Anyone who has read much of my writing or happened to play a round with me will know of my fondness for Highlands Links in Cape Breton National Park, Nova Scotia. It is among a handful of courses that measure up to almost anything in the world and it could well be Canada’s best.
Ten years ago the national park spent almost $4 million on adding an irrigation system, (truly awful) cart paths and a questionable restoration. The problem was that Graham Cooke, the architect in charge of the restoration and cart paths, seemed not to pay any attention to the historical photos or evidence of Stanley Thompson’s original design, instead adding Graham Cooke oval bunkers all over the course. The cart paths are even worse — apparently anywhere a fairway could be crossed was the best place for them, according to Cooke’s plan.
With that in mind, I was pleased to hear from Mark Sajatovich, marketing director at the course, that changes to the facility and its course are now underway. Let’s start with the official party line:
Over the past year, the Highlands Links has undergone a management review process which was designed to review the complete state of the course and its future direction. A 12-person steering committee studied a number of potential options concerning the management of Highlands Links and submitted their preferred management option to Parks Canada. The steering committee’s selection was accepted by Parks Canada, which will begin to implement the recommendations in the near future.
In the end, the committee came up with three distinct decisions:
Three of the most significant actions will be:
1. The hiring of a new Golf Course Manager for Highlands Links (to be in place by May, 2007) 2. A financial commitment by Parks Canada to invest $930,000, over the next five years, to pave the cart paths and rehabilitate tees, greens and bunkers to Stanley Thompson design.
3. The creation of a not for profit association to operate the pro shop and food concessions at the Highlands Links.
So what does this mean for Highlands Links? Well, first off, at least part of the course will be out from under the bureaucratic wing of Parks Canada, surely a good thing. There had been some suggestions of privitization for the course — something that has happened at almost every other course in a government park — but the union at Highlands Links had a lot of sway over the decisions being made, so it remains. Not that unions are necessarily a bad thing, but at a golf course they are difficult to deal with, especially when employees can take holidays in peak season.
From my perspective, the most exciting news to come out of this is the announcement that “A financial commitment by Parks Canada to invest $930,000, over the next five years, to pave the cart paths and rehabilitate tees, greens and bunkers to Stanley Thompson design.” Not that $930K is a lot of money when one considers cart paths are to be installed. I’d much rather they simply relocated the existing cart paths and never paved them. However, the notion of some restoration of tees, greens and bunkers to the Thompson design is really exciting and long overdue. It will be under the watchful eye of historian Ken Donovan, who has spent a lot of time establishing historically accurate details for each hole. With an appropriate restoration architect sensitive to Thompson’s work, this could be a great step forward.
Lastly, Sajatovich asked me to mention the course is hiring a full-time general manager to run the facility, something the course hasn’t had in two years. That should also be helpful going forward, especially at such a critical time for the course. Anyone interested in inquiring about the position can reach Mark by email at Mark.Sajatovich@pc.gc.ca.