room, I see Mustache hiding behind a column. He’s also watching the blonde. I step behind a column of my own and watch him watch her. She grabs a blue golf bag and heads for the door. Mustache abandons his column and closes the distance behind her.

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The next thing I know, I’m in a cab following Mustache following the blonde. “Half of all the people in Nova Scotia live in Halifax,” the cabbie offers. I don’t respond, hoping he’ll take the hint. Or think I’m deaf. Our three-cab parade pulls into Glen Arbour Golf Course just outside of Halifax.

Day One

After slicing many balls on the driving range, I settle onto the clubhouse’s second-floor outdoor deck where I can capture the green expanse. “You look like you could use a club sandwich and a beer,” a waitress says. “Keith’s ok?” she asks, tapping her pen.

“Who’s Keith?”

“Alexander Keith’s. It’s a Nova Scotia beer. The one beer you’ll find everywhere around here.”

The blonde appears in a cart on the course below. Yellow shirt and white golf skirt, still those same blue shoes. I watch as she tees off on the first hole. Her drive is true, stays low and skips down the fairway. I’m interrupted by the waitress extending a Keith’s. “What do you think?” she asks as I take a sip.

I nod and smile.

I eat a turkey club, down my beer, order another, then another, when I hear the plop of a ball landing on the fairway in front of me. Twenty seconds later, another lands in almost the same spot. Her cart arrives and she and her partner get out to hit perfect shots right onto the green about 150 yards to my right. They don’t see me watching as they sink their putts. I look back to my left just in time to see Mustache emerge from the trees along the course and make his way toward the clubhouse. I pay my tab and exit down the outdoor stairs as Mustache walks onto the deck. I’m standing under him, glancing at the bottom of his shoes—no gum. I circle to the front door, hop into a cab and ask the driver to pull to the side of the lot. She comes out of the clubhouse alone and walks to a white Mercedes convertible, loads her clubs in the trunk and drives away. I move forward onto the edge of my seat—there’s no sign of Mustache.

“Follow that blonde,” I hear myself tell the cabbie.

“Follow, eh? Like in the movies?”

She drives fast and he keeps pace as she speeds north on the highway. “She looks like she’s going to Digby,” the cabbie says. “That’s about a three-hour drive. Home of the Digby scallops. Don’t call them scallops, though. It’s skull-opps. They’ll know you’re a Yankee if you say it the other way.”

“Good to know.”

“The reason they’re so good is the huge tides in the Bay of Fundy, eh? Difference between high tide and low tide is greater than anywhere in the world. It’s in Guinness.”

“I could go for a Guinness right about now,” I say.

Three hours later, the Mercedes pulls into a driveway for Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa. She heads into a sprawling Norman chateau nestled in a hillside pine forest. At dusk, with long shadows falling, the chateau is a bit creepy, not unlike the hotel from The Shining. But there is no hedge maze. Just gorgeous pine panoramas notched with quaint cottages and woodsy hiking trails.

Day Two

I wake in the morning and head to Churchill’s Restaurant for a breakfast buffet. I pass the parking lot along the way and find it light one Mercedes. I shrug and move on to breakfast. The hostess greets me with a smile and a motion to help myself. She doesn’t ask for my name or proof I’m a guest. It feels like the kind of place your grandparents would hang, but the crowd is a motley demographic sharing only in the feeling of quiet and calm. Afterward, I find a minivan waiting outside. “Going to the course?” the driver asks and waves me in. A preppy foursome emerges and loads the back with golf bags. They’re cracking on how big and tasty the Digby scallops are. The van brings us down the road to Digby Pines Golf Course and we spill out.

imageI head over to the 18th green and walk the course in reverse. At 15, I see her. She lines up a pitching wedge from about 50 yards off the green. The ball soars straight up, hits the green behind the pin, spins backwards and comes to a stop two feet from the hole. She calmly scoops the ball with her putter, not bothering to tap it in and moves on to 16. I set off in the opposite direction. My eyes dart back and forth, looking for a mustached creep lurking in the trees. I don’t see anyone. I walk the rest of the course until I find myself in the parking lot next to the white Mercedes…and the blonde. “Can I help you?” she asks.

I shake my head.

“Maybe you can help me. Grab my bag and toss it in the trunk?”

I nod and do as she asks. She offers me a five, Canadian. I shake my head.

“Man of few words. My kind of guy.” She winks and pulls away.

Back at the resort, I approach a bellhop. “You happen to notice a blonde in a Mercedes convertible?”

“She has an event at Fox Harb’r.”

“How far is that?”

“Four or five hours.”

