Cabot Links & Cliffs Review: The Golf Trip of a Lifetime
I just returned from my trip to Cabot Links and am trying to put together words that can accurately convey just what a special time I had with my friends. Without being too dramatic, this was by far the best golfing experience I have had in my life, and certainly one of the most memorable trips I have ever taken. I was honestly hesitant to write this article because I don’t think I can do this place complete justice, but I’ll give it a shot.
Cabot Links is only 7 years old and has already become one of the premier golfing destinations in the world. After spending 4 days there I can see why. This is a true bucket list destination, and I’m so happy I got to cross it off. At the same time, I’m incredibly sad that it’s over.
Below I’ve provided an overview of the courses, accommodations, and recommendations for anyone who is considering making the trip.
Most of you want to hear about the golf courses, so I will get into those first. The Cabot Links resort features two entirely unique golf courses – Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs. I got a chance to play each of them three times and they totally blew my mind. Each course has its own personality which gives the overall experience more variety.
The Links course was opened in 2011 and designed by Rod Whitman. It is considered to be Canada’s only authentic links course. Most golfers in North America have played a “Links Style” course, but they hardly meet the true criteria. Cabot Links is one of the closest experiences you will get to original courses in Scotland. The rugged seaside terrain is unlike anything I have ever played.
Cabot Cliffs opened in 2016 and was designed by famed architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. When most people first hear about the resort they see images of the dramatic cliffs, which are awe-inspiring, to say the least. Any designer could have built a memorable experience based on the views alone, but Coore and Crenshaw have done something far more impressive in my opinion. Simply put, The Cliffs is the ultimate playground for golfers.
Since Cabot Cliffs opened the cat is somewhat out of the bag. Golfers around the world are starting to take notice as both courses are now considered to be some of the best in the world by multiple publications.
Cabot Links – An Homage to Golf’s Roots
I have never played a true links course in my life, and that became abundantly clear after my first round at Cabot Links. When you actually step foot on the seaside dunes, you start to forget you’re in Canada.
The entire course is routed back and forth among the shores of Cape Breton. No matter where you are standing, you get dramatic views of the ocean over the rugged terrain (five holes are actually on the shore).
While Cabot Cliffs seems to garner more attention, The Links course is brilliant in its own right because you start to realize just how different links golf can be for those of us who have never really gotten a chance to experience it.
Every shot you play at Cabot Links offers multiple options. Depending on the wind conditions and firmness of the terrain, you have to really think about where you are trying to land the ball, and what will happen once you do. Each hole has bunkers in just the right places to give you a little bit of pause. Throw some wind into the equation, and things will get much more difficult.
While there is plenty of trouble on the course with strategic bunkering and nasty bushes, the course mostly offers generous fairways that make it playable for various levels of golfers. Since we played in late May, we didn’t get to see the course completely dried out – but I can see how it would play very differently if it were.
There are plenty of holes that will make your eyes pop. The challenging 5th hole wraps around a beautiful bay.
When you get to the 14th hole you are greeted with a short par 3 that looks like you are hitting to the edge of the universe.
It’s certainly reminiscent of the 7th hole at Pebble Beach and is easily the hardest 90-yard shot I have ever played. The finishing holes are certainly the most scenic since they offer some of the best vantage points on the course.
For me, The Links course was wrapped up into an entire experience rather than thinking about each hole separately. I got my first chance to really play a golf course built in a way the game was initially intended to be played, and it was something special.
Cabot Cliffs – You Have to See It to Believe It
There is no other way to describe Cabot Cliffs other than calling it a show stopper. You feel like you are playing golf on the set of Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. It is just that epic.
If the two courses were siblings, the Links is the quieter, more reserved of the two while The Cliffs is the outgoing life of the party. While you wonder how they are related, you’ll certainly choose your favorite based on what kind of personality you are drawn to. Comparing the two is fun, but really an exercise in futility because they are both amazing courses in their own right.
For me, walking the terrain of Cabot Cliffs was an out-of-body experience. The course meanders back and forth between the ocean and a lush forest in the highlands behind the course. This offers more views as you get to the top, and it also gives each hole more of a distinct personality. Cabot Cliffs features elements of links golf with fairways that can run fast as well as strategic bunkering, but you really can’t define what it is entirely.
When you arrive at the stunning second hole you realize it is going to be unlike any other golf course you have ever played.
The Y-shaped fairway offers three angles to approach a green that is obscured by a monster bunker that screams at you “don’t hit it here!!!” While you can choose to go up the left or righthand side of the fairway to give yourself a clearer path to the green, you’ll be bringing on more trouble. To me, this hole represents the true genius of this course – dramatic views, multiple strategic options, and real character.
If Cabot Links represents where the game was born, Cabot Cliffs showcases where the game is going. The team at Coore and Crenshaw did a superb job of crafting the terrain into what I consider the most unique golf course I have ever played.
It’s fun, interesting, and without a doubt memorable. Each hole can play differently based on the tees and the wind patterns. The 4th hole is a par three that actually has two different greens that completely change the hole from day to day.
When most people talk about Cabot Cliffs they are immediately drawn to the 16th hole because you can’t believe a golf hole like that exists. Interestingly enough, after playing the course three times I wouldn’t even rank it in my top-5 favorite holes.
I consider Cabot Cliffs to be the ultimate playground for golfers because it shows how the game can be fun and different than what we are used to. It has six par 5s and 3s, which I thought made it more playable. The course is challenging but fair – most fairways are very wide and offer multiple angles to hit your tee shot. The greens are large, undulating, and completely change the landscape of the hole based on the pin placements. When you are finished you can’t help but talk about all of the holes with your buddies and rank them, because each one is so memorable.
