No weak links on Cape Breton
A rainbow breaks through a gloomy sky near the 18th hole of the Cabot Links golf course on Cape Breton Island. IAN HUTCHINSON/Special to QMI Agency
INVERNESS, N.S. -- As we arrived in the parking lot at Cabot Links, the rainbow that cascaded out of the gloomy sky into the sea beyond the flapping flag on the 18th hole was merely a spectacular welcome back.
After playing into the fading light the day before, we already knew there was a pot of gold near the end of this rainbow -- at least from a golfer's perspective.
While it may be tempting to point out the fabled pot of gold is an Irish tale -- especially when more than 50% of Cape Breton's population are descended from Scots -- this highly anticipated course that cuts through the seaside landscape is reminiscent of Ireland, or Scotland or any other country where the unique feel of links golf is prevalent.
This year, golfers will have the opportunity to chase the rainbow over all 18 holes, which will open to the public for the first time on June 29 with lodging.
Like Scotland's Old Course at St. Andrews -- the grandaddy of them all -- Cabot Links is tucked nicely between the sea and the quaint town of Inverness, and offers a Rod Whitman design that seems to have always been a natural part of the surrounding terrain.
"The things that, to me, make golf fun are playing from appropriate distance, not having water hazards and thick rough that choke off play and choke off options," Ben Cowan-Dewar, Cabot Links managing partner, said.
"On a site that has such varied wind, you need width to be able to play the angles. I think Rod's just done an absolutely brilliant job of getting the most out of the property." he added.
Cowan-Dewar joined forces with Whitman and Mike Keiser of Bandon Dunes, the renowned destination golf playground in Oregon, on a project that offers the windswept, old world feel that accompanies links play and has made Cabot Links an instant beacon for Canadian golf.
While purists savour the only true links course in Canada, and one of very few in North America, Cabot Links is set up to appeal to golfers of various skill levels with as many as six different tee blocks and a play-it-forward attitude to encourage a positive experience for everyone.
"The idea of six yardages is really appealing," Cowan-Dewar said.
"When I think of courses when I grew up, which had a 7,000 (yard), a 6,400 and a 5,500 for the forward tees, I think 5,500 for a beginning golfer is too long," he said, adding that visitors can play Cabot Links as short as 4,000 yards with no forced carries.
The links aspect of Cabot Links is accentuated by the fact it's a walking course, like the ones on the other side of the ocean. And the price is right, at least for those who play in large cities, at $130 per round or $110 for resort guests.
Most golfers only experienced 10 holes last year, but Cabot Links has certainly grown in reputation in a region already renowned for golf with Highlands Links in Ingonish Beach already established as a Canadian classic.
Mostly, the traffic to Cabot Links last year was regional from places such as Halifax, Sydney and Moncton, but several tourists in the area dropped by for a sneak peek.
"I think if we do a good good job and people who have been travelling to Scotland and Ireland for all those years look at Nova Scotia as a chance to go and play links golf, it's certainly a lot less expensive and a much easier trip and a shorter trip," Cowan-Dewar said.
If they do decide to do that, they will find a jewel in the pot of gold.
Fly into Sydney or Halifax, N.S., or Moncton, N.B., and drive from there. Cabot Links is 168 km from Sydney, 317 km from Halifax, and 403 km from Moncton.
Cabot Links is a walking course, but carts are available for those with disabilities. Caddies are also available. New lodging will be open by the end of June and there is talk of a second course at Cabot Links. Website note on Cabot Links' cancellation policy: "You won't want to cancel." See cabotlinks.com.