In 2012, less than five years after Rod Whitman’s critically acclaimed Sagebrush course made its debut in British Columbia, another of his formidable designs was unveiled on the other side of the country in the remote province of Nova Scotia.
Cabot Links is partly located on an old coal mine just outside the small town of Inverness on the rugged west coast of Cape Breton Island and the generously proportioned fairways that now nestle amongst the sand hills overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence comprise Canada’s first genuine links layout.
The front nine plays considerably longer than the back nine, largely because the inward half contains four of the five short holes on the scorecard. The tiny 14th is perhaps the most thrilling of these par threes – measuring no more than 102 yards from the back markers – and it plays downhill to an infinity green that’s totally exposed to the elements.
A second course, Cabot Cliffs, was unveiled to the golfing public in 2015 so maybe, in the years to come, Inverness will become the iconic Canadian golfing destination that matches Bandon in the United States. That wouldn’t be too much of a surprise, of course, when you consider that one of the developers here is none other than Mike Keiser.
Played the course in late June of 2022 and can say that it is a wonderful treat. I found it to be slightly more enjoyable than the Cliffs Course throughout the entirety of the round. Sure the Cliffs course has those last 4 fantastic holes, but the Links course is great from hole 1 through 18. The caddies, staff, etc where all first class in terms of making sure you enjoyed your visit. I am not sure if it goes into my top 10 courses played, but it is really close.
“This is just like Scotland,” exclaimed Mrs W, as we trundled around the 61st best golf course in the world
I presume that William Alexander, the first Earl of Stirling, who named Nova Scotia (New Scotland), would have been as pleased by the comparison as designer Rod Whitman who unveiled Cabot Links ten years ago.
Cape Breton, in the north of this Canadian province, has many strong echoes of the homeland with its forests punctuated by small towns and even the occasionally whisky distillery.
Meanwhile, the first course opened by the seaside of Inverness creates echoes of golf at Castle Stuart and Skibo Castle.
However, in contrast with our rounds in Scotland, it was very busy at Cabot.
The service here is something to behold. Smiles are positivity abounded as soon as we arrived and continued throughout.
And there are many links with the UK - incredibly, the pro shop manager turned out to be from Skegness and was in the same school class as our future daughter-in law!
We had journeyed more than four hours and both were suffering heavy colds when we took on Cabot Links but benefited from its reviving qualities.
However, in all honesty, it did take a couple of holes before we could see what the fuss was about.
The opener, a par-five alongside the residents’ villas, is a very gentle introduction and the second is a long par-three which demands a straightforward belt down the left-hand side to avoid sand.
The third is where the fun begins – a short par-four out to sea with a water hazard tight on the right and a small dune directly in front of the green which blocks out the flag from those who hit too far down the left.
The sixth is one of the most picturesque holes I have played anywhere – a dogleg left par-four alongside a crystal blue inlet with a boatyard to the rear of the green.
Sadly, we played on a dull day and my photos did not do it justice.
The eighth is wonderful – a par-five alongside the beach with a tough carry over thick grass from the tee before ascending to a double-green, defended by bunkers. I was thrilled to nail a par.
There are many chances to score at Cabot Links thanks to wide fairways and large greens. However, it required more talent than either Mrs W or I possess to judge the pace on the putting surface which could either be very fast downhill or surprisingly slow going the other way.
Both of us suffered the calamity of putts which flew past the hole and ended up over the green.
The 11th is a cracking par-five which rises and dips and demands accurate play to avoid bunkers and mounds before a sharp right turn into a green framed by the ocean.
Arguably the trickiest tee shot is on the 13th which goes straight up over railway-sleeper-lined bunkers. A decent shot away should result in a score.
At less than 100 yards, downhill, the 14th is the shortest par-three of my travels so far but one of the most dramatic and I made a complete hash of it.
The tee is elevated and beyond the green all that can be seen is water. Having watched the pair before us strike too far, I blocked my shot and it flew right into the rough. I look forward to playing it again.
By this stage, having booked a late tee time on a dull day, we were struggling to see the true beauty of the beachside holes at 15 and 16 but both required attentive play to avoid balls slipping down the cliff.
The finale at Cabot Links is, as the Scots would say, bonnie – not because it is particularly outstanding but because of the experience of playing in front of the residents’ lodges and the clubhouse.
I doffed my cap in appreciation at the applause I received for my second shot in the 18th – an unexceptional strike with a fairway wood - and loved the applause for my snaking off-the-green putt which landed a foot from the hole.
This bonhomie summed up our day at Cabot Links and continued in the club’s pub next to its reception.
