Cabot Links: New pride of Canada

Review of course on Nova Scotia's Atlantic coast

Martyn Norris
Thu, 20 Oct 2011
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North Americans are fascinated with the world famous links of Britain & Ireland but numerous attempts to replicate our courses in their homeland have tended to disappoint. Expect Cabot Links, near Inverness on Canada's Nova Scotia coastline, will change all that.

Few would consider this beautiful part of the world a golf destination, indeed even less will find Nova Scotia on a map, but I expect many to discover it on the golf radar sometime soon when Cabot Links reputastion starts to flourish.

Toronto-based entrepreneur Ben Cowan-Dewar and Chicago visionary Mike Keiser - the man behind the acclaimed Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon - have embarked on an ambitious project to transform a disused coal mine into an extraordinary links golf course.

Aside from being able to see the Atlantic ocean from every hole, the natural sand based fairways are fast-running and on land that has evolved over hundreds of years, embracing all that is good in modern design with the great visions of yesteryear. Fescue grasses yield traditional surfaces that explode with a well-struck iron shot, unique to true links golf.

I was blessed with a fantastic autumnal day for my journey to Cape Breton Island, famous for its coastal drive that takes your breath away with every turn.

Arriving in Inverness, like so many former mining towns, I immediately had a sense that Cabot Links (pronounced Ka-bott, according to actor Donald Sutherland who has narrated a captivating video about the place) has given this sleepy, welcoming town a lifeline.

After sampling a delicious club sandwich overlooking the links and the sun-drenched Gulf of St. Lawrence, it set me up nicely to play the ten holes that have been opened for play so far. Eight more will be ready by next July.

My hosts for the day were co-owner Cowan-Dewar and head professional Joe Robinson, previously a 39-year resident at Highland Links, the Stanley Thompson masterpiece on Cape Breton, currently ranked the sixth-best in Canada.

Like the great links of Scotland and Ireland, Cabot Links is exposed to the elements but it seemed fitting that a four-club south-westerly hooly should accompany my adventure!

The left to right dogleg first hole with the wind helping provided a gentle opener to a tricky green while the par-5 second into the wind tested my resolve with a second shot rising to a plateau offering a great view of the huge green over a ridge. From the black, back tee even the most accomplished player would need three or four great strikes to find the green.

Moving across to the par-4 12th, it's a strong hole that dog-legs slightly to the right, avoiding bunkers and uphill to a raised green. Into the wind, a par's a bonus. 

What will eventually be the 6th is a classic risk-and-reward par-4 with a mound at the front of the green. Holes 13-16 will each stake claim to become the Cabot Links' signature holes hugging the shoreline and rolling naturally alongside the pearl white sandy beach. With wind at our backs the par-5 13th was playing quite short but still required a well-struck tee shot to clear a large area of indigenous vegetation, marked as a lateral water hazard. A semi-blind second shot to an undulating green offered a good birdie chance.

Modern day course designers are far too obsessed with yardage on 'short' holes but Canadian architect Rod Whitman has created a classic par-3 14th measuring just 102 yards from the elevated Black tee with prevaling wind howling from the left and hurting. A canny shot is demanded to find the table-top putting surface, reminiscent of the 7th at Pebble Beach.

The 15th and 16th are classic links two-shotters with undulating fairways. There's a stepped green on 15 and deep greenside bunkers on 16.

Turning for home, the 17th contrast the earlier par-3 and gently rises to a large sloping green, while the closing hole plays uphill to the clubhouse at the highest point of the course with the links and ocean glistening spectacularly below.

Without the full test of holes, it's difficult to say just how good Cabot Links can become but I'm already tempted to compare it alongside Turnberry, Pebble Beach and Kingsbarns. Fast running fairways on sandy soil, proper deep bunkers; undulating greens and the sound of the crashing waves. High drives, low drives, punch shots, bump and runs, buffeting winds. One hundred per-cent links...absolutely!

Be assured that Cabot Links, paired with nearby Highland Links, will provide a great boost to regional tourism and the local economy. Add Bell Bay, Le Portage and The Lakes at Ben Eoin into the mix and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia could become the next 'must visit' hot spot for serious golfers.

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