Cabot Links, The Must-Play Golf Course Opening Of 2012
Excerpt from July 24 article on Forbes.com by Larry Olmsted
Whatever definition of links golf you adhere to, there is no doubt that Cabot Links
qualifies, and this is the crux of the matter: despite the widespread use of the word “links” in the names of courses like California’s Pebble Beach Golf Links, National Golf Links on Long Island, and even Highland Links right here on Cape Breton Island, these are not links courses. Amazingly there was not a single course on the entire East Coast of North America done in the traditional style of Scottish and Irish oceanfront links until about three weeks ago when Cabot Links opened. That makes it a game changer – and to the vast majority of Americans, far closer than the British Isles.
What is so linksy about the course? Everything. It occupies a sandy coastal site that drains exceptionally well, resulting in firm, fast fairways on which the balls run. The site is almost completely treeless, allowing it to be scoured by wind, its fairways are covered in tight knit grass that is far from cushy and promotes the running links style of play, lined with knee high rough and adorned with ragged bunkers and deep pot bunkers, and in almost all cases, approaches to greens are unobstructed, promoting running shots. Greens are collarless and almost indistinguishable from the surrounding fairways, firm and hard to hold with lofted shots, and while the front side is mostly flattish and open, on the back nine the landscape becomes increasingly dunesy, reminiscent of Northern Ireland. It is walking-only, and caddies are available.
As soon as you turn into the driveway, the links terrain – and vast ocean – sprawl immediately before you. While many links courses in Europe have surprisingly little ocean scenery considering they are on the coast, that is not the case here, and Cabot wastes little time before reaching the ocean on the second hole, a long par-5 with its green perched at the edge of the sea. While the course is immediately attractive, it really hits its stride of greatness on the back. Twelve and thirteen are exceptional holes right on the ocean, first a strong par-3 playing to the edge of land, followed by a tough par-4 with a carry over the ocean, a severe dogleg left so that the green, which sits next to a fishing marina, can be seen across the inlet from the tee. The course immediately enters the dunes landscape and stunning fourteen will likely be the signature hole, a nod to the famed seventh at Pebble Beach, a very short (90-yards playing 60 with no wind) par-3 with a downhill pitch to a peninsula green jutting into the water (don’t go long!). The layout finishes in similarly strong fashion, and at various moments evokes Turnberry’s Ailsa, Bandon Dunes, and Royal Portrush – all good company to be in.
Despite my limited photography skills, the 14th at Cabot is very reminiscent of the famed 7th at Pebble Beach - very short, very downhill, to a green at the edge of the sea.
While the approach shots, wind and bunkers will challenge players, the fairways are uniformly wide with a tremendous amount of playing room, making it almost a resort-style links where it is unlikely you will lose many balls off the tee, and cross winds will not be overly penal in terms of reaching the fairway. There is not a tight drive to be found out here – though several pack a strong dose of visual intimidation.
Cabot Links is also a resort, and features a 50-unit luxury boutique hotel, run by a GM with an ultra-luxe Aman Resorts background. Rooms are large, modern and very well appointed, with standalone soaking tubs, walk-in marble showers, and amenities like Nespresso coffee machines, custom made mattresses, Frette linens, and L’Occitane toiletries. All rooms have ocean views, some with balconies, are less than a two minute stroll to the first tee, and there is a good restaurant serving three meals daily. The hotel has been designed so that it can be doubled in size when the second course, Cabot Cliffs, is complete. I could already see the groundwork being down on that site, which occupies a higher clifftop plateau another five stories above the water. The routing is by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, one of the top rated design firms in the business, responsible for many of my favorites including Arizona’s We-Ko-Pa, North Carolina’s Dormy Club and the stunning renovation of legendary Pinehurst Number Two. Not surprisingly, they also did courses for Mike Keiser at Bandon Dunes and Tasmania’s Barnbugle Dunes.
Once Cabot Cliffs opens (2015), Cape Breton
will be established as one of the world’s marquee golf destinations, but there is little reason to wait, since it already possess two great courses that are also incredible bargains, plus several others (see Golf Cape Breton). As I mentioned yesterday, Highland Links can be played in peak season for as little as $65, while Cabot Links has a guest rate of $110 and public rack rate of $130. Its luxury guest rooms fetch $225 a night, and both these fees would be two to three times higher in most parts of the world. Prices will surely go up as the course gains popularity and matures, but given that the greens are still slow and need to develop, and the rough is still sparse and needs to grow in, at just three weeks Cabot Links is already superb and will surely only get better with age.
Cabot Links is a three hour drive from the Halifax International Airport, which has non-stop service from several US cities and is less than two hours form New York or Boston. For more information on visiting Cape Breton Island, see the Official Tourism Site.