It didn’t take long for Cabot Links to make a startling impact on the Canadian Top 100 rankings, soaring almost to the top of this prestigious national chart within months of its opening. Indeed, such was the impression made by Rod Whitman’s celebrated new course, it also entered the World Top 100 in a very respectably high position. No pressure then on Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw to deliver when their much awaited Cliffs layout debuted three years later.
Situated half a mile away from Cabot Links, the Cliffs course occupies a more diverse landscape than its predecessor, sitting atop the bluffs that overlook the Gulf of St Lawrence, with fairways transitioning seamlessly between woodland, wetland and meadowland areas. Somewhat unusually, the layout is configured with three par threes, three par fours and three par fives on each of the nines.
The signature hole here is easily identified as the par three 16th, playing across the edge of the cliffs above the shoreline, but the favourite hole of the designers is said to be the 13th, a par four that sweeps right and uphill, away from the cliffs, with a sizeable hump positioned short of the green. As Bill Coore says, “Most people will gravitate toward the holes that face the ocean but boy, we really like that one.”
Rod Whitman, who designed the other course at Cabot, had a hand in shaping some of the fairways, particularly on the par fives at holes 1 and 10, where he introduced the humps and hollows onto fairways that were previously as flat as a pancake. Integrative Golf was also involved in the building process, with Riley Johns (who had just finished on a project with Tom Doak in Michigan) and Trevor Dormer (fresh from completing a Dubai course with Gil Hanse) providing more shaping expertise. Keith Cutten should also be mentioned for completing the construction of the bunkers.
In 2019, Rod Whitman and Dave Axland collaborated on a 10-hole par three course which is located inland and uphill from Cabot Cliffs, with the holes overlooking the final eight holes on the 18-hole layout.
Whitman said: “The natural ground contour and the angle of the holes allows for interesting, fun and varied golf. The ground has rolls, dips and ridges. It has a Scottish feel and look to it with spectacular views of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.”
Cabot Cliffs is the second course at the Cabot Links Resort in Nova Scotia. Designed by Coore + Crenshaw, Cliffs is a special addition to the top courses around the world.
Cabot Links, designed by Rod Whitman was the original course at Cabot, and with it's success the Mike Keiser blueprint for resort golf is being wheeled out as it did at Bandon Dunes, Barnbougle Dunes and others.Build it and they will come!
The formula is quality links courses, preferably by the sea- with great accommodation and meal options, walking golf with caddies- all top end.
The American market can't get enough of it in Bandon- and the same model will roll out now with different resorts around the globe...
Once the first course breaks through, the second course is icing on the cake. As Keiser says 1 plus 1 equals 3 when it comes to quality golf courses!
At Cliffs this is certainly proving the case, and now plans to incorporate a par 3 course, more accommodation, and at some stage another course will be brought forward. It is all very exciting!
Ben Cowan-Dewar is the man behind the project- a former golf tour operator- he saw the potential for a course in Nova Scotia, and with government support he and his business partner teamed with Mike Keiser to bring Cabot Links to fruition.
Coore & Crenshaw are known as one of the elite design firms of the world with a long list of top courses on their list of achievements including Sand Hills, Bandon Trails, The Colorado Club, Friar’s Head etc…
I believe Cabot Cliffs will be regarded amongst the best work they have done. Having played Cabot Cliffs just once, I would place it right at the top of that list with Sand Hills and in my mind it is clearly one of the best courses in the world.
The site that Cabot Cliffs traverses is surprisingly diverse. One expects the rolling dunescape along the cliffs, but the course also moves through marshland, and inland through woodlands, and meadows, and up and own through significant elevation change along the way.
The routing is brilliant, taking you to and from the sea, and those cliffs, constantly changing direction. I found myself excited as holes unfolded before us for the first time, and while I wanted to commit these holes to memory, and enjoy every moment, there was an intense anticipation about what was around the next corner. The cliff holes will be the picture postcard holes, but I think the inland holes are equally as good.
Given the exposure to the weather it is important to play The Cliffs from an appropriate tee, and first time around I would recommend the use of a forward tee to ensure maximum enjoyment. Having said that the configuration of 6 par 3’s, 6 par 4’s and 6 par 5’s makes the course play a little shorter than a more traditional course set up.
The green complexes are nicely sculpted without being overdone, and the bunkering, which I think is a strength of Coore Crenshaw courses is beautiful.
There are no weak holes at Cabot, but I would have to play the short par 4 seventeenth hole a number of times in different conditions off different tees to come to a conclusion as to the merit of the hole. It certainly has a spectacular tee shot, and amazing green setting, but I am not sure about much else..
Cabot Cliffs is a brilliant golf course, and goes straight into my personal top ten courses in the world.
Notable holes include:
- the brilliant par 4 second hole with elevated tee shot to a tight fairway surrounded by trouble, and an elevated green tucked behind impressive bunkering. Depending on which tee you play off, you may be better to lay up off the tee for position..
