Real Man Travels Presents: 150 of Our Favourite Canadian Things

Follow along as we list off our favourite 150 Canadian things over 150 days to celebrate Canada Day!

Thursday, 29 September 2016

The 19th Hole: Nags Head Golf Links, Nags Head, North Carolina

Golfing has now become a "must-do" for me while travelling with friends. I recently went to North Carolina for a week and could not skip the chance to golf on the thin strip of land known as the Outer Banks. The course we chose to play was Nags Head Golf Links located in Nags Head North Carolina.

Looking down the fairway of one of the holes at Nags Head Golf Links.

Today’s Twosome: 

Blake (my girlfriend's sister’s boyfriend – say that 10 times fast) and myself, Ed.

Blue skies, green grass, little bridge.

First Impressions: 

Driving to the golf course we found ourselves in a little private community filled with gorgeous homes on stilts painted all the colours of the rainbow with the course peeking out here and there. When we pulled up the driveway to the course, the feeling switched to a more modern and professional space as the clubhouse looked nothing like the homes in the area. It would've been nice if the clubhouse represented the location and also had that "Outer Banks beachy" vibe to it.

Upon pulling up, an employee (Ernest) was quick to get us a cart and our rental clubs. We were pretty surprised considering we hadn’t even made it inside to pay our green fees. The fee and club agreement process was quick and painless and we soon found ourselves staring down the luscious green fairway of hole number one.


Clubhouse: 

The clubhouse is built to be like a private members only country club. It has some older details and stuffy vibes to it such as private lockers, member only areas, etc., but despite all that the staff are still very welcoming to the public as were most players on the course.


Panoramic view of one of the holes that sits on the sound at Nags Head Golf Links.

Course: 

This time around I cannot blame the rental clubs on my poor performance. They had given us some beauty Taylormade sets and I was actually performing better with those irons than the set I use at home. I will say though, when on a new course using rentals, stick to the clubs you know; I was trying out all the wedges on the early holes and gave myself a few extra strokes that I was not be able to get back.

One disappointment of the course was that the score cards did not have a visualization of the holes. If you wanted a course map you would have to pay $5 at the club shop. To me, that just seems like a senseless cash grab. We did not know this before teeing off, so we ended up playing the course essentially blind and guessing where water and other hazards were.

The course itself was in immaculate shape. The two days before we played there was a considerable amount of rain so the fairways and greens were very soft. So soft that carts were stuck to the path and any high-hit ball hitting the green had minimal roll. The course winds through a private community and a few holes are directly beside the sound. A large portion of the holes have water hazards which you will either have to play safe to avoid or be a demigod to clear. With that in mind, the course is tight as well, any stray balls will be lost forever.

View from the tee box looking at a water hazard. Play short or crush it!

Food and Beverage: 

We played an early morning round so we did not see any cart service and we bypassed the clubhouse at the 10th hole to keep up the pace we had going. I cannot comment on the offering here in that regard. However one thing I really loved was that every three holes they had a water station set up for the golfers. We needed it since the temperature was closer to 30 degrees celcius with very little wind. I personally took advantage and had three or four cups of water at each station. I wish more courses would offer this for golfers.

Another hole, another water hazard. But those houses sure do look pretty!

Value:

We paid $125 USD for the green fee, cart and club rentals which works out to approx. $160 CAD. This is probably the most I’ve spent on golf all year (outside of a tournament), but when you factor in rentals and a cart it really isn’t that bad. We got a solid three and a half hours of play time that was challenging, frustrating and rewarding all at the same time. After all, vacations are meant to be an experience, and golfing is just that.

Road to the left, water and trees to the right. Hit your ball straight and true on this one.

Final Thoughts: 

Nags Head Golf Links allowed us to play as a twosome, which was nice because it made the game go faster and allowed us to avoid the awkwardness of being stuck with strangers. The weather was perfect and the rentals were better than my own set of clubs at home. The staff were incredibly nice and the course was in tip-top shape. The course was a hell of a challenge and was frustrating beyond belief at some points. That said, it made hitting a perfect shot on a tough hole or tough lie that much more satisfying. The price may be steep for some travelers, but it was fine for a vacation splurge. Overall, I give this course a 4 out of 5.

Have you ever golfed here? What were your thoughts on it? Let me know either on Twitter, Facebook or in the comment section below. Cheers!

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Road Trip: Toronto to New York City to Philadelphia

Every year, as the short summer dwindles down, I end up asking myself: "Did I make the most of it?" Last summer, I didn't do as much as I had hoped, and that left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. So this year I was hell-bent on crossing a few things off of my bucket list. One of those things was making the most of a long weekend by tearing out on an adventurous road trip. 

Challenge accepted. Next stop: New York City and Philadelphia, PA. 

I had forgotten how much fun it was to plan a trip like this. From the moment I booked the first hotel I had a month and a half, which meant a month and a half of scouting different routes; a month and a half to check out where we should stop for the night on our way to New York City; and a month and a half to dream about the Ford Flex Limited that Ford Canada was going to lend me for the trip (what colour will it be!?). Needless to say, I was pumped.