Tales from the course were regaled, tunes were sung with ever greater gusto as the beer flowed and then we adjourned to our room overlooking the aforementioned 18th.
It was a exciting day which we look forward to repeating.
Have had the chance to walk Cabot Links twice. I was drawn soon after opening to visit and made a return once the Cliffs was intact. This is a superb layout. It offers a special course with superb conditioning. There are a hand full of great holes and no weak holes. The facility is excellent and defines the build it and they will come adage. A true links course with links conditioning. The views are fabulous and at times you feel the course literally enters the seacoast. Make your way there if you haven't, you'll go back often.
Cabot Links is located in the remote town of Inverness in Nova Scotia, Canada. The links is partly located in an old coal mining site and runs along the coast and hard against the town
Ben Cowan-Dewar is the man behind the project and when Ben partnered with Mike Keiser of Bandon Dunes fame, they set about putting Nova Scotia on the golfing map.
Not surprisingly the business model is similar to that at Bandon Dunes with multiple links courses, walking only courses, with terrific accommodation and dining options.
Rod Whitman was chosen to design the first course- called Cabot Links- and he did a wonderful job, pulling the various components together cohesively to mould a traditional links course.
All holes are exposed to the conditions, and one can imagine there would be wild windy days at Cabot. Consequently many of the fairways are wide and forgiving- but I thought Cabot Links was more of a second shot course.
When we played the course it was in near drought conditions with the fairways brownish and dry and running, and the greens perhaps a tad too firm and bouncy for comfort, even for a true links course. We soon learned to adjust and bounce the ball in wherever possible.
There are many highlights at Cabot:
- the huge biarritz green on the long par 3 second hole
- the short strategic par 4 third hole- do you lay up off the tee?
- the strong uphill par 4 fourth hole with an elevated green protected by bunkers front- with greens firm and wind assisting it can be hard to stop a ball on the green
- the delightful elevated par 3 fifth hole
- the cape style par 4 sixth hole around the water with fishing boats behind the green
- the nicely bunkered short par 3 seventh hole
- the significant carry on the par 5 eighth hole, and then double green target blind over the dune- a most confusing hole if you don’t have a caddy!
- the brilliant uphill par 5 eleventh hole- possibly the best hole on the course
- the strong par 4 thirteenth hole with scary tee shot over the reeds and then over an elevated set of bunkers to reach a fairway above and beyond them…
Cabot Links is a strong first course for the Cabot Links Resort, and combined with its junior sibling Cabot Cliffs forms one of the great new golf destinations in the world. I think in time Cabot Links will improve.
The signature hole, the very very short downhill par 3 fourteenth hole with its skyline green, is spectacular but way too short IMO. There appears plenty of room and the tee could be moved back to make for a nice full short iron shot rather than a half wedge.
I think that signage and more descriptive course guides would eliminate the problems on eight where none of the groups around us had any clue where they were heading.
Clearly these are teething problems- but the underlying product is a delightful links course in a remote part of the world that deserves to be on all golfers bucket lists
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
I played Cabot Links twice in September, 2016 along with two rounds at Cabot Cliffs. We stayed onsite after coming from a round at Cape Breton Highland Links.
Rod Whitman designed Cabot Links and built much of it himself over a three year period.
After the first round I felt Cabot Links to have a fantastic routing but felt the greens were silly given the pin locations on 14 of the 18 holes. I much preferred Cabot Cliffs. But after the second round on both, I preferred Cabot Links because I think it is the course that requires more decision-making and strategy. I also think it does not suffer as much from fairways that are too wide which is the case at Cabot Cliffs. I also believe it has the better green complexes. I do think Cabot Cliffs has the more visually stunning holes due to its higher cliffside locations and the bigger changes in elevation. Cabot Cliffs has more holes that are also “best in the world.” On my own personal rating scale, I do rate Cabot Cliffs higher, but if I returned I would play Cabot Links twice for every round at Cabot Cliffs. It’s a close call between the two of them. I am glad we have both to play.
The routing from the Black tees is 6854, par 70, rated 73.7/132 and from the Green tees is 6455 rated 71.6/125. The other tees are 6020/4942/3691 which is amazing as I have never seen this before anywhere.
I felt the best holes to be 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 16 and 18. There are six greens that I felt were too severe but if the pins are not near some of those severe spots, then the greens are fine.
There are magnificent views of the coastline and the ocean from the course. While Cabot Links does not have the spectacular views of Cabot Cliffs, which sits on higher ground, the views are amazing and one gets the added bonus of playing alongside the attractive hotel. Cabot Cliffs offers more dramatic change in elevation, yet Cabot Links offers plenty of change in elevation as well. Both offer rolling, undulating fairways with some dramatic drops and valleys. Both have excellent routings playing in all directions with the tees and green sites nearly perfectly laid out to take advantage of the best spots of land. Both courses offer blow-out, raised, deep, irregular bunkers that are both lovely to look at and terrifying to play from them.
Cabot Cliffs may offer the more spectacular holes in #2, #5, #7 and #16 but Cabot Links has holes that are perhaps even more challenging, just not quite as beautiful.
The reasons I favor the Links over the Cliffs is that the Links has more variety in its holes. Although the course does not play much longer (90 and 70 yard differences from the Black and Green tees), than Cabot Cliffs, it has a better variety of par 4’s and I think the more interesting par 5’s save for the seventh at the Cliffs course. As for the par 3’s, they are roughly the same. Although the greens are borderline unplayable based on some pin locations on the Links course (I think six greens should be softened), they are better greens than the Cliffs. Finally, Cabot Links does not have a terrible hole on it, which is my opinion of the 17th at the Cliffs. I have heard many golfers also say that the 16th on Cabot Cliffs is not a good hole, although spectacular to view.
Finally, I really like the echos of Scotland in Cabot Links beginning with the short 14th at 102 yards (Royal Troon Old) and finishing at a green hard by windows to the restaurant and the outdoor seating area (St. Andrews Old). There is a double green as well (St. Andrews Old). While the Cliffs course has possibly more dramatic changes in elevation than Cruden Bay, the Links course reminds me of the changes in the land at Trump Turnberry Ailsa. In summary, the Cliffs course is so breathtaking that it is a course that is “tourist golf,” as opposed to a course that is for better golfers. In art terms, one is a Monet and the other is a Manet.
1 – par 5 540/530. This is a straightforward hole that eases one into the round. It is a slight double dogleg with a generous fairway. There is a large bunker and a long bunker left and a bunker right raised a bit into the dune. Nearer the green there are fronting bunkers and two pot bunkers on the right. There is some really interesting contouring nearer the green that can propel a ball one way or the other, or perhaps even stop it, with the swale on the right kicking a ball well offline. The green is set off to the right. While the two courses are not necessarily in competition with each other, I preferred this par 5 opener to the one on the Cliffs course. As I played it I wondered whether anyone was watching from their hotel room.
2 – par 3 247/230. This hole has a very big green, nearly 50 yards in length. There is a three feet horizontal swale near the middle of the green. A bunker is set off on the right middle. I thought it to be a fun hole for shorter hitters because one can run their ball onto the hole, thereby reducing the need to hit “all out.” Of course, if the wind is in one’s face, this hole is likely more about limiting the high score.
3 – par 4 330/313. There are no bunkers on this sharp dogleg right with a very generous fairway. There are a few raised mounds on the left center of the fairway followed by a raised mound on the left front of the green. This mound near the green make a pitch over it difficult if the pin is in the front. For those attempting to drive the green by cutting over the dogleg there is relatively high grass. The green has humps and hollows throughout and on round one the pin was placed on the top of one that was a bit silly.
4 – par 4 450/410. This hole goes uphill back towards the town. There are scattered, deep bunkers down the left and right followed by a centerline bunker. The green is still above you with two small middle fronting bunkers and one put bunker back left. The green is angled left to right with the higher ground to the right. On my first round the pin was placed in a spot that seemed both inaccessible and one could not stop the putt coming back down to it. Therefore, I disliked the hole despite the bunkering and visual. After the second round, it became one of my favorite holes with a better pin location. I putted to several spots of the green and realized that it is a fair green and a very good golf hole.
5 - par 3 178/172. Hitting over bushes downhill to a green with bunkers on the front right and fall-offs around the raised green, this is visually a better hole than it plays due to the bushes and flowers on the hill to the left of the hole. I consider it to be a transition hole but equal to several of the par 3’s on the Cliffs course.
6 – par 4 465/440. This Cape hole is simply gorgeous as it sharply curves around the pond going as a dogleg left to a green that slopes back to front and right to left. One sees the boats in the background tied up at the small harbor and the dunes framing the right side of the fairway. There are only two small bunkers on the left on this hole as well as sand on the left between the green and the water to try to save a ball hit into the green with too much pace or distance. This is my favorite hole at Cabot. If one hits a good tee shot, the second shot seems so inviting, but it is not easily judged given the green’s left side is at the edge of the water and the fairway is sloped to leave the ball above your feet.
7 – par 3 192/186. Playing to the coastline with the beach ahead, this slightly downhill par 3 located in the dunes offers a chance to run a ball onto the small green with long bunkers to either side. This kicks off five holes by the water. I like this hole.
8 - par 5 580/550. This is a terrific par 5 paralleling the coastline with the beach to the left. The slightly elevated tee has you playing over grasses to a wide fairway out to the right, then back to the left in order to get around a massive bunker and dune area between the beach and the left side of the fairway as well as to get over a ridge in the terrain making the second shot a blind shot. The approach shot to a massive green must carry the bunkers left and right on the front with a swale to the right and behind the green. The green is large as it is shared with the thirteenth and it is very undulated with rolls throughout and a depression front left and a plateau back right.
One aspect I really like here is that the ninth tee, twelfth and fourteenth tee all start their holes from essentially the same high dune.
9 – par 4 360/340. Playing from the elevated tee, there are in essence three centerline bunkers to consider, one on the drive and then two short of the green. There is also a bunker complex placed into a small hill on the right. The green is surrounded by bunkers. This green has a significant false front that will send one’s ball as much as fifty feet away. On round one, the pin was placed at the beginning of it and I had to chip back at it, went a few inches too and went off the front. No one in our group did not end off the front. On round two the pin was placed at the back of the green and it is a fairly easy par.
10 - par 4 385/355. This lovely hole works it way down the slope towards the water following a blind tee shot. There is large, raised bunker complex on the right corner of this dogleg right. There are several bunkers short of the green on the right creating an illusion that you need another club. Finally, there is a single pot bunker front left. The green slopes right to left and front to back following the land. Much like the ninth, I did like the hole but found that once I had played it and learned how to play it, it became a lot easier.
11- par 5 620/580. This amazing par 5 offers an excellent risk-reward decision for the approach shot due to the large, wide, deep valley fronting the green. This is a hole that continually works to the right. While the fairway is wide for the tee shot and plays downhill, the longer hitters have to consider a collection of bunkers at the end of the fairway on the right. For the second shot one has to decide whether to go up the left side which is narrow and brings another collection of bunkers into play, try to avoid a pot bunker in the middle of the fairway, or lay up short of that ravine/valley. The green sits on a plateau and runs away from you with higher mounds behind the green and a bunker front right. If one can successfully navigate the left side of the fairway with their second shot, they will be rewarded with a view of the green and a much easier shot in. It is a wonderful hole taking optimal advantage of the land to create drama. For me it is my second favorite hole on the golf course as it offers every option for longer shots, shorter shots, pitches, boldness and conservatism.
12 – par 4 450/425. This is a difficult hole playing as a dogleg right with a deep bunker on the right and two flanking bunkers fronting a raised green. For a player whose miss is to the right, the green never seems to be truly visible with the right side having bushes and higher ground from the middle of the hole to the back of the green. I like the hole due to its difficulty.
13 – par 4 440/420. This slightly uphill hole has a forced carry over wetlands and grasses with massive bunkers built into the side of the ridge that one must carry to get to the fairway. Fortunately, this hole is generally downwind. This green is shared with the eighth hole. There is another centerline bunker and then two bunkers at the front of the green. The green is very undulated and almost unfair. It is a wonderful hole.
14 – par 3 102/95. Looking right at the water from the higher tee, this green is large but affected by the wind. A single pot bunker guards the green with fall-offs left and right. In the absence of wind, this hole is not much with the biggest distraction being the views. With any wind even as low as 8-10mph, this hole is a delight.
15 - par 4 413/385. Much like the eighth, this hole plays along the coast with another forced carry to a fairway that narrows at the green where several bunkers await at the front. The green is irregular shaped sitting on slightly higher ground. The safe play is to the wider part of the fairway off to the right but that provides a bad angle to the reverse foot-shaped green that falls off to the right behind the bunker before the green returns. This hole and sixteen provide the best look at the beach which can be distracting. It is a very nice hole.
16 – par 4 457/430. There are three bunkers scattered down the left and right of the landing zone and then a single bunker at the back of the elevated green. This is my third favorite hole on the course given the higher land on the fairway to the right side, a green angled right to left with a severe fall-off on the left due to the start of ravine down to the beach. The right side of the fairway rolls with swales and minor dips with the left side having flatter land. The bunkers on the right side of the fairway are slightly raised with land sculpted to bring balls into them. It is a very good golf hole.
17 – par 3 170/142. The final par 3 is a good one with a green that is thinner on the back left. There are four surrounding bunkers equally spaced although the front one is set back from the green about ten yards. There is a false front to the left side of the green. The green is sloped steeply back to front. It is another good hole and something tells me I do not list it as one of the best simply because I feel I have listed too many holes.
18 – par 4 475/452. This is an excellent finishing hole as you finish by the hotel, restaurant and outdoor drinking area. This hole begins with a blind drive over a ridge with the church or part of the clubhouse as your target depending on the wind. About 100 yards out from the green the hotel appears on the left and continues to the green. There is a bunker right not in play and one left that is in play. For the approach shot there are two bunkers short where the land provides an opportunity to run the ball onto the raised green with fall-offs to all sides and sharply sloped back to front. There are three bunkers right of the green to defend against those trying to ensure they do not hit left into the restaurant. There is a single central bunker left of the green.
I really like Cabot Links. I encourage everyone to make the trip to Cabot and play both courses. As I said, on my own personal rating scale I rate Cabot Cliff just a bit higher but Cabot Links is the course I preferred to play. It really offers everything that one would want from golf – strategy, undulating fairways, undulating greens, different shaped greens, blind shots, short par 3’s, long par 3’s and the same for the par 4 and 5s. It has stunning coastal scenery, can be very influenced by the strength and direction of the wind. It is one of the very best courses that I have ever played.
There are many courses in North America that offer a links-like experience but it isn't until you play the real thing at Cabot Links that you see how those other courses fail to measure up. There is something about the Links that just feels rooted in the land, both along the sea and dunes and even grounded in the town of Inverness itself.
This grounded-ness elevates the typical holes into something special. The 6th hole is a Cape hole which truly hugs the interior bay with lobster boats gently bobbing in the ocean. Listening to the racing announcer announce the next race at the thoroughbred track when playing 4th and the 5th holes. The 10th is a fantastic blind par 4 short hole that is super quirky and super fun. The 14th is an insane par 3 that despite being only about 90 yards will make you question your very swing with its postage stamp green. The 16th hole runs along the cliffs and allows the player to play off the beach if they go too far to the left. These are but a few highlights of the course.
The course also does a great job varying the approach into greens, allowing for bump and runs here and there as well as hitting it high to avoid treacherous bunkers (like on the 4th hole) and like any proper links course, plays completely differently in weather/wind versus calm conditions.
The only knock on the course is I feel that the architects put a little too much teeth into their design with some forced carries and par 5s that seem to ask a few too many questions to the typical resort golfer's game.
Since the founding of the sister Cliffs course, the Links seems to get less love but isn't any lesser than, just different. Anyone making the trip this far on the Eastern Seaboard of North America owes it to themselves to play this course and truly become one with the town of Inverness.
The odds are small that you’ve even heard of Halifax, Nova Scotia. If you have, you’ve likely never been there or even thought about visiting unless of course you are a golfer. I realize well that there is a small percentage of the population that thinks I’m crazy for saying that but let’s face it Halifax is well off the beaten path for most of the world. Arriving there and arranging your rental car you may think you’re actually almost at Inverness where Cabot Links is located. Think again, it’s a solid 3-hour drive and one that you are better off to make in the day time as this is a part of the world that for the most part has not yet been polluted by the hand of man. 3 hours of raw nature and old forest will get you to Cabot.
Upon arrival, much like Bandon Dunes, what you get is phenomenal. It’s a paradise for golfers. There’s no doubt that Cabot is one of the true unique golf getaways on the planet. It fits perfectly into the classification of “If you build it they will come.” It also clearly proves that golfers are a crazy bunch, always looking for the most exotic and natural locations away from society. Cabot is the ultimate guys weekend/week getaways. It’s all about golf, friends, good food and being away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
As far as it is from everything it’s really only a short trip from the likes of Toronto and the East Coast of the US. It’s the perfect getaway.
Cabot Links was the first course built here on this wonderful property. Clearly the intention was to put together as close to a Scottish or Irish links experience as possible. The first key element, links land, was a feature this remote part of Canada was graced with. To be fair the rolling dunes are perfect for golf. Cabot Links is the more subtle of the two courses but still possesses quite undulated links land when compared with many UK/Irish links courses. There are several standout holes on the front 9 however, my favorite was the par 4, 5th which is an excellent cape hole requiring you to cut off as much as you dare. This hole plays as a dogleg left around a beautiful lake, which is the only water to contend with on the property.
The par 3, 6th is another excellent hole playing 200 yards to a narrow green and on both our days into the wind.
The back 9 starts with a quirky short par 4 dogleg right that dares you take on the large dune on the right side. Once successful you are left with a short iron or wedge into a highly undulated and two-tiered green that drops off sharply front and left.
