My Cabot Experience
Pictured above: Cabot Cliffs / Hole No. 17
As the sun set on my time at Cabot Links, I stared across the 18th hole of the Links course from my table pressed hard against the window of Cabot Bar. From this vantage point I could make out the smiles hewn across each golfer’s face as they hit their last shots for the evening. In the background, the sky was fiery orange and red, the Gulf of St. Lawrence was choppy, the mountains melted into the sea, and my home in Southern Ontario, so far yet so close, lay waiting thousands of kilometers to the west.
It was a 22 hour drive that got me here, and contemplating the drive back, I started thinking — what tempts a golfer to drive 22 hours to experience Cabot Links? What makes Cabot Links so special?
The year was 1497. A fellow named John Cabot departed England commissioned to explore the wide open seas on behalf of King Henry VII of England. Secretly, his goal was to find China.
Cabot and crew made their way across the Atlantic Ocean before their first and only landing. Instead of China, this particular landing represented Cabot’s first steps onto what is now known to be the eastern coast of Canada, and what a remarkable discovery it was.
Fast forward more than 500 years to the year 2004.
A young entrepreneur from Southern Ontario by the name of Ben Cowan-Dewar is having dinner with Nova Scotia’s Minister of Tourism. Dewar is the owner of a golf travel company and a golf enthusiast. At this dinner he’s told about a seaside property on Cape Breton Island in the town of Inverness, shown an aerial and decides he needs to visit.
As Dewar set foot onto the windswept parcel of land which would inevitably become Cabot Links, I can only imagine the overwhelming sense of anticipation for what he must have envisioned. John Cabot discovered something special more than 500 years ago; Ben Cowan-Dewar was following in those footsteps five centuries later.
The concept of Cabot Links was born.
I may have simplified the process and skipped a few crucial steps in an effort to harness the benefits of dramatic effect, but every great golf course has a great story, and Cabot Links, along with its sister course Cabot Cliffs, is a great story — a story of discovery.
Whether you consider it a discovery of two spectacular golf courses, a rediscovery of the game’s roots, or the discovery of a dream come true for Dewar, it’s a discovery through and through.
That’s the foundation of Cabot Links and what drives golfers worldwide to travel to this remote location. And yes, it is remote. The Sydney, Nova Scotia airport is just a two hour drive away and accessible to a fair number of Canadians, but Sydney isn’t Toronto, Vancouver or even Halifax for that matter, and it takes some effort to get there.
Nevertheless, when the Links course opened its doors to the world in 2012, golfers travelled in droves to see what all the rage was about. The once sleepy town of Inverness situated on the Cabot Trail became the centre of international fanfare for those seeking a modern, pure links golf experience.
Of course, considering Dewar’s partner — Mike Keiser —this was no surprise. The same man turned another remote oceanside property on the coast of Oregon into Bandon Dunes, one of the largest, most celebrated golf resorts in the world and a Mecca for golf purists. Cabot Links will surely share in that same destiny.
The Links course has been topping every golf course ranking and bucket list throughout the world. This special corner of Canada has been given A-list status when it comes to golf destinations, and what could possibly top that?
Two words: Cabot Cliffs.
Cliffs’ praises will be sung loud as golfers discover a dynamic layout taking full advantage of varying topographies and a unique coastline accounting for some of the most astounding golf holes, not just in Canada, but the world. Each unfolds in dramatic fashion, heightening in appeal as the round progresses, to finally conclude on what might be the most exhilarating closing stretch in golf.
I have a very difficult time comparing Cliffs to other courses I’ve played. Hole for hole and shot for shot, there are few that match its boldness and the majestic surroundings of Cape Breton Island. And if there were ever a course that screams, ‘this is where I was meant to be,’ Cliffs is it. It has a distinct Cape Breton feel that works its way into your soul.
Words fail to convey Cliffs’ scale and beauty, but there are holes that will stick with you for a lifetime.
The much talked about par-3 16th, for example, is all that it’s cracked up to be and more. I’d seen photos, but they didn’t prepare me. Perched atop a precipice jutting out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, it’s the only hole I’ve come across where I felt the green was about to slide off into the water 100 feet below. It begs you to take dead aim, but the shot here is left off a bank so cleverly employed by architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.
The cliffside holes (9, 10 and 16-18) will grab much of the attention, but that’s to say nothing of the quality of the inland holes all mesmerizing in their own right. The 3rd, 13th and 15th, for example, are full of strategy and sweep beautifully in varying directions with the flow of the land. The 2nd is a dramatic introduction to the property that awaits, with its nose bunker dictating play. And the par 3’s are all stunners.
Speaking of par 3’s, Mike Keiser challenged Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to come up with a layout that featured six of them at Cliffs. This lead to a configuration of six par 3’s, six par 4’s and six par 5’s. It makes the course that much more unique and the total yardage deceptively comforting.
But hole-by-hole descriptions fail to do Cliffs justice. It is quite simply a perfect pairing of course and land, sea and sand, nature and recreation. That is how it was envisioned and that is what it has become.
MY OWN DISCOVERY
My visit to Cabot Links lead me to my own discovery. Playing golf on courses like these, in locations like these — that’s what golf has, is and will always be about. Sitting behind my keyboard as I type this pose, the moments spent at Cabot Links keep me dreaming of my next discovery, even if it’s just a rediscovery or another visit to Inverness, Nova Scotia.
John Cabot discovered the island. Ben Cowan-Dewar discovered the golf course. But I discovered that Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs are what golf…is.
And it IS great.