I call a car service and grab a quick meal at Churchill’s, again forgetting to order the Digby scallops. I head out and find my cab. When the driver asks how I’m doing, I shout, “I’m deaf! I can read lips, but I have to be looking at your face!” He doesn’t say another word the entire drive. We pull up to a heavy wrought-iron gate and I get out. I walk the perimeter then calmly hop the fence and make my way through the woods toward some lights, emerging to find myself on a runway with an airplane hangar for private jets. From the edge of the runway, I see a fairway. The trees line the front nine of the course, while the back nine hugs the water—the Northumberland Strait, a plaque tells me. Condo-like villas adorn the course and several larger houses are set back—all have panoramic water views. One huge mansion on the corner of the property overlooks the whole course. It’s a golf lover’s paradise in a true Scottish way, and I don’t even have my clubs.

Day Three

I awake in the master bedroom of one of the villas to the sound of a driver striking a golf ball. And then another. I stir, rub the sleep out of my eyes, find the kitchen (fully stocked) and brew a pot of coffee. I watch it drip, savoring the time to pass time, pour a cup and take it outside to the veranda on the edge of the course. Two golfers wave as they pass. I wave back.

On the fourth cup of coffee, I see her working her way in my direction. I scurry inside and watch from behind the curtains. She hits her shot dead center on the green. I watch her sink a putt of at least 30 feet. A stick snaps in the brush and her head whips around. We both listen. I hear nothing. She moves on.

I jump off the veranda and flank the course, reaching the cart path at the same point she finishes the 18th hole and whizzes past me. She drops the cart off and heads into the spa. I enter the main building and find the bar, sidling up to a stool near a white-haired man wearing a “Golf Nova Scotia” shirt and hat. I order a Keith’s.

“Slàinte,” he raises his glass.

“Cheers,” I reply.

“That’s a New York accent if I’ve ever heard one. What are you doing up here, Yank?”

“Taking in the sights.”

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“Did you play the course today? Nice, eh? They really take care of it. You see Ron Joyce’s mansion? He’s a billionaire. He used to own Tim Hortons. You know, the coffee chain? Ron built this place to be his playground. Tiger Woods played here. There’s a plaque on 16 where his drive landed. 293 yards with a 5 wood from the back tees. And Bill Clinton came here to speak one time. Al Gore and George Bush, too. You Yanks love this place.”

“Which George Bush?”

“The second one.”

“Oh.”

I finish my beer and head outside. The blonde crosses the parking lot and loads her clubs into the Mercedes. A staffer runs after her shouting, “Your Highlands Links itinerary!”

She’s off again, kicking up dust.

A passenger van pulls up and the white-haired man from the bar pops out, “Aye, Yank.”

I nod. “Hey, how far is Highlands Links?”

“The Links are all the way on the north end of Cape Breton. About six hours from here, more if you take the full Cabot Trail through the Highlands. That’s where we’re going. Need a ride?”

“If you’ve got an extra seat, I can pay.”

He waves his hand. “Name’s Terry Burns.” He turns to his group. “And these folks are from the States on a corporate golf retreat.” I join the six other passengers in the van. They’re all chatty. They all suck at golf. They all love the Digby scallops—skull-opps. Most wish they could stay at Fox Harb’r, but they’re looking forward to Glenora Distillery in Cape Breton, which makes a really good single malt whisky.

The van cruises through the pleasant lakeside village of Baddeck. “This is where my ancestors are from.” I tell the story about my grandfather and the Micmac Indians. They snicker. “Micmac, Irish Indian, ha-ha.”
Baddeck is a small town on Bras d’Or Lake and is considered the gateway to the Cabot Trail. “Alexander Graham Bell used to do experiments in that house across the lake,” Terry points out. Along the road, I see a sign for the Mi’kmaq Indian Reserve.

After four-plus hours, Terry announces we’re entering Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The fog blankets everything as we drive the cliffside road. To our left is forest. To our right, somewhere in the fog, great big cliffs overlook the Atlantic. The vista clears ahead and I see the highlands themselves—smooth, green sunshined mountain-hills. Another Scotland.

Terry pulls the van out of the park and stops at an Acadian museum. I am reminded the Acadians were the French in these parts and many later became Cajuns after they left Canada for Louisiana. “Were Acadians ever known to be witches?” I ask one of the docents. She shoots me a confused glower and I soon find myself in the van back on the road.

Farther along the north coast of Cape Breton, charming fishing villages dot the shoreline. Descendants of Scottish, Irish, French and some English settlers still leave their marks in each town, even in the way people in the communities paint their homes. Some neighborhoods have certain characteristic colors while others paint cartoon-like flowers or farm scenes on the sides of their houses.

