Review: Cabot Links

Course Name: Cabot Links

Designer: Rod Whitman (2011)

Location: Inverness, Nova Scotia, Canada

History: Cabot Links is the brainchild of Toronto-based entrepreneur Ben Cowan-Dewar and Mike Keiser, the man who brought us Bandon Dunes and Sand Valley. In the mid-2000s, the duo found suitable land on the west shore of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia in the sleepy coal town of Inverness. Soon after, they enlisted Canadian architect Rod Whitman for the job and his course opened in the summer of 2011. Since then, the Resort has expanded to include another 18-hole Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore course that opened in 2015, Cabot Cliffs. In 2020, a 10-hole par 3 course opened at the Resort and I would not be surprised if more courses are planned for the future. The Resort at Cabot was met with almost immediate international acclaim, with both championship courses earning some impressive awards. Accolades for Cabot Links include:

  • #89 Best Course in the World – Golf Digest (2018)
  • #82 Best Course in the World – Golf Magazine (2019)
  • #61 Best Course in the World – Top100golfcourses.com (2019)
  • #31 Best Course in North America – Top100golfcourses.com (2018)
  • #12 Best Public Course in North America – Golf Magazine (2021)
  • #6 Best Course in Canada – Golf Digest (2021)
  • #3 Best Course in Canada – Top100golfcourses.com (2019)
  • #2 Best Modern Course in Canada – Golfweek (2019)
  • #2 Best Course in Nova Scotia – Top100golfcourses.com (2019)

Conditions: 8/10, Cabot Links is in strong condition and is slightly better than its sister course in this regard possibly because it’s older. In true links fashion, this course plays firm and fast with well-maintained fairways and teeboxes, and greens that roll better than Cabot Cliffs’. Due to a harsh winter, the best conditions are from July-September with the earlier season being a bit rougher.

Value: 9/10, Although Cabot is expensive and difficult to get to, the golf itself provides extremely good value at $90 to $245 USD depending on the season. Additionally, replay, twilight, and 9-hole rates are even cheaper. Take advantage of the strong conversion rates and play this course multiple times while at the Resort.

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Black                       70           6854               73.7               133

Green                       70          6455               71.6              125

Silver                        70          6020               69.1              124

Orange                    70           4942              68.8              118

Royal Blue               70           3691               62.3              99

Hole Descriptions: It’s hard to imagine a course ranked in the Top 100 in the World could be underrated, but that’s exactly the case for Cabot Links, a true links course that flies well-under the radar compared to its sister course. While at the Resort, it’s difficult not to compare the two and many actually prefer the Links for its authentic links experience and more subtle architecture. The Cliffs course is the one you’ll see on Instagram with its breathtaking vistas and cliffside holes full of drama. The Links course, on the other hand, features six holes that hug the shoreline, but the majority of holes play inland. In the end, I did prefer the Cliffs course, but felt the Links is also incredible and deserving of accolades. Things I appreciate so much about the Links course are its seamless, walkable routing, the linksy feel and the fact that it feels more natural and integrated into the community of Inverness, and the terrific variety of holes present here. This is a world-class course, Canada’s finest links, and alone worth playing even if the Cliffs course weren’t here. Combined, the courses at Cabot are one of the best golf destinations on the planet and make a difficult journey well-worth the visit.

It’s worth mentioning that part of my experience at Cabot Links was soured by the weather. We played Cabot Cliffs in the morning in beautiful, calm weather only to play the Links in true Scottish weather with rain, 40 mph gusts, and a balmy 45 degrees in the afternoon. I lost feeling in my hands by the 10th hole and this is no doubt the most difficult course I’ve played due to the conditions. Compounding the difficulty, we played from the Back Tees and couldn’t even reach the fairway on many holes that were into the wind. The caddies told us it was the worst wind they had ever seen on the course which is saying something in a location like Nova Scotia. I shot my worst score in years at Cabot Links, but I truly don’t think many PGA Pros would’ve broken 80 that day.

Like Cabot Cliffs, the Links begins with a par 5 and a chance to start off the round with a birdie. At 540 yards, this opener plays as a slight dogleg left to a generous fairway lined by small mounds of fescue. Large bunkers on either side at around 240 yards mark the beginning of the dogleg with an additional pot bunker down the right at 300 yards. On their second shot, the golfer has to contend with bunkers on either side about 70 yards short that pinch the fairway and force you to decide whether to lay-up short of them or carry it closer to the green. This green is narrow, guarded by two deep bunkers right, and features a steady back-to-front and left-to-right slope.

The par 5 1st runs along the hotel
The approach at 1

The 2nd hole continues along the hotel as the longest par 3 on the course at a lengthy 247 yards. Playing flat with ample fairway short of the green, this hole is most notable for its green which features a large Biarritz swale in the middle and slopes left-to-right towards a deep bunker.

The lengthy par 3 2nd
The Biarritz at 2 with a very difficult pin position

The first few holes are nice but the 3rd signals the beginning of the true greatness of Cabot Links. A remarkable short par 4, this reachable 330 yard hole is by far the shortest par 4 on the course. Now staring at the Gulf of St. Lawrence, you face a slender dogleg right with a somewhat generous fairway lined by hazards on both sides. With crosswinds whipping, this becomes a much more intimidating teeshot and decision. There are no bunkers on this hole, but I particularly like two mounds of fescue found on the left side of the fairway and just short of the green, making it almost a Leven template. This undulating green juts out into the right hazard and is surrounded by tight lies. This is one of my favorite holes at Cabot and one of the best short par fours anywhere.

The gorgeous par 4 3rd
The approach at 3 from the fairway mound

After a glimpse of the water, you move back inland with the par 4 4th. Although Cabot Links is considered the “easier” Cabot course under normal conditions, it features some very long par fours including the 4th which measures 450 yards. Playing straightaway, this is a nice uphill hole featuring strong strategic bunkering with three down the left between 230 and 270 yards and two down the right around 300 yards. This approach continues uphill to a narrow, diagonal green that slopes hard back-to-front and is guarded by deep bunkers on either side.

The uphill par 4 4th
The approach at 4 severely punishes those who go long

The 5th hole is a solid 178 yard par 3 playing downhill to a large, front-to-back sloped green defended by a bunker right. This is probably the easiest hole on the course and not one of the more memorable ones.

The par 3 5th

At 465 yards, the 6th hole is the longest par 4 on the front 9 and a very memorable hole I have strong opinions about. As a lengthy Cape hole lined by a fishing inlet down the left, this hole features a terrifying teeshot to a very tight fairway. I may be in the minority, but I am not a fan of this hole as I don’t feel it fits the rest of the layout well. This is a hole I would expect at TPC Sawgrass, not a links course. With that being said, the hole by itself is a good one and is notable for an excellent Redan green guarded by four bunkers down the left lining the water.

Does this hole look like it would fit in Ireland?
The par 4 6th from the beginning of the fairway

The 7th hole brings you right to the edge of the water as a lovely 192 yard par 3. With numerous mounds haphazardly strewn along this fairway and dunes on both sides, this green is long, narrow, and undulating with bunkers on either side. With the wind howling, this hole demands lots of skill and confidence.

The par 3 7th

At 580 yards, the 8th hole is a wonderful lengthy par 5 running along the water. One of several holes that requires a significant carry from the Back tees, this fairway is at least a 225 yard carry over gorse, something neither of us was able to do with gale force winds in our face. Once you reach the fairway, this hole runs slightly uphill with numerous undulations and OB on both sides for the first 400 yards. After this point, the fairway becomes shared with the 13th hole and continues with a giant shared green. This back-to-front sloped green is about 100 yards wide and guarded by a bunker left and mound of fescue short with a giant false front.

The par 5 8th features a lengthy carry
The approach at 8
The 8th green with whitecaps in the distance

With the option to play 9 in mind, the 9th hole runs back inland and finishes near the clubhouse. This 360 yard par 4 is a relatively easy hole and features an extremely generous right-to-left sloped fairway notable for its numerous midline bunkers. There are eighteen bunkers on this hole with a cluster of four on the right fairway at 280 yards and six surrounding this green on all sides. This green is elevated, features numerous slopes, and runs primarily right-to-left. If you can avoid the bunkers, this becomes a birdie hole.

The par 4 9th
The approach at 9

The 10th hole is another easier hole as a 385 yard par 4 running back towards the water. This was originally the 1st hole before the routing was switched in 2015. This is a really excellent dogleg right with a tight fairway lined by rough down the left and three bunkers down the right between 160 and 225 yards. If for some reason (possibly wind) you don’t carry it 200 yards or more, you won’t reach a plateau in this fairway and will be left a blind approach. This right-to-left sloped green is defended well by two bunkers short right and one on the left.

The par 4 10th
The 10th green from just short right

At 620 yards, the final par 5 11th is the longest hole at Cabot Links and one of the best long three-shotters I’ve played. A true journey, this winding dogleg right initially features a somewhat straightforward teeshot to a very generous fairway lined by a right hidden bunker at 275 yards. The fairway then dips into a valley, narrows to nothing around 350 yards with five penal bunkers down the right, and turns sharply right. On their second shot, golfers must navigate this valley and carry their ball onto the next slab of uphill, rumpled fairway that slopes left-to-right. Hidden bunkers cross the fairway about 100 yards short of the green and a chasm of rough divides the fairway and shallow green that juts out to the right with a reverse Redan design.