The 16th is a hole right out of Bandon Dunes. It plays along the cliffs that drop some 60 ft down to the beach which is not OB. We played this hole straight into the wind which renders the tee shot quite a challenge. Of course I pulled my only drive of the day left and with a solid kick I ended up down on the beach nearly resting in the surf. My playing partners all said take a drop. Being a bit more stubborn than that I navigated my way down the cliff and managed a perfect shot back up to the fairway and 110 yds from the green on this par 5 resulting in an easy par. Well at least on the card. The best part was that it brought my partner and I back to 1 down with two to play. A birdie on 18 would half the match.
Cabot has not only breathed life back into this little town of Inverness, it’s provided golfers from around the world with another unique and bucket list destination that’s open to golf fanatics everywhere. Cabot is not to be missed.
Cabot Links is beautiful. While not as dramatic as its younger sibling, it provides as much enjoyment as any golf course I’ve played. The developers of this golfing paradise created something of which dreams are made of! I had the pleasure of playing both Cabot courses twice in 48 hours this past June. 72 holes of pure, unadulterated fun, over two days that I will not forget.
The Links, even though still a young golf course, is the older, wiser sister of the two. Its undulations are more subtle, its intricacies more delicate and on a windy day, its character is more mischievous. The opening hole is a wide par 5 that invites you to stay right, but a stroke can be shaved off your score quite easily if you can manage to hit a long tee shot over the left bunker, setting up the right angle to get on in two. After a welcoming hug, the second hole smacks you right in the face, a demanding three shotter playing over 240 yards. On my first day, this hole played into a strong wind, asking for a low stinger of a 2 iron. It is a good thing there is plenty of room to let the ball run up to the green. The 3rd hole appears benign, playing only at about 330 yards, drivable with a favourable wind. However, it is not to be underestimated, as trouble lurks all along the right side of the hole and can quickly take away that stroke you might have gained on the first hole. The 4th hole is a good uphill par 4 with a generous fairway. The 5th takes you into the bay, beautifully setting up the 6th, the Cape Hole, which takes you along the bay down by the harbour. This was my favourite hole on the course, a dogleg left demanding an accurate drive to set up a difficult second shot. If you are feeling confident, you can take on a bit of the water with the driver, but the more sensible approach is a 3 wood followed by a mid-iron. The green slopes severely from right to left, making it difficult to get close to the hole if it is cut on the right side.
The 7th is a good par 3 tucked away into the dunes, leading you to the first real seaside hole on the course. The 8th is a long par 5, but offers plenty of room off the tee. The plateaued green makes for an interesting third shot. Leaving the green, the stretch from the 9th tee box to the 13th green is a tough test of golf.
Walking up to the 14th tee, one starts to realize the beauty that is about to come. If the 6th is the best hole, the 14th certainly is the most fun. Playing downhill at 100 yards, it is practically just a pitch shot away. The green is shallow and a nasty pot bunker lies behind the right middle part of the green. Don’t let the distance fool you, par is a good score here!
If you can fight the urge of going back up to the 14th tee which a handful of balls to play it again and again, the home stretch is waiting to take on a wild ride you along the Gulf of St. and then back to the clubhouse. The 15th and 16th are good par 4s that can easily add a couple bogeys to your round. The shortish 17th gives you some breathing room, before tackling the demanding 18th hole with its green set up just below the hotel bar with onlooking golfers enjoying their post-round drinks.
Cabot Links is a true links experience. Don’t expect green speeds to be as fast as a Tour event, but make sure you account for the wind, even on short putts. Don’t expect every blade of grass to be perfect and every lie to be as clean as a pool table’s surface. What you should expect though, is pure fun and golf as it was meant to be!
My first time to the facility came in October, 2012 -- the "buzz" I had heard prompted me to accept an invitation to leave from the greater New York City area and make the visit. Often times -- when the hype machine is going full bore the likely outcome is disappointment. That did not happen here.
Cabot Links is the first of two courses that exist at the facility. I have already opined on the Cliffs Course which had a soft opening in July 2015. The usage of a former mining site was nothing short of genius. And, most of all, the development of such a first rate facility has been an economic engine for an area that likely would have faded quickly from view given the dearth of employment opportunities.
Any discussion on the genesis of Cabot starts with the brainchild -- Ben Cowan-Dewar. Ben saw early on the potential for the site and when the economy was impacted by The Great Recession it was clear something of a major sort would be needed to reinvigorate the area.
