Long-time sports journalist Tom Peters today begins a series looking at some of the best of the region’s golf courses. The Notebook’s publishing schedule is at the conclusion of this first article in our ‘Maritime Golf Tour’. – Editor.
By Tom Peters
Whoever coined the phrase, “Golf is a good walk spoiled,” obviously never had the opportunity to walk the Cabot golf courses, The Links and Cliffs, on the western shores of Cape Breton Island.
The quote has often been attributed to Mark Twain, but that phrasing didn’t really appear until 1948 and Mr. Twain died in 1910. Many people have been cited for uttering similar passages but the fact of the matter is when it comes to the two internationally acclaimed Cabot courses, in my view, golf is secondary to the landscape bordered by the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the hills and cliffs of Inverness.
The two courses and a new, 10-hole par-3 course are the focal points of Cabot Links Golf Resort, a high-end, luxury destination that features all the marvellous amenities you would expect in a high-regarded golf resort.
While the coronavirus has impacted a number of resorts, there are lots going on at the Cabot resort, says general manager Andrew Alkenbrack.
The Cliffs Residence is set to get underway, including plans for the build-out of a health and wellness offering. Work is being completed on the addition of two and three homes at Cliffs with the launch of those in the coming weeks. Ranging from $2,08 million to $2,67 million, the Cliffs Residences offer a rare opportunity to own a luxury home https://www.cabotlinks.com/content/uploads/2019/08/Cliffs-Residences-Brochure_Digital.pdf
Alkenbrack said the resort had offered some stay-and-play packages earlier in the year and expects more will be available later in the season.
“As for golf, both Links and Cliffs are in fine shape,” he said. “We have added a third course to the mix, The Nest. Open for preview play this year, The Nest is a par-3, 10-hole routing perched at the highest point of Cabot Cliffs, affording some of the best views on the property,” he said. The rate for The Nest is $60.
The Cabot Links course, which was the catalyst for this resort development, was the brainchild of Toronto’s Ben Cowan-Dewar, who had ties to Cape Breton through his wife and who always wanted to build a links-style golf course. He found the land and convinced Mike Keiser, a Chicago businessman who was already involved in golf course development, to partner on the project.
I first walked Links with Cowan-Dewar prior to its official opening in 2012 and it didn’t take a lot of imagination to realize this course, still under construction at the time, was going to be special. In our conversation, Cowan-Dewar told me: “My goal from the outset was to build something great and that was all I focused on,” he said. “Do I hope this sits among Canada’s great courses? I do. But where it falls, it will fall. We can only do the best job we can and put it out there for other people to judge.”
Cabot Links, a par-70 course measuring 6,854 yards from the back tees, has been tabbed Canada’s only true links golf course. It has many of the characteristics of the Scottish links, including being built on land (an old coal mine site) that was not good for any agriculture activity; it borders the sea where the sand blows from the neighbouring beach over the boardwalk and over some fairways making that land and sea connection and you can see the ocean from every hole. There are other characteristics but you have to witness them for yourself.
Sandwiched between the town of Inverness and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, I’ve enjoyed playing the course because it is a different experience than playing a course with tree-lined fairways. Every hole is a separate theatre. You learn to play a different style of game, a lot of bump and run. Links is wide open to the elements. There are no trees to protect from the winds off the ocean. There are deep pot bunkers, large greens including a double green with swales and pronounced contours. And the thick gorse will swallow up any golf ball that strays from the fairway. I’ve played the course in various weather conditions and each time it played differently.
Cabot Cliffs, designed by PGA great Ben Crenshaw and golf course designer Bill Coore is a different experience than Links.
Crenshaw once said: “A good golf course makes you want to play so badly you hardly have time to change your shoes.”
In my view, Cliffs is better than a good golf course I truly enjoyed playing this course because it has so many great physical characteristics wrapped up in a design that is not only great eye candy with the Gulf of St. Lawrence visible from every hole, but it is a design that challenges the golfer, makes you think positional play and allows you to hit every club in the bag. It rewards you for a good shot and slaps you down if you miss the mark. The rough and the large, deep bunkers can be very penalizing.
Cliffs, a par-72 and 6,765 yards from the back tees, has some good elevation change and a number of forced carries off tees and also into some massive, undulating greens. A notable feature are tees boxes beyond the forced carries so not everyone is challenged with those deep ravines and marsh areas. There are golfers who can’t hit the ball far enough to carry the hazards, so the front tees eliminate that frustration and maintain pace of play.
Many golf courses boast of a signature hole that defines the design but any hole at Cliffs could wear that tag. My favourite and currently probably the most photographed par-3 in the world is the 16th that plays over a shoreline inlet to a green that sticks out on a point. It is a hole that honestly gives you goosebumps.
In 2015, I made the trek with my son to St. Andrews, Scotland to see the British Open at the Old Course, and to play some courses while there. When we returned, I told many of my golfing friends you could drop Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs in the middle of St. Andrews and the courses would fit like a glove, a golf glove actually.
Editor’s Note: The Notebook is delighted to be featuring some of the most prized golf and country clubs and links across the region with reports by long-time sports journalist Tom Peters.
Peters, a resident of Lower Sackville, is a veteran journalist, with a career that includes 41 years at The Halifax Herald, and now writes on a freelance basis for golf and marine industry publications in Canada, the U.S and Europe. He has played and written about golf courses and resorts throughout North America, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, India, Europe and even Iceland, but maintains a soft spot for courses here in the Maritimes.
He began his golf passion by hitting golf balls on the family farm in Brookfield and is currently a member of Brookfield Golf and Country Club.
Here is Tom’s schedule for golf reports in The Notebook:
Aug. 6, Fox Har’br
Aug. 13, Highlands Links, Keltic Lodge
Aug. 20: Algonquin, St. Andrews, NB
Aug. 27, Dundee, Bras d’Or Lakes
Sept. 3, Mill River, PEI
Sept. 17, Digby Pines
Oct. 1, St. Andrews, Scotland.
Stay tuned to Golfing Through With Tom Peters here in The Notebook.