Cabot Links versus Highlands Links
I’m always fascinated by the search queries which bring people to this blog. Recently, I noticed someone arrived after typing in ‘Cabot Links versus Highland Links’ and it made me pause and reflect that is a fantastic query. I have been fortunate to have played them both, most recently Summer 2013. I have course reviews for Cabot Links and for Highlands Links and have also developed a regional review of golfing on Cape Breton Island. Most publications place both courses high in their top 10 publicly accessible courses in Canada. Canadian Golf Magazine has Cabot Links as #1 and Highlands Links as #3.
I’m resisting the urge to take this post on a different tact and avoid the ‘versus’ and implore people to consider them both as options for an extended golf experience on Cape Breton Island. After all, you’re only about 2 hours from the 18th green of one course to the 1st tee of the other. And that drive along the northwest portion of the Cabot Trail is absolutely sensational, one of the best in the country I’d contend. But no, I will address the query as is.
Cabot Links is the best course I have ever played golf on. It is the most unique golf experience I have ever had and is quite possibly Canada’s only true links course. The 16th hole which runs along the ocean is my favourite golf hole I’ve ever played. That said; if I could only play one course for the rest of my life it would be Highlands Links. There is no other layout I have experienced which brings the natural features of the land, and its’ incredible diversity, so close to a player. I’ve cited often my love for Stanley Thompson designed courses and this is beyond a doubt his crown jewel.
I do not mean to firmly place myself on the fence here. I’m not trying to avoid the question. I sincerely feel I am providing you with unique answers that are grounded in important context. The character of Cabot Links despite being less than five years old will not allow one to view these courses around a ‘new’ versus ‘old’ argument. Cabot looks like it’s been around for ages and in some ways it really has as the manipulation of the land to create this course was relatively minimal, in my understanding. In fact, with recent renovations which are aimed to bring Highlands Links back to its former glory, one could argue that Highlands is a newer design. Removing trees along some holes on the back nine and working hard to support the oceanfront holes which have historically been susceptible to flooding has really improved the play and the look of Highlands.
Perhaps one needs to view these courses as one would two boxers with a ‘tale of the tape’ but numbers truly belie the character, beauty and absolute uniqueness of them both. The fact that both have ‘Links’ in their title is also cause for possible confusion; Highlands Links was originally meant to be titled The Mountains and Ocean Course. That, to me, is more accurate a representation of the course.
Character? Cabot has an active caddy program and the greatest sound you’ll ever hear when your ball falls into the cup, as it hits a metal plate below with a hole in for the flag (which is also now the tone I get when receiving text messages). The 10th and 11th holes run adjacent to MacIsaac’s Pond and are stunning in their own right. Highlands Links has each hole named in Gaelic and the Clyburn river is a prominent early in the back nine and this gives way to the impressive views of the ocean on the par 5 15th. The 7th hole, Killiecrankie, may be the greatest par 5 I’ve ever played. I won’t even try sharing pictures of my own. The pictures available on the Cabot and Highlands site will provide breathtaking images that may have you booking flights to Sydney or Halifax tomorrow morning.
I hope you’re able to experience both courses for yourself at some point. To me, with my limited experience golfing throughout Canada, these are my top two courses in the country…by a wide margin.