Fox Harb'r is a tucked-away gem

The 11th hole at Fox Harb'r.

WALLACE, Nova Scotia -- To reach Fox Harb’r Golf Resort & Spa, most visitors will travel along winding, two-lane roads that pass farms and blink-and-you-missed-them towns. Along the way, there’s likely to be a moment when first-time visitors think: Did I make a wrong turn? Surely one of Canada’s toniest resorts can’t be located in this remote wilderness.

Jim Miller, general manager of Fox Harb’r, isn’t just spinning when he says, “You don’t expect to find something of this quality in this part of the world.”

Fox Harb’r is the domain of Canadian billionaire Ron Joyce, who snapped up the 1,100-acre property in 1987. The land was near his childhood home of Tatamagouche and situated on 11⁄2 miles of the Northumberland Strait.

“I saw it at 10 o’clock and bought it at 3 o’clock,” Joyce recently recalled.

At the time, Joyce didn’t have any specific plans for the land, but his business career suggests he is pretty good at figuring these things out.

Joyce was a cop in Hamilton, Ontario, when he struck up a friendship, and later a business partnership, with Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Tim Horton, who had opened an eponymous doughnut shop on Ottawa Street in Hamilton. When Horton died in an automobile accident in 1974, Joyce took control of the business and turned it into an iconic Canadian brand. Today there are more than 3,300 Tim Hortons restaurants in Canada, and Canadians’ fondness for the chain’s coffee and doughnuts mirrors Northeasterners’ attachment to Dunkin’ Donuts.

Now 82 years old, Joyce sold his shares in the restaurant business in 1996 and decided to build a resort on his Northumberland property, which he had acquired for $200,000.

“That’s the only bargain I’ve had so far,” Joyce said.

Joyce hasn’t scrimped in turning Fox Harb’r into one of Canada’s most exclusive hideaways. Since opening in 2001, the AAA Four Diamond resort has played host to American presidents and British prime ministers, and Tiger Woods shot a course-record 63 at a charity event in 2009.

One of Joyce’s first decisions was to build a 5,000-foot airstrip to improve access to the secluded site. (Joyce also owns Jetport, a private charter service.) During an early July round, two Gulfstream G100s were parked outside the hangar, just a fairway wood away from the ninth green.

Over time, Joyce has added amenities and transitioned Fox Harb’r from a personal retreat to a true resort.

The meticulously maintained golf course, designed by Canadian architect Graham Cooke, is good enough to rank No. 7 on the list of Golfweek’s Best Modern (since 1960) Canadian Courses. (Joyce no longer plays golf, the result of two fractured vertebrae suffered in a 2007 plane crash on the Fox Harb’r runway. “My back’s all buggered up,” he said.)

The front nine has a wooded, parkland feel, while the back nine plays out to and along the strait, with the 14th hole passing Joyce’s mansion and 161-foot yacht, Destination Fox Harb’r Too. There’s also a nine-hole pitch-and-putt course that occupies a pretty waterfront parcel beyond the 17th hole.

One of the most popular attractions, particularly for visiting groups, is the 15-acre sport-shooting range with clay targets that simulate the movements of various critters – pheasant, quail, duck, even rabbits racing along the ground.

The 72 guest suites all have panoramic views of the strait and heated granite bathroom floors.

Because of the remote nature of the property, the resort places a heavy emphasis on the cuisine, including more than $250,000 of wine inventory.

“That’s got to be high-quality,” Miller said, “because once you’re here, you’re captive.”

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