I first heard of Cabot Links in 2004. There’s been lots of talk about the dinner when the then Tourism Minister for Nova Scotia told Toronto twenty-something Ben Cowan-Dewar that he had a site that would be great for golf located on Cape Breton island. I almost guarantee Cowan-Dewar, then a golf/travel operator, was thinking, “Sure you do.” But then that fiddle-playing minister (he was in Toronto to promote the province’s golf) sent along some photos. The land, partially on an abandoned mine (“One-third,” Ben said when we spoke this week), had enormous potential. Cowan-Dewar worked hard on trying to create a golf course on the site for seven years.
Ten holes opened last year, and the full course this summer. I expected the project to be good. The course certainly was when I played it all late last year, even if some of the holes were devoid of grass for a media preview tour in October. But I wondered whether Cowan-Dewar, and his business partner, Mike Keiser of Bandon Dunes fame, would pull off the other elements. Would they get the details right, the ones that are so important when you’re charging a premium for seaside golf? The answer is a resounding yes. Cabot Links is quite possibly not only the best golf course in Canada, but among the best golf resorts in North America. And that only a couple of months after fully opening.
The experience at Cabot rivals that of Bandon Dunes – and the best golf resorts I’ve visited (with Pinehurst a close second, and Pebble Beach and Turnberry in there as well), with a course that is comparable to the top modern links (think Kingsbarns, even if Cowan-Dewar doesn’t care for the comparison, and Turnberry in Scotland, and Pacific Dunes in Oregon, or Predator Ridge, Banff and Jasper in Canada) and amenities that are without peer in Canada. Cowan-Dewar and Keiser are selling a golf experience at Cabot – and in that respect they’ve hit a home run. The course has, by my count, five holes that stack up against the best in the world (8, 10, 11, 15, 16) and plays and feels like a world-class modern links. I tackled it four times in the two-and-a-half days I was at Cabot and it was intriguing, fun and exciting on practically every shot over the course of each round. The Cape hole (#11) is tremendously enjoyable when playing one deck up and down wind (it’ll even be better once a couple of design tweaks are made), and the short four (#8) is thrilling, strategic and interesting regardless of whether you’re going for the green with a driver or laying up with a 4-iron.
Are there small things I’d change? Yes. But there are at practically every course I’ve played. And at Cabot that discussion focuses on small details (I was not a fan of the fuzzy mound only a few paces from the front of 4-13, for example, and was pleased to here the bunker on the left side of #11 fairway was going) instead of bigger matters as is common at many other courses.
My friend John, an avid player who joined me for the trip put it best. While sitting in the clubhouse after our final round, John said, “I really just want to go out and play it again.” That’s a sentiment I’m sure they are hearing often at Cabot. I’m not one to talk about food or hotel rooms, but Cabot nails both. The rooms, all 48 of which overlook the golf course, have an incredible attention to detail and are all golf-themed. An equal number will be added to the north side of the clubhouse next year, bringing it to 100, and allowing for 200 golfers (assuming rooms are shared) to stay at Cabot. At a time when Prince Edward Island is struggling, when the government is putting Highlands Links on the open market, many would say it was highly questionable timing to open a new golf resort in Atlantic Canada. But Cabot raises the bar on a golf experience so far beyond what those others in Atlantic Canada can offer (when it comes to a mix of conditioning, course quality, amenities and accommodation) that it is easy seeing it become a resounding success. The expectations were high – but, I’d say, have been met. Impressive.
Monday: A closer look at the course at Cabot
Wednesday: The second course at Cabot
Oh, and here’s a teaser for the third day — a shot of the proposed par three at the second course at Cabot Links: