The assist on this has to go to SCOREGolf’s own Bob Weeks, who introduced me to The Lakes through a SCORE Golf TV promotional spot on Cape Breton Golf. Only fair to offer credit where it is due. This course was a surprising gem within a trip to Cape Breton in August 2013. In fact, the header image for this blog is taken from the 6th tee looking over the Bras D’Or Lake.
I felt fortunate, the course was hosting the inaugural Cape Breton Celtic Classic, a PGA Tour Canada stop only 4 weeks out. The sense of pride which staff had about the course was evident; the grounds were pristine and they made note in a courteous and professional manner to have our foursome take care of keep the course which seemed in tournament shape. This Graham Cooke design is only 4 years old, cut on the side of a hillside which in the winter is used as a ski hill. Most unique was their use of the terrain; having players hit range balls into the hillside! Very clever.
My first impression was positive, as the staff were very polite, courteous and helpful. The starter took time to share with us some local knowledge along with a brief history of the course. Tee boxes are well spaced to accommodate golfers of different skill. The holes were spread out very well over the grounds, avoiding congestion and minimizing risks of errant shots (they converge nicely on the 17th tee; look back over the 16th green and out past the 17th green, wow). It is recommended that players use carts, walking would be possible but the elevation changes from hole to hole is significant in spots. In surprisingly few instances does the slope affect play in a difficult or challenging way, but it is leveraged in to take advantage of the natural beauty