As this blog is being written, I’m watching a weather system move over the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but the gloominess of the gray clouds above is only adding to the true links feel of the new Cabot Links in Inverness, N.S., yet not making it unplayable.
Cabot Links, which opened 10 holes in July and will be ready with all 18 by next year along with lodging, lives up to its hype, but with participation in both Canada and the United States flat or declining and the economy threatening, it’s understandable to wonder if the timing is right for such a venture.
“I don’t hear that, surprisingly, as much. I think people say that to other people, but don’t say it to us as much,” said Ben Cowan-Dewar, one of the partners in Cabot Links, along with Mike Keiser, a founder of Bandon Dunes in Oregon.
“I think the reality is, when you look at Bandon Dunes, and the response that they got, it was the exact same thing and everyone said nobody would go there to play golf. The southern coast of Oregon wasn’t really a golf destination,” said Cowan-Dewar.
Cape Breton, on the other hand, had that reputation, with the highly-acclaimed Highlands Links in Ingonish as the beacon of that region’s golf. There’s plenty of driving once you land in Sydney or Halifax, but Cowan-Dewar says the same holds true for Bandon.
“Obviously, we have an element of who knows?” said Cowan-Dewar.
“We’ve been really excited about the feedback we’ve gotten, just from this year. There’s a lot of excitement from Halifax golfers, Moncton golfers in this region and we’re starting to see, through the fall, people from Ontario and the northeast United States,” he added.
“I think if we do a good job on all elements of the project, we should be okay,” said Cowan-Dewar, adding that 20,000 rounds next year is a realistic target, with hopes to exceed expectations as Bandon Dunes did in its early years.
“We’ll first and foremost be a Canadian market course. There’s no doubt Highlands Links is more well-known than it is in New York and Nova Scotia is something that feels just down the road to folks in Ontario and Quebec,” he said.
“I think if we do a good job and people who have been traveling to Scotland and Ireland for all those years to go and play links golf, it’s certainly a lot less expensive and a much easier trip and a shorter trip,” said Cowan-Dewar.
Cabot Links, designed by Canadian Rod Whitman, will certainly appeal to the hardcore golfer, but it’s also set up to handle all levels with six tee boxes and an emphasis on “play it forward” so all can enjoy the course.
While next year’s peak green fee has not been set as of this writing, Cowan-Dewar expects that it will come in at the $100 mark, certainly affordable to such a quality golf course and a unique links experience.
The product is definitely there on the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The question is, as it is in all of the golf industry these days, is the market there?
The early signs are pointing towards the affirmative.