Notes on Gary’s Top 50 Courses in Canada

Lists of golf courses TOP 50, TOP 100, TOP 10 are all conversation starters. No one will agree with every list. GOLF DIGEST, GOLFWEEK, SCORE, CANADIAN GOLF MAGAZINE and TOP100 all have different criteria, and often shared course raters, and they score various aspects of the course, coming up with a score, like 8.98. My list has only one rater, me. An old PGA Pro who has played more than 800 courses in a lifetime. Mine.

(See Gary’s full Top 50 Courses in Canada list here)

8th green with it's protective mound.

Cabot Links

Last summer, 2016, I worked at CABOT LINKS in Nova Scotia. It was my 50th year in the business, I have known the owner Ben Cowan for over 20 years, had played and stayed at Cabot in 2014, and we had stayed at BANDON DUNES Oregon the previous September. So why not go East for the summer.

They couldn’t figure out what to do with me, the range wasn’t finished, so they made me The Starter on the Links Course. Loved it. Every day I met golfers that I knew, or golfers who I knew their Pro and their course, or new golfers, on pilgrimages to play these great new links.

I had to put my experience in the back pocket of my rain suit. “Gary I know you’ve worked at some impressive places, but around here we only do it Ben’s way”. No Problem, we did it Ben’s way, Ben’s routing, gave out Ben’s cookies, Ben’s nice 12 minute times. Before Cabot was built Ben had partnered, my favorite website and also the site of 1500 course raters. Ben’s way is very clever, and Cabot has been his dream for many years.

Getting back to course ratings. Early one morning, on the first tee, I was speaking to two couples, senior like me, from ROSEDALE and WESTON, two great golf clubs in Toronto. They thought the views, their rooms and the people all were fantastic. They couldn’t understand how the courses were ranked 1 and 2 in Canada. I explained the links style, the ground game, all the media in love with the place, etc. They reminded me that they had been playing the ground game for years. “It has no club house, no locker rooms, no range, the greens are slow, what’s to love?” Due to their ages they were taking electric carts, driven by a caddie. “The caddies are great guys, they just cant drive on the course so it takes us forever to play.”

I learned that the new links courses, like Bandon and Cabot, appeal to the younger golfers, who prefer to walk, and challenge the course in different ways from the multitude of senior players who have to cart it, who find the location of the WC is of more interest than a redan green or cape hole.

Cabot LinksCabot is different than Bandon. When a golfer says they’re going to Bandon, their spouse says “have fun”. When the same golfer says they are going to Cape Breton, the spouse says “when are we going?” Bandon is remote, and all golfers, including their staff. We saw foursomes of men, groups of women, all serious golfers at Bandon. Cape Breton Island has so much to do, its perfect for families, couples, birders. Cabot has limited carts, for those with letters from their doctor, for the aged. Cabot has a few hundred great people enjoying themselves as caddies. Dentists, school teachers, students, surgeons , retired fishermen, are all in for caddying. I would recommend more carts and some cart paths but there is no one to recommend it to, Ben’s way doesn’t include carts or paths. Well maybe cart paths to the new on course condos.

(See Gary’s full Top 50 Courses in Canada list here)

My list does not have Cabot as #1 and #2 in Canada. I think that they will be, some time in the near future, when the turf matures. Fescue grass is a fast and firm surface for golf, but its thin. Cabot needs a few more years of over seeding and top dressing to get links conditions. As Old Tom Morris used to say “more sand, more sand”. In 2016 our greens were very slow until August 1, then fast and firm in drought conditions. The short season, early May until Thanksgiving makes it tough to provide good links playing conditions throughout. As the turf matures Ben will also be putting together all the expected accoutrements that great golf properties require. But golf must stay #1 priority. World class food, condos, great rooms hospitality are all important, as long as golf is #1.

CABOT LINKS is my favorite course of the present two, with many excellent holes, designed by Rod Whitman and Mother Nature. And Ben. The present routing needs to be changed as there are some unnecessarily long walks, on loose rocky “paths”. But it is serious golf in the prettiest part of Canada.

Tough uphill par-4 9th hole at Cabot Links

Tough uphill par-4 9th hole at Cabot Links

CABOT CLIFFS, the newer course opened in 2016. It rests on a spectacular piece of property, providing superb views of Inverness Beach, eagles, lobster boats, and The Gulf of St Lawrence.
In my opinion Coore and Crenshaw did not make the best use of the long shoreline along the coastal cliffs. You can see the sea on every hole, but you only have to avoid it on holes 10, 14, 16, 17 and 18. My favorite holes are 2, 3, 4, 5,6, 11 (the best), 13, 15, 16 and 18.

The par 3 16th is a superb shot over the sea to a smallish green. Perfect. Photo Op.

16th - The most spectacular par-3 in Canada?

16th – The most spectacular par-3 in Canada?

The par 4 17th is a short but nasty par 4. My first visit all four of us lost our tee shots, after hitting right where we were told.

One couple proposed on the 18 at the LINKS and got married on the 16 Cliffs.

(See Gary’s full Top 50 Courses in Canada list here)

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Gary Slatter

Venerable Canadian golf pro Gary Slatter discusses his opinions on the state of golf, golf course design and construction, teaching and more, based on a lifetime in the business.

1 CommentLeave a comment

  • Good work Slats, Myra and I going on a round trip from Vancouver Island to Tallahassee Florida this fall. We go as Far East as Montreal so we will take your advice and give Cabot a few years to mature.

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