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.
Date: May 23, 2020