Mike Keiser: Interested in Highlands Links, but not Keltic Lodge, while second Cabot course a go

A few weeks back it was announced that the federal government, which operates Highlands Links in Cape Breton, NS, was seeking an interested party to lease the Top 100 in the world course and the Keltic Lodge, the historic hotel nearby. The story drew a fair bit of attention, as well as stirring up the rumour mill. Who would be interested in Highlands, which is undergoing a resurgence after struggling with conditioning for years? And would anyone be interested in taking over the hotel, which would need millions put into it to bring it up to the standards being charged for a room there. Sure Keltic is charming, but it is also woefully out of date.

The name Mike Keiser was immediately bandied about. Keiser, after all, is the cash behind Cabot Links, about 2 hours away from Highlands, and the creator of Bandon Dunes in Oregon. I figured it would be easiest to find out directly from the source himself, so I called him at his Chicago office. He called back a couple of hours later.

Is he interested in Highlands Links? Sort of.

“I’d say I’m interested in Highlands Links, but not the lodge,” he said.

The problem with the lodge, he noted, is the costs associated with running it and updating it. The golf course, on the other hand, does interest him, but only marginally. Keiser said the current relationship with Highlands, which sees it partner with Cabot on some marketing, is beneficial for both parties. He’d like that to continue, regardless of who takes it over. But it doesn’t sound like Keiser is likely to be the man to rescue one of Canada’s truly world-class assets.

Keiser is, interestingly, proceeding with the second course at Cabot Links. He’s flying into Cape Breton this week to look at the two routings devised by Bill Coore for the course. “That’s where I’m at now,” he said. Asked whether Ben Crenshaw, Coore’s regular design partner, will be involved with the course, Keiser said he wasn’t sure, but was hopeful. Crenshaw doesn’t typically do courses outside of the U.S., and skipped Coore’s project in Australia. Coore has done all of the routing on the project without Crenshaw, so it is unclear what the former Masters winner can add. Certainly Cabot doesn’t need the name of a PGA Tour pro to add to the draw — it did very well with Rod Whitman, an architect largely unknown to all but a few who pay attention to such things. But Crenshaw’s partnership with Coore runs well beyond marketing — so it will be intriguing to see if Ben shows up in Nova Scotia. In the meantime it sounds like it is full steam ahead for Cabot Cliffs, if that is what it will be called.

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Jeff Lancaster

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  • I wonder why the course and hotel are offered as a package? Isn’t Keltic Lodge part of Signature Resorts (along with Digby Pines and Liscombe Lodge) which is run by the Nova Scotia Government?

    And the golf course is run by Parks Canada. It is often hard for even two areas of the federal government to agree on something so it is even rarer to see the NS provincial government and the feds working together.

    To put it another way – why does Parks Canada care all that much about the hotel? Sure having a good hotel onsite helps to improve visits but how much do you want to spend to subsidize the hotel if that is the only way to make it work? Banff and Jasper are two other resorts similar in a lot of ways, but they are open in the winter as well, have more spectacular scenery and can charge a lot more than Keltic Lodge can.

  • New Course in Inverness – Cabot Cliffs: It will be awesome! I was fortunate enough to have a tour of the new site and it is amazing. It will also include a range (missing at Cabot Links) and a clubhouse with vistas that will rival all. If Cabot Cliffs turns out to be as good as Cabot Links I’m moving there.
    As for the Keltic Lodge, and its association with The Highlands (I cannot in good conscience call it Highland Links), Mt Kaiser has it right. While the main hotel is beautiful the Keltic Inn is a vastly overpriced motel. The spa is underutilized and nothing seems to flow. It is a mess. The golf course can be great again and the Lodge has potential but the other buildings…blow them up and start over.
    PS- They MUST keep Mr. Hudson and, given the local ‘scene’, I would recommend they keep the local Parks Canada employees.

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