1/19/17

A true golfer’s paradise: Cabot Links Resort

A look into the development of Cabot Links, Canada's most exciting golf resort

by

Dig into the story behind the creation of any of the great golf destinations in North America, and you will typically find the origin in the vision and determination of one person. That person has a spark of inspiration, commits to pursuing it, and attracts others to their cause. In the case of Cabot Links Resort, that one person was Ben Cowan-Dewar.

Cowan-Dewar was a Toronto businessman and avid golfer who discovered the land along the coast of Cape Breton Island that would become the resort while on vacation with his family in 2004. The island is located at the eastern end of the eastern Canadian province of Nova Scotia. It is known for its natural beauty and was already home to a notable golf course – Stanley Thompson’s Highlands Links. Fitting, given that the province’s name translates to New Scotland.

Credit: Fife Properties

The spot toward which Cowan-Dewar gravitated was on the western coast near the town of Inverness. A beautiful setting on links land that seemed to call out for a golf course. Inverness was a coal town that fell on hard times after the mines closed. Work was scarce, the population was shrinking, and the outlook was grim. There were those in the province who felt that golf tourism had the potential to contribute to a revitalization, but many of the locals were skeptical. The project got a boost when Mike Keiser joined the partnership, bringing with him a track record of success in similar ventures.

The pair acquired the land from 14 separate owners, developed their plan, and gained the support of town leaders. As the story goes, that support came with a catch. The resort’s first course would have to be built on the parcel nearest Inverness, which was not the most dramatic. Cowan-Dewar and Keiser adjusted and went forward, a move which cemented community adoption of Cabot as their own.

Course art credit: Riley Johns of Integrative Golf

The Rod Whitman designed Cabot Links opened to solid reviews, and in keeping with Keiser’s proven formula from Bandon, Coore & Crenshaw’s Cabot Links soon followed, garnering breathless reviews. Cabot Links Resort went from an idea to a curiosity to a golf destination, and brought the town of Inverness up with it. It is now the region’s largest employer, and those employees are kept busy delighting golf travelers from all over eastern Canada and the U.S. Yet another dream golf success story, with a decidedly community flavor.

Friend of The Fried Egg Robbie Vogel made the trek to Inverness and after the buzz wore off, was kind enough to share impressions from his visit.

The Cabot experience

A destination Cabot has certainly become. We visited the resort in early June of 2016, the weekend before the official grand opening of the Cliffs course, and played four rounds over two days. After arriving on Friday night, we hit the Links for two loops on Saturday and followed it up with two more at the Cliffs on Sunday. And yes, it was just as great as you’d imagine. Iron shots soaring over bluffs, putts rattling home to the sound of ocean waves, and most importantly, tee sheets packed with golfers eager to grab their slice of golfing nirvana and then spread the gospel.

The putting green at Cabot Links

There’s no question that the golf at Cabot is world-class. But the resort’s best-kept secret may be just that—the resort itself. From the staff to the amenities to the way the club is run, it’s clear that Cabot cares just as much about your golfing adventure as you do.

Staff

Cabot Links is staffed with the exact types of folks you’d want to work at a remote golf destination. People who are teeming with passion for the game, understand that this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for most, and will go above and beyond to enhance the experience. The best way to describe this is with an anecdote. But first, some background.

We drove up to Cabot from Boston, a 24-hour round trip. We split the drive up into one night (7 PM-roughly 2:30 AM) and one day (9 AM-5 PM-ish, with some stops). We rolled into this world-renowned golf resort in our rented, Easter egg-like chariot. We were dirty and dusty from our side trip to a deeply forested driving range (which was wholly, and obviously, unaffiliated with Cabot).

We probably resembled a group of college kids after a long night – disheveled, sweatpants-clad, and covered with cheeseball dust. After making sure that we did in fact have a reservation for the weekend and weren’t just lost on the way to the local soup kitchen, the first question one of the greeters asked was “Will you guys be wantin’ to play a quick round tonight?”

It was 5:30 PM, we had been driving since 9 AM, we all needed naps, and we looked, smelled, and felt like homeless people. We almost accepted the offer on the spot, though we may very well have contentedly fallen asleep for the night on the fourth green. But that’s what makes Cabot so special. They realize that the second that guests pull into the parking lot, the focus becomes: “How much golf can I play before I have to leave?”

From the beginning to the end of our stay, the staff really were wonderful. I made our reservations via email, and the customer service folks couldn’t have been nicer, despite our group having to cancel our originally planned 2015 trip and re-book an entire new adventure. Although we didn’t avail ourselves of the highly touted caddies, the starters at both Links and Cliffs gave us invaluable advice on our rounds.

The 18th at Cabot Links, with the clubhouse and restaurants at left - Photo Credit: David Scaletti

Amenities

It would inaccurate to say that Cabot has the kinds of accoutrements common at some high-end private clubs. There are no saunas, no fitness centers, not even a driving range.

Cabot knows its role. There are three dining options on site, including the second-floor Panorama Restaurant, which sports a commanding view over the 18th green and down some of the central holes towards the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Cabot Bar occupies the first floor of this building, with floor-to-ceiling windows that act as sort of a reverse aquarium, allowing patrons to enjoy a burger and a pint while judging the relative merits of the incoming groups’ short games.

The food is local, hearty, and completely satisfying after a 36-hole day. Lest you momentarily forget your purpose on this grand excursion while on your way back to your room, the doors feature inscriptions as a reminder:

“Don’t play too much golf. Two rounds a day are plenty.” – Harry Vardon

The rooms were cozy, and comfortably fit four 20-somethings with minimal issues. My one gripe would be that, after a day and a half of driving followed by 36 holes of golf, a hot bath might have done wonders for the body, and our room only had a standup shower.

Overall vibe

Vibe is one of those indefinable qualities – if you have to ask, you don’t get it. By now, the vibe at Cabot should be readily apparent. The place is all about playing golf. There’s no hand-holding, and no catering to a VIP set that demands manicured perfection. You show up, check in, peg your ball, and get on with it.

Just as importantly, the staff members at Cabot show no pretensions and boast no inflated egos. It’s not a place that will go out of its way to remind you of its stature in the modern game.

And with good reason—the golf will do all the talking.

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