Review: Cabot Cliffs

Course Name: Cabot Cliffs

Designer: Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw (2015)

Location: Inverness, Nova Scotia, Canada

History: After remarkable success with Rod Whitman’s Cabot Links in 2011, Cabot owners contracted Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to design Cabot Cliffs a half-mile north in 2015. It didn’t take long for the younger course to make a strong impression and soon it surpassed its older sister. 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. Both championship courses are ranked highly both in Canada and internationally, with Cabot Cliffs earning the following accolades:

  • #17 Best Course in the World – Golf Digest (2018)
  • #44 Best Course in the World – Golf Magazine (2021)
  • #46 Best Course in the World – Top100golfcourses.com (2019)
  • #22 Best Course in North America – Top100golfcourses.com (2018)
  • #4 Best Public Course in North America – Golf Magazine (2021)
  • #1 Best Course in Canada – Golf Digest (2022)
  • #1 Best Course in Canada – Top100golfcourses.com (2021)
  • #1 Best Modern Course in Canada – Golfweek (2019)
  • #1 Best Course in Nova Scotia – Top100golfcourses.com (2021)

Conditions: 7/10, Newer than its sister course, Cabot Cliffs is in overall good condition but features greens on the slower side and a few spotty areas. It does, however, contain firm and fast fairways which fit the setting well.

Value: 9/10, Although more expensive than when I played several years ago, the Canadian conversion rates and isolated location make it still good value between $138 and $245 USD depending on the season. Additionally, replay, twilight, and 9-hole rates are even cheaper.

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Black                       72           6835               73.8               141

Green                       72          6449               72.0              138

Silver                        72          6134               70.7              136

Orange                    72           5079              65.7              115

Royal Blue               72           3785               62.7             109

Hole Descriptions: Situated a half-mile north of Cabot Links, Cabot Cliffs is isolated from the rest of the Resort and features a far more variable terrain, with a number of hilly, inland holes and many holes playing along 100-foot cliffs overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence. While I certainly love Cabot Links, it does not come close to Cabot Cliffs’ greatness in my opinion. In fact, Cabot Cliffs was my favorite course for many years and is still one of my all-time favorites. What makes Cliffs so good? For one, it is one of the most beautiful courses you’ll ever play with breathtaking water views from every hole and several holes playing directly over the cliffs. Second, it features a tremendous amount of variety that Coore and Crenshaw have become so well-known for. Utilizing a unique routing with six each of par threes, fours, and fives, there’s strong variety both in terms of par and land movement, with holes playing along water, in the forest, and up- and downhill. Some have criticized the fact that there are only six par fours, but the routing here is fantastic and the course utilizes the land very well. Lastly, the holes themselves are absolutely incredible with numerous world-class offerings and a jaw-dropping finish that polarizes golfers but is undoubtedly memorable. Altogether, Cabot Cliffs is easily one of the best public courses in North America and would be better known if it were in a more accessible area and had a longer season. This is certainly a top 100 course in a world and a course I can’t wait to return to.

I don’t think it’s unfair to call the opener the weakest or at least the least memorable hole on the course, but I feel Coore and Crenshaw purposely gave us a gentle opener as a transition hole. At 581 yards, this is a long, straightaway par 5 with a generous fairway. With thick fescue to the left and fescue-lined mounds intermittently down the right, this hole also features several bunkers down the right for much of the landing area. The land on this hole is naturally dead flat, but Rod Whitman assisted Coore and Crenshaw by creating undulating mounds throughout the fairway which really enhance the way it plays. Crossbunkers dot the fairway on either side about 150 yards short of a fascinating, bunkerless, large, diagonal green with tight lies and slopes surrounding all sides.

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The par 5 1st

Half of Cabot Cliffs’ six par fours come in the next four holes, creating one of the best stretches of par fours in the world. The 2nd hole is unique and memorable as a 402 yard downhill par 4. Featuring an exhilarating downhill teeshot over dunes, this hole contains an 160 yard carry to reach a narrow portion of left fairway. At about 245 yards, the fairway opens up but runs out quickly at about 285 yards with a winding creek. This is a very intimidating teeshot to say the least. This approach is also quite difficult playing over the creek and a terrifying Principal’s Nose triple bunker to a two-tiered, severely back-to-front sloped green shaped like an upside-down V and lined by fescue long. This hole requires two heroic shots to make par and is absolutely gorgeous.

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The par 4 2nd
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The midline Principal’s Nose bunker obscures some of your view on the approach
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Looking back at the 2nd hole

The 3rd hole is another excellent par 4 at 389 yards. Turning inland, this hole again features a downhill teeshot to a severely left-to-right sloping firm fairway. A small teardrop bunker at 260 yards divides the fairway in two while a pair of large bunkers guards the right between 250 and 280 yards. I imagine these bunkers are frequently found. This approach again runs back uphill towards an elevated, left-to-right sloping green defended by a false front short and right and three bunkers along the back.

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The strategic and fun par 4 3rd

Likely a nod to the famous double green 8th at Pine Valley, the 4th hole at Cabot Cliffs is the first par 3 and features two greens. I’m not sure how often these two alternate but the left plays at a lengthy 221 yards while the right is only 154 yards. We played to the right, a slightly downhill one-shotter with a narrow, long green lined by two giant bunkers on either side and steep drop-offs long and left. Due to the steep terrain, those who go long left might inadvertently wind up on the other green!

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Holes 4a and 4b

The 5th hole is my favorite par 4 on the course and one of my favorites anywhere as a majestic 401 yard Cape design. With water and marshes down the left the entire way, this is an excellent risk-reward hole with an intimidating teeshot to an elevated fairway. The line for most golfers is out right to a large landing area requiring a 220 yard carry over a bunker, but some can cut the corner and make the 270 yard carry to fairway just short of the green. This gorgeous approach runs downhill towards a Redan-like green defended by five bunkers long.

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The par 4 5th gives the golfer options
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The 5th occupies an unreal setting
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The approach to 5 is obscured by a giant right wastebunker short

At 186 yards, the 6th hole is a neat par 3 playing slightly downhill through a chute of fescue. Golfers will feel like they’re in Ireland here as this green is surrounded on all sides by fescue and is quite large, primarily running front left-to-back right.

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The par 3 6th

The longest hole at Cabot Cliffs, the 589 yard par 5 7th moves back inland as a strong dogleg right. A worthy number 1 handicap, this hole features the most difficult teeshot on the course with an 150 yard forced carry over a giant valley just to reach a fairway that turns right immediately. A trio of bunkers lines the right side of the fairway, requiring a 300 yard carry to get past the final one. Once in the fairway, this hole is a marathon with numerous humps and a central ridge that divides the fairway in two. With about 120 yards remaining, this fairway narrows with a bunker down the left and trees on both sides. This approach plays slightly uphill towards a right-to-left sloping green defended by two bunkers short left. Par is an excellent score here.

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The intimidating teeshot at 7
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The approach at 7

The 8th hole is another excellent par 5 running slightly downhill back towards the Gulf. At 549 yards, this hole features another tough teeshot to a narrow fairway lined by thick rough on both sides and a left bunker at 260 yards before opening up. Bunkers again constrict the fairway on either side about 100 yards short of a long green containing a right swale and defended by a right bunker.

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The par 5 8th
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A look at the pseudo-Biarritz 8th green

One critique of the routing is that the 9th hole feels sort of squished and I will admit it is a somewhat awkward walk the entire length of the hole to go backwards to the teebox. The hole itself is nice, however, as a short 126 yard par 3. Playing slightly downhill right at the edge of the cliff, this hole is all about precision, with a front-to-back sloped green defended by bunkers short, right, and long.

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The par 3 9th is a great spot for a group photo

The back 9 hugs the coastline more than the front and this is readily apparent on the par 5 10th, a straightaway 557 yard par 5 with cliffs down the left the entire way.  Seven bunkers also line the cliffs down the left between 150 and 330 yards while the right opens up after 160 yards, sharing its fairway with the 1st. Bunkers and fescue beginning about 160 yards short of the green make this lay-up tougher and this approach must be aerial, as this green lies on the other side of an indent in the cliffs. This large green slopes left-to-right with three bunkers short, three bunkers left, and a bunker long right.

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The par 5 10th
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The approach at 10

At 404 yards, the 11th hole is actually the longest par 4 on the course and plays longer, running uphill the entire way. This is a strong hole, featuring a wide, right-to-left sloping fairway defended by a giant right bunker between 160 and 235 yards and a left bunker at 285 yards. This approach plays towards an elevated right-to-left sloped green defended by deep bunkers on either side and a vicious false front. Although the 16th handicap, this is one of the more difficult holes in my opinion.

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The par 4 11th

From the Black Tees, the 12th hole is a very long par 3 running downhill at 245 yards. Featuring a minor forced carry, this hole is notable for a front right bunker and tight lies guarding the green to the left.

