Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
INVERNESS, CAPE BRETON ISLAND, NOVA SCOTIA — You could get addicted to this. Like any good intoxicant, Cabot Cliffs makes you giddy and keeps you that way for hours, and when you’re done, you miss it and scheme for a way to get back for more.
It is the best golf course in Canada — the 19th best in the world, according to Golf Digest — but what also makes Cabot Cliffs remarkable is the entire travel experience associated with it. A luxury-laden list of amenities and spin-offs unfurls for you like one of those seemingly neverending grassy carpets on the course’s wide, gorgeous par-5 fairways.
A high-end resort is up the road from the 18-hole layout. Inside it is a restaurant, Panorama, where you can order fresh-caught lobster from the water that flows alongside the base of the golf course’s namesake cliffs and enjoy it with oysters from Prince Edward Island, which you can gaze at from your table, looking across the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the neighbouring province. Or you can enjoy your dinner while checking out the golfers still on Cabot Cliffs’ sister course, Cabot Links, as they make their way to the final hole. You also have the option for a short walk to a very good coffee shop — Downstreet Coffee Company — affiliated with the property. And, oh, yes, Cabot Cliffs just also happens to be situated on the Cabot Trail — the breathtaking thrill ride that has enticed travellers to Cape Breton Island for decades.
“I’ve wanted to play this course since I heard it opened,” says Bruce Illman, who teed off in June with his wife, Kelly. They made their way from Saint John, New Brunswick to take on Cabot Cliffs, a course that opened in 2016. “You can tell it’s still a young course. The fairways are a little firmer than they should be, but other courses don’t hold a candle next to it.”
The Cabot Links complex is doing for the town of Inverness what the Fogo Island Inn has done for its tiny community on Newfoundland and Labrador. It is bringing jobs and economic prosperity, while putting this region on the tourism map in a significant way. While the Fogo Island Inn is an ultra-luxury destination attracting elite travellers from around the world, Cabot Links has something that renowned accommodation does not: golf. Great golf. Quite likely the best golf experience Canada has ever seen and one of the best on the continent.
It intends to get better, too. A spa is in the works and is expected to open in 2018, while lodging at Cabot Cliffs is likely in the future. For now, golfers can drive from Cabot Links to Cabot Cliffs or be shuttled their in a luxury van. When they arrive, they’ll be greeted by friendly golf shop workers and caddies — some of whom are school kids from the island. In true golf tradition, carts are not allowed on either of the two courses, making a caddie an enticing option. Whether you’re hauling your clubs or not, you’ll be walking the course. As you do, you’ll likely become convinced, as I was, that Cabot Cliffs is poetry written with grass, granite and gall.
Keltic Lodge Ups Its Game
Prior to the opening of Cabot Links’ 18-hole layout in 2012, the draw to Cape Breton for golfers was Cape Breton Highland Links, a course that is part of Keltic Lodge, the iconic property in Ingonish, which is at the opposite end of the Cabot Trail from Inverness.
The lodge has done a massive renovation to all facets of its operation. The rooms are exquisite and several overlook Ingonish Beach, which draws in waves from the Atlantic Ocean. The cuisine has been elevated under executive chef Darryl MacDonnell, who is relying on local fish and produce to drive his menu. The lobster and halibut dishes I enjoyed featured fish and shellfish caught hours earlier by local fishermen in Ingonish. The desserts, with a French flair, culminate a sparkling experience at the hotel’s flagship restaurant, the Purple Thistle Dining Room.
The course, which has also had a makeover recently, features picturesque views of the Cape Breton Highlands and the ocean.
Together, the Cabot Links’ two-course experience and the 18 holes at Keltic Lodge make a visit to the island a haven for golfers as well as for those who may not be adept at the game but aren’t opposed to spoiling a good walk by taking a few whacks at a tiny studded ball on a land perpetually caressed by the ocean.
MORE ABOUT VISITING CABOT CLIFFS AND CABOT LINKS
Location: 15933 Central Ave, Inverness, Nova Scotia (see map below)
Green Fees: Rates for both Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links vary depending on season. Guests at the resort pay between $90-$225 to play (or $60-$115 for twilight rounds). Golf-only guests pay $120-$295 (or $85-$145 for twilight). There are discounts for Nova Scotia and Cape Breton residents, as well.
Caddies: Neither course allows golf carts, so some players may opt for a caddie. Rates vary from $45-$60 per round. Hand carts are also available to rent.
Room Rates: Nightly rates start at $180 in offseason and $305 during peak season (June 2-October 15, 2017).
Reservations: Bookings can be made on the Cabot Links website or by telephoning 1-855-652-2268 (toll-free).
MORE ABOUT VISITING KELTIC LODGE
Location: Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa, 383 Keltic Inn Road, Ingonish Beach, Nova Scotia
Green Fees: Non-resident rates for Highland Links range from $105-$130 (down to as low as $60-$65 for rounds starting at 3:30 pm).
Room Rates: A recent search of the property’s website returned a $269 starting rate for a weekend night in July.
Reservations: Book online at the hotel’s website or telephone 1-902-285-2880.