Joe Robinson, whose name is almost as familiar with The Highlands Links as that of Stanley Thompson, has moved on after 39 years at the famous Cape Breton course.
JR, as he is known to many, hasn’t gone far, however. He is the new director of golf operations at Cabot Links at nearby Inverness, just under a two-hour drive over the Cape Breton Highlands along the Cabot Trail to the island’s west coast.
The opening of Cabot Links, being developed by Ben Cowan-Dewar and Mike Keiser of Bandon Dunes fame, is one of the most anticipated events of the Canadian golf community. The first 10 holes won’t open for public play until July 1 but already the course has had an abundance of positive press being heralded as Canadian first true links course.
Even U.S. golf writers are keeping a close eye on this product.
The Rod Whitman design is laid out beside the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It’s open to the sea and sand.
In a recent telephone conversation with Joe he told me about his move to Cabot and the history he has with that piece of land.
He said he has been keeping an eye on that property for the past 14 years, ever since first thoughts of building a course there.
“The first time I came here I played in an extreme golf tournament. The Inverness Development Society has been trying to get this project off the ground since 1997. I was invited to play the first round of golf here back then. The boys went out with whipper snippers and whatever and basically cut nine holes out of the brush and the (wild) rose bushes and whatever. So we actually played nine holes of golf, pretty much extreme golf we called it back then,” he said.
It was the first time JR saw the property and “I sort of fell in love with it right away. It’s pure links. I spent a bit of time in Scotland and played some of the links courses over there and it just reminded me of Scotland,” he added.
JR said the golf course idea never really got some life until he met Ben (Cowan-Dewar) who was visiting the area with some golf writers on a familiarization tour. At supper one evening, Ben, whose dream was always to build a links style course, asked JR if there was any links property on Cape Breton that could support a golf course.
“Right away I thought of the Inverness site,” said JR. Cowan-Dewar got a chance to see the property but really wasn’t getting too far with his course plans until he hooked up with Mike Keiser.
JR and Ben stayed in touch and around Christmas last year Ben was interested in hiring someone to run the golf side of the operation.
“He asked me for some suggestions but I said to him off-handedly, ‘Maybe I’ll come over and work for you.’ He bugged me for the next two weeks. I had no intentions of leaving The Highlands, it is still my favorite course. But this was just one of things, a perfect opportunity and perfect timing,” said JR.
Joe said things are moving along very nicely at Cabot. A new clubhouse is under construction and Rod Whitman has been on site putting the finishing touches on his design.
The entire course should be ready to play by the end of this season, said Joe, but the public won’t get a chance to play all 18 until next year.
Meanwhile, down the road at The Highlands, cleanup operations are still underway after a storm flooded parts of the course in December. Holes 6 and 11 had were under water which left a lot of mud and rocks to cleaned up by hand. Also 28 bunkers were damaged but they are being restored and to the specifications of Thompson’s original design.
Course officials are still hoping to have the course open for play May 20.