Although golf has been a bit stagnant around North America it hasn’t really slowed down course construction in Cape Breton. The Lakes course, a Graham Cooke design, opened this year at Ben Eoin, near Sydney and another course, a few hours away, is under construction.
At Inverness, Ben Cowan-Dewar’s dream is taking shape and hold onto your logoed golf hats and visors folks because if Cabot Links turns out the way Dewar envisions this will be a course everyone will want to play.
Whatever your version is of a links-style golf course, this 81-hectare package on shores swept by the winds of the Gulf of St. Lawrence will, without question, fall somewhere within your definition.
Here on the west coast of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, the land links the sea in the truest sense. Nearly two kilometres of sandy beach complete with dunes and tall slender grasses run the length of this project. The ocean will be visible from all 18 holes, a feature I dare say hard to find at any coastal golf course in North America.
Inverness on the Cabot Trail, is a small town where coal mining was once the main industry. In fact a mine shaft was tunneled under the central part of the course and out under the ocean.
The mine closed in 1953 and now fishing and tourism are the mainstays of this small Cape Breton community. It’s not remote in that it is hard to get to, but remote in a sense that after summer is over and the tourists go home, there is not a lot of activity.
I recently toured the site with Ben and in the process had the chance to meet designer Rod Whitman of Alberta, who on this day was operating a small bulldozer, shaping a potential green.
Whitman, who worked for Pete Dye and with Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, is not a man of many words but he said building a golf course on the Gulf of St. Lawrence is pretty special. “To have all holes at least seeing the water is a big plus.”
He expects it will be “spectacular” when it’s done.
For Ben, this course is a total commitment. He built a house and moved here from Bay Street in the spring of 2008. He now has two children born in Nova Scotia.
“My background is in business but I always wanted to build a golf course and to do in Canada is great. It has been thrilling to watch it all take shape. It really is in a lot of ways like watching a baby grow, seeing the grass come up, seeing the various things like the final contours that were once just stakes in the ground. It is unbelievably gratifying,” he said.
Having Mike Keiser, developer of Oregon’s Bandon Dunes as a partner has also been a plus. His attraction to the project, said Ben, was the site. And being on the west coast of Cape Breton has not been an issue for Keiser.
One of his lines, said Ben, is “Remote is the new luxury.”
The game plan is to have 10 holes open in 2011 and the rest in 2012. That isn’t an absolute definite, said Ben as it all depends on the weather.
Cowan-Dewar has traveled the world with his golf tour company GolfTI taking clients to the best courses. So he certainly has a feel for what he wants out of this project.
Where would he like to see it fit into the Canadian golf landscape?
“My goal from the outset was to build something great and that was all I focused on. 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,” he said.
It’s my guess, after seeing the table being set, the golfing judges will feast on the main course. It will be just that appetizing. -end-