The world-class par 5 11th
The bunkers at the corner of the dogleg
Running uphill on the lay-up
The 11th green juts out right near the water

The 12th hole is the third consecutive dogleg right and another strong par 4 at 450 yards. Playing level, this hole features bunkers down the right at 285 yards and left at 250 yards lining a generous fairway. This green slopes left-to-right with bunkers on either side and tight lies on the remaining surroundings.

The approach at 12

The 440 yard 13th hole is another that doesn’t really seem to fit with a semi-blind, uphill approach over an 180 yard forced carry of fescue and railroad-tie bunkers. Hazards line the entire righthand side but this fairway is generous down the left and shared with the 8th hole. The remainder of this hole runs straight and slightly uphill to a severely back-to-front sloped green also shared with the 8th. A pair of bunkers guard just short and fescue lines behind.

The intimidating par 4 13th requires a strong teeshot
The approach at 13 to a shared green

While there are wonderful holes scattered throughout Cabot Links, the closing stretch features the most memorable holes on the course. This stretch begins with the shortest and most iconic hole in the 102 yard par 3 14th. Clearly modeled as a dropshot one-shotter after Pebble Beach’s famous 7th, this short downhill hole plays directly on the water’s edge and is unbelievably gorgeous. Unlike Monterey, the wind at Cabot can make this hole play much longer than the yardage and forces the golfer to control their ballflight here. This green is actually quite large but features bunkers left, right, and short and steep, tight lies elsewhere that make for some very difficult up-and-downs. This is a fantastic hole and one you’ll want to play over and over.

The memorable 14th is the best par 3 on the course

The 15th and 16th holes are actually quite similar but there’s nothing wrong with that as both are long par fours that run along the cliffs down the left. The 15th is the shorter of the two but features a lengthy forced carry of 200 yards just to reach the fairway. This fairway is generous but OB lines both sides and will catch anything wayward. This approach plays uphill to an elevated, back-to-front sloped green lined by large bunkers on either side. A pretty string of bunkers also runs horizontally down the left about 60 yards short of the green and should only be in play for those laying up.

The 15th teebox occupies an unreal setting basically on the beach
The difficult par 4 15th
The uphill approach at 15

At 457 yards, the 16th hole is the longer of the cliffside par fours and one of the best holes at the Resort. Featuring a shorter forced carry, this hole contains another generous right-to-left canted fairway lined by fescue right and the beach down the left. As you can see from the pictures, playing from the beach is allowed and probably frequent, although I can attest it is not easy getting back up. Several bunkers dot the fairway for the final 100 yards and this green is large and relatively flat by Cabot standards. Bunkers line the green long right and short left and a collection area short left funnels all the way down the cliff.

The majestic par 4 16th
Playing from the beach is not advised but is possible
The approach at 16
A side view of the 16th green from 17

The 17th hole turns you back around and inland towards the clubhouse as an 170 yard par 3. This is a nice hole playing slightly uphill to a large, heavily undulating green defended by a single bunker on all four sides.

The par 3 17th

After numerous lengthy par fours, the closer at Cabot Links is the longest on the course at a strong 475 yards. This is a really interesting hole featuring a semi-blind teeshot over a plateau and knob in the fairway at about 220 yards. There are bunkers down the right at 210 yards and a hidden one down the left at 240 yards, but the fairway is quite generous after the plateau and contains a speed slot for additional roll. This fairway features numerous pot bunkers and mounds of rough on the way to an elevated and severely undulating green. An approach from the left leaves the best angle into this very well-protected green defended by three bunkers and a false front right and another bunker long left. Par is a great score here.

The par 4 18th features a semi-blind teeshot
The approach at 18

General Comments: Cabot is a fairly low-frills resort with two courses, simple rooms, and a few restaurants to eat at. With the Resort abutting the Links course, additional land at the Cliffs course means the driving range is there. While a nice range, it is a hassle to take a shuttle for the range and then return to the Links. Pace of play was fantastic at the Links course on a bitter late-season day and we had excellent caddies.

Cabot’s driving range

Verdict: While Cabot Links often takes a backseat to its younger, more photogenic sister, this is still a world class course with a wonderful routing, an emphasis on the ground game, and a true links feel that so many North American courses fail to capture. I highly recommend both courses at Cabot to all serious golfers.


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