The Links Course is the work of Rod Whitman -- a Canadian of immense talent -- who spent considerable time on the site and inspected literally every inch of the terrain. Whitman's own words from his Website captures his focal point so succinctly -- "The most enduring golf courses aren't created on a drawing board in a downtown office. They're built by golf architects who spend an extraordinary amount of time on-site, in the dirt, throughout an entire project. It's the guys with dirt under their nails who will never build the worst courses and have a better chance to build the best."
Amen to that.
Interestingly, the Links Course that I played several years ago has changed to a small degree -- and for the better. The routing has been altered so that players can return at a comfortable halfway point immediately near the clubhouse. The par-3 7th was also changed to a new green that provides much more strategic elasticity and views.
One of the real fine features of the course is the firmness of the turf -- the bounce of the ball is prevalent and needs to be calculated sufficiently when deciding various shots throughout the round.
The starting hole now is a par-5 of 540 yards and it affords a good opportunity to get off to a good start. When leaving the tee you see quickly how the land moves -- plenty of internal puzzles and wrinkles that can push or pull one's ball to different sides. Candidly, so many modern courses eschew such details -- the fairways are often straight as arrows with nary any movement -- in fact -- many are rather bland because heaven forbid such movement cause the players to have anything other than dead flat lies time after time after time.
The short par-4 3rd is well done -- tempting strong players to give it a rip to a green protected by wetlands on the right and to complicate matters a six-foot high dune is well-positioned on the left side for those shying away from the right.
One of the strongest and most demanding of holes is the long 4th -- 450 yards and playing uphill. If the wind comes from the east this hole can play like a three-shot par-5. The key rests with the execution at the tee -- the more left you are the better the playing angle. The green is also particularly deep and sloped from back to front. Walking off with four on this hole is a major accomplishment.
At this point you cross over a public road for two holes so different and utterly captivating. The par-3 5th goes downhill but heaven help the player who pushes one's tee shot to the right and finds the pot bunker on that side. At the 6th you encounter a hole that many might define as a "cape hole" but the reality is considerably different. The 6th is especially long at 465 yards -- and even though the prevailing seasonal wind is often behind the players -- the wherewithal to cut-off the dog-leg left is virtually impossible -- save for Dustin Johnson on his best ball-striking day. To Whitman's credit the fairway at the 6th provides for a slew of different lies so one's stance will be challenged. The town's small marina is located near the green which is marvelously positioned ever so nearby. Running the ball onto the green is doable but the shot needs to be especially mindful of several bunkers hugging the entire left side of the green.
The original 7th green -- a par-3 of 192 yards -- was changed not long after the course opened. I played the original hole -- but only saw the outline for the new hole which plays considerably shorter at 141 yards and is very much exposed to the shifting winds.
At the 8th you play a superb par-5 -- measuring 580 yards and following the coastline on one's left. From the tip tees the carry over native grasses is 240 yards. With the wind usually helping it's not overly demanding -- but when into the face it's clearly an issue. Staying to the right is preferred although many might think hugging the left is better. The second shot on this hole is where critical thinking -- backed up with flawless execution pays off. The left side provides the better angle to a devilish green that is actually the home of two holes -- along with the par-4 13th.
The green is massive and when you step on it you will feel as if you're on a boat on a stormy day. The key to the approach is to stay below the hole at all times. This is one par-5 where securing a five is no small feat.
The inward nine commences with what previously was the opening hole. Playing generally downwind the tee shot is blind with a right fairway bunker in plain sight. The key is keeping the tee shot more left than one thinks. There are two pesky fairway bunkers directly in front of the green and if one can stay just to the left of those you are left with a relatively short pitch shot. On the face of it this is a hole in which you would think birdie is always likely -- or should be. The reality is far different because securing the appropriate angle is critical to having a reasonable attempt at making birdie.
At the 11th you play a hole of uncompromising quality. Generally back into the prevailing wind -- the 620-yard par-5 glides downhill into a bottlenecked fairway. The 2nd shot forces a major decision for the player to decide. One can stay far to the left which only adds a bit of distance for the 3rd -- or you can attempt a herculean carry over a chasm where danger lurks for those coming up short. The green is on the far side -- and any shot hit too long will face a daunting two-putt challenge.
The two following holes -- #12 and #13 -- are both solid long par-4's. The former plays into the wind generally and the tee shot needs to get to the left side for the best angle to a green that has falls-offs for the less than accurate approach. The latter hole is often played with the wind but the tee shot is blind -- just be sure to avoid the center-placed fairway bunker. The 13th shares the green with the 8th and has plenty of movement and speed. The approach must be carefully gauged because three -putts here are as routine as sunburn on a cloudless sunny day.
