I’m just working through a feature on Cape Breton Island’s Cabot Links, the best new course I’ve seen in some time, and transcribed a recent interview I did with Mike Keiser, the creator of Bandon Dunes in Oregon, currently judged to be the best golf resort in the world, and the co-owner of Cabot. Keiser, who made his fortune in a company that created recycled greeting cards, spoke about Bandon, architect Rod Whitman and the distinct possibility of opening a second course:
G4G: You’ve saw the completed Cabot Links last summer — what was your impression.
Mike Keiser: Your concern was the same as mine — whether the holes away from the ocean, the one near the red barn, would come off. And there’s brilliance in the holes that are away from the ocean. They turned out so well. I’m astonished at what Rod has pulled off.
G4G: But at one time you thought of pulling the plug on the project:
MK: The great recession of 2008 led me to think, ‘What am I doing in Nova Scotia with Rod Whitman. Let me pull the plug. Get me Ben Cowan-Dewar.’ The Dow went to 6,000 and everything I had financial was down 40 or 50%. I had every reason to drop Nova Scotia. But I kept it alive and I decided to spend money much more slowly. We took a full year to buy some sand and move it around. Rod took these industrial shapes and slowly made it dunal. And everyone who goes there talks about the dunes. ‘Let’s go up to the big dune.’ I hear that all the time. But it wasn’t a dune at all.
G4G: And now you’ll open two courses this summer.
MK: It is very nerve wracking. Opening this course in Nova Scotia and a par-3 course at Bandon are two adventuresome moves. Cabot Links used to be a coal mine after all.
G4G: Are you surprised by the reaction to courses like Bandon and Cabot — places off the beaten path that many thought wouldn’t be successful?
MK: I’m a traditionalist. If I told you 10 years ago that people would build links courses and they would be successful, it would have seemed radical. But it has happened. Canadians have missed that because they built around populations. Now it seems obvious. My business plan was to build old links courses and people would like them. And if you build that in Bandon or Tasmania or Nova Scotia – it can be really good. Should we be surprised? No.
G4G: But there are still people who question walking-only courses like Cabot, ones without golf carts.
MK: I think golf is intuitively a walking game that got detoured by carts and became what luxury golf has become. But enough people see it as a walking game and it is good for them – it is a walk of five miles.
G4G: Do you think Cabot Links compares well to Bandon Dunes, the original design by David McLay Kidd?
MK: Maybe more so, but that’s because of its origins as a coal mine. It is fun to play. I wasn’t let down by any of the inland holes. The total experience hole-by-hole is that I want to see the next one. It is hard to quantify, but I get the feeling when I walk off a course like Cypress. I want to know whether I can play another 18. I think thanks to Rod we’ve pulled it off. If you took Cabot Links and Bandon Dunes and rank the holes, there are as many great holes, maybe more at Cabot. Forgetting that David had coastal dunes and Rod had a coal mine, I think Cabot might even pull it off. I’ll leave that to you.
MK: I’ve seen the golf course get better and better and the government of Nova Scotia has been extremely proactive in noticing the money that’s been spent and how the town has changed. They’ve discussed an airport in Inverness. That would be unheard of in America. They are very excited about something happening in Cape Breton Island and that makes me even more open to building a second golf course sooner rather than later.
G4G: Will Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design it?
MK: I hope it will be Bill and Ben. We’ll find out when Ben consults with his wife. Is Canada foreign? He’s said if he has to travel a long way he doesn’t want to be away from his family.
G4G: Many people are confounded by why your courses have been successful at a time when golf is struggling.
MK: True links on the ocean is what makes it work. If Bandon Dunes had been in the interior I’m not sure it would have worked. Had I done Bandon in Nebraska there would be no second course. It would be dragging along like Prairie Club is. In Nova Scotia if this was inland, we wouldn’t be talking.