- Neil White
“How on earth did it occur to them to create a golf hole here?”
We were perched in awe over the rocky chasm between the tee and the 16th green at Cabot Cliffs.
Our Canadian playing partner wasn’t the only one to marvel at the imagination of designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw who saw the possibility of conjuring one of the world’s great golf holes on this slither of land.
And I can’t say how thrilled I was to sling a nine-iron shot to the target’s left and see the ball miss the pot bunkers around the green and re-emerge, 20 feet under the flag.
The 16th may be the most photographed but is certainly not the only hole to take the breath away at Cabot Cliffs.
Indeed, if there is a more dramatic venue for golf anywhere in the world, I look forward immensely to playing it.
The Cliffs are a six-minute shuttle ride from the main resort but $CD1.5m lodges are being built at its entrance and at the side of the 11th hole, giving the impression that this could become the centre of activity in the not-too-distant future.
After a warm-up with complimentary balls on its impressive range and a genial introduction by the starter, we got down to it on a course which feels much older than its seven years.
This is the first time I had played six par-fives, six par-fours and six par-threes since I fell in love with The Berkshire two years ago. Cabot Cliffs had the same effect.
The first hole is a challenging long start with bunkers on either side of a fairway, framed by tangly rough. This was the first time we realised the strength of the wind with all bar one of our approaches to the green blown off target.
The second hole is among the many Cabot classics – a short par-four from an elevated tee demanding clever placement to avoid a diagonal stream and to give the best angle of approach to a green defended by a dune.
I thought I had played it perfectly only to find my chip had gone past the hole and settled in a greenside bunker. This type of frustrating run-off is a hallmark of Cabot Cliffs.
The fifth is a stunning risk and reward hole bending around water and scrub – I took the long way around unaware that there was a big drop-off to the right. Thankfully, I got away with it.
The par-threes at Cabot are reminiscent of Lahinch – proving that they don’t need to be 200 yards+ to cause consternation.
The sixth even has the look of the Irish links with grassy dunes on three sides of the green which, in common with all putting surfaces is very hard to read. I hit it in one and four-putted.
Revenge came on the 9th when I was left with a four-footer for a birdie two and nailed it.
In between, there was the par-five seventh with a tee shot over water before a tricky ascent to the green between bunkers and the easier eighth coming down towards the ocean.
The sea beckons for the first time on the par-five 10th running parallel to the beach with a rocky chasm in front of the green. I thought I had struck a cracking second only to see it funnel past the red stake, leaving a third shot chin high from the escarpment.
There is plenty of wildlife in Nova Scotia - a raccoon came over to say hello when we were in Wolfville a few nights ago - and on the 13th at the Cliffs, a fox trotted up to us.
By this time, the wives of our playing partners had joined us and one asked to borrow one of my irons. Little did I realise she thought she might need it for protection.
Anyway, once Fantastic Mr Fox had departed, we embarked on one of the most exciting run-ins in golf.
The 15th is a par-five which goes up past a huge central bunker and then eases down to the right in front of the briny blue. With the wind behind us, this was reachable in two even for shorter hitters such as me.
After a pleasing tee shot, I was beset with thoughts of an eagle so went for it with a fairway wood only to see the ball trundle past on the left and head towards the cliff.
Somehow it held up by the red post and I chipped out, two-putted and walked away with a memorable par.
The aforementioned 16th came before the remarkable short par-four 17th with a blind shot to a fairway mainly obscured by a rocky cliff face.
Mrs W can attest that if the first ball is struck well over the brow of the hill, it can trundle down to the green. She walked away with a birdie and I was just short of the putting surface and settled for par.
However, as our playing partner proved, anything too far right and Davy Jones’s locker awaits.
The 18th is a fantastic home hole – with scrub and beach to the right and bunkers and prickly bushes to the left.
It was a great way to complete one of the rounds of our lives. Nova Scotia is so far away and there are so many other courses to play in the world that we may never return but we will never forget our time at Cabot Cliffs.
If you have the chance, you need to play here.