New Brunswick and Nova Scotia Golf is Top Notch
Cabot Cliffs is Amazing
By BRUCE VITTNER
Golfing in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia parallels some of the very good courses in the United States, and if you get a chance, you have to play Cabot Cliffs on Cape Breton Island.
We had visited Prince Edward Island last September and were so impressed with the golf. “Why don’t we try to go to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia next summer?” we thought as we drove home through N.B. and close to N.S. Terry Burns, volunteer director of Golf Nova Scotia and a former professional and course builder was our coordinator and host, and we will be eternally grateful. www.golfnovascotia.com
We drove, but there are other options that we will explain later. The first course, Kingswood G.C. in Fredericton, N.B was a delight and a great start to the trip. Graham Cooke designed this course in 2001 on land that has excellent elevation changes and marshland that makes for a good hazard on hole 15. “I used to hunt for ducks here,” said my playing partner, Ed, who is one of the rangers. Holes 15-18 are called the gauntlet for good reason. Hole 16, a long dogleg left par 4, is a real challenge as the drive is risk/reward with water left and a huge bunker in front of a very sloping green. Seventeen is a long par 3 over that same pond.
The course has many accolades including Canada’s Best New Course in 2003 by Golf Digest and Top 100 in the World, outside the U.S. in 2005. There is also an excellent 9-hole executive course on the property. Contact them at www.kingswoodpark.ca or call 800-423-5969.
We took the Saint John/Digby ferry to get to Digby Pines in Digby, N.S, next. My wife has done a sidebar on the next page that highlights all the activities at each of these stops. Digby Pines is a Stanley Thompson gem opened in 1931, two years after the resort opened. Thompson, the legendary Canadian golf architect, had a great gig as he was hired by the Canadian-Pacific Railroad to build courses next to all the great resorts that the railroad was building across Canada. Always near a railroad stop, naturally.
Scott Nickerson, the third-generation Nickerson to have the position of head professional at Digby Pines was my host and golf partner. “This course has hosted most of the best names in golf, and it has an excellent reputation,” said Nickerson. The downhill par 3 second over a pond with a huge wall right and behind the green was my favorite. “We have pictures of me standing next to this green in March with seven feet of snow on the green,” he added.
The course has rolling and moguled fairways similar to the old style. The 278-yard par 4 11th requires a drive over a deep ravine uphill to the green. Babe Ruth, a frequent guest at the resort, was the first to drive the green!
Halifax was our destination the next day where we played The Links at Brunello. The course had just opened on June 15, but you would never know it. Thomas McBroom designed this course that was only seeded last summer. “It is a huge course similar to Highland Links, “ said McBroom when describing this course that was part of a $14 million project that will include homes.
There are four sets of tees, but five choices for players. The very smart concept of combining the white and red tees results in the green tees where the scorecard indicates whether the player (seniors, good female players?) should hit from the white or red tees.
The course is majestic with dramatic terrain. Do not know if I’ve seen much larger greens than at Brunello that is only fifteen minutes from downtown Halifax. The fairways are wide and fast and many tee shots are downhill, so you get to watch your ball roll a long way, except when rolling to quite thick marsh and brush that line most fairways. Bring a few balls. www,thelinksatbrunello.com 902-876-7649.
Our next stop was the most anticipated part of the journey. Cabot Links has been receiving rave reviews since it opened along the eastern coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the town of Inverness on Cape Breton in 2012. The property literally runs right to the ocean.
My first reaction when we arrived was that we were in Scotland. Nova Scotia does mean New Scotland, and the uninhabited Magree Island looked just like the island near Turnbury, Scotland. “We even use the island as an aiming point on a couple of holes on the links course,” said my caddie, Keith, a retired government worker who has been caddying since the Couse opened.