- the par 3 fourth hole has a picture postcard setting and two greens!
- the picturesque ‘cape’ style par 4 fifth hole
- the amazing par 5 seventh hole with a long carry required to clear the marshland and cliffs beyond, strategically placed fairway bunkers, and diagonal green complex sitting right to left for the approach.
- the short par 3 ninth hole, with skyline green
- the clifftop par 5 tenth hole with gully protruding in front of the green
- the par 3 fourteenth hole with enormous rock in the front bunker defining the look of the hole
- the short par 3 sixteenth hole, which plays from clifftop to clifftop, and is destined to be one of the famous holes in world golf. It is a thrill to play. The pin positions right and central present a dramatic and visual hole- a hole you will never forget!
Visitors to Cabot Cliffs should plan on playing more than once. They would of course also play Cabot Links. If possible make a road trip out of it and also visit the Stanley Thompson masterpiece at Highland Links.
You can drive the Cabot Trail, go whale watching, and sample the wares of Glenora Whiskey distillery to make a memorable short trip.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
My visit to Cabot Links occurred on September 8-9, 2016. The first time I played Cabot Cliffs I thought it to be fabulous. The second time I played Cabot Cliffs I thought it to be a course one plays more for the views and for fun, but not for the challenge of golf unless there is wind. It is a course for golf “tourists” which is exactly what the starter said to me as I began my second round.
I do think Cabot Links is the superior course for golfers of higher ability while Cabot Cliffs is the superior course for the “walk.”
After the first round on both the Links and the Cliffs course, I preferred the Cliffs course as I was taken by the views and the “spectacular” holes such as #2, #7, #13, #14, #16 and #18. Part of the reason was that fourteen of the eighteen pin positions on the Links course were in locations that made them virtually unplayable. After the second round, I flipped the order and much preferred the Links course. If I were to return, I would play the Links course 2 out of 3 rounds.
While this sounds like criticism, it is not. On my personal rating scale, I rate the Cliffs course higher than the Links. However, there is more thought required on the Links and the greens are better. The Cliffs course is in my top 100 in the world, currently at #69. One simply cannot escape the beauty of the setting and those magnificent holes that one will be hard to find on any other golf course in the world. I would not have a long debate with anyone who favors the Cliffs over the Links as it’s pretty close. The amazing thing to me is how different the golf courses are despite their proximity which is primarily due to the land but which is also a tribute to the designers of each course.
People comment about the unusual design and routing of Cabot Cliffs with six par 3’s, six par 4’s, and six par 5’s. What they often do not comment on is that none of the par 4’s is long and nearly every par 5 is level or downhill. The par 4’s are 402, 389, 330, 404, 398, and 331. The “length” of the course is in two long par 3’s at 221 (4th) and 245 (12th) while the par 5’s are 581, 589, 549, 557, 560 and 532. From the Black tees the yardage is 6764 but without wind it feels a couple hundred yards shorter. The Green tees are 6385. The ratings are 74.3/144 and 72.5/142. Please note I believe some of the yardages have changed slightly for the Green tees since I played there.
For me, the seventeenth hole is one of the worst golf holes I have ever played on a great golf course.
I have heard some people compare the course to Cypress Point. I do not agree. Obviously the sixteenth holes are somewhat similar in that they are long par 3’s over water with a green perched on a “peninsula.” But Cabot Cliffs does not have a hole as beautiful as the fifteenth at Cypress Point, nor does it have the quirky holes of eight and nine, or the fabulous seventeenth.
While the views at Cabot Cliffs are distracting and the green complexes are very good, which one has come to expect from Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, for me the number one feature of the course is the land that can drop dramatically or seemingly be one long continuous uphill. There are ravines, cliffs, marshes, dunes, forests, a river all incorporated in the design. One should definitely give credit and praise to Mr. Coore and Mr. Crenshaw for their routing.
The fairways are a bit too wide which is the reason I consider this to be a course more for golf tourists. The wide fairways are appropriate on high wind days, but on winds less than 15 mph they are too forgiving. Some of the greens are perhaps are too large, but that is characteristic of courses designed by this team. There is an overuse of centerline bunkers. Please note that Rod Whitman, the designer and primary builder of Cabot Links, also did some of the building of Cabot Cliffs.
1 – par 5 581/573. A flat, straight hole that eases one into the round. The view of the ocean out to the right can be distracting even enough the first hole has the tenth hole to its right. The fairway is somewhat rumpled but is so wide that the mounds, particularly on the left which could be more penal, are not in play. There is a bunker right for the tee shot and another on the left side for the second shot. The more interesting bunker is an amost centerline bunker about ten yards short of the large, undulating green that sits left to right. There is good mounding behind the green including a fall-off back right. It’s an okay starting hole and likely a birdie opportunity for longer players.
