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.
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