Yes, the headline may be a bad Bond steal, and I’m sure as hell not Matt Munro, but I’ll tell you I was thrilled, dear readers, to have the chance to slip up to Highlands Links this morning.
Now Highlands is, without doubt, my favourite golfing spot in all of Canada. I love its remote nature, the crazy contours of the fairways, the devilish greens and the ruggedness and rustic nature of the site. It probably isn’t for everyone, but I do think this is the best public golf course in Canada. Hands down. No discussion.
I calculated that this was my tenth round at the course since first coming to the site in 2000. Any excuse I have to come — and it isn’t frequent that I find myself on Cape Breton Island — I’ll make the winding drive up the Cabot Trail, utilizing the insane Englishtown Ferry, to tour around the course.
Today’s round, with new GM Graham Hudson, was more moist than a duck in a downpour, as the course had been doust with rain on Friday. But what’s a few plugged drives between friends? Chatting the whole time, we bombed along (yes, in a cart, which I know is wrong, but walking in the mud wouldn’t have been fun) playing the round in 3.5 hours. The highlight — a birdie for me on Killiecrankie, the notorious par-5 7th hole that plays 570 yards. For the record I hit 3-wood, 3-wood, wedge and made a 20-foot putt.
I’ll be back in September to give a speech for an event recognizing designer Stanley Thompson as a person of historic significance. Hopefully the course will be dry by then.
Given what I’ve written in the past, and my general skepticism that the course would seem any improvement after a very marginal renovation more than a decade ago by Graham Cook, I was pleased to see trees coming down, and Hudson talking about the possibility of a proper and true restoration to Thompson’s original vision. It is a ways from happening — but it is exciting nonetheless.
My reason for being in Cape Breton? I’m here working on a magazine feature on Cabot Links,the course being developed on linksland in Inverness, NS, with partners Ben Cowan-Dewar and Bandon Dunescreator Mike Keiser. I walked the site with Ben, and there’s a real sense in the area that this project is going forward. Additionally there’s excitement about what the course could do for the area — which has been lacking an economic outlet since mining shuttered in the 1960s. Could a walking-only seaside course be the generator of economic growth? That’s the question.
At the very least, Cabot Links should create a second world-class course on Cape Breton Island. And if you add Highlands and Bell Bayto the equation, that’s a pretty formidable destination being created.