The month and a half countdown had counted down and the day was here. Terrina, her son Caiden and I (Chris, if we haven't already been introduced) were loading up our beautiful blue Ford Flex Limited. In true fashion, Terrina was busy rearranging the way I had packed the car, and I was busy arguing with Caiden about whose packing method was better. Caiden was shocked when he found out the Flex had a regular household outlet for powering his doodads (no car charger needed)! We passed the time in heavy traffic Instagram-ing shots of us flexing our muscles in the Flex while singing along to our favourite songs on the radio.


When we finally broke free of the traffic I opened up the 365 horsepower 3.5L EcoBoost (cue the Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor ape grunt) just a little as we headed south to the border. I soon found out that the Ford Flex Limited and myself had a lot in common - we are both ruggedly handsome, have strong hearts, are surprisingly techy, and, most importantly, we are both beautiful on the inside. 

We stopped for gas twice along the way; once because we needed it and the other to fill up on the gloriously cheap New Jersey gasoline. We drove 760 kilometers right through the Holland Tunnel to the front door of the Marriott on West Street in Manhattan. I handed over the keys to the Flex and we checked in. 

TIP: Staying in Manhattan can be expensive but if you want to see a number of sights during a short stay, then you need to be in the middle of the action.

After a quick rest we headed out to explore - umbrellas drawn. The first thing that stuck out was One World Trade Center and the Oculus, which according to the locals happens to be a "very expensive train station."


Walking in and around Manhattan we stumbled upon St. Paul's Chapel. What caught my eye first was the graveyard just past the gate with a long wavy path. I went in first, pulling away from the shelter of the umbrella as big drops of rain started falling off of the tree, totally messing up my hair. Along the path there were a couple signs explaining the history of the chapel and how much adversity it had faced throughout its many years.


We had a quick visit with the FDNY Ten House squad and then walked across the street towards the World Trade Center memorial pools. It was raining a bit harder now, I knew it was going to be tough to get a good picture so I hung back under the shelter of a small tree. At that moment, two people I love very much created the perfect shot for me.


Just outside our hotel we found ourselves in the historic and scenic Battery Park. From there we walked towards the pier and found ourselves gazing on the fairest lady of them all. The Statue of Liberty had just lit up, almost as if she knew we were coming. 


After the excitement of seeing the fair lady we decided to tour the city in our Ford Flex. We hopped in and with the help of the GPS were able to see Central Park, Times Square and the Empire State Building, along with a few more familiar sights in short order.  It was a great way to finish off the day.


The next morning I woke up with a plan to cross two major items off of my travel bucket list. The first: experiencing the 9/11 Memorial Museum. 

Have you ever heard of flashbulb memory? Its when you are able to remember exactly what you were doing when a life changing event occurs. September 11, 2001 was definitely one of those days. 


I was 18 and sleeping when the first plane hit. My dad woke me up and turned on my TV and from that point on I was glued to it. I recall watching the second plane hit; it felt like the world had stopped turning.

The museum's atmosphere resembles a mixture between a library and a funeral home. We realized that there is still a lot of hurt buried deep down from that very dark day. We held each others' hands a little tighter after every exhibit and I swore that someone was cutting onions nearby, because my eyes got a little watery at times. It must happen often to the patrons of the museum, because there are Kleenex boxes at most of the exhibits. When I had researched the museum on the line, it had said it should take about two and a half hours to see everything. We spent four and a half hours soaking everything in like a sponge. 



After we finished up at the museum we grabbed a quick bite to eat and started driving. We were on a mission to get to Philadelphia, where the Fresh Prince used to spend most of his days. We were determined to make it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in order to cross the second bucket list item off: *trumpets playing* the Rocky Steps! 

We pulled off of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and into a free parking spot, Philadelphia Freedom indeed. The situation got very serious after we posed with the Rocky statue. Caiden had challenged me to a racing duel up the very popular steps (perfect activity for a 34 degree day). I used my Usain Bolt-type speed to dominate the race and make it to the top victorious. I danced around and threw punches into the air repeating "I am the greatest" over and over much to the dismay of my opponent, who I saw as a much smaller Apollo Creed. After my celebration at the top was over (and yes, that did take awhile) we celebrated a bit more with an ice cream and hopped back into the car to find our hotel.



We stayed at the Loews Philadelphia. It was lovely with very friendly and helpful staff and a heck of a view, if you ask me. 




The next day we were going on a free tour of Independence Hall and visiting the Liberty Bell, the real "belle of the ball." We had wanted to see both of these attractions when we were in Philly last September to see Papa Fracessca, AKA the Pope, but the entire city was shut down for the occasion.




As for the tour, it wasn't very long but it was full of rich history and the odd chuckle. Certainly worth every penny of the "free" price tag. Also, if you answer a history question right you get a free trading card. Caiden caught on quickly and collected a good stack. 




Before leaving Philadelphia I had to do one last thing: mow down on an authentic Philly cheese steak sandwich with mustard, provolone and mushrooms. You know it was good. 




We left that day with a feeling of accomplishment. I felt like we made the absolute most of our long weekend and we had made some amazing memories together. Road trips are good for the soul.