After launching Preview Play on July 1, 2015, we sat down with Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to talk course design, golf, and Cabot Cliffs.
1. What was your first impression when you saw the property for the first time? And what is your impression now, seeing it completed for the first time?
Bill – It’s always special for Ben and me to go out and see one of our courses that our team has worked so hard on take its first steps. I remember walking about it and, much like today, you could see the cliffs and the sand dunes and you could just get a sense of the spectacular nature of the property and the landscape and diversity of it. And now, coming here and seeing the finished product, you can see that this has the chance to be something spectacular. The landscape has extreme potential for highly interesting golf and hopefully, when it all works itself out, it will be a complement to the landscape itself.
Ben – We’ve seen a lot of golf courses, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a prettier sight than this one right here. Right on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, it’s got gorgeous undulations and the movement of the ground is graceful. But you know, there is a lot of pressure on us and I will say this, our task is a hard one. You want to showcase the beauty of this ground and you want to do the very best job you possibly can. It’s an incredible opportunity and if we can possibly come somewhat close to matching the beauty out here in a natural way, we’ll have met our goal—but that’s a tall order.
2. Which holes are you most pleased with and why?
Bill –People often ask what the signature hole is on the course, but for Cabot Cliffs, there isn’t one we could single out as the best hole, most spectacular hole, or most interesting hole. This course presents a lot of different, natural features and that makes for some extremely interesting and unique holes here. It would be impossible to just pick one of them and say “oh this is the most beautiful.” The biggest thing, for me personally, is that I can’t really look at one hole and say “I wish we hadn’t done that”—and that, to me, is almost more important. There is not one hole that doesn’t seem to measure up. They are very complementary to one another as a group of holes and therefore as a golf course.
Ben – People will naturally be drawn to the 16th, 17th, and 18th holes because they are close to the end of the round, spectacular, and there is danger involved with playing those holes. But I am very much with Bill on this one. Yes, there are holes that appeal to us in different fashions, but it’s how they fit together, their rhythm, that makes the course special. I must say, too, that we would never start out with the idea of having six par 3’s, six par 4’s and six par 5’s—we would never start out with that notion. But we’ve traversed this ground enough to know that that’s the best sequence on the terrain and in the way of linking up the holes with one another to get from one section of the course to another section, this is what worked best. We usually start on every project with absolutely no conception of what par is, of what the lengths are going to be and how you want to do it. It just worked out this way.
3. You’ve both played Cabot Links, designed by Rod Whitman. What do you believe has been the most important factor that helped link the two courses together?
Bill - Well, first of all, Rod is a very good friend of ours. Personally, I’ve known Rod since university in the States. We were so excited for him to get the opportunity to work at Cabot Links, and the golf course that they did there is extraordinary. I saw that site before the work was ever begun and few people will ever know what an incredible job they did to bring that golf course to life. We had a different piece of property at Cabot Cliffs with different features, but the goal for us was to do something that would be complementary to the Links course. It was just—what can we do on this site that will be as interesting in terms of golf as what they did at Cabot Links, but in a somewhat different fashion? The land lent itself to a different style and somewhat different configurations, so the two are completely different courses, but yet compatible in the sense of being interesting and enjoyable. These two courses fit together beautifully in terms of what they present and the type of golf that they offer.
Ben – I played quite a bit of the Links course and they did a spectacular job on that piece of ground. I have a personal affection for it. Rod Whitman from Alberta is the guy that suggested that I meet Bill Coore—that was 30 years ago. Rod was working at the Austin Country Club in Texas for Pete Dye. I saw Rod about three or four times and one day he said, “you know what, you might want to meet my friend Bill Coore.” So, we have that thread. That was a long time ago.
Bill - I played quite a bit of the Links course and they did a spectacular job on that piece of ground. I have a personal affection for it. Rod Whitman from Alberta is the guy that suggested that I meet Bill Coore—that was 30 years ago. Rod was working at the Austin Country Club in Texas for Pete Dye. I saw Rod about three or four times and one day he said, “you know what, you might want to meet my friend Bill Coore.” So, we have that thread. That was a long time ago.
Bill - We are such huge fans of Rod. It would just be hard to understand, not knowing our backgrounds. But he did something that I would quite simply say has ever happened before, in the sense that Rod designed the first course at Cabot Links, and then, willingly, came here and worked with us in the more creative capacity of shaping contours at Cabot Cliffs. I know of no other situation where the architect of one course went and helped build the second golf course at the same facility. And he put forth every possible effort he could to make this the best it could be.
