Cabot Links
Nova Scotia, Canada

Fourteenth hole, 100/90 yards; In 1984, Herbert Warren Wind wrote a compelling article about Merion, Seminole and Cypress Point in which he extolled the virtues of designs that require both strength and finesse. At that time many of the household name courses placed emphasis solely on length and Wind felt that something was missing. Right he was! Happily, Cabot presents a beguiling array of delicate shots. Be it the front to back greens, the rambunctious Double Green, the ticklish wedge into the ninth, the drivable par four third or the short pitch here, the golfer is guaranteed a slew of fiddly little shots with which to contend. Though the green seems ample at 5,240 square feet, it plays smaller, sloping off both to the left and right. Throw in cross winds and the effective target shrinks all the more!

As seen by these three photographs, the character of this tiny one shotter changes dramatically with the weather.

Similar to the seventh at Pebble Beach, the elevated tee offers no place to hide from the wind and pandemonium ensues with a cross wind like today’s.

Note how the clean backdrop and low profile features allow the green’s fortuitous position to speak for itself. Whitman knew better than to add anything that would distract the eye from nature’s glory. He considered a bunker left but concluded that such a man-made contrivance would only clutter the hole. What’s not shown is how merciful the right bunker can be, providing an easier recovery than the worse positions where the short grass may deposit a ball.

Fifteenth hole, 415/380 yards; Coastlines tend to be straight or jagged. At Cabot Links, it is sand based and therefore linear. In contrast, Cabot Cliffs features rocky cliffs with fingers of land that come in and out of the water. Bill Coore, the architect for Cabot Cliffs, has routed holes there that take advantage of the angles created by the irregular shoreline. Whitman didn’t have the same luxury but by a stroke of genius was able to give this straightaway hole interesting playing angles. The clever design rewards the golfer playing boldly left down the coastline where he will enjoy the most favorable approach, especially when the hole is back right. Cranberry, creeping juniper, marram grass, fescues, alders and wild rose permeate the greenside area with a vibrant texture.

As seen from the tee, there is lots of fairway well out to the right. Yet steer too cautiously that way and the angle of approach created by the inverted L shaped green and solitary right greenside bunker will progressively work against the golfer.

Most golf architects’ proclamation that they ‘follow nature’s lead’ is nothing but blarney. In this case, it is valid though. On one of Whitman’s initial walks, he noticed how the clover and ground vegetation grew in an upside down L configuration atop this natural plateau. Whitman liked what he saw and built the bunkers and green with that pattern in mind.

The bunkers flow naturally into the green configuration with the solitary right bunker occupying an especially confounding position.

Sixteenth hole, 455/390 yards; What’s there to say? Few courses offer such a magical moment. The hole plays as great as it looks due to Whitman’s masterfully lowering of the right side of the fairway so that it became well suited for golf. The resulting humpy bumpy fairway appears untouched by man and for Whitman that means mission accomplished. This is nature’s show where the exquisite confluence of land and sea create an indelible impression on every golfer.

At the highest level, golf takes people to some of the prettiest spots in the world. This is one such instance.

Like all true links, central hazards dot the fairway and there is a great chance that adjustments will need to be made in one’s stance to accommodate uneven fairway lies. Those that hug the side where more trouble exists (i.e. the cliffs left) are rewarded with a more level stance.

It is one of a kind moments like this that reward the golfer for making the trip to Cabot.

A gully short left feeds shots toward the beach so the smart golfer aims at the right edge of the green and plays a draw to utilize the right to left slopes. As the green is much wider than deep, balls should be rolling along the ground prior to reaching the green.

Seventeenth hole, 170/130 yards; Among the best design features at Cabot is the way many of the greens are subtlety angled to the line of play. In this instance, the green projects from its swollen front right to a narrow pocket back left. Pay particular note when the hole is far back left where there is a clever little bowl that gathers balls from both sides. A hole in one is possible but you need to select one more club than usual and commit to that line to reach this opportunistic back hole location. Similar to the seventeenth at Pebble, if you fail and push it right, recovery becomes improbable.

Just as he did at the uphill ninth, Whitman used the natural slope of the land to create some of the course’s most attractive bunkers as well as one of the most fiercely sloped back to front greens on the course.

Note how a front bunker is again pulled well away from the putting surface creating depth perception issues.

Eighteenth hole, 475/390 yards; Depending on the wind, either the Stella Maris Parish spires or the edge of the clubhouse serves as the ideal target for this blind drive over a ridge. Beyond there is a down slope that the golfer dearly wants to take advantage of to shorten his approach. For those unfamiliar with the great links of the United Kingdom, the close proximity of the clubhouse to the green might be disconcerting. Just as it is at Royal Troon, Royal Lytham & St Annes and Prestwick the golfer here in full command of his game relishes an opportunity to showcase his skills to onlookers. For those less sure, a dip in the fairway some thirty yards short of the green offers a viable option to propel the ball on or near the green and avoid the perils either side of the putting surface.

The clubhouse, its porches and glass windows afford numerous vantage points. Do all the eyeballs and the clubhouse’s proximity inspire or unsettle the golfer? Both the player and the spectator will soon know the answer!

Keiser, Cowan-Dewar and Whitman never worked together prior to Cabot Links. As they gained familiarity, the final design got better and better. There are numerous examples. Keiser’s frequent site visits led to the introduction of ideas like the Double Green and the Biarritz swale. Such time proven design features are meaningless unless the right person successfully translates them in the dirt – and there is no person better than Whitman in that regard. Keiser’s urgings that Cowan-Dewar and Whitman twice travel to the United Kingdom inspired the sleepered bunker faces at the fourth, the humps and bumps left of the first green, several of the blind drives, and a general agreement as to how the bunkers at Cabot would be presented.

Cowan-Dewar shares Keiser’s vision of golf and wherever there was room to give the recreational golfer a bit more he made it happen: Streamlining the view behind the first so that the Gulf was all the more present, pushing the eleventh green as far right as possible for the sake of a more attractive backdrop, insuring that the walking paths were well routed yet unobtrusive, etc. As Whitman and Cowan-Dewar lived on site there wasn’t a detail too small or overlooked.

A Keiser project is never rushed and the more time Whitman spent on site, the more nuanced the course became. Whitman only half joked when he said ‘The ideal is to go as slow as possible without getting fired’ and the results of his prolonged work in the dirt validate those sentiments. A few weeks after the course opened, Whitman summed it up nicely when he noted ‘I feel like I was part of a Stanley Cup team. Building courses isn’t an individual effort and it takes a lot of the right people making the right decisions every step of the way. That’s what happened here and I was fortunate to have been a member of the team.’

Such synergy only occasionally occurs. It helped enormously that all three parties agreed at the onset that the golf came first. This wasn’t a housing project nor would paved golf cart paths mar the landscape. If something could be done to improve the golf experience (e.g. burying phone lines, building a berm to hide a road, securing the property around the course), it was. Keiser knows that the recreational golfer can be extremely loyal and appreciative to those that create ‘dream golf.’

The odyssey began with the town of Inverness making a bet that Cowan-Dewar could develop a course of which it would be proud. That trust in him has been handsomely rewarded with one of the world’s great golfing venues now in their backyard. Whether Coore & Crenshaw will match the design success of Cabot Links at the cliffs site remains to be seen but it is certainly a most welcome subject to debate.

Played mostly well above the Gulf on a cliff line, Cabot Cliffs will enjoy its own personality.

People have long come to this lovely part of the world to take in the Gaelic culture, attend a folk dance at a local pub, sample scotch at the Glenora Distillery, enjoy the day’s catch from the Inverness harbor and/or drive along the world famous Cabot Trail. Cabot Links and soon Cabot Cliffs offer additional compelling reasons to venture to “New Scotland” as they bring the greatest game in its purest form closer to home for North Americans than dear old Scotland.

The Cabot Trail loops around the northern tip of Cape Breton Island. Conveniently, it leads from Cabot to Stanley Thompson’s masterpiece at Cape Breton Highlands.

The End