...

Canada’s Coastal Classic: Golf in its Natural Form at Cabot Links

cabot links featured

Cabot Links is located along the coastline of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, which appropriately means “New Scotland”. Considered by many to be Canada’s only authentic links course, it was designed by Canadian golf architect Rod Whitman, taking advantage of the dramatic seaside landscapes. What makes Cabot Links truly special is its authentic links-style experience, from the look and feel of natural terrain to the walking-only policy.

The course opened in 2012 to rave reviews with a design and setting that incorporates all the elements of legendary links courses of Great Britain. Cabot Links offers an incredible links golf test on a spectacular piece of land, from quirky double greens to the driveable par-4 3rd to the tough 17th along the harbor. It also serves as the pioneering course that put the Cabot Golf Resort and Cape Breton on the map as an elite golf destination.

In this post, we’ll explore Cabot Links, its origins, and critical acclaim. We’ll discuss Cape Breton’s history and golf tradition and walk through the course. Finally, we’ll close with further reading and videos to bring the setting to life. As always, the adjacent images are simulated to set the scene and provide context.

cabot links intro

Cabot Links originated from the vision and determination of Ben Cowan-Dewar, a Toronto businessman and avid golfer. In the early 2000s, Cowan-Dewar discovered a dramatic piece of land along the coast of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia that he felt would be perfect for a links-style golf course. The land had previously been a coal mine that closed in the 1960s. Cowan-Dewar was inspired to turn this abandoned mine into a world-class golf destination.

However, Cowan-Dewar needed financing and expertise to turn his vision into reality. He connected with renowned golf course developer Mike Keiser, who had made his name developing Bandon Dunes in Oregon. Keiser saw the potential of the land and agreed to partner with Cowan-Dewar to develop Cabot Links, bringing the necessary funds and know-how.

Construction began in 2008, led by Canadian golf architect Rod Whitman. The initial focus was building the first 18-hole Links course on the coastal parcel of land nearest to the town of Inverness. Despite the economic recession, Cowan-Dewar and Keiser pushed forward with minimal resources to complete Cabot Links.

cabot links mine1

Reception and Critical Acclaim

When Cabot Links opened in 2012, it was quickly named the best new course in the world by Golf Digest, bringing instant acclaim and attention. Its authentic links-style design by Rod Whitman, incorporating the natural landscape and coastal setting, was widely praised by golf media and fans. Within its first year, it cracked the top 100 courses in the world.

The success of the Links course paved the way for a second course, Cabot Cliffs, designed by acclaimed architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Cabot Cliffs opened in 2016 to even more critical acclaim and cemented Cape Breton as a world-class golf destination. Today, Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs consistently rank among the top courses in Canada and the world, transforming Inverness’s remote former coal mining town into a golf mecca. Cabot Links is ranked #79 in Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Courses in the World.

cabot links reception

Cape Breton

Cape Breton Island is located off the northeastern coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. It is separated from mainland Nova Scotia by the narrow Strait of Canso, which is bridged by a causeway, and sits where the Gulf of St. Lawrence meets the Atlantic Ocean. The 10,311 square kilometer island features a rugged landscape dotted with small fishing communities, Acadian and Gaelic cultural influences, and iconic attractions like the Cabot Trail and Fortress Louisbourg National Historic Site.

About 135,000 people call Cape Breton Island home, with the largest population center being the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, which comprises industrial towns like Sydney and Glace Bay. Its remote island location boasting scenic beauty and a unique blend of cultures has made Cape Breton an increasingly popular tourist destination. The Cabot name comes from John Cabot, who was an Italian explorer sailing for England – real name was Giovanni Caboto (anglicized to John Cabot). In 1497, he became one of the first Europeans to explore the eastern coast of what is now Canada. Cape Breton is home to the “Cabot Trail”, a 185-mile loop through a good chunk of the island , running through Cape Breton Highlands National Park. 

Golf has deep roots in Cape Breton, with the game being brought over by thousands of Scottish immigrants who settled on the island. This Scottish influence shaped the development of iconic courses like the Stanley Thompson-designed Cape Breton Highlands Links, which opened in 1941 on land provided by the local Ingonish community. Its stunning setting between the mountains and sea cemented it as a classic Canadian golf destination.

Today, Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs are pillars of Cape Breton golf, consistently ranking among the top courses globally and transforming the former coal town of Inverness into a thriving golf resort. Along with venerable classics like Highlands Links, golf is integral to Cape Breton’s culture, history, and economy – a legacy that began with Scottish immigrants and has now drawn golfers worldwide.

Fortress of Louisbourg Lighthouse Cape Breton Nova Scotia Canada

Did You Know?

In 1965, Cape Breton’s Highlands National Park Links was the setting, as George Knudson faced fellow Canadian Al Balding in an exhibition match featured on “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf.” The series showcased top pros competing in matches at renowned courses worldwide, spotlighting the beauty and challenge of Cape Breton Highlands for viewers around the globe.

Knudson spoke glowingly of Cape Breton Highlands, considering it the “Cypress Point of Canada” – one of the best courses in the country. His high praise on the televised match helped cement the reputation of Highlands Links and Cape Breton as a premier Canadian golf destination. Video footage and photos from the 1965 match are still prominently displayed at the course today, forever linking its history with the legacy of George Knudson. See the videos section of this post for the full match.

1346R 210

The Course

The par 70 layout plays 6,854 yards from the tips and features wide, undulating fairways leading to large, sloped greens without collars. Five holes run right along the ocean, and every hole provides a view of the water. The firm and fast conditions, exposure to wind, and fescue turf make it a true test of links golf. Cabot Links is renowned for its natural terrain, links-style characteristics, and the strategic thinking it demands. The course’s seaside layout, with over a third of the holes on the edge of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, offers endless views and a unique experience.

