Cabot Cliffs Grabs the International Spotlight

Cabot Cliffs Golf Course (Image: Cabot Links)

Cabot Cliffs sweeps along oceanside bluffs just to the north of Inverness. (Image: Cabot Links)

Cape Breton’s newest headliner, Cabot Cliffs, has earned rave reviews and is drawing golfers from around the world. Hard to imagine that the Coore-Crenshaw design is even more highly touted than its celebrated sister course, Cabot Links.

(Last updated July 2019.)

Cape Breton has always punched above its weight among Canadian golf destinations. But the rave reviews for Cabot Cliffs seem almost an overabundance of good fortune.

Set on soaring oceanside bluffs just outside the town of Inverness, Cabot Cliffs is the sister course of Cabot Links, a world-renowned seaside links designed by Canadian Rod Whitman that instantly became a flagship for the nation’s golf industry when it launched in 2011.

But Cabot Cliffs might be even more spectacular. No fewer than eight holes at this Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design offer endless views of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Especially unforgettable is the 16th, a par three chiseled into a jagged cliff. The inland holes sweep through sculpted dunes and woodlands before returning to the sea.

Even before its official launch in the spring of 2016, Cabot Cliffs had already been named the 19th best course in the world by Golf Digest, ahead of Royal Birkdale, Carnoustie and other international stalwarts. Cabot Links, meanwhile, came in at No. 93. Just two years later, in early 2018, the same prestigious publication ranked Cabot Cliffs the ninth best course in the world, with Cabot Links coming in at No. 43.

Cape Breton, a Nova Scotia island of charming villages and panoramic vistas along the Cabot Trail, has long numbered among Canada’s top golf destinations. Located in the quiet north shore community of Ingonish is Highlands Links (No. 87 in Golf Digest’s 2018 world rankings), a Stanley Thompson-designed masterpiece that has anchored Maritimes golf since 1941. Rounding out a strong roster are Bell Bay Golf Club, The Lakes Golf Club and Le Portage Golf Club.

Golf has become the lifeblood of local tourism. Before the opening of Cabot Links and the quietly elegant Cabot Links Lodge, Inverness was a hardscrabble former coal mining town where the big attractions were salmon fishing on the Margaree River and the twice-weekly harness races at Inverness Raceway. Townspeople also boast that their beach offers the warmest ocean waters north of the Carolinas.

Today, stylish new houses are under construction, real-estate prices are climbing, and the tired-looking main street is being given a face-lift.

With tourists arriving from around the world, golf has become as essential to the fabric of life in Inverness as it is in Scotland’s St. Andrews.

The original course, Cabot Links, is set just beyond the beach in the heart of town. Glimpses of the green and rumpled links are visible from almost everywhere in Inverness. A long public boardwalk extends between the beach and the fairways closest to the sea, enabling strollers to feel a part of the action.

And now, just to the north of town, Cabot Cliffs is receiving more rave reviews than any Canadian course since, well, Cabot Links.

The popularity and acclaim enjoyed by both Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links has encouraged the principal owners, Canadian entrepreneur Ben Cowan-Dewar and Chicago-based golf impresario Mike Keiser, to keep right on building. Villas and a clubhouse are under construction at the Cliffs, and a 10-hole par-three course designed by Whitman and Dave Axland (a longtime associate of Coore and Crenshaw) is scheduled to open in 2020.

Also seriously being contemplated is a third 18-hole course on yet another choice piece of real estate not far from Inverness.

How lucky can Cape Breton get?

Cabot Cliffs signature par three 16th. (Image: Cabot Links)

Clifftop drama: the signature par-three 16th at Cabot Cliffs. (Image: Cabot Links)