INVERNESS, Nova Scotia -- Cabot Cliffs is now open for preview play, with nine tee times available per day through September. The green fee is $150 (CAD) and you have to stay in one of Cabot's 76 rooms to play it.
Cabot Links, which opened in 2012, is $165, and is a perfect companion course to the experience you have at Cliffs.
Cabot Links is located at the main lodge, where there are three dining options. The course is an easier walk and will be more of a user-friendly round for higher handicaps, but it's the same coastline as Cliffs and there are plenty of stunning views throughout the round. Because of the drama, topography and the scale of the routing, Cliffs will be considered big brother of the two courses, and will most-likely end up costing more to play.
But this summer, Cliffs is still very immature. Having grassed most of the holes late last year, it's still growing in. The fescue greens are roughly six on the Stimpmeter, but they roll straight and true. Bunkers are still getting filled and edged to the standards of the architects, but it no longer takes an imagination to see Cliffs is something special.
Why do I think this will be ranked a top 10 course in North America and in the conversation for greatest course in the world?
Here's a breakdown of the key ingredients:
Spectacular, diverse land
There were at least 10 parcels of property that needed to be purchased to build what became Cabot Cliffs, which includes dunesland and coastland that seemingly begged to be a golf hole. The inland holes are almost as interesting and dramatic as the holes that run along or near the coast. The views throughout the round are hypnotizing. Where most great courses can take a few holes before you walk onto a “Wow!” tee box, Cliffs hits you in the chin on the second hole, and doesn't let up until you're walking off the 18th green.
There are forced carries (Nos. 2 and 7), but nothing too difficult for the highest handicapper. There's plenty of room off the tee, big greens, a wide variety of looks to the par 3s and reachable par 5s. There are multiple cape holes (Nos. 5 and 17), and a Biarritz green (no. 8).
The greatest debates will revolve around which is the better nine, front or back? I like the back, but others will disagree. Which is the best par 3? I like no. 9, but 16 is ridiculous and tremendous and spectacular and so much fun. Which is the better cape hole? The fifth is fantastic, and as you walk off the lower green of the fourth hole, you will be pulled into one of the more memorable tee shots on a course full of tee-box euphoria. Which is the best par 5? My vote is the fifteenth.
The par-72 Cliffs features six par 3s, six par 4s, and six par 5s. From the sixth to the 10th hole, pars are 3-5-5-3-5. A fun mix of reachable and birdie holes that start on the coast, goes inland, and then back to the coast.
Before I left Cabot, a few of us sat around a table and played course match play, going hole-by-hole, Pebble Beach vs. Cliffs. Cliffs won holes 1 through 5. Pebble won holes 6 through 10. It was 5 to 5 going to the 11th tee. Cliffs won 11 through 17 and Pebble took the 18th. Cliffs wins 12-6.
Video: Ginella on ranking Cabot Cliffs' 16th & 17th holes
Ownership and management
It's safe to say Mike "Midas" Keiser has a successful formula. The sand-based linksland he finds, he turns to gold for avid amateurs. Keiser and his Canadian partner, Ben Cowan-Dewar share a vision and passion for pure golf and minimalist architecture. Cowan-Dewar was critical in working with the community and the culture of Inverness, a town of 2,000 people, who were anxious for something resembling industry. After ten years of development, they have a premier destination that will draw Keiser's "retail golfers" from all over the world for decades to come.
Coore and Crenshaw deliver again
The design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw started with the Plantation Course at Kapalua. And in almost 30 years of working together, they've thoughtfully selected land and owners that afforded them the opportunity to leave behind a portfolio of thirty courses without a weak link. Some would say their five best are Sand Hills, Friar's Head, Colorado Golf Club, Bandon Trails and Streamsong Red. But that would be leaving out Lost Farm, Kapalua, Austin Golf Club, East Hampton Golf Club, Old Sandwich, Chechessee Creek and Cuscowilla.
Having played almost all of the above, I believe Cliffs will reign supreme.
There's no doubt that the town of Inverness is in for growing pains as the golfing world descends upon a culture and community that have been struggling economically for years, and yet the worst of it is behind them. Property values will continue to go up, and various needs, such as bed-and-breakfasts will pop up, as well as restaurants, local artisan shops, pubs and parking lots. Locals are already investing in Cabot, not as a job, but as a career. This will be critical to the destination's ongoing growth and success.
Getting there may get easier
Right now, the best way to get to Cabot is by flying into Halifax and making the three-plus hour drive. Albeit a nice and easy drive, the good news is that Keiser expects an announcement in the next two months on an extension of an airport only twenty minutes from the resort. It will be what the North Bend/Coos Bay airport has meant to Bandon's growth and success, and Keiser expects commercial jets landing near Cabot in the summer of 2017.
Cabot Cliffs debuts on Canada Day
The Premier of Nova Scotia, Stephen McNeil, hit the first shot and split the fairway at Cabot Cliffs on Canada Day in front of a crowd of 50-plus locals, media, owners and Canadian dignitaries. Bill Coore, who shot a 76, played with McNeil and Eamon Lynch of Golf Magazine/Golf.com (who also shot 76). I was in the second group with Ben Crenshaw and John Paul Newport of the Wall Street Journal (79). I went out in 35, back in 41.
"We got the best out of this ground," Crenshaw said, as he walked off the 18th green. No one will argue that. And he got a lot out of his round. Using the same putter he used throughout his career, "Little Ben", Crenshaw birdied three of the last five holes to shoot 73 to hold what is, for now, the course record.
Fescue greens, what are they thinking? It will never work, right Matt?