Cabot Links was only a dusty construction site the first time I saw it, in the fall of 2010. With bulldozed piles of earth and swathes of scrubby grasses. But it was not difficult to see all it could become. The sweeping views of the Gulf of St. Lawrence spoke to the promise of the property as a first-rate place for golf. So did the character of the sandy-soiled land, which boasted natural promontories and hollows, and the vision of its founder, Ben Cowen-Dewar, and his partner, Mike Keiser of Bandon Dunes fame. I could not wait until it opened up.
A year later, I returned to Cabot Links, which was laid out by Canadian architect Rod Whitman on the west coast of Cape Breton in the northern Nova Scotia. And while the track had not officially gone on-line, I was able to play all 18 holes. To be sure, there was still plenty of growing in to do, and the quiet of the autumn day was occasionally broken by the sound of backhoes still moving dirt in places. But it was still easy to see that this coastal links was going to be a winner.
Those sentiments were confirmed, and then some, when I made yet another trip to Cabot Links, this fall. Like a fine Fonseca port, it has only gotten better with age and is now rightfully regarded as one of the finest golf courses in the world.
I love the ample fescue fairways and the sense of excitement that comes with each tee shot, and the massive greens that put a premium on good putting, particularly the double green for holes Nos. 4 and 13. The well-placed pot bunkers evoke the great courses of the Old World, and so do the firm and fast ways the layout plays.
Wind is almost always a factor, and golfers must play a variety of shots from a wide range of angles. Then there are the actual golf holes, such as the par-3 seventh, which is an inspired rendition of the classic Biarritz, and No. 14, which is Whitman’s brilliant, 102-yard homage to the seventh at Pebble Beach. I also fall hard for Nos. 15 and 16, which are among six holes here that run along the water. As I play them one morning, I watch lobster boats head out to sea and a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins frolic closer to shore.
It is a thrill to have watched a golf course evolve. Especially one that has evolved so well. Cabot Links has become a must-play. And my feeling after my latest visit is that I must play it again.