REVIEW: Cabot Links Golf Resort, Nova Scotia, Canada
When I think of Canada I don’t think of Golf. The “great white north” usually has me thinking of winter sports more than golf. Cabot Links is changing that perspective as it grows and transforms the golf scene in Canada and continues to win award after award for its outstanding courses and experience. The 36 holes on property will certainly rank high among your golf experiences. It is certainly a Top 10 on my list of favorites, and No. 1 in Canada. The Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links courses on Cape Breton Island keep rising in the rankings and rightfully so. Both offer a pure golf experience along the ocean. And the resort offers views, amenities and great golf from start to finish.
1. Cabot Cliffs
Cabot Cliffs is a Bill Coore-Ben Crenshow gem on the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Nova Scotia. It is my favorite course by this design team. It has 8 oceanside holes and 10 inland holes. One things that most impressed me was that the inland holes are just as good as the oceanside holes. I can’t think of a single “weak” hole on the entire course. Every hole had me thinking, guessing, planning, plotting and trying to hit quality and creative shots. No. 16 is the most dramatic hole on property — and probably one of the most frustrating at the same time. The small green clinging to the rocky cliffs leaves little room for error. The blind, but drivable par-4 17th hole is just as diabolical. It can be very easy and crazy intimidating driving it over the ocean cliffs to the severe downhill fairway. I think I could talk about every hole on the property with such fondness and memories. Hole 2 is another unique challenge that depending on the tee and the wind can leave you with so many different strategies on how to play the hole.
2. Cabot Links
Cabot Links, the original course on property designed by Rod Whitman and Keith Cutten, is steps from the main resort and connects (links) to the sea. It is most fascinating how you are driving down the main street of Inverness, turn into the parking lot and the resort and course take up narrow strip of land connecting to the ocean. It really is a true links golf course. Cabot Links is much less dramatic than Cabot Cliffs, but the golf is just a good. It is a different style, more linksy, but there is this constant connection to the ocean. While only 6 holes are on the water, it feels like all 18 are close to it. This course is also much lower to the water. As you play the cape hole No. 6 you are actually playing on a protected bay that serves as a fishing boat harbor. Hole 8 plays right next to the ocean dunes and beach. Even the high point on the 14th brings you very close to the same level as the water. And the 18th hole is probably going to be memorable as you finish literally right in front of the Panorama restaurant. The grass surround of the green goes right up the to building.
3. Playing Surface
In true links fashion, the course is turfed with a fescue grass that creates firm-and-fast playing conditions. It makes the rough playable and manageable and gives them plenty of mowing options. I felt like the greens were very pure and true between both courses. One of the realities of a golf course in Nova Scotia is the winter months. Sometimes the winter weather can really wreck havoc on a golf course, and Cabot is not immune to such struggles. So if you need perfect turf to play golf, make sure to plan for a July, August or September sort of trip, but if you realize a winter spot here or there won’t ruin your day, May, June, October and November are still lovely times to visit Cabot Links. One thing was obvious, they work really hard to make this a great playing surface whenever you are playing at Cabot.
With golf resorts like Bandon Dunes, Sand Valley and Streamsong in the United States, you see a formula that has worked: Great golf can be successful in remote locations. Cabot Links is no different. Cape Breton Island is in the province of Nova Scotia, which itself is actually a peninsula. From Arizona it took me most of a day to fly and drive to Inverness. While there are plenty of flights into Halifax (reasonably priced ones, too) it is still almost 3 hours from the airport to Inverness. But the destination is worth the journey because the location on the water is simply breathtaking. The waters are beautiful blue tones and the land tumbles toward the ocean or soars above it with rocky cliffs. Cape Breton Island is about as far northeast as most golfers will ever go in North America. And with the remoteness of location, the surrounding terrain is beautiful. It is rugged, tree-filled and has plenty of ocean views.
5. Unique Touches
This is my favorite part of golf travel, and what sets Cabot apart from others. While I come for the golf, I often remember little details and unique touches that create the total golf experience. The 1st tee cookies are a huge hit with me. I’ll admit I have a soft spot for cookies. When they told us about their “new” cookies that had replaced the previously popular chocolate chip cookies, I was skeptical. But Cabot’s oatmeal-coconut-cinnamon cookies are amazing. They hit the spot to start the round, and we snuck more than a few when making the turn (actually going from the 10th green to 11th tee) on Cabot Cliffs. Another noticeable thing at Cabot is when you sink your putt on the 1st tee, you will hear a ring like you’ve probably never heard before. All of the cups have special metal rings in the bottom to make that ring/tink sound on purpose. I guess it comes from Ben Cowan-Dewar playing a course overseas (I believe Japan) and they had it, so he got them for his courses. And one great final touch on Cabot Cliffs are the couches that overlook the start and end of rounds there — they are perched high above the water and allow you to relax and watch golfers coming and going on their rounds. Grab a drink, enjoy the views and even take in a sunset.
This was probably the biggest surprise on my trip. I’ve visited many golf destinations and stayed at numerous resorts, but the lodging at Cabot may be the best I’ve ever experienced. We stayed in a 4-bedroom Golf Villa and WOW was it amazing, set on the opening holes of Cabot Links with views of the course and water out the back bedrooms and the great room. The exteriors appear modern, simple and blend nicely into the environment. The inside was loaded with high-end touches and modern elegance that simply blew me away. Everything felt just right — big (but not huge) with no wasted space, modern but yet warm and inviting. The in-floor heat in the bathrooms is awesome, the bed was super comfortable and the main living space was great for 4 guys or 4 couples living under one roof for a stay at Cabot Links. They even offer chef room service if your group wants a private dinner.
There are 3 main dining options on site: Cabot Bar, Panorama Restaurant and The Cabot Public House. They are all just steps from the Cabot Links course. (Lodging and amenities are currently being built at Cabot Cliffs as well.) They offer a variety of food choices. If you are a seafood lover, they have you covered with what I heard are outstanding choices, especially the lobster. I will say the Fried Chicken Sandwich at the Public House is amazing. And even if you want to “break the rules” a little, the staff are so friendly and accommodating that they might even allow you to customize an order or create a Stout Ice Cream Float that isn’t on their menu.
8. Coming Soon
As a resort, Cabot is not sitting still. They are expanding, growing and improving their options for golf and lodging. While there wasn’t much to see while I was there, you could sense and feel what was coming. They are building a short course that climbs the hills overlooking Cabot Cliffs, as well as lodging, recreation and dining options also at Cabot Cliffs. Up until this year, golfers needed to take a shuttle over from Cabot Links because there was little on site other than a couple huts for the Cabot Cliffs golf shop and snack bar. But new buildings were scheduled to open just a few weeks after my visit, so it won’t be long before Cliffs adds all these features to offer more lodging and food-and-beverage options.
Take a Caddie, push a cart or sling you clubs on your back to enjoy a spectacular golf experience at Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs golf courses. This walking-only resort offers pure links golf, amazing scenery, unique touches and a memorable experience from start to finish. Cabot is worth the trip to Nova Scotia from wherever you are in the world. You will love the golf and enjoy your stay. The two different courses will keep you on your toes and having you thinking, planning, plotting and executing your next golf shot. And the golf there can be played with modern clubs or hickories with great enjoyment. Both courses will test big bombers as well as play fair for shorter hitters. They will test all aspects of your game, and you will need every club in your bag. You don’t need to change anything to play here, just play golf like you enjoy. The firm turf may take a few swings to adjust if you come from a lush part of the world, but otherwise you will have pure golf enjoyment on all 36 holes (with more to come).
For more information: www.cabotlinks.com/