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The face of golf changing in Cape Breton

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Cabot Links - Cape Breton's newest sensation.

The face of golf in Cape Breton or dear I say Nova Scotia, is about to change.

The partial opening of Cabot Links at Inverness, on the island’s west coast, has given golfers a taste of Scottish links golf. The course, designed by Rod Whitman of Alberta, has been heralded in many golf publications across North America as Canada’s only true links golf course.

The full 18 will be officially opened July 1, 2012 but the preview look at the first 10 holes which opened for play in July of this year, gives a taste of what’s to come and promises a new dimension to Cape Breton’s golf scene.

Golfers across the country have been aware of the golf product on the neighboring province of Prince Edward Island but Cape Breton, on the eastern end of Nova Scotia and an island bulging with Scottish heritage and culture, has been striving for the past number of years to gain equal recognition as a place with great golf courses. There is now an argument to be made that it has reached that level. With Stanley Thompson’s ageless and internationally renowned Highlands Links, the challenge of Bell Bay, the opening in 2010 of The Lakes course, combined with layouts like Dundee, Le Portage, Lingan and Seaview, Cape Breton now offers enormous diversity and challenge in its courses and all within very reasonable driving distance of each other.

Cabot Links (http://cabotlinks.com) built in a former coal mining area, is sandwiched between the town of Inverness and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It is wide open to the elements with views of the ocean from every hole. There are no trees to protect from the winds off the sea. There are deep pot bunkers, large greens including a double green with swales and pronounced contours. And there is thick gorse that will swallow up any golf ball that strays from the fairway.

There are five holes stretched along nearly two kilometres of beach and sand from the shoreline drifts over a boardwalk and onto the course. It is a totally walking golf course but there are exceptions for those with medical reasons to ride. The course will also have caddies available. A small clubhouse has been erected and construction is underway on 56 rental units which will be ready by July 2012.
Course developers Ben Cowan-Dewar, a Toronto businessman who now resides in Inverness, along with partner Mike Keiser, a Chicago-based businessman who developed the highly successful Bandon Dunes golf resort in Oregon, have put this project together on a piece of land that will challenge all who get the opportunity to play it.

“My goal from the outset was to build something great and that was all I focused on,” said Cowan-Dewar. “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.

Land has already been purchased for second course if the Cabot Links layout proves to be successful. If the second course is built there has been some suggestion that Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw will be the designers.

Highlands Links, (www.highlandslinksgolf.com) about a two hour drive along the Cabot Trail from Inverness, is undergoing its own renaissance of sorts. Ontario architect Ian Andrew, a great fan of Stanley Thompson, has been working to restore The Highlands to the original design when the course opened in 1941.
Several of the bunkers have already been restored and it is expected that all the sand traps will have their original shape and be in their original position by the end of this year. Parks Canada, which owns the course, has also been clearing trees that had grown too close to greens and had blocked tremendous views of the ocean.

The Highlands Links, located in the breathtaking Cape Breton Highlands National Park, is still considered by many golf experts to be Canada’s top public course and is consistently ranked within the top 100 courses in the world by major golf publications. Routed along the Atlantic Ocean and through the forested Clyburn Valley and the hilly terrain of the national park , Highlands Links remains a true classic.
But as different as Cabot Links and Highlands Links are to each other, Bell Bay on the shores of the Bras d’Or Lakes adds yet another dimension to Cape Breton’s golf landscape.

Bell Bay (www.bellbaygolfclub.com) in Baddeck, a quaint village and the former summer home of the great inventor Alexander Graham Bell, is a large, more modern-style golf course. Impeccably groomed, it boasts wide fairways, large undulating greens with plenty of sand traps and some water thrown in for good measure.
The course plays over 7,000 yards from the back tees but you have a number of options to pick a yardage distance to suit your game.

Bell Bay was awarded ‘Best new golf course in Canada’ honours by Golf Digest in 1998 and to this day remains one of the top layouts in the country.

Cabot Links, Highlands Links and Bell Bay are just examples of the great golf in Cape Breton, and combined with other island courses (www.golfcapebreton.com) and with the many great layouts on mainland Nova Scotia, this Atlantic Canada province is a destination worth some attention.-end-

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Tom Peters

Tom Peters is a freelance writer based in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, a suburb of Halifax. In December 2009 he retired after 41 years with The Halifax Chronicle Herald. He covered competitive golf regionally for the paper in his early days as reporter and over the years has freelanced golf travel articles to a number of major golf and business publications. He is a member and a director of the Golf Journalists Association of Canada.

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