Golf Vacations - - Front Page - by David R. Hol­land

Our golf cart is bounc­ing like a cov­ered wagon head­ing over Don­ner Pass in the Old West mi­gra­tion. This isn’t Cal­i­for­nia, how­ever, it’s Nova Sco­tia’s Cape Bre­ton Is­land in far east­ern Canada and the road way is a rum­pled fair­way on one of Stan­ley Thomp­son’s clas­sic golf cour­ses -- Highlands Links, a griz­zled, time­less mas­ter­piece cel­e­brat­ing its 76th year. But two and a half hours to the south on the op­po­site sun­set shore of the is­land are two other new bucket list cour­ses -- Cabot Links (2011) and Cabot Cliffs (2015) -- and that three­some makes Cape Bre­ton Is­land one of the globe’s hottest golf des­ti­na­tions. For years when asked what my fa­vorite Cana­dian golf cour­ses were I would say Jasper Park and Banff Springs. Now I have a se­ri­ous chal­lenge to that stan­dard re­sponse. All three of th­ese CBI golf cour­ses are ranked on the world stage. Highlands Links was No. 1 in Canada for years. And just re­cently Cabot Cliffs was named No. 1 in Canada with Cabot Links No. 2 by GOLF Mag­a­zine. Let’s take a closer look:

Highlands Links, In­go­nish, Nova Sco­tia

The bounc­ing ride at Highlands Links is cour­tesy of Thomp­son’s de­ci­sion to cover a glacial rock field with top soil and seed in­stead of re­mov­ing the boul­ders, and con­struc­tion rock piles, which would have been quite a chore con­sid­er­ing in those days the con­struc­tion crew only had ac­cess to steam shovel four hours a day. But de­spite the hang­ing lies, down­hill slopes and crazy bounces you will ex­pe­ri­ence all day, this “Moun­tains to Ocean” golf course, sit­u­ated in the Cape Bre­ton Highlands Na­tional Park, is stun­ningly beau­ti­ful, chal­leng­ing, fun and a roller coaster once you are putting. Ge­orge Knud­son, one of Canada’s best pro­fes­sion­als (eight-time PGA Tour win­ner) called it the Cy­press Point of his homeland for sheer beauty and “like driv­ing up to heaven” ev­ery time he ar­rived on site. “There’s not a bet­ter walk in golf,” Knud­son said. Smoky Moun­tain, the high­est point in Nova Sco­tia, looms high above the course and sev­eral holes climb up to­ward Mount Franey. The No. 1 hand­i­cap hole is the fa­mous, “Killerkrankie” (Gaelic for long, nar­row pass) that’s a 570-yard, par 5 that re­quires you to ne­go­ti­ate a nar­row chute of bo­real for­est of spruce, fir, white birch and maples. Once you start head­ing back down­hill the beau­ti­ful, but deadly 240yard, par-3 12th re­veals the rock-strewn Cly­burn River and once you reach the 15th tee the At­lantic Ocean is once again re­vealed with its sea­side marshes. “What Stan­ley Thomp­son ac­com­plished at Highlands Links dur­ing the late 1930s is noth­ing short of genius,” said golf-course ar­chi­tect Jeff Min­gay. “There is such a va­ri­ety of holes there, the re­sult is a bril­liant rout­ing that takes full ad­van­tage of the nat­u­ral at­tributes of the prop­erty.” My im­pres­sion was it was an in­cred­i­ble col­lec­tion of out­stand­ing par threes. An­other, how­ever, on the same day might rave about the par fives.

That dis­cus­sion tells you this is a must-play. And an­other stun­ner: Highlands Links is a mere 6,592 yards long. That’s a di­nosaur in to­day’s mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture.

Keltic Lodge

As if your day couldn’t get any bet­ter your re­ward af­ter putting the quick and deadly fun­nel of the 18th green is Keltic Lodge, where vis­i­tors have mar­veled at the view since open­ing on July 18, 1940 as the White Birch Inn, and your room was $6, in­clud­ing meals. It is a vin­tage throw­back to the era of rail­road ho­tels present in other Na­tional Parks. To­day’s ho­tel, with sev­eral op­tions for rooms, cot­tages and suites, re­cently got a $5 mil­lion up­grade and in­cludes break­fast buf­fet in The Pur­ple This­tle Din­ing Room, spa, swim­ming pool, bar with live en­ter­tain­ment an op­por­tu­nity to all kinds of out­doors ac­tiv­i­ties. The evening lob­ster din­ner comes with a unique “heads up” pre­sen­ta­tion.

Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links, In­ver­ness, Nova Sco­tia

From al­most ev­ery spot on this mag­nif­i­cent prop­erty the Gulf of St. Lawrence is within view and the golf-course scenery ranks among the best any­where. For decades the coal min­ers who con­ducted busi­ness on Main Street in In­ver­ness couldn’t have en­vi­sioned what could come from that spec­tac­u­lar view and wind-buf­feted shore­line, but the town fa­thers fi­nally saw it. It was the per­fect tran­si­tion of the land and when Ben Cowan-De­war and Mike Keiser hired Rod Whit­man, a Cana­dian ar­chi­tect, to build Cabot Links, the golf ball was fi­nally rolling. Four years later the evo­lu­tion was en­hanced with the open­ing of Cabot Cliffs, a Ben Cren­shaw-Bill Coore de­sign. “If Rod hadn’t cre­ated such a pop­u­lar course, there would never have been a Cabot Cliffs,” said Keiser, on open­ing day to a small group of me­dia.

“I think of Cabot as Cabot. Cabot has its own iden­tity. It’s not try­ing to be Cy­press Point. It’s not try­ing to be Peb­ble Beach. It’s not try­ing to be any­thing else,” said Coore in a dis­cus­sion on Cabot’s web­site. “The beauty of it is a strong in­di­vid­ual iden­tity, char­ac­ter, that was cre­ated by those land forms and our long-stand­ing friend­ship with Whit­man, and his in­volve­ment in both Links and Cliffs makes this project even more spe­cial.” What makes it even more dis­tinc­tive is that both cour­ses are walk­ing only with cad­dies on duty. This should be ex­pe­ri­ence at a slower pace to take in all the land has to of­fer. Cabot Cliffs (6,764 yards) be­gins with a be­nign par 5 and builds with views and in­land holes that cross deep gorges, sweeps through dunes and climbs into gnarly wood­lands be­fore com­ing back to the sea. Broad Cove River also makes an ap­pear­ance. The crescendo comes at No. 16, a 176-yard par three skirt­ing out on a jagged promon­tory, wa­ter seem­ingly ev­ery­where. There’s only a sin­gle de­mand. Hit this pro­tru­sion in one or have a scram­ble from two deep, rough hewned bunkers set­ting be­low the green -- or worse -- reload. But the 17th (331 yards) is even more of an ad­ven­ture as you only have a line up and over a huge rise of land be­fore div­ing down­ward and right to­ward the beach. Hit the line and you may be on the green in one putting for ea­gle. Amaz­ingly, my four­some all found the line and we had this green sur­rounded. “Peo­ple will nat­u­rally be drawn to the 16th, 17th and 18th holes be­cause they are close to the end of the round, spec­tac­u­lar, and there is danger in­volved with play­ing those holes,” Cren­shaw said. “But holes ap­peal to us in dif­fer­ent fash­ions, it’s how they fit to­gether, their rhythm, that makes the course spe­cial. I must say too, that we would never start out with the idea of hav­ing six par 3s, six par 4s and six par 5s.” Cabot Links (6,854 yards) started the whole frenzy with five holes that em­brace the beach, takes in views of Cape Mabou, and in­cludes a Peb­ble Beach No. 7 looka­like -- the 14th that plays 100 yards with the Gulf of St. Lawrence back­drop.

Cabot Links Lodge

De­signed by award-win­ning Nova Sco­tia ar­chi­tect, Su­san Fitzger­ald and cel­e­brated in­te­rior de­signer, Alexan­dra An­gle, the 72-room Cabot Links Lodge is in­spired by its sur­round­ings. There are also two-bed­room and four-bed­room Golf Vil­las. Par­tic­u­larly dis­tinct is that ev­ery door is punc­tu­ated by a golf quote from tour greats or sports writ­ing leg­ends.

Cabot Din­ing -- Panorama, Cabot Bar and Cabot Pub­lic House

Break­fast, lunch and din­ner -- up­scale, re­fined or ca­sual and rus­tic -- that’s the superb ex­pe­ri­ence at Cabot. My fa­vorite was the seafood chowder and oys­ters. But there’s a bounty of fresh lo­cal seafood and nat­u­rally farmed pro­duce.

Ex­plore Cape Bre­ton Is­land

Renowned for its spec­tac­u­lar land­scapes and un­spoiled coastal lands, Cape Bre­ton Is­land is a gem. From hik­ing trails just out­side Cabot Links Lodge to the famed, 186-mile long Cabot Trail, op­por­tu­ni­ties abound for ex­plor­ers. Her­alded as one of “The World’s 10 Best Is­lands to Visit” by Na­tional Geo­graphic Trav­eler, more than one-fifth of Cape Bre­ton is pre­served

as a na­tional park, mak­ing it hiker’s paradise. Fish­er­men from all over North Amer­ica are drawn to the Mar­ga­ree River, home to some of the world’s best salmon fishing. Keiser, who also de­vel­oped Ban­don Dunes, Sand Val­ley and Barn­bougle Links, once said “one great golf course is a cu­rios­ity, but it takes two to make a des­ti­na­tion.” How true, but now and for­ever when I think of Cape Bre­ton Is­land I’ll add Highlands Links into that con­jec­ture. Do your­self a fa­vor. Come here and play all three.

Cabot Links Lodge

High­land Links

Keltic Lodge

High­land Links No. 15

Cabot Links No. 16

Cabot Cliffs 17th and 18th Fair­ways

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