4. Do you think Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs complement one another enough for visitors to now view Inverness as a golf destination?
Ben – I guarantee you, if people make the trek here, they will see something that they’ve never seen before and they’ll get treated with great hospitality—the people are very welcoming and as far as scenery goes I’ve never seen anything prettier. There are two wonderful golf courses and it’s a great, great thing to be able to travel up here and enjoy this because it is pretty rare in North America and around the world.
Bill - I completely agree with Ben. I think it was Mike Keiser who said, “One great golf course is a curiosity, but it takes two to make a destination.” He’s even used the geometric equation of 1 plus 1 is not 2, it’s 3—and I agree with that. What has been built here with Ben Cowan-Dewar, Mike Keiser, Rod Whitman, and all the people who have come to work is so special. They established the reputation of Cabot Links, which will hopefully be magnified now with the addition of Cabot Cliffs. It’s just a truly spectacular setting. In the case of Cabot Cliffs, a lot of people ask me, what course does it remind you of? Does it remind you of this, that, or the other one? And they use names of very famous golf courses. To me, it’s not something else. This is Cabot. This golf course looks and feels like Cape Breton—it’s meant to do that, and I think it does. We just encourage people to come and see it themselves.
5. Is the course designed with the average golfer in mind? Or does it lean toward the more skilled player? How did you find a balance so that it is both challenging for the scratch player and still enjoyable for the high handicapper?
Bill - That is the goal. Whatever move you make, you try to include as many classes of golfers as you possibly can. The British Open is going to be played in a couple of weeks in St. Andrews in Scotland, which is the pre-eminent example in that anyone with any ability can play that golf course. It’s very unique in the world of golf and most people in our business use it as an example. You must get people around and there has to be something for everyone. If you repeat a theme of insurmountable obstacles, it’s somewhat of a failed proposition. You have to think of routes that people can take and get around the course, but there are enough natural elements about this course that will challenge anyone, of any strike. With a good breeze, this place could challenge some of the best courses in the world. But with a set of completely different tee boxes you can attack it and have fun. It’s meant to be fairly wide. When you have a golf course that’s set this close to a huge body of water, the wind is going to blow and the ground is going to be firm, and therefore you have to have some latitude with which to play—but it is in an effort to consider every class of golfer. You want to expand people’s capabilities and that’s what you try to do. We’ve always said that the easiest thing in the world to do is build a hard golf course—anybody can do that—and I must be real honest, it’s frequently done in a lot of respects these days and it’s too much for a lot of people. So, it’s basically how you treat people and how you want to bring them in.
6. Tom Watson said, “No other game combines the wonder of nature with the discipline of sport in such carefully planned ways. A great golf course both frees and challenges a golfer’s mind.” Where at Cabot Cliffs is the golfer’s mind most free and where is it most challenged?
Ben - First of all, in Tom Watson’s case, that is a very succinct way of summing up the experience of a very fine test of golf. There is a great reason why the Scots and the Brits took Tom Watson to their hearts and it is because of the way he plays. He plays without fanfare, he plays quickly, he makes very good quick decisions, and he gets on with it. All of us remember the Open championship at Turnberry where with all rights he should have won, but he accepted it with humility and grace. Not a lot of people would have expected that. Golf reveals character, it revealed Tom Watson’s character—which I’ve always admired. Golf can really string your emotions out, especially in a championship when you’re right on the edge a lot of times. It’s debilitating when it doesn’t come off and exhilarating when it does. There are certain junctures around this course that if people play it and get to know it, they will say, “You know, this is what it did to me last time I played, this is a challenge.” It’s the ebb and flow of these holes that stretch your thinking and that was what Tom Watson was getting at with this statement.
Bill – It’s also going to depend on the individual golfer and their strengths, or the best aspects of that golfer’s game. I mean, there are different holes out here that some people will feel not only exhilaration looking at them, but great anticipation because they are going to go, “Oh this plays to my strengths, I’m a long hitter and this fairway is hugely wide, I can reach this par 5 in 2’—that’s a very positive feeling. And there will be other places around here that make them go, “Oh man, now I’m in a bit of a bind. I’m not quite sure what to do,” and a bit of doubt creeps in. Obviously, people will talk about the cliff holes a lot and the psychological impact those have, because depending on the lie you take, it’s more of a risky proposition. All the holes out here present opportunities for a lot of very positive feelings and a lot of perhaps second guessing and self-doubt.