As we make the ascent up a brief, yet steep grade, from bag drop to first tee, I can’t help but feel my anticipation growing for this late afternoon round. Can this golf course newcomer really be as great as they say? Reaching the hill’s crest, that question is quickly answered as I’m immediately stopped in my tracks, overtaken by a rush of emotion.
Wow, this is Cabot Cliffs.
Confronted by the endless blueish gray sea, I slowly turn my gaze to the muted-green rolling terrain, framed by deep green gorse, fescue-topped mounds, and a bird’s eye view of the waves crashing against the cliffside beaches below.
“Wait until you see the back 9, eh,” the starter quipped, offering me a fresh-baked cookie from the local bakery. “The back 9?” I thought aloud. “Ah, yes – this is but a glimpse of what’s to come…”
With the blustery wind at my back, and the sea-spray lightly misting in my face, I calm my nerves and send the ball soaring down the middle of the opening fairway.
It’s only the beginning, but I’m already smitten for this place.
That feeling only grows as the round continues and I quickly understand why Golf Digest named Cabot Cliffs as their Best New Course of 2015, comparing this recently opened venue to the likes of the famed Cypress Point.
Constant elevation changes, golden-brown fescue, emerald sea grass, thoughtful rugged bunkering, cliffside bluffs, and smart course routing all lend themselves to the beauty of Cabot Cliffs, located on the northern coast of Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island.
While 8 holes run snugly along the coast, each and every hole provide some form of ocean (er, Gulf of St. Lawrence) view. That’s thanks in part to the genius of course designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, never leading more than one consecutive hole away from the ocean.
Sure, Coore & Crenshaw were given a magnificent property to use as their canvas, but these two veterans did their part to further enhance the Cabot experience. At only 6,764 yards (par 72), some may mistakenly characterize this course as unfit for the modern era.
What the course lacks in distance, it makes up for in, well, every other way.
Using a unique setup (six of each par-3s, -4s, and -5s), strategic bunkering, natural elevation changes, and with mother nature enlisted as an ally (read: loads of wind), Cabot Cliffs delivers a unique challenge.
A fair amount of course strategy and risk-reward opportunities keep you thinking during the round, and by day’s end you’re likely to use every club in the bag. Looking for some proof?
How about the par-3 4th hole, featuring two greens that are alternated for use – an upper measuring 154 yards, and a lower at a more lengthy 221 yards.
Or the 330 yard par-4 5th hole, that can be played straightaway with an iron/fairway wood, or more aggressively with a driver over the corner. The latter providing a chance to catch the sloping fairway and leave a mere pitch to the green.
Or, perhaps the difference in length between the shortest par-3 9th, measuring 126 yards, and the longest par-3 11th, measuring 245 yards, where the lone commonality between the two being the ridiculous views provided by downhill tee shots toward the sea.
Liking what you’re hearing so far? Great! Now here’s the kicker.
As good as the first 14 holes are at Cabot Cliffs’, the final stretch is that much better.
You’ll surely be asking yourself, “Is that even possible?” As it turns out, yes, it is. The final stretch provides the encore to an incredible round that’s without question vaulting to the top of your favorite bucket list courses.
As you reach the crest of the hill on the par-5 15th fairway, you realize the Cliffs’ experience is far from over. The 200-yard descending approach takes you back toward the sea, offering the perfect backdrop for the low-lying, green.
The par-3 16th is pure magic. It’s the type of hole that reminds you why you love this game. At 176 yards, the hole winds around a rugged coastline cove, 60-feet above the rocky sea below.
Just when you think it couldn’t get any more spectacular, you reach the (drivable) 330 yard par-4 17th. Standing on the tee, you’ll inevitably murmur a word said repeatedly during the round, “wow”.
Take in the intimidating, yet magnificent cliffside ahead, pick your line for this blind tee shot, and commit to executing a good swing. The reward may be a fortuitous bounce down the steep fairway and onto the green … eagle chance? Yes, please.
It’s a bittersweet moment as you head to the last, with the realization the end is near. The par-5 18th offers one last glimpse of Cabot Cliffs’ brilliance, meandering it’s way along the ravine-ridden shoreline.
As daylight fades and the wind that once whipped has settled, bright blue skies make way for fluorescent colors to dance on the calming sea below. Soak in these final moments as you conclude this unimaginable round.
Ah, yes. This is golf at it’s finest.
This is Cabot Cliffs.
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