2 – par 4 402/379. This is one of the best holes one will play. It starts from an elevated tee with a long, forced carry over scrubland, dunes and bushes dropping off a near cliff into a fairway with all sorts of danger from trees and bushes on the left. There is adequate room in this wide fairway but I felt more tempted to favor the left side although there is scrub, tall grass and bushes if you hook the ball. The green sits up about 20 feet on higher ground. Fronting the green is a stream that snakes its way across the fairway. This is followed by a collection of bunkers built into the hill also fronting the green. These bunkers are raised which partially blocks the view of the green. There is additional bunkering on the right as well as taller grasses. The green is in three pieces but overall angled left to right but with a smaller section tucked between those front bunkers and the right bunkers. Based on pin position, better players need to determine which side of the fairway they want to play from due to those raised bunkers, but for me the only priority is to hit the green. This hole is on my personal list of best golf holes in the world.
3 – par 4 389/384. This par 4 plays uphill with another forced carry with trees and bushes down the entire left side and raised mounds with sand and grasses on the right. There is a centerline bunker etched into the side of a rise in the middle of the fairway. Equally distant from the tee to the centerline bunker are two bunkers on the right side where there is lower ground that gives a less ideal line and view of the green. The left side of the central bunker provides higher ground and a good view of the green. The fairway then narrows with a large, raised bunker on the left and grass on a higher mound on the right. The green slopes left to right with a swale fronting the middle. The green also slopes to the back where three deep bunkers await. I found this hole to be pretty good, perhaps more visually interesting than in playing it even though one has turned away from the ocean.
4 – par 3 154/139. Either a short par 3 on the golf course or 221/212. There are two greens here and we played both of them. The left green which is the longer hole has a large fronting bunker on the left with another large one just behind it while there is a single bunker on the right side. The right green, the shorter hole, has a large and deep bunker on the left front and another deep, but smaller bunker on the right front. It also features a narrower green with more fall-offs. Therefore, the difficulty in the longer hole is more about the length while the shorter hole requires more precision. We were split as to which green we preferred; there is no wrong choice here. I liked this concept a lot.
5 – par 4 330/321. A lovely cape hole with significant penalty for missing the fairway on either side due to the marsh on the left side and a fall-off on the right. This hole plays back to the ocean. There are good undulations in the fairway although the biggest swale is at the beginning of the hole and not in play which is a pity as a small valley nearer the green would make this hole even more interesting. If the wind is not a factor, longer hitters will try to run a ball onto the green but they have to clear the second of two bunkers on the left corner about 290 yards from the tee. This bunker is built down into the side of the hill and presents a likely blind approach shot. There is another bunker on the right side that is raised and can block the view of the green if one is in it or close to it. The green is surrounded by bunkers on the left and back of the green. The longer hitters in our group struggled with the hole while the average length hitters did not. I did like the hole although I thought the green to be of lower interest.
6 – par 3 186/171. One is playing parallel to the coastline. The green sits in an almost amphitheater with only the back right open. There is a long bunker left before the green and then bunkers left and right. There are some good undulations in this green. It is a lovely hole.
7 – par 5 589/572. For me this is easily the best par 5 on the golf course. It is a dramatic tee shot with a long, forced carry over the river, marsh, and valley of scrub to a fairway that begins relatively high above you. You are playing towards what once was a forest before tree removal. There are trees down the left if you hook the shot too much and a fall-off down the side of the hill to the right where you will likely not be able to find your ball or play it. There are three spaced bunkers placed into the side of the hill on the right and one should be fairly happy if they find it versus the alternative of coming up short. There is a vertical spine running through the wide fairway with the right side being higher. The fairway, while still wide, does narrow as you approach the green although there is no chance of recovery if you hit into the trees on either side. There is a series of bunkers on the left nearer the green and at the green which moves right to left towards those bunkers. There is a ravine on the back left as well as a bunker to the rear. The green is expertly sloped with spines and hollows. This hole plays uphill all the way and is one of the finest par 5’s I have played.
8 – par 5 549/515. After the difficulty of the seventh, the eighth is a bit of a breather hole playing downhill back towards the ocean. There is a bunker left and a centerline bunker to consider on the tee shot. There are flanking bunkers about 60 yards short of the green with bunkers behind. This is a Biarritz green although the swale is not as deep as some. There is a longer roll-off area left of the green with a single bunker on the back right. It is an okay hole.
9 – 126/116. Set against the edge of the cliff, the green is surrounded by bunkers with the exception of the left side. It is a massive green with a spine running horizontally through it. I found the hole to be more visually interesting than exciting but perhaps it is a good yardage for me. It is a very beautiful golf hole.