I have played beautiful courses before like Torrey Pines, but I don’t think anything can really prepare you for the views. Multiple times throughout the round I found myself thinking, “you have got to be kidding me.” When you make your way down the steep 15th fairway and are presented with views of the forest behind you and the cliffs below, all I could think was that I didn’t want the round to end.
The tee shots on 16 and 17 will stick with me forever. You are so close to the cliffs that I actually felt a little bit of vertigo symptoms during my swing.
Overall, I simply can’t say enough about each course. They were challenging but fair, made you think, had plenty of eye candy, and most of all incredibly fun. The majority of golfers will never get to play some of the truly great courses in the world because they are private, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs are worthy of your bucket list.
Cabot Links is a golf destination, but certainly not an all-encompassing resort – at least not yet. From New York City, our group of four took a short flight to Halifax airport and then made the three-hour drive to the course which is located in Inverness, Nova Scotia. While I wouldn’t call it an impossible trip, you certainly have to put a little bit of work in to get there. It’s entirely worth it though because you are transported to one of the most beautiful places you will ever see.
It is a fairly remote location and you can miss the entire town of Inverness in the blink of an eye. For golfers who are looking for nightlife or things to do for your significant other while you play, it’s not that kind of place. Cabot Links is just about golf.
It seems like expansion is on the way since it has been such a runaway success. Speaking with people there it sounds like there are more resort amenities and additional courses being discussed.
That being said, everything about the resort is first class all the way. The staff is incredibly friendly and helpful. Whether it was our caddies, food servers, or any of the golf staff – these are some of the nicest people you will ever meet and they all want to make sure you are having the best experience possible.
I was also very impressed with the attention to detail everywhere. The restaurants, main clubhouse, and rooms are perfect. Each area has its own unique design, which is very modern with touches of classic here and there. You can tell as much effort went into the architecture of each building as it did with the courses.
We stayed in the golf villas which were easily some of the nicest accommodations I’ve ever experienced. When we first opened the door to our villa we had a similar reaction to when we first walked on the courses, which was “wow.”
We had a perfect view of The Links course with a nice outdoor porch that showcased a beautiful sunset or morning view.
Going in late May was a little bit of a gamble based on the weather, but we were able to secure some steeper discounts on the greens fees and lodging. We certainly experienced a few harsh bouts of wind, cold, and a little bit of rain – but that is also part of the experience. On the whole, the temperatures were in the mid-to-high 40s and low 50s, which is a little chillier than normal there, but not out of the ordinary. The weather patterns can change quickly there so I would recommend bringing multiple clothing options.
The only drawback with the Cabot Links location is that the season is much shorter. Speaking with the caddies it sounded like it usually lasts between mid-May to mid-October. The resort was already jam-packed with reservations and tee times when we were there, so I would advise booking well in advance if you are considering making the trip. While it sounds like there will be more courses in the future, I imagine reservations will become harder and harder to come across as the word continues to spread about this place.
The Food is Also Amazing
One of my favorite things to do when I travel is eating great food. Cabot Links would be a suitable destination if it just had the courses, great accommodations, and decent food – but that’s not the case. You are going to get fine dining, and since you are in the North Atlantic you can expect incredibly fresh seafood and fish.
The main lodge has a two-tiered restaurant that is situated on the 18th green of Cabot Links, which has a perfect view of the course and ocean. You are so close to the 18th green that the windows are shatterproof, which one of my friends verified with an errant approach shot (he did make an impressive par).
The bottom level is the Cabot Bar where we had lunch and dinner almost every day. You can get anything from fresh oysters, fish and chips, burgers, a lobster roll, and of course Canadian poutine. The menu is very diverse and everything we ate was delicious.
On the second level is the Panorama restaurant. This is a higher-end dining option which we visited on our final night. They also over-delivered with beautiful views, amazing seafood, and friendly service.
If you’re there for a shorter stay there really is no reason to leave the confines of the resort. Everything you need is right there. After walking 36 holes for three days in a row my friends and I were certainly grateful that we didn’t have to drive 15-20 minutes to get a good meal and some post-round drinks.
The Cabot Public House is also a great spot to listen to live music, watch a game, and of course get food and drinks. It is located on the property which makes things convenient and easy.
Some Other Recommendations
I usually don’t like to play golf with caddies because it makes me feel awkward. However, I would highly recommend that you take a personal caddie for your first round on each course. There are plenty of nuisances about each layout that you won’t know about without hearing it from someone with local knowledge.
For our six rounds we had personal caddies for two of them, and then one forecaddie for the other four rounds. They are exceptionally friendly people from the local community who give excellent advice, but more importantly, made our rounds more enjoyable because they were so kind. It was great to hear stories about the history of the area and how the courses have become such an integral part of the local economy.
There are no carts at Cabot Links so be prepared to walk. Cabot Cliffs is the more taxing of the two terrains because the elevation changes are so large. If you aren’t taking a caddie at either location push carts are available and I would recommend using them.
Playing 108 holes in three days certainly left us physically taxed, and while I felt like I could go for more – it probably was just the right amount of golf. While there are other outdoor activities you can do in warmer weather, for us it was just about the golf and nothing else.
How Will I Ever Top This?
It’s hard to find any criticisms of Cabot Links. You’ve got world-class golf courses, dramatic terrain, first-class accommodations, and amazing food.
Throughout the whole experience, I knew something special was happening. On almost every hole I stopped, looked around, and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. While I am terribly sad to write this article because it means the experience is over, I’ll have the memories of spending four great days with my friends in this golfing paradise forever.
Forgive me for gushing so hard, it really was that amazing.
If you are planning your next golf trip I would definitely consider making this one of your top choices. I hope one day I can return.