We eventually pull into the Glenora Distillery & Inn. I hang back by the creek while everyone checks in, until the sound of fiddle music pulls me through a back door and directly to a stool at a lively, crowded bar.

The bartender pours me a shot of whisky and offers a small glass of water. I shake my head and sip the whisky. It’s good. I take my glass and wander toward the group of fiddle players who are energetically wailing out an old Scottish folk song. A crowd dances along in some kind of jig. I down my whisky, order another, then another, until I’m dancing my own version of the drunken Yankee jig.

I’m lost in a whisky haze, hopping around to a song about the green grassy highlands when she walks in. She’s wearing a new yellow dress and different blue shoes. The bartender hands her a glass and she sashays toward me. “The man of no words,” she says with a smile.

We drink and dance and make our way into the night. At some point, she peels off to the ladies’ room and I reclaim my throne at the bar. In the mirror over my shot glass, I see a face through the window. Mustache. I hurry outside to where I hear a splash.

“Damn Acadian witch,” he growls.

I reach out a hand to help Mustache out of the creek. “Why are you following her?”

“I’m trying to avoid her. I bailed on my pilot gig because I saw she was taking the same flight.” He shakes the water from his clothes.

“What? You were the pilot who never showed?”

“I saw her and hightailed it out of there over to LaGuardia. Hopped on the first to Halifax, where I saw her again. I’ve been trying to get away from her ever since. Everywhere I go, I see her.”

“She’s following you?”

“Stalking me is more like it. I have two restraining orders against her. Crazy Acadian witch.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve been warned…”

A door slams behind me and I whirl around. She stares at me. A twig snaps in the woods. Mustache is gone. I’m alone with her, a possible witch. The mysteries of golf, whisky and Nova Scotia all around me.
———————

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Though this story is fictional, the golf courses and attractions of Nova Scotia are real (and they’re fabulous).
For more information and to find golf vacation packages, contact Terry Burns of Golf Nova Scotia or golfnovascotia.com.

Glen Arbour Golf Course
glenarbour.com
Located near Halifax and designed by famed course architect Graham Cooke, Glen Arbour is suitable for players of all levels. The course blends into the natural setting of trees, streams, lakes and elevation changes. A fox may even try to steal your snacks if you park your cart too close to the trees.

Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa
digbypines.ca
This charming chateau is gloriously nestled in the hills above the renowned Bay of Fundy, which features the highest tidal range in the world—as much as a 53-foot difference between low and high tides at its greatest point (Minas Basin). The resort boasts 85 rooms in the main chateau and more than 30 cottages, a full service spa, heated outdoor pool, tennis, shuffleboard, fitness center and a plethora of hiking trails. The Stanley Thompson-designed golf course is a short distance away. Digby scallops are famous around the world. The annual Digby Scallop Days Festival takes place in early August.

Fox Harb’r Golf Resort & Spa
foxharbr.com
A true gem of luxury. This Graham Cooke-designed course was named Best Golf Resort in Canada by Golf Digest 2011/2012. The resort—a five-star, private, gated community encompassing 1,000 acres of woodland and 5 km of shorelines—also features manor-style suites along the fairways, as well as private homes available for sale. A private runway and their own customs make it ideal for the private/charter jet crowd.

Cape Breton Highlands Links
highlandslinksgolf.com
A stunning, Stanley Thompson-designed course (that opened in 1941) located in Cape Breton Highlands National Park that has been undergoing a complete restoration under Ian Andrew (expert on Stanley Thompson golf courses). Bunker work and tree cleaning are almost complete and the course is expected to be fully operational again by the end of 2012.

The Cabot Trail
cabottrail.com
This 185-mile scenic drive is a main attraction of beautiful Cape Breton Island. Named after explorer John Cabot (even though he may have actually landed in Newfoundland), the trail starts in the enchanting lakeside community of Baddeck (on the northern shore of Bras d’Or Lake) and loops north along the coast, passing through many smaller towns, into the Cape Breton Highlands at the north end of the island.

The Glenora Inn & Distillery
glenoradistillery.com
The first single malt whisky distillery in North America won a nine-year legal battle with the Scotch Whisky Association (they make all Scotch whisky laws) for the right to use the term “Glen” in the name of its whisky, Glen Breton. The inn features courtyard rooms with views of scenic gardens as well as private log chalets on the mountainside overlooking the distillery. The restaurant and pub is a great place to score a dram of whisky and to take in local fiddle music.