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The lengthy par 3 12th

Cabot Cliffs is often compared to Bandon Dunes and the 13th and 14th holes would be the Bandon Trails part of Cabot Cliffs, playing inland amongst the thick Nova Scotian forest. At 398 yards uphill, the 13th hole is a stellar par 4 and is rumored to be Coore and Crenshaw’s favorite hole on the course. Featuring a narrow, left-to-right sloping fairway lined by fescue on either side, this hole also contains bunkers down the left at 170 yards and right at 255 yards. This hole is most notable for a giant hump directly in front of an elevated, undulating green, leaving the golfer an intimidating, semi-blind approach.

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The excellent par 4 13th
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The semi-blind approach at 13

The 14th hole is a beautiful 188 yard par 3 running slightly downhill. Featuring an elevated yet receptive green, this hole is memorable for its peculiar bunkering, with a rocky triple bunker short and a hidden deep bunker in the woods reminiscent of the infamous “Devil’s Asshole” at Pine Valley.

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The par 3 14th
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A look at the unique rocky mound and bunkers short on 14
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A miss long at 14 may find a devastating hidden bunker

The 560 yard 15th hole begins an epic closing stretch and is one of my favorite par fives anywhere. After a walk through the woods, this fantastic hole plays downhill the entire way to the edge of the cliff. Although the fairway is wide, it is well-bunkered with a short right bunker at 190 yards, a midline bunker at 240 yards, and numerous bunkers down the left beginning at 220 yards. These bunkers are well-placed, as the fairway slopes left-to-right and offers strategic advantages to those who find the left side. This fairway narrows with about 150 yards remaining with a right bunker while a teardrop-shaped midline bunker looms 75 yards short. This green is large and runs front-to-back lined by two bunkers left.

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The beautiful par 5 15th
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The lay-up at 15
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The 15th approach offers gorgeous views of Margaree Island in the background

Drawing comparisons to the famous 16th at Cypress Point, the 176 yard par 3 16th is Cabot Cliffs’ signature hole and is certainly one of the most memorable holes you’ll ever play. With the green jutting out on a rocky cliff peninsula, this hole requires a carry the entire way over water to find the putting surface. While this hole is undeniably exhilarating, I found it a bit too difficult, as the green is very shallow at only 17 paces long and slopes hard left-to-right. Given the firmness of the green, it’s tough to get a mid-iron to stop and avoid one of the seven bunkers that surrounds it.

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The terrifying teeshot at 16
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A closer look at 16 from the cliff’s edge
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The severity and small size of the green make 16 a very difficult hole

Another wildly exotic hole, the 17th is an epic par 4 at 331 yards. For first-timers, this is a very confusing hole as you can only see cliffs from the teebox. The golfer does have options, however, as you can lay-up with iron down the left over a hidden bunker at 180 yards or take a more direct aim at the green. Due to the severe downhill nature of this fairway, those who are aggressive may get generous caroms towards a left-to-right sloping green lined by bunkers short, right, and long. I blocked my drive right and had no idea where it was until I got up to the green and found it 10 feet from the hole.  While this hole is again memorable and exhilarating, I do think it’s the weakest par 4 on the course and a bit gimmicky.

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Where do you aim on the par 4 17th?
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Putter is a viable option on the approach at 17!

Cabot Cliffs closes in fitting fashion with a 532 yard par 5 that hugs the coastline on the right. With a wide fairway, this teeshot requires a short forced carry to a second portion of fairway lined by OB right and two bunkers down the left at 240 yards. Like the 10th, this hole is notable for cliffs jutting in about 150 yards short of the green, forcing the golfer to decide whether to carry it or lay-up on the approach. This back-to-front sloped green is quite long and guarded by bunkers long, right, and left. Lawn chairs positioned behind this green offer an immaculate post-round spot to hang.

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The par 5 18th
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The approach at 18 from short of the inlet
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Looking back at the 18th green

General Comments: Cabot is a fairly low-frills Resort with three 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. Pace of play was fantastic at the Cliffs course on a late-season day but the local caddies left a lot to be desired.

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Cabot’s driving range

Verdict: Offering incredible views, tremendous variety, and a great deal of fun, Cabot Cliffs is one of the best courses in the world and one of Coore and Crenshaw’s best works. It is difficult to get to, but is absolutely a must play for serious golfers.


One thought on “Review: Cabot Cliffs

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