Cabot Cliffs in Nova Scotia, Canada: Coore and Crenshaw gem may be among the world's best links
The truck had not come to a complete stop before he was out the driver's-side door, forging ahead through the waist-high foliage. He marched with meaning, squinting his eyes as he surveyed what was going to be his next seaside and sand-based canvas.
"Uh…Bill?" He wasn't waiting for me. With more than 30 years of experience behind him, Bill Coore was only concerned with what was in front of him. His anticipation and passion for the land was infectious. "If we don't build something special here, we will have failed," Coore said.
It was the fall of 2012, and I had met up with Ben Crenshaw's partner in architecture in Inverness, Nova Scotia to explore what would become Cabot Cliffs, the second course at Cabot Links. As the white-haired wizard of modern and minimalist design would extend his arm and point toward his idea for a fairway or green, it was as if he was casting magic dust into the wind and the proposed hole would rise out of the ground before my bulging eyes.
"I can see it," I'd say.
He'd smile at my revelation and then stomp his way to another spot.
"I can see that too!"
He didn't take me all 18 that day. It wasn't possible. There was still too much clearing to do. And too many decisions to make. Heck, half of the land that we walked that day hadn't even been bought by his employer, Mike Keiser, who Coore and Crenshaw had worked for at Bandon Dunes in Oregon and Lost Farm in Tasmania.
"It could be good," said the consistently understated Coore, as we climbed back into the truck. "But Mike and Ben still have some work to do."
The Ben, in this case, is Ben Cowan-Dewar, a Canadian who knows golf, the industry, his country, and had convinced Keiser and Josh Lesnik, Keiser's consigliere and president of Kemper Sports, that this was the next great golf frontier.
Having pushed all in and with Cabot Links, which opened earlier that year to rave reviews, it was time to shift the focus on Cliffs. Keiser has always considered one course a curiosity. "Two courses is a destination." The town of Inverness, population 2,500, was about to go from exhausted and depleted coal-mining country to the envy of golfers everywhere.
Cabot Cliffs will be be compared to Cypress Point and Pebble
Spin forward two years, and having just returned from my third trip to Inverness, I report nothing but good news. Turns out Keiser and Cowan-Dewar got their work done. And Coore, Crenshaw and their talented crew are almost done converting magic dust into reality.
They've used a mile and a half of dramatic Canadian coastline and all of their experience to build what will certainly be compared to Cypress Point, Pebble Beach and every other course that is in the conversation for being the "Best in the World!"
In all of my travels and all of the courses I've played, I can't say I've seen such a consistent set of "Wows" as it relates to routing, design, setting, topography, charm, challenge and fun. There will be a few more forced carries than Coore and Crenshaw enthusiasts are used to seeing. But even those are no more than 140 yards.
"It may not happen again," Coore says. "Not to us. And if it did, it would most likely be in a place where you'd have to wonder if anyone would ever see it."
To get this land, to work for and with Keiser and Cowan-Dewar, and to get the support from the Canadian government -- which has helped ease economic and environmental hurdles throughout the process -- that's what Coore is referring to when he says "it" may not happen again.
Keiser, who has scoured a globe of coastlines, agrees with Coore and has been consistent with his praise of "Bill and Ben's" talents, Cowan-Dewar's conviction, and the Canadian government's support.
"What you see here are a lot of holes that wouldn't exist in the United States," Coore says. He's referring to holes two, five, six, nine, 10, 16, 17 and 18, which coexist with the dunes, marsh and coast.
Realizing the economic benefits to a broken economy, Canada and especially Cape Breton Island, have offered Keiser forgivable loans, concerted marketing efforts, and backup if he came across any resistance to what they needed to maximize the potential of greatness.
"Golden goose," is how Mary Tulle, CEO of Destination Cape Breton, once described Mike Keiser. In the wake of creating great golf, the man who made millions using recycled paper has been recycling a region in which half the town had been leaving to seek employment elsewhere. The other half had been collecting unemployment insurance. Some have been doing both.
Now, Cabot offers a 48-room lodge, two restaurants, two bars, and soon to be two courses. There will be almost 16,000 rounds on Cabot Links this golf season, which is roughly May through October, with a peak season in July and August. Cliffs, which will have six par 3s, six par 4s, and 6 par 5s, will have a soft open in the summer of 2015, with 48 rounds in July going to resort guests only. They will make another 60 rounds available in both August and September. Green fees will start at $110 in July, go to $130 in August, and based on green speeds, might get up to $160 by September.
Through this upcoming winter, Cabot Links will add 12 rooms to the lodge, four four-bedroom golf villas, a small but high-end spa experience and there will be a temporary clubhouse at Cliffs.
Right now, in order to get to Cabot, most people fly into Halifax and make the three-and-a-half-hour drive to Inverness. (Which is spectacular during the fall.) There are plans working their way through multiple layers of politics, and, if passed, would enhance an airport that's 20 minutes away from Cabot Links. "There was a unanimous vote from local government officials in support of enlarging the Margaree Airport," Cowan-Dewar says. "Now we're in pursuit of support from the provincial and federal government," which could start easing access as soon as 2016.
As a majority of Coore and Crenshaw's crew were packing up and getting ready to dabble in the dust that will become golf in Japan, Dallas or Wisconsin, I caught up with Rod Whitman, the Canadian-based architect who built Cabot Links and has helped shape Cabot Cliffs. "I've spent six years of my life here," said Whitman. "Christ, we've worked hard on this. It will be sad to leave here, but we leave behind two world class golf courses."
Now we -- avid amateurs and retail golfers -- get to play the role of the wizard and leap from moving vehicles so that we can focus on what's in front of us. At Cabot, it's something special.
Video: Matt Ginella discusses Cabot Cliffs on Golf Channel
From Cabot Cliffs' 17th fairway, it's an inviting wedge to the green, and a distracting look to the par-5 finish. Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor
In 2012, it was easy to see how and why Cabot Cliffs' second hole would become a memorable par 4. Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor
From left to right: Behind every great course, there are men like Rod Whitman, Ben Cowan-Dewar, Bill Coore and Keith Rhebb. Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor
Proceed with caution: Keith Rhebb, one of Coore & Crenshaw's shapers, had a hard time making the 16th green out of this extreme cliff-side terrain. Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor
The 16th at Cabot Cliffs, seen here in 2012 (top), '13 (middle) and '14 (bottom), will dram lots of comparisons to the 16th at Cypress Point. Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor
The logo for Cabot Cliffs is a rare blue lobster, which is one in two million. Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor
They didn't need to do much to create the bowl that is Cabot Cliffs sixth hole, a short par 3 in the dunes. Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor
A view from behind the fifth green, which is one of several holes at Cabot Cliffs that would have a hard time being built in the U.S. Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor
On a string, it's 280 yards from Cabot Cliffs' 17th tee to the green, but if you're short, you're not playing from the beach. Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor
There was great debate about whether or not the rock in front of Cabot Cliffs' 14th green should stay. The rock stayed. Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor
The 11th at Cabot Links, built by Rod Whitman, is only one reason why Cabot Cliffs will be so successful. Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor
Bill Coore, of Coore & Crenshaw, surveys Cabot Cliffs in 2012. Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor
A view from behind the 14th green, the fifth of six par-3 holes at Cabot Cliffs. Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor
From the 13th tee, you look past the 12th green and down the mile and a half of coastline used to build Cabot Cliffs. Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor
The par-4 13th hole -- uphill to a blind and bowled green that slopes front to back -- is one of only a few holes at Cabot Cliffs that play away from the ocean. Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor