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.”
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.