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The view from the future 17th hole at Cabot Cliffs
The view from the future 17th hole at Cabot Cliffs

Rubenstein: Cabot Links Diary, Part III Add to ...

Inverness, Nova Scotia – I’ve written in the previous two entries of this diary about my visit to Cabot Links (part I, part II). The last day of my visit started at breakfast in the Cabot Bar that looks out to the links. Ben Cowan-Dewar, who along with Mike Keiser, the man behind the Bandon Dunes resort in Bandon, Oregon, developed Cabot Links, met me for breakfast. We planned to drive the five minutes north to reach the site of Cabot Cliffs, the second course that will sit on an awe-inspiring site above the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Construction has started on this course, which is expected to be fully open in two years. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are the architects. Coore is the primary architect, but Crenshaw, who prefers not to work outside the U.S., was so taken with the powerful site that he’s decided to be involved.

Cabot Cliffs
From left to right, Ben Cowan-Dewar, Bill Coore, and Mike Keiser 

Coore was at Cabot, and he joined us for breakfast. Dave Axland was with Coore. Axland has worked closely with Coore and Crenshaw for more than 20 years, and, like many people in the business who aren’t the big “names,” he deserves plenty of credit for his contributions. Axland has worked with Coore and Crenshaw on notable courses such as Sand Hills, Friar’s Head, and Bandon Trails. Canadian course architect Jeff Mingay cites Axland as one of his influences.

I’d played a number of Coore and Crenshaw courses. My first exposure to their work came, as I recall, at the Talking Stick Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. I was particularly impressed with the North course there. The terrain is flat–oh, there’s maybe three feet of elevation here and there–yet Coore and Crenshaw had created a course full of interest and options by incorporating wide fairways and the slightest amount of heave and drift in the ground. The wise golfer can use these contours to move the ball one way or the other, thereby feeding it into otherwise difficult to access pin positions.

At breakfast, we got to talking about the work that Rod Whitman was doing at Cabot Cliffs. Whitman designed Cabot Links, and, among other courses in Canada, the well-regarded Blackhawk near Edmonton (Mingay and Axland also worked there), and the rambunctious and endlessly entertaining Sagebrush Golf and Sporting Club in the B.C. interior. Whitman is an artist in the field. He likes nothing more than getting on a bulldozer and generating landforms suitable to strategic golf. He’s a quiet and determined man who, when he’s on vacation, often can’t be found. Whitman enjoys, and thrives on, wilderness. He’s been a shaper for courses that Coore and Crenshaw, and also Pete Dye, have designed. Having designed Cabot Links, he offered to work as a shaper for Coore and Crenshaw at Cabot Cliffs. He wanted to help dig the course out of the dirt.

“Rod is tremendous when it comes to contour,” Coore said at breakfast. “He’s also strong when it comes to transition areas (where the architect wants to move the golfer from one area to another, from, say, a wetlands area to a dunes area).”

Coore had arrived the day before, and he and Axland were going to spend four days roaming, inspecting, and working in so many ways on the Cabot Cliffs site. Ben and I finished our breakfasts and then drove to the site.

I’ve always enjoyed being on a site when it’s in the beginning stages of being transformed into a golf course. That’s where and when you learn about the complexities inherent in golf course development and architecture. It’s where and when you get a sense of how the eyes of a course designer work. Coore and Crenshaw don’t take on many projects, because they prefer not to divide their attention so much that it becomes difficult to focus on the details of a project. Coore was at Cabot Cliffs to be who he is: a hands-on craftsman. Ditto for Whitman.

Ben drove me down a construction road; we were headed toward the cliffs overlooking the sea. Cabot Links in many areas nestles almost against the shoreline. The second course will sit high above the Gulf; of course it will. It’s a clifftop site.

Ben pointed out stakes in the ground as we drove along. This stake was where a tee would be sited. That stake was a green site. We soon got out of the SUV with its “Cabot” licence plate, and walked nearer the cliff’s edge. We were in the vicinity of the 16th tee, with the sea below. We were looking across a chasm that reminded me of what golfers see on the famous, par-three 16th hole at the Cypress Point. Here, on the 16th at Cabot Cliffs, the green sits out on a point that seems to jut out from the ocean floor. This should be some hole.

Cabot Cliffs
Bill Coore standing on the site of proposed 18th tee

The 17th and 18th then march along the clifftop. The 18th will be a 530-yard par-five. I could tell that I’d never tire of the views that swing along the coastline, and I doubt I’d tire of the holes. They’ll be stirring.

Ben and I walked back to his vehicle and drove to a more inland area, where we could see the landscape that the architects, and the hands of Rod on the ‘dozer, would shape into some of the front nine holes. There’s a wetlands area here, which is where Rod’s skill at transition will be valuable. We turned and looked behind us to a glorious stretch of dunes–where was I, at Ballybunion? Cabot Cliffs will also include a practice range of some 400 yards long and 100 yards wide. The clubhouse will overlook the sea. Naturally.

“Mike [Keiser] says that one plus one equals three,” Ben told me as we drove back to Cabot Links. Keiser meant that one course alone, as good as it might be, isn’t enough to draw golfers to a remote location, especially for repeat visits. But a second course, as Keiser had Tom Doak design at Bandon–it’s called Pacific Dunes–multiplies the appeal. That’s likely to transpire at Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs.

We turned into Cabot Links. I thought of the terrific book that Stephen Goodwin had written about the making of Bandon Dunes. He called his book Dream Golf. Here, in Inverness, there was dream golf at Cabot Links, and, soon, more dream golf at Cabot Cliffs. One plus one again looks certain to equal three.

RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein

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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at lornerubenstein@me.com. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

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