10 – par 5 557/544. You play this hole right along the ocean cliff and the view of the beach, water and the rising hillside off in the distance is always on one’s mind. There is a series of bunkers down the left to try to give one last chance to not go down the cliffs. The raised mound of bunkers on the right on the first hole are now on the right of the tenth hole. There is a deep ravine fronting the green that will make longer hitters think twice about going for the green in two. For average length players it really is not in play. The green has a collection of bunkers built into the face of the ravine fronting the green and a series down the left side with a single one on the back right. Much like the seventh, I parred it and double bogeyed it as one day had wind and the other day did not. I did like the hole even if the only real interest is the ravine.
11 – par 4 404/377. This hole plays uphill away from the ocean. There is a large fairway bunker on the right that should not be in play and another one well ahead on the left in play for only the longer hitters. There is a centerline bunker and bunkers on either side of the raised green that is bowl-like. It’s an okay hole.
12 – par 3 245/233. Playing downhill back towards the water this hole features two bunkers on the right and a steep fall-off on the left. This is a nice par 3.
13 – par 4 398/362. This is one of my favorite holes on the course, going inland with a fall-off on the right into scrub. There are fairway bunkers left and right spaced about 50 yards apart and another bunker at the front left of the green. The green sits behind a rise where only the top of the flag can be seen, if that. A shot hit short has a 50-50 chance of staying put or falling back down the hill. The green is another bowl. Although it does not offer the water views of the other holes, you see a lot of the other holes as you climb up and I liked the mystery of the green.
14 – par 3 188/172. There are three bunkers fronting the green and two at the rear. The most prominent feature is the rocky hump fronting the green making one pull a longer club than necessary. The green has a very steep fall-off on the front and left and good mounding. It is a good hole and for me, the best par 3 on the course.
15 – par 5 560/538. There is higher ground on the left side of this wide fairway but also numerous bunkers. The safer play is to the right although it leaves a blind second. The longer hitters in our group hit 5 and 8 irons the two rounds for their second shots as the land slopes down to the green. There is a single fairway bunker right off the tee but not really in play. A long centerline bunker follows about 50 yards short of the green with three bunkers at the edges of a green that has multiple mounds in it and slopes down to a central section. You are now back at the ocean. It is an okay hole.
16 – par 3 176/150. Probably the most famous hole on the course and perhaps even among the most famous in the world. Hitting from one cliff to another cliff, right along the coastline, one has a long view as well as a stunning view of the rock formations in the cliffs. This is an all-or-nothing hole about 100 feet up from the water. The green is partially obscured from view due to the rise fronting the green. The green tilts left to right but there is a bunker on the left side that can stop a ball. Surrounding the green are other bunkers. While others raved about the hole, I felt the green to be too small by about 20% for the hole and inconsistent with the other greens. I also thought the bunker to the left to be too punitive. It is a dramatic hole and I am certain 95% of players will list this hole as both great and the most memorable. I think #2 and #7 are more memorable, but visually it is hard to beat this hole anywhere, although there are several other holes I have played that are visually more beautiful such as #15 and #16 at Cypress Point, #7 at Pebble Beach and a few others. I parred it and doubled it, playing a poor bunker shot on the second round across the green into the rough.
17 – par 4 331/277. Simply put, this is bad land for a golf hole. With another forced carry over a ravine separating the cliffs, the hole plays uphill sloped left to right and a ball hit far enough will tumble down either onto the green, just off of it, or into one of two deep bunkers at the front. There is a fairway bunker short right over the cliff and then two up on the left uphill side of the fairway. In addition to the two fronting bunkers, there are three on the right. I did not like anything about the hole except walking off of it. Others thought it was fun to have the surprise of the unknown. They also liked that the back and left of the green went right to the edge of the cliff.
18 – par 5 532/509. Longer hitters want to have a go here given the yardage but the bushes on the left pinch in along with two long bunkers. The right side is cliff and has an 80 feet drop. Playing from an elevated tee the view is spectacular. This hole can be difficult for players of all lengths and abilities. A ravine cuts in again, similar to the tenth but allows room to play off to the left. However, the left side presents a poor angle into a long, narrow green set against the side of the cliff with a single bunker at the middle left and back. The green is serpentine and has really good undulations to it. It is a very fine finishing hole. There are chairs set back to the left from the green which is a great place to watch others play the hole.
While Cabot Cliffs is not my favorite course by Mr. Coore and Mr. Crenshaw (Sand Hills is), it is an exceptional golf course and one that is likely to be in many people’s top 100. For any golfer who wants to play the world’s very best golf courses, this is a must play. I should also add that the accommodations are superb at Cabot Links, with stunning views over the golf course and out to the ocean. I saw quite a few married couples here and they were having a blast as were the groups of golfers, whether male or female. Cabot Cliffs is absolutely remarkable. In terms of the complete resort, while it is not as good as Bandon Dunes, it is certainly the equal of Streamsong with its three courses.