Yes, you must take a caddie, but that just increases the Scottish feel. “I never thought I would be a caddie, I didn’t even carry my own bag, said Keith who remember Mike Keiser (yes, the same person who designed the courses at Bandon Dunes in Oregon and is a partner in the property at Cabot Links) came into the pub and offered us five free rounds at the Cabot Links course if we’d just come down to the course and give caddying a try. He has been carrying bags twice a day most every day since it opened and uses the money for he and his wife to go to Florida in the winter.
The Links course, designed by Rod Whitman, is more mature obviously. Moguls abound in each fairway, so you will get strange bounces. There are pot bunkers galore. Think St. Andrews. We were often putting from 50 yards short of the green as the wind whipped off the Gulf. The sixth hole requires a long drive over water to a green that tilts back to the water. Tough, but the view of the fishing vessels tied up near the course takes your mind off the trouble. Make sure you hit to the 8th hole instead of the 13th as they share the same green.
Keiser found this property when he was looking for something on the east coast that resembled his land in Oregon. “This is the closest to what we have at Bandon Dunes anywhere on the Atlantic. The land runs right down to the see and the cliffs make it so spectacular,” said Keiser who hired Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to design Cabot Cliffs.
Cabot Cliffs is one of the top 5 courses that I have ever seen, even though it only opened on July 1. Bill Coore said, It was the toughest course that he ever had to build.”
Luckily I had Joe Robinson, director of golf for the Cabot Links courses, as my playing partner. Keith was back on the bag as we took the shuttle to the course. The golf courses are almost adjacent, but the ride still took five minutes.
You could still see much work going on at the driving range and around the future clubhouse, but the course looked pristine. The greens were purposely left slow for more growing time, but they are huge and rolling.
You see the Gulf from every hole on the Links course and most every hole on the Cliffs. You work your way uphill, downhill and side hill through many of the holes, each of which could be a beautiful painting.
The par 5 seventh requires quite a long carry over a ravine that sits 60 feet below you, and then you work you way upwards to sloping green with a huge bunker protecting it in front. The handicaps haven’t been set yet, but it will have a low number.
Number 9 is a short par 3 that drops down to the see and is very similar to the 14th on the links. Crenshaw and Coore on where the par 3 fourth hole’s green should be, so they built two greens. Very interesting.
When you get to the par 3 16th hole it will take your breath away. The 176-yard hole (see picture) has a tee on one cliff and the green on another with nothing but water below. How did they ever make this hole? From the tee the green patch looks like a little doily.
Then you get up on the 17th tee, a short par 4, but all you see is a cliff in front of you. The risk is more than the reward on this one, but Robinson said many people have even driven the green by hitting further right over the cliff. Notice the picture on the Nova Star ad. That is a great representation of the property at Cabot Links.
The course is unforgettable. Robinson worked at Highland Links also near the top of Cape Breton for 39 years. That was one of my three favorites in the world and I had played it with him. Now I can say that Joe Robinson has played with me on two of my four favorite courses. www.cabotlinks.com. 855-652-2268.
We drove over 500 miles to get to Cabot Links, but there is a much easier way. Nova Star is the new ferry service sailing daily from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth, N.S. The ferry holds 750 passengers and has 162 cabins. It can also carry 336 cars and provides daily round-trip service every 24 hours, seven days a week from June 1 to October 13, 2015 leaving Portland in the evening. There is a variety of dining options, a casino, spa, live entertainment and many other activities. www.novastarcruises.com 1-866-864-6295.
Our last stop was the Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews, only 30 minutes from the U.S. border at Calais. We had written about this course a dozen years ago. It was a Donald Ross original, but had been completely redesigned by McBroom in 2000. This is another course that offers great water views from almost every hole on the back nine. Eleven was my favorite, a straight downhill par 3 with Passamaquoddy Bay directly behind the green. Remember, this is where they have great tide changes, so depending on the time; the water comes very close to the green. The course is always in great shape and a wonderful addition to the historic resort. 506-529-8165.
You will not go wrong when you bring your clubs north of the border to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The mile signs are in kilometers, but the distance on all the courses are in yards.
Bruce Vittner is a member of the Golf Writers of America and the Golf Travel Writers of America and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.