The 14th can prove to be most troublesome because as you leave the 13th green you ascend the hill to the next tee. Situated at a high point the short par-3 plays just beyond 100 yards. A great change of pace hole in the round. The green is circular in shape with fall-offs on all sides -- the most damaging being anything hit long. The wind at the 14th sets the tone for the shot. Heavy cross winds are not atypical and given the elevation keeping the ball "down" on a tight low trajectory is extremely hard to do. On the face of it -- the 14th would seem like a simple birdie hole. Don't be fooled into complacency. There is a small bunker to the right of the green and having one there is actually a blessing compared to a ball running even further away. The simple admonition when playing #14 is aim to the center of the green and go from there. Words to follow for sure.
The final stretch of holes at the Links begins with one of the best holes on the course. The 15th at 413 yards runs parallel to the coastline -- taking the more daring route down the left side of the tee is most helpful. Given the general downwind conditions -- the approach is fraught with top tier demands. The green is squeezed very narrow in the front with two deep flanking bunkers -- landing an approach and keeping it there requires a worldly talent. The back portion of the green is more user-friendly but it is only easier when compared to the rigorous demands of the front. Finding a mid-length par-4 that can terrorize equally low and high handicap golfers is a rarity -- this hole clearly shows how that can be done.
At 457 yards the 16th also follows the coastline and the key is to use the right side of the fairway so you can have a better angle into a green that opens up more so from the right. The scenery as you walk down the fairway is spell-binding stuff. The par-3 17th is a bit of a letdown but still a fine hole when the pin is placed in the hard-to-find back left area of the green. Keep in mind, at 170 yards the hole turns back the opposite direction and usually is into the prevailing breeze.
The concluding hole at the Links is a back breaking long par-4 of 475 yards. The prevailing wind is generally into the players and you start with a blind shot over a rise. Playing down the right side is the best option. For those who can really throttle the tee shot -- there is drop-off area in the fairway and if one's ball can get to this point you can pick-up considerable yardage. The approach is a classic example of how a brave a player one is. The putting surface hugs out-of-bounds to the left with the clubhouse nestled immediately nearby. A pulled approach can quickly mean as re-load from where you last played. The right side of the green is well-protected and if there's any doubt it's not a bad play to land short of the green and then go with a relatively straightforward chip to get one's par.
During my second visit to Cabot in July 2015 I walked the entire Links Course to refresh my memory. The Links is a compelling design -- options galore -- key decisions and executions essential. The inclusion of Mother Nature adds to the moment immensely. Kudos to Rod Whitman -- the amount of time he so patiently applied at the outset have reaped themselves many times over. Knowing how to shape shots on command is front and center at the Links. When you think you're game is at high point be sure to make your reservation and head here. In less than five hours time you'll soon find out if what you thought turned out to be true.
by M. James Ward
Cabot Links was designed by Canadian Rod Whitman, whose design philosophy is "strategic design coupled with great contour." His mentors were Bill Coore and Pete Dye, so he learned from some of the best.
Among standout holes the sixth hole is a tricky, very short par four. Although only 307 yards, you have to drive the ball between a marshy area on the right side of the fairway and scrub on the left hand side. It really shouldn't be that hard a shot, but there is a big chocolate drop mound down the left side of the fairway in the driving area that makes the fairway seem considerably smaller. The green is long and narrow and set over another chocolate drop which is situated right in front of the green. The day we played, the pin was positioned right behind the chocolate drop, making it very difficult to hold the ball anywhere near the pin. The hole plays into the prevailing wind coming off the Gulf, making approach shots even trickier. The hole reminded me of two short holes at Cruden Bay: its third and eighth holes. They are reminiscent because of the dunes landscape and their quirkiness.
As you would expect on a true links course, Cabot offers plenty of opportunities for bump and run shots that can either make you look like a brilliant golfer if you pull them off, or can make you look like a complete fool if you don't. I experienced both at Cabot, and I must say it is exhilarating to hit a long punch shot and watch it bounce along the humps and hollows and bound its way close to the hole. It is not so rewarding to stuff your wedge into the side of a hill and advance the ball five feet!
The eleventh green is a challenging one with almost no flat spots on it. The hole was my favorite on the course.
What separates a good golf course from a great one? The quality of the holes that are not natural locations for a golf hole. In other words, designing holes near the ocean or dramatic landscapes is no doubt a lot easier than designing inland holes, especially on a site like this.
What makes Cabot so special is the quality of the holes both near the water and those away from it. Well done.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs