10 things you need to know about Cabot Links and Cliffs

The second hole at Cabot Cliffs is amazing for its setting, and how the shaping might convince you that some elements are natural, though they are created by the Coore/Crenshaw team.

On Thursday I’ll play the newly opened Cabot Cliffs, a site I’ve walked since 2006 when I first saw it alongside founder Ben Cowan-Dewar. It’ll be interesting to see the progression from raw site with plenty of trees to a course with a mix of links, forest and dunes. Already it is being heralded as the best course in Canada, and on the short list of great public courses in the world. It is the best pure golf resort in Canada, and will rival the best in the world, including places like Bandon Dunes and Pebble Beach. It is that good.

Here are 10 things you need to know about Cabot:

1) It isn’t that remote. Flights to Sydney get you within a 2 hour drive of Cabot. Halifax is farther away, but a relatively simple drive of 3 hours.

2) Walking and caddies. People seem surprised by this and have scoffed at the notion since the start. However, the mix of walking and caddies has worked. And yes, if you have a medical condition you can get a cart.

3) Fescue. Both Links and Cliffs use fescue grasses like you’d find in the UK. That means tight lies, so you might not want to chip with your 60 degree wedge the whole time. Bump and runs are the preferred shot of choice.

cabotcliffs_164) The 16th at Cliffs almost didn’t happen. The hole, which is being heralded as Canada’s answer to the 16th at Cypress Point, is certainly one of the most breathtaking anywhere. However, designer Bill Coore wasn’t sure the area was stable enough to build on and had it investigated before any of his team was allowed to work on the site. Even then, it required a lot of fill to create the green.

5) Cabot Links was a mine. That’s right. Cabot Links is built on the site of a previous coal mine that ceased operations decades ago. That meant designer Rod Whitman couldn’t touch parts of the site where the mine was capped. The mine, by the way, ran out under the ocean.

Ben Cowan-Dewar stands in front of a coastal hole at what has become Cabot Cliffs.
Ben Cowan-Dewar stands in front of a coastal hole at what has become Cabot Cliffs.

6) Co-owner Ben Cowan-Dewar searched for partners. In the early days of the project, Ben Cowan-Dewar was the owner of a golf travel business who dreamed of building a course. Former Inverness premier Rodney Macdonald, then an MLA in Inverness, told Cowan-Dewar there was a site in his town that would make a great golf course. Cowan-Dewar went to see the site in 2004 and started his plans. He considered several ownership plans, but many of the prospective partners couldn’t see the site being successful. Cowan-Dewar convinced Mike Keiser to come and see the site a few years later. Keiser, who created Bandon Dunes, is now his partner in the venture.

7) Several golf architects worked on Cabot Cliffs. Along with Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, several golf designers had a hand in Cabot Cliffs. Cabot Links designer Rod Whitman did some of the shaping, as did Dave Axland. Canadian Riley Johns also played a role in the design, under the guidance of Keith Rhebb, who did a lot of the shaping, and Ontario’s Keith Cutten worked on both Cliffs and Links.. Similarly Axland, Jeff Mingay, and Kyle Franz all had a hand in Cabot Links alongside Whitman. It is an impressive stew of designers, and puts the notion of too many cooks to rest, at least on this one.

8) Collaboration. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw saw Cabot Cliffs as a collaboration among the architects involved, giving a lot of latitude to the other designers who worked on the site. Rhebb, for instance, shaped areas some might think are natural, like the dune off of the second tee. Crenshaw believes what makes their courses so terrific is the interaction between those involved.

9) There are 6 par threes at Cabot Cliffs. Mike Keiser believes par 3s are the most enjoyable holes on a golf course and challenged Coore and Crenshaw to come up with a design that incorporated six of them. Crenshaw wasn’t certain it could be done, but found an elegant routing that allowed for six one-shot holes on the course. That means it isn’t tremendously long.

The sixth at Cabot Cliffs with its green in a natural bowl surrounded by dunes.
The sixth at Cabot Cliffs with its green in a natural bowl surrounded by dunes.

10) Fun. Keiser and Cowan-Dewar have stressed fun as the key characteristic of both of their courses, which means playability is paramount. That hasn’t kept the courses from holding events—Graham DeLaet couldn’t better Graeme McDowell at Cabot Links and Danny King recently won the PGA Championship of Canada at Cabot. It is unlikely you’ll ever see a PGA Tour stop at Cabot—not that it hasn’t been considered. However, lack of amenities would make it a challenge, though the resort is adding more rooms and villas to its mix.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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