The Front Nine

The front nine at Cabot Links features a nice variety of holes that take advantage of the seaside terrain. It opens with a short risk-reward par-5 that plays into the prevailing wind. The second hole is the longest and most difficult par-3 on the course, with a large double-plateau green. The third hole is a drivable par-4 that hugs the ocean down the left side and wetlands on the right, requiring accuracy off the tee. Holes 4-6 play inland through dunes and grassland, including the hardest par-4 on the front nine at the fourth. The seventh then returns to the coastline for three consecutive oceanside holes. The eighth is a long par-5 with an elevated plateau green overlooking the ocean. The front nine finishes with a short downhill par 4 guarded by fairway and greenside bunkers.

While the front nine doesn’t have quite the dramatic cliffs and elevation changes as the back nine, it still provides plenty of challenge and natural beauty. Holes play along the bay and pond early on before turning inland through sand dunes. Then, holes 7-9 hug the rugged shoreline of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Strategic bunkering and contoured greens add complexity to a front nine that builds anticipation for the spectacular closing stretch.

With a good mix of short and long holes, risk-reward opportunities, and nearby water views, the front nine delivers an authentic links golf experience. The course encourages creativity and shotmaking ability with its firm and fast conditions. And the difficulty ratchets up on the closing holes along the ocean. The front nine sets the stage nicely for the spectacular climax that awaits on the back. Visit Cabot links online at https://cabotcapebreton.com/golf/cabot-links.

cabot links 7

The Back Nine

The back nine at Cabot Links features more dramatic oceanfront holes and showcases the rugged Nova Scotia coastline. It opens with three straight holes along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, including a short par-4 and difficult long par-5 at holes 10 and 11. The 12th plays inland as a long par-4 in a valley before returning to the coast at the par-4 13th. The next stretch from 14-16 is considered among the best at Cabot, with the short cliffside par-3 14th and two scenic par 4s that hug the ocean. The 17th turns slightly inland but still provides a challenge, followed by the tough 475-yard closing hole that bends along the coast.

Challenging par 4s at 10, 12, 15, and 18 bookends two brute par 5s and a few shorter holes for variety. Strategically placed fairway bunkers add teeth on holes without much room for error. The closing stretch, in particular, borders the ocean, culminating in the difficult 18th that plays directly along the Gulf. Views are breathtaking throughout, and the difficulty ratchets up.

The back nine at Cabot Links delivers a sensational oceanside test of golf. With more forced carries, precision shots, and exposure to the wind, it provides a stiff challenge to match its beauty. The routing flows seamlessly from the front nine before showcasing the rugged Nova Scotia coast for a truly memorable finish that leaves a lasting impression befitting of a world-class links course.

cabot links 15

Further Reading

51bc4Ev7YJL

The Nature of the Game
by Mike Keiser

Summary: The Nature of the Game chronicles how businessman and avid golfer Mike Keiser discovered his passion for authentic links golf in Scotland and Ireland and embarked on a mission to bring that pure golf experience to America through Bandon Dunes.  Keiser details his philosophy of “dream golf” – walking-only courses routed naturally through windswept landscapes that embrace the origins of the game.  The book provides an inside look at how Keiser partnered with architects like Tom Doak to make the dream golf vision a reality at Bandon and other sites, pioneering a back-to-basics movement in course design.  At its core, The Nature of the Game shares one man’s journey to recapture golf’s essence by creating minimalist, natural links-style courses focused on fun and camaraderie.

818N3p832kL. SL1500

Sand and Golf
by George Waters

Summary: “Sand and Golf” explores how sandy terrain uniquely suits golf, studying similarities and differences between courses worldwide with sandy features. It examines all aspects of the relationship between sand and golf, from the sport’s origins in Scottish coastal dunes to its global spread onto sandy sites. Written by golf architect George Waters with a preface by renowned designer Tom Doak, it details through examples and illustrations why firm, rugged, windy sandy terrain makes creative shot-making integral to the game. The book appeals to knowledgeable golfers interested in course design and architecture, analyzing the art and science behind why golf belongs on sand.

61FfUW 2X8L. SL1500

Anatomy of a Golf Course
by Tom Doak

Summary: The book explains the thought process and strategies used by golf course architects in designing courses, including factors like hole length, placement of hazards, and routing. It aims to help golfers understand why certain design choices are made so they can better approach playing the course. Written by acclaimed golf architect Tom Doak, it appeals to both knowledgeable golfers and beginners interested in course design and architecture. The book also includes an appendix with examples of noteworthy golf courses that are worth studying.


91ZekrJrUnL. SL1500

True Links
by  Malcolm Campbell & George Peper

Summary: True Links by Malcolm Campbell and George Peper profiles over 240 of the world’s top links golf courses across the British Isles and beyond, examining their history, design features, and status as an authentic “true links.” Organized geographically, the book offers photos, maps, scorecards and playing tips for renowned seaside tests like Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Cabot Links, Barnbougle Dunes and others that meet the authors’ criteria.  For links golf aficionados, True Links serves as an illustrated guidebook for experiencing the unique joys and challenges of the game’s most revered coastal courses.

Videos

Cabot Links – Cape Breton
Cabot Links – No Laying Up
Knudson vs. Balding Cape Breton
level up

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

  • Immediate access to our partner discount codes
  • Notification of new posts and fresh content
  • Weekly Updates on exclusive deals, & discount codes
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.