Review: Cabot Cliffs (Inverness, NS)
Designer: Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw
Overview: Cabot Cliffs is the most exciting and significant golf design to open in Canada since Highlands Links opened 74 years ago. Majestic in scope, bold in its scale, intimate in its details, Cabot Cliffs is, simply putt, head and shoulders above any other course designed in Canada to date. The only debate is about just how great it is—does it measure up against the best courses the in the world the public can access, like Pebble Beach, Pacific Dunes, Royal Dornoch and Royal County Down?
Simply put, yes.
This isn’t a course where you can simply insert the name of some famous seaside stunner and add “on steroids” on it. Instead, Cabot Cliffs is a diverse course full of wonderful and remarkable nuances, holes set over three different and diverse land forms, and greens that will require some thought and specific shots.
It is brilliant and breathtaking throughout. It also is thoroughly enjoyable and playable for less accomplished players, while strong golfers will find the subtle design features to be worthy of study.
This is a course that will be judged against the best in the world.
Too numerous to list, but here are some of the highlights:
- Great holes abound—2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 15, and 16
- The holes away from the ocean—3, 4, 7, 8, 11, 13, 14—are all outstanding and are some of the most memorable on the property. There is significant elevation on the course, especially through the back nine, but these holes handle it flawlessly, especially the uphill 11th and 13th. Both have terrific tee shots into broad fairways, and clever greens, The 13th is particularly good, with an approach that must tumble blindly over a small hill and onto a green that falls hard on the right.
- The strategies reveal themselves over multiple plays. Take, for instance, the 15th, the best par five on the course, where more than 100 yards of fairway is present. But Coore and Crenshaw want the brave and bold golfer to tackle the left side and put themselves into a position where you can challenge the green, despite the fact the hole is 600 yards. Those finding that slot on the left side have a shot hard down a firm fairway that will feed onto the green. Similarly, the third hole offers multiple ways to approach the green, including a kicker slope to the left of the green that feeds a shorter shot onto the putting surface. Players will likely discover some of these things by accident and embrace them when they play return rounds.
- The short 9th hole is a better version of Cabot Links’ 15th. The green has more nuance and good shots are more readily rewarded. It is also stunning.
- The par threes are all exceptional, especially the 6th, set in a bowl surrounded by dunes with a green that has a lower shelf and is partially blind. A variety of shots can be hit and some will be rewarded, while others will force delicate putts.
- The 16th gets the accolades, and rightfully so. But into a strong wind it will be a challenge, even from the regular tees where it plays 165 yards. It remains one of the most staggeringly beautiful holes I’ve seen, though I found the green, with its two shelves (a lower one right and a higher one on the left) to be perhaps a bit too challenging for the nature of the hole.
There are no real missteps at Cabot Cliffs, but if the course is to be celebrated in the way it has already been, it is worth considering where it isn’t, well, quite as great.
- I wasn’t crazy about the closer. Yes it is hard on the ocean, but the 10th, another par five that plays along the cliffs, is a better hole. The tee shot is solid for those wanting to try for the green, but there was something about the second shot, with its wide bailout area to the left, that felt a little flat.
- The 17th is an exceptional short four, but determining how to play it is difficult on the first attempt into any sort of wind. That said, it can be played in a variety of ways, from an iron to a driver. Once areas to the left of the fairway are thinned, slightly wayward shots will be rewarded. Right now shots that miss even slightly are lost. It is a hole that players in our group struggled to figure out, even though it plays far shorter than 300 yards. The approach off the tee rises up significantly, and balls have to take on less of the cliff than you immediately suspect.
- The 5th hole—the Cape Hole—should be great. But washouts forced preview rounds to be played from behind the 4th green, which isn’t an attractive angle. This hole has an incredible greensite, and from tees set to the left, I’m confident it will be among the best on the course.
The final tally:
With the opening of Cabot Cliffs, every other course in Canada is fighting for the title of the second-best. I think it compares favorably with the best in the world—it may be more memorable than Pacific Dunes, for example, which would be one of the best comparison points. That would put it in a short list of the Top 20 courses ever built. That’s the discussion it enters. Once construction on the course is fully complete, the greens roll appropriately, bunkers are finished, a clubhouse of some form is added, and the practice area grows in, the perception of Cabot Cliffs will only continue to develop. Majestic and wonderful, full of thought-provoking holes and set on one of the most incredible sites in the world, Cabot Cliffs will be discussed as one of the best golf designs in the history of the sport. With Cabot Cliffs, Ben Cowan-Dewar and Mike Keiser have set the bar for everything that follows.
Note: Having opened for preview play last week, Cabot Cliffs isn’t quite complete. The greens are new, slow and fuzzy. The bunkers don’t all have sand in them. Areas are being hydroseeded. These elements will be completed in coming months.