Course Review: Le Portage (Cheticamp, NS)
Designers: Bob, David Moote and Terry Burns
The scorecard: Le Portage has often been billed as part of the top four courses in Cape Breton, but to my way of thinking it was always a bit off on its own. Located on the west coast of Cape Breton Island, it was never near anything — and almost two hours from Highlands Links, the biggest lure in the area. Even then it was a bit of a rustic course, located away from the ocean, with holes near an arena, Portage was always going to fly under the radar. However, with Cabot Links coming online this summer, Portage will make a sensible stop off point for those wanting to break up the drive on the Cabot Trail between the big two. And surprisingly, as long as you aren’t expecting too much, Le Portage is a welcome place to stop on the drive. The course is rarely great, but it is solid enough throughout with enough width and topographical change to make the experience enjoyable.
- Once you get by the opener, there are some gently sloping holes that are quite fun to play. The bunkers may not always be in the right spot, but this is a course you can play without necessarily taking out the driver on every hole. I was quite partial to the second hole, a broad downhill par four that doesn’t require you to bust a driver, and the 10th, where one hits to a basically straight-away par four that drops forty feet from the tee to the fairway.
- Length. Portage doesn’t overwhelm. There’s occasionally a 440-yard par four, but they are few and far between. It offers a nice mix of holes, with two short threes matched against two tougher, longer holes.
- The shorter holes caught my attention at Portage (especially during my second visit, which was 10 years after my first). I particularly liked the 17, which winds just enough to tempt a big hitter, but probably yields a better score to those that play it more carefully and weigh the risk against the reward.
- Holes like 1 — with dense forest on the left and a holding pond on the right — don’t exactly lead one to believe what comes after is going to be very good. However, the first hole is really out of character with the remainder of the course, which rarely tightens up that much at any other point.
- Features — the bunkering is plain and dull and the extended waste areas are modern and out of step with the course. In some instances, like the 8th hole, the bunkers are simply stacked at the sides of fairways, providing no strategy and not doing much visually either. And don’t get me started on the mounds. The land was good enough at Portage that none of these features were necessary and are actually a distraction, like beautiful girl who dyed her hair purple. Just unnecessary.
- For some who have come from Highlands and are going to Cabot, Le Portage may be a letdown. But that’s only if you are expecting the quality of the other two courses. And considering Portage can be walked at $51, there’s no way it should be consider anything other than the local muni that it is.
The Final Tally:
No, Portage is not an elite course, and frankly really was never built or billed as such. It is a rugged, rustic, rough around the edges kind of course that locals play. It just so happens to be in between two of Canada’s best courses. If you’re looking for the incredible shot values of Highlands Links, you’ll be disappointed, and it has none of the modern links concepts apparent in Cabot Links. However, it is a fun walking course with enough width and interesting land to make the course more than passable. Not quite a hidden gem, but perhaps better than people give it credit for and a huge step ahead of other courses on the island, like Dundee.