For many people, playing golf in the north is akin to reuniting with an old friend who lives far away. Especially if you’re lucky enough to have won the weather lottery, there’s a keen realization that you need to savor the moment.
As we strode about Cabot Cape Breton, the knowledge that in just a few months the carpet-like fairways would be hidden beneath a layer of snow reminded us to enjoy well struck drives and missed 4 footers just the same.
Located in Nova Scotia on the remote island of Cape Breton, Cabot has been open for just over 10 years, and in that time it’s developed a reputation as one of the most in-demand seaside golf destinations in the world. Cabot is golf as it was meant to be played. This is carry your bag and battle the elements type of golf. This is turn your phone on airplane mode and leave your rangefinder at home type of golf. You’re in New Scotland after all, so it’s only right.
Since the success of Cabot Cape Breton, which has become a pilgrimage for golf purists, Cabot has developed into a fully fledged brand with a portfolio of properties across the globe. The Cabot Collection includes Cabot Highlands in Scotland, as well as three other properties which are due to open in the next year or so. But Cabot Cape Breton, named after the 15th century Italian navigator and explorer John Cabot, is where it all started.
On one of the last weekends of the season, Hypegolf had the opportunity to visit Cabot Cape Breton and play its two world-renowned courses, Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs. This is what we took away from an unforgettable few days.
Know Before You Go
The thing to keep in mind at Cabot is that at any moment, summer can turn into fall, and summer is fleeting as it may be. The key is to pack base layers, mid layers and shells which are easy to take on and off as the weather requires.
We recommend something like this Ultimate 365 Tour WND.RDY vest from adidas Golf, a lightweight piece with a hood and water resistant coating. As far as base layers go, consider this Wordmark Mock Neck from Quiet Golf. It has a neat little flash of branding on the collar, and the 95% cotton/5% spandex blend feels like just the right amount of stretch.
Lastly, remember that you’ll be walking a lot, so make sure you’re confident in whichever shoes you choose to bring. We’re big fans of the adidas MC80, a classic 80s inspired shoe with Boost cushioning underfoot, so you know there’s ample support.
Getting to Cabot is probably the greatest prohibitive factor in dissuading more people from making the trip. Quite simply, Cabot is very hard to get to. First off, the closest airport, Halifax, doesn’t offer a ton of direct flights. Coming from New York, we had to fly to Montreal, pass through immigration and then catch a connecting flight to the Nova Scotian capital of Halifax.
The journey has only just begun though, because now you’ll have to arrange ground transportation to Cape Breton, which adds almost another four hours onto the trip. It’s more or less an entire day dedicated to travel, equivalent to a transcontinental flight for a trip that is far less distance as the crow flies.
The upside though, is that the last hour or so of your journey is spent on Ceilidh Trail (you'll find a lot of Gaelic names in these parts), which is one of the most scenic roads in all of Nova Scotia. It’s a two lane road that passes through tiny villages with inns and craft shops, then meanders toward the water, giving way to sweeping views of the Gulf of St Lawrence. If you’re planning to nap during the first part of the drive, make sure to have an alarm set.
The term “stay and play” has grown more and more popular in recent years, the concept being to provide an experience that extends beyond golf to food, hospitality and recreation. And although that formula is present at Cabot, make no mistake: golf is the main attraction here.
Cabot has two 18 hole courses, both of which regularly rank among the top 100 in the world. The first course, Cabot Links, was designed by an Alberta native named Rod Whitman, and is arguably the most faithful re-creation of links golf on the entire continent. The plot of land it was built on, formerly used as a coal mine, is mostly flat as it gently descends down toward the beach. The majority of the holes are condensed into the area around the lodgings and restaurants. But a smaller section of the course lies on the other side of a public road, where one hole, the 6th, wraps around an active fishing harbor in spectacular fashion.
The Cliffs is the newer of the two courses, opened in 2016 and designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. It's located about a mile up the road from the Links Course, but despite the close proximity, it offers a distinctly different set of characteristics. While the Links is set on a piece of beachy coastline, as the name suggests, the Cliffs takes a turn for the dramatic.
As we first arrived on the property, our eyes were drawn to the right, where the back 9 climbs upward until it hits a wall of dark green pines. That’s not to say that the front 9 can't stand on its own merits. There are a number of fascinating holes that are set back into an area defined by wetlands, tall seaside grasses and low pines. But it feels like everything is building up to the second act.
The climax begins in earnest at the 15th hole, a par-5 which serves up a blind tee shot followed by one of the most blissful downhill, water-backdropped walks you’ll ever take. Next up is the par-3 16th, which is fast becoming one of the most Instragrammable holes in golf. A 176 yard shot plays over a drop of 100-plus feet, with the green perched precariously on the edge of a cliff. Standing on the 17th tee, where all that's visible is water and prehistoric rock, one can put themselves in the shoes of a medieval knight approaching an impenetrable fortress. And the par-5 18th is comparatively a bit more straightforward, but no less scenic.
Don’t sleep on the Nest either. This is Cabot’s newest course, a pitch and putt comprised of all par-3 holes ranging from a short wedge shot to a full 6 or 7 iron. Creativity is the name of the game here, as the majority of the holes can be played through the air or along the ground. The best part is that the course is lit up at night, making it the perfect post-dinner activity.
If there’s one thing to say about the lodgings at Cabot Cape Breton, it’s that they don't overshadow the golf, and we mean that in the best way possible. Yes, the accommodations are very nice. We stayed in the Lodge, which is a collection of 72 double and single rooms in a two-story building which overlooks the Links course. Cabot describes them as “laid back luxury,” which feels like a rather appropriate descriptor. The building itself is minimal in design, with two stories, many straight lines, light cedar siding and just the right amount and size of windows.
Inside the rooms, we found nothing more or less than we needed. Contemporary finishes, a luxurious armchair and plenty of space and hangers in the closet for our clubs and belongings. Our favorite feature though had to be the tilt and slide doors which opened from the top to let in fresh air, or slid all the way open, allowing you to walk right onto the 18th fairway.
There are more than a few options for large groups too. The Golf Villas at Cabot Links would be well suited for a family, a few friends or anyone just looking for a little more room to stretch their legs. Those come as either 2 bedrooms semi-detached, or 4-bedrooms detached, all with open concept layouts and full kitchens. And those are just the accommodations on the Links course, because the Cliffs course also has homes which range from 2-5 bedrooms.
The Food & Beverage
When you come to a northern coastal town, seafood will always be the main attraction, and Cape Breton is no exception. But there’s a little something for everyone between Cabot’s two restaurants, from local, chef inspired dishes to familiar and hearty pub fare. We found ourselves at the Panorama Restaurant most of the time, which serves up the former of those two options. Apart from having great food (we had the curry chicken), it’s an ideal vantage point to watch others finish their rounds.
Also, be sure to try the Cabot Ale. It’s a lager style beer made in collaboration with a local brewery, drinkable enough to sip on over the course of an 18 hole trek.
Don't leave without buying something from the pro shop, but ideally one of these pewter putting cups. Our room in the Lodge had one, but it also had a note attached making it clear that it was not to leave the room.
That's okay though, because you can buy them in the shop for just $40 USD, which feels like a good deal given the sturdiness and detailed metalwork. Once you’re back home, it’s the perfect tool for putting practice on a rainy day.
Stay tuned for more golf course and resort reviews going forward, as we pull back the curtains on the best stay-and-play destinations, high end clubs and low-key community hangouts alike.