Golf resort

Cabot Cape Breton celebrates a decade as a world-class golf resort

INVERNESS, NS — The name of a 15th century explorer who may or may not have landed in Cape Breton is now strongly linked to both the island of Nova Scotia and world-class golf.

Giovanni Caboto, perhaps better known by his anglicized name of John Cabot, commanded the Matthew when he sailed the English ship along the east coast of North America in 1497. And while the debate rages continues as to exactly where the Italian-born ship’s captain made landfall in the New World, his name has become synonymous with destination tourism.

Indeed, the name Cabot is well known in these parts. The body of water between the islands of Newfoundland and Cape Breton is called the Cabot Strait. The tallest building in Cape Breton is located in Sydney and is called Cabot House. And, of course, the Cabot Trail is recognized as one of the most scenic drives in the world.

The name Cabot now seems to pop up whenever there’s a conversation about the best golf courses in the world. Not surprising. Two of the best trails, Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, are located in Cape Breton. And the Cabot brand is growing.

Cabot Links co-founders Ben Cowan-Dewar, left, and Mike Keizer.  CONTRIBUTED
Cabot Links co-founders Ben Cowan-Dewar, left, and Mike Keizer. CONTRIBUTED

The beginning

The seeds for the Cabot golf brand were sown nearly 20 years ago when a young Toronto-based entrepreneur set out to find a location to establish a high-end golf course and resort. range.

During a 2004 dinner with Nova Scotia Tourism Minister Rodney MacDonald, a 25-year-old businessman named Ben Cowan-Dewar first heard about a potential site on the west coast. of Cape Breton Island. MacDonald, who would later serve for three and a half years as premier of Nova Scotia, suggested that the site of an abandoned coal mine in his hometown of Inverness might be a suitable location for such an enterprise.

“I was chatting with some people at Cabot Cliffs the other day and we were talking about the origins of Cabot and that what started as an idea by a young entrepreneur 18 years ago is now suddenly an overnight success,” said laughed Cowan-Dewar.

Although the idea germinated 18 years ago during this conversation with MacDonald, finding the right location was only the beginning. From there, Cowan-Dewar had to secure significant funding for his ambitious initiative. His vision eventually caught the eye of American businessman Mike Keiser, who made his fortune selling greeting cards and his reputation establishing the much-revered Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon.

With funding in place, Cowan-Dewar began working towards realizing her dream.

A view of the world-famous Cabot Cliffs golf course looking south with the spectacular par-3 16th hole jutting out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  CONTRIBUTE/JACOB SJOMAN PHOTO
A view of the world-famous Cabot Cliffs golf course looking south with the spectacular par-3 16th hole jutting out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. CONTRIBUTE/JACOB SJOMAN PHOTO

First round

Cabot Links officially opened on June 29, 2012. It didn’t take long for the True Links course to be recognized as a world-class track. This was followed by a second course, Cabot Cliffs, which was built along the coast of the Bay of St. Lawrence, just north of the Cabot Links course. The Cliffs course opened in 2015. The latest Golf Digest ranking of the best courses in the world places the Cliffs at No. 10 and the Links course at No. 39.

In addition to its two premier courses, the destination golf resort now also includes an executive 10-hole par-3 course called The Nest, three on-site restaurants, the 72-room Cabot Links Lodge and 19 upscale golf villas. range.

“We’ve never been accused of dreaming small, but I never imagined it would ignite the way it did,” Cowan-Dewar said.

“With Inverness and Broad Cove, with Cabot Cliffs, we knew we had two truly magical sites with spectacular scenery. And we were fortunate to be able to work with course designers Rod Whitman, on Cabot Links, and Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw on Cabot Cliffs. These guys are world class golf architects.

“The transformation of Inverness over the last decade has been incredible. The city is vibrant, lively, lively, electric. I think it exceeded all those big dreams we had 18 years ago.

In addition to its two premier courses, the destination golf resort now also includes an executive 10-hole par 3 course called The Nest.  CONTRIBUTE/JACOB SJOMAN PHOTO
In addition to its two premier courses, the destination golf resort now also includes an executive 10-hole par 3 course called The Nest. CONTRIBUTE/JACOB SJOMAN PHOTO

Expansion

Since then, the Cabot Group’s operation (now known as the Cabot Collection) in Cape Breton has become the company’s flagship resort. But now it has a few new sister courses. In 2020, the Cabot Collection announced plans to expand its brand to new destinations. The first expansion occurred with the development of a new resort called Cabot St. Lucia which includes a golf course and luxury residences.

Cabot didn’t stop there. Work is underway in the mountains of British Columbia, where the company is building Cabot Revelstoke. Then, earlier this year, armed with a reputation as a developer and operator of planned golf resorts, Cabot purchased World Woods Golf Club in Florida, soon to be known as Cabot Citrus Farms.

The newest member of the Cabot family is in Scotland. In July, the company announced that it had purchased Castle Stuart Golf Links, which ironically is located a short distance from the Scottish town of Inverness and its famous lake of the same name.

“We had extremely high ambitions for Cabot golf, but growing the Cabot brand the way we did was serendipitous in ways I couldn’t have imagined,” Cowan-Dewar said.

There may be future expansion of the Cabot brand, but don’t expect Cabot courses everywhere.

“The number of places in the world that would meet the criteria that Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs met in Cape Breton is quite limited,” Cowan-Dewar said.

“There just aren’t many places and sites that would give that. And many of those who would meet the criteria are private clubs.

Cowan-Dewar is justifiably proud of the level of success Cabot Cape Breton has achieved. But he understands that there can be problems when an expensive resort is located in an area of ​​modest means.

“We focused on that from the start and there are many different layers to that,” he said.

“First, there is the impact on the local economy. Then there are benefits for our local community staff and caddies who have access to the best rates available. We have always maintained a rate for Cape Breton residents. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s a bargain compared to other top courses in the world. But, yes, we know it’s expensive.

Economic impact

Cape Breton has always been recognized for the beauty of its landscapes. However, being perched on the eastern edge of North America means it’s not the easiest place to travel given the considerable distances from major population centers on the continent.

But, as the character played by James Earle Jones in Field of Dreams said, “If you build it, they will come. And they are coming.

Terry Smith, general manager of the Destination Cape Breton Association which serves as the island’s official marketing arm, called Cabot Cape Breton a “game changer” for tourism.

“Not only has this propelled our island to Canada’s premier golf destination, but it has also boosted many tourism businesses that benefit from serving the high-value customers they attract,” Smith said.

“We are delighted to congratulate Ben and the Cabot team on their 10th anniversary and to have capitalized on this success by bringing their premium golf brand to many more destinations around the world.”

For his part, Cowan-Dewar remains humble. He credits Cabot’s success to the employees who have helped build the brand over the past decade.

“It’s our people – like any big dream, it certainly wasn’t a singular effort, it was a lot of people, a wonderful group of people,” he said.

“Providing exceptional service, great food and other activities goes a long way. Yes, we are talking about golf, but there is also so much more to our destinations than golf. It’s very encouraging to hear customer feedback about what their Cabot experience means.

David Jala is a business reporter at the Cape Breton Post.