Mr. Coore and Mr. Crenshaw built an outstanding golf course here, one that sits comfortably on the land. There perhaps is no better router of courses than Mr. Coore who utilized the land almost perfectly. I do not believe there is anything that could have been done to make the course even better other than lengthening a few holes and blasting the left side of the hill on seventeen into a flatter hole and perhaps placing the green on the other side of the first ravine just after the eighteenth tee, but that would result in converting the eighteenth into a par 4.
The views are breathtaking and the golf is equally so, even if it feels a bit too touristy at times.
If one were to think of a course as a child, then the Cliffs would be the result of the marriage between Coore & Crenshaw's Plantation course in Kapalua and their Trails course at Bandon.
Kapalua maximizes the views to an almost dramatic degree and Trails expertly uses the land to create fascinating challenges for a golfer despite a "wow" visual factor that the other courses at Bandon possess.
The Cliffs stitches these principles together and the result socks you in the face both with the sea views and fun and funky routing that makes you think. My favorite stretch has to be 2-6 which plays in and along a dunes complex in one area of the course giving you two very funky par 4s, a solid par 3 and an all-world par 3 set among the endangered grasslands of the dunes.
The back nine also contains one of the all time stretches of capital D drama combining quirk and views starting with 15 leading out of the woods and back to the cliffs for a 16-18 run of which you will never see three holes laid out that way on any other course, ever.
16, par 3 you hit over the cliffs to obtain a left to right sloping green with bunkers hidden on the sides. 17, a hit and pray over the cliffs onto a short par 4 VERY reminiscent of 6th hole at Kapalua. 18 gives you plenty of cliffs to think about as the Atlantic is the entire right side of the hole leading up to an uphill green.
Is there is a little too much quirk one wonders with most of the 16th green obscured by dunes or how 17 is completely unimaginable to the first time player with ultra severe penalties for the wrong choice or that the 18th's ravine being a bit too unfair for the second/third shot? Does holes 11-13, while sneakily good in a Trails-like way, perhaps feels a bit uninspired compared to what proceeded it? Perhaps all of these questions can be answered in the affirmative depending on your point of view, but at the end of the day I would rather C&C try for something extraordinary and fall short than go for a safer route and not give something a foursome to debate over a lobster roll at the Public House.
That is ultimately what Cliffs gives you, drama, views and quirk set to 11 when the knob only goes to 10. It is assuredly a must play in Canada and the world and as a true testament to my appreciation for the course, what I wouldn't give to have a lobster roll and Cabot Ale at the ready and play the 2nd hole all day.
Cabot Cliffs may well be the younger of the two siblings but what Coore & Crenshaw have done here is nothing less than magnificent. This seaside clifftop property must have been a real challenge to route a course through. The genius of Bill Coore not only managed that but at the same time put together one of the best new courses in the world and one that immediately takes its place among the world’s Top 100 greats.
After a fairly gentle handshake Cabot Cliffs heats up already on the 2nd hole and gives you a taste of what’s in store.
The 2nd is a short par 4 with an infinitely wide fairway. It’s a solid 60 yards below the tee and requires a well placed and measured tee shot. A hybrid or long iron for longer hitters, 3 wood for medium hitters and possibly driver for shorter hitters. We were instructed to play to the left side which requires a shorter carry and provided a nice kick forward down to the fairway. Most importantly it provided arguably the best look at the approach to the left center pin position. The green was in a horseshoe shape around a large dune, a unique concept. It’s also raised and sloping severely back to front – easy enough to hit but often leaving a challenging two putt.
The next notable hole is the par 4 5th, which is a cape hole requiring an excellent drive with a high degree of precision. The drive is semi blind up over a slope to the right. A solid drive will run down the hill leaving a decent approach into a large green sloping severely right to left. This approach is made tricky, as it must be played from a right to left sloping fairway. A well placed approach right of the pin may just allow for a decent birdie opportunity.
The par 5 7th hole may well be the toughest and most intimidating on the front 9. The drive is deceptive and requires a very accurate tee shot to carry the ravine. It has a heroic element to it with a bunker running down the right side daring you to take it on and try and make the carry. The hole is a definitely a 3 shot par 5. A solid drive finding the fairway will be challenged by the second shot which plays much wider than it looks. As we played this hole straight into the wind the approach, which plays over a low area to a raised green with a huge bunker on the front left side, was extremely challenging each time.
After a solid start the back 9 really heats up with the par 3, 13th one of the most challenging 3’s on the course. Dealing with the wind this long 1 shotter plays to a tricky right to left sloping green that runs away diagonally from the line of play. At 200+ yards this will be as much as even the best players can bite off.
The par 5, 14th is a reachable par 5. A solid drive taking on the mound on the left side will receive a forward kick leaving a steep downhill approach into a green sloping severely front to back. Reachable as it is I never managed more than a 5 on this hole as putting and chipping around the green requires significant touch.
The iconic 16th hole is the crazy cliff top par 3 playing over the sea to a sliver thin green running perpendicular to the line of play. Adding to the challenge is the wind and the fact that the green is semi blind with the exception of the far right pin position which you can hope you don’t have to deal with.
The 17th may well be one of the most crazy and spectacular blind tee shots you will ever play. Some argue it’s too extreme but I think it adds to the dramatically spectacular finish at Cabot Cliffs. It’s hard to explain this hole but imagine standing on a cliff 150 ft above the crashing waves then playing your tee shot out over the abyss and across to a fairway that slopes steeply away from the line of play down to a green some 50 ft below. From the tee all you can see is the edge of the opposite cliff that runs from the high point on the left down and diagonally away from the tee box. The fairway and tee shot are blind, it’s a cut off as much as you can chew with an opportunity to drive the green on this short 4. A deep bunker fronts the green, shots that veer left and come up short, even up to 100yds short, can be putted down the steep slope around the front bunker. A fun shot to watch your putt break 30-40ft left to right and end up near a back right or front right flag.
The 18th brings you home along the cliffs and ocean in truly breathtaking fashion. A solid drive allows for a chance to take on this green in two. A great risk reward par 5 to rap things up.
Cabot Cliffs in my view steals the show and remains one of the best contributions of Coore & Crenshaw to the golf world to date. It’s the perfect 1,2 punch to keep the golf world returning for more.
Since the opening of the first 18 called Cabot Links -- the focus of the golf world has turned its eye to a location in Canada to the province of Nova Scotia -- which translates to New Scotland. The sequel to the Links courses -- The Cliffs opened in July of 2015 and I was on hand to play just a few days after the official opening.
The Cliffs is aptly named occupying land roughly 100-200 feet above the Gulf of St. Lawrence and provides for much more rolling terrain than the Links.
Given the involvement of Mike Keiser -- the man responsible for the development of the highly successful Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon -- it was clear different architects would be engaged given past success when doing so. Ben Cowan-Dewar, the brainchild for the golf course development, knew early on the special character of the land for the Cliffs 18 and like Keiser wanted the heralded duo of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore to create it.
This talented twosome has demonstrated a high degree of success with projects accentuating classical designed themes. Such notable works include Sand Hills in Nebraska, Friar's Head on Long Island, New York; Bandon Trails in Oregon; Clear Creek in the Tahoe area, to name just four -- along with highly successful restoration efforts at Pinehurst #2 in North Carolina and Prairie Dunes in Kansas. Just recently the two were hired to do similarly at famed Seminole in North Palm Beach, FL. Far more often than just about any other architects in the field -- Crenshaw and Coore turn down more offers than accept. For them -- the site and ownership have to be really special for them to say "yes."
One of the interesting dimensions of The Cliffs Course is that there is an equal number of par-5, par-4 and par-3 holes. That means no more than six (6) par-4 holes and frankly it hurts the overall result in providing maximum hole differentiation.
The opening hole is fairly benign par-5 581 yards -- meant to get the muscles loosened. Playing into the prevailing summer wind can mean a fairly stout hole but with the firm turf the opener is simply meant to get the players on their way. At the 2nd -- the architectural elements leap off the charts. You begin the hole from an elevated tee -- a fairway is wide enough to have several football games going on all at once. Again, the prevailing wind is in one's face and the key is securing the proper position for the approach shot. The green reminds me of the approach shot one faces with the 2nd at Pine Valley -- elevated to a demanding green with a plethora of vexing twists and turns.
Players have to decide at the tee what angle for the approach is preferred. A down the middle tee shot is clearly safe but it ensures nothing depending upon the pin location. The green is elevated so being able to hit the proper club is mandatory. Having the right yardage is not enough -- the players must feel the shot and provide the correct trajectory to secure the best of outcomes. When the pin is cut tight to the front left or right you need to apply the highest level of shotmaking. The word superlative is often vastly overstated but in my cumulative golf experiences the 2nd here is riveting.
The par-4 3rd is a good transition hole and while it plays away from the Gulf of St. Lawrence it pays to make note of where the pin is located to ensure the best angle into the green.
The 4th is one of the best par-3's at the Cliffs. There's two greens designed for the hole and while the left one is longer -- about 225 yards -- it's the right one that is fiendish -- especially when the pin is cut tight towards the front. The next three holes show the collective skills of Crenshaw and Coore. The 5th is a risk/reward short par-4 that is smartly done with a tempting left side carry for the strong or foolish. The par-3 6th looks like a hole from Ballybunion's Old Course -- set in a bowl-like setting. The par-5 7th is arguably the best par-5 at the course. The tee shot requires a carry -- the closer one plays to the right the greater the effort is required. When you walk the fairway you will note the amount of undulation that's been provided. At Cabot Cliffs you rarely get massive stretches of fairway that don't have internal movement or predictable flat lies at all times. So many other practicing architects should take note of this invaluable feature.
Unfortunately, the 7th, which is also a par-5 -- would be best played as a long par-4. The demands as a three-shot hole are fairly routine -- the saving grace is the putting surface which features a Biarritz green so getting to a rear pin location is clearly a challenge. The short par-3 8th is simply a connecting point between 7th and 9th holes. Crenshaw and Coore have created a number of top tier short holes in their illustrious career -- the 17th at Clear Creek comes to mind -- ditto the qualities of the 5th at Bandon Trails. The 9th here at the Cliffs is mainly vanilla.
The back nine doesn't start next to the clubhouse -- the long 10th provides players with a return to the starting area. While the hole does have a pesky ravine that crosses in front of the green - the design elements are mainly on the low octane side of things. Candidly, the combination of holes at #9 and #10 could have been possibly reworked to provide for a better variety of sorts -- possibly two par-4 holes of note.
The final eight holes provide top quality terrain and shotmaking requirements. The 11th green sits in a saddle and the uphill nature of the hole can distort club selection. On paper it looks like a simple hole -- it's more complex than many realize. The par-3 12th is a stout hole -- just under 250 yards and the wind direction velocity determines much. Hats off to Crenshaw and Coore -- many might think a miss to the left provides for an easier escape -- the reality is that the right side -- even in the greenside bunker -- provides more elasticity to escape with a three.
At 398 yards the 13th will prove to be un-lucky for many players. The land forms provided are quite compelling -- topped by an approach shot that again must be hit with total purpose or face a likely punishment of bogey or worse. The hole plays uphill away from the water but the effective yardage is likely to add anywhere from 15-20 yards to the total.
The 14th is a fine par-3 but doesn't add much to the total equation. It's more of a "connector" hole.
I am a big fan of the downhill par-5 15th -- the contouring of the fairway makes for a tough decision at the tee. Under favorable conditions is reachable in two for the strong player. As you walk over the brow of the hill you see the green in the nearby distance -- with the Gulf of St. Lawrence set in the backdrop -- grand stuff indeed.
When you reach the 16th tee you come one of the finest par-3 holes in all of golf. That may sound a bit lofty but I am confident in saying it. The sheer beauty is joined at the hip with non-negotiable demands. The hole plays 176 yards but once you hit your approach the lump in your throat will be noticeable. The green is set on a promontory that juts out high above the Gulf of St. Lawrence. From the tee the green provides more room to the left and there is space for the pin to be based far right. When located there the landing area is akin to a plane descending upon an aircraft carrier. The brakes had better be working. Interestingly, the architects believe the far left pin is the more demanding because of the contouring of the land that makes keeping a ball in that area more problematic.
Just when you thought things could not get much better -- you come to the 17th. One of the real strengths of Crenshaw and Coore is knowing hot to create short par-4's that soar high off the charts -- using terrain to maximum effect and overall strategy. The hole slides to the right -- following the coastline - and plays uphill from the tee. Be forewarned -- the carry is much longer than it appears. The prudent play is to aim a bit more left and allow the contouring of the ground to roll the ball towards the green. Naturally, the architects -- being the clever people they are -- have added a bit more consequence into the equation. The green is protected by two frontal bunkers -- not especially large but like fire ants can bite quite painfully when called upon. For the player in the range of 75-100 yards out from the green the pitch over them will certainly create a "diaper moment."
The 18th, a closing par-5, is done well as it parallels the coastline. However, I view the hole as anti-climatic after such searing memories come from the preceding two holes. A closing long par-4 in the league with either the 9th or 10th at Pebble Beach could have been accomplished and served as the perfect counterpoint to what one faced at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes. Likely, the architects wanted to provide one final good opportunity for a closing birdie -- I was hoping for something much more to close out the round. Credit the architects in creating a serpentine green that adds a saving grace to the hole -- especially timid players shying away from the coastline with their 2nd shots.
The sad part during my time at the Cliffs was the fescue greens. They were especially slow -- as in S-L-O-W -- full shoulder turns needed to get a 10-footer to the hole. Slugging is not putting. No doubt playing a new course means conditions will not be ideal. But, on the flip side, when anyone opens a course it's best to have things in somewhat proper working order. I heard similar tales from people who played the course in '16 -- so it does bear watching. A quality green speed accentuates the design elements -- not have them neutered.
There's been mention by some that the Cliffs is on par with such places as Sand Hills and Cypress Point. Clearly -- the pro Crenshaw / Coore enthusiasts -- are getting a bit ahead of themselves. The two aforementioned layouts easily make any top dozen courses in the world. The actual position of The Cliffs will need a good bit more time to sort out where it ultimately is positioned.
The Cliffs provides an rousing intersection of land and water. But the lack of a wider variety of par-4's inhibits a far greater menu of holes. Trying to create six par-5's and an equal number of par-3 holes is more of an exercise in fulfilling a self-inflicted need when the land could have been better served otherwise. Let me add there is no set formula on what type of holes or the pars they have needs to be. However, the self-imposed desire to provide just six two-shot holes -- strikes me as short sighted and speaks to a desire to complete a bucket list accomplishment.
The ebb and flow of the land makes for a range of shotmaking situations in which the golfer will need to make constant adjustments -- never allowing the player to get too comfortable. Crenshaw and Coore have clearly created a fun layout -- but greatness, in my mind, is about the thoroughness of the examination. In all likelihood I will need to return and play it again -- hopefully, when the putting greens are more functional than my first time around. The two Cabot courses will clearly have their fan groups. I view the original Links Course a more consistent and testing round of golf. The Cliffs is more about specific individual moments -- pushing the emotional buttons is what Crenshaw and Coore do so well. And make no mistake about it -- there are a number of holes at The Cliffs -- that like a stirring movie -- will have you on the edge of your seat. Just don't spill the popcorn.
Combined together -- there are few 36-hole complexes in all of golf -- that can make for such a grand time. Cape Breton Island is now clearly high on the radar screen for golf aficionados and in reading this review the question should not be "if" you go but more like "when" you do.
by M. James Ward
I agree completely with this, Cape Breton is not to be missed by golfers looking for something really special. Cabot combined with Highlands Links is one of the best trips I've ever made.
Cabot Cliffs is as good as any. That's a pretty strong statement coming from someone who has had the pleasure to play 7 of the top 10 on top 100 list and 13 of top 20. The Cliffs is a mix of 6 par 3/4/5's. Every hole is special. Two holes I would change. The 9th is a short 3 which feels like it was jammed in to complete the 9. On the back the par 3 12th is just too much of a tilt. One of my 4some shoved their shot 40 yards right.....When it finished 10 feet away we all were stunned. I would trade out some increase yardage on 9 for some decrease on 12. Other than those two there are 16 very good to great holes. I believe the signature hole is 17. A roller coaster up and down par 4 which requires a tee ball that climbs 40 feet to find the fairway as the cliff wall stairs at you. Sublime. 16 is a treacherous 3 over that same cliff as in juts in. 2 may be the best hole. It is laid out with elevated tee to fairway that starts tight and expands to right. Go left or go long. The green is sinister tucked behind a huge bunker over a pond with a devilish mound in the green. 3 great sliding left. 5 is a huge dogleg left with pond to go around. How much can you bite off. The par 3 prior has a double green left/ right...great hole. A redan like 3 6th hole is nice but the 16th best hole. 7 forced carry 5 which looks more intimidating than it is. 8 is a good par 5 with fairway bunkers causing concerns for all shots. 10 a good par 5 hugging the cliff on the left and having some diabolical fairway bunkers which get visited often. Then you must cross the cliff to enter the green. 11 climbs up hill good hole. 13 nice dogleg right... don't go right.huge depression and overgrowth..15 a good 5 with more room than appears. The clubhouse....Yurts.,Is unique....The chairs placed in grass around 18 green and 10 green and 11 tee.are quite unique.
The Links combines with this to create a substantial 1 2 punch. Visit Highland Links an hour away for a year Tribeca. But the Cliffs is the magnet.
I played Cabot Cliffs in early September and I must say it is nothing short of absolutely marvellous. There are of course no weak holes, just one stellar hole after another. And there is also the very comforting feeling that you always know where you are on the property, the course is not a maze. Definately one of the very best I've played.
The first thing that strikes the golfer is that there are only 6 par 4s.I found this variety to be a big plus. Five of the six par 5s (the exception is # 8) are very strong. Too many architects fall asleep on the second shot on par 5s, but at Cabot Cliffs there are fairway hazards to contend with on five of them. And the par 5s are not the only holes with fairway hazards to get in the golfer’s mind. The par 3s are varied as well, running in 4 different directions and requiring different clubs for each. But there are tricks to be played. A perfect example is the 168 yard par 14th, where a set of deep bunkers guards the front right side of the green. Nonetheless, when the hole is cut in the back half of the green, the best shot is to the right of the bunkers off a 15 yard wide sideboard. And as the player heads for home, (s)he encounters do or die shots at both 16 (A Cypress style par 3 over the ocean) and 17 (a driveable par 4 requiring a tee ball perilously close to the 100 foot cliff.)
The greens are heavily contoured and huge: six of them are 45 yards or more in length or width. I place this course in my pantheon of modern links-style design, rivaled only by the 3 at Bandon Dunes and Lost Farm.
With the official opening not scheduled until 2016, I was among a limited number playing in the summer of 2015. The fescue fairways had grown in nicely and I found only one lie where I’d have preferred to prefer. The greens were true as well, although quite slow, measuring 7 on my stimpmeter. It’s already quite firm and will make for an even more challenging test once the grass is cut further. (As a matter of contrast, Cabot Cliffs was in better shape prior to its official opening than Trump International was two years after its official opening.) My 6 ball rating makes the likely assumption that conditions will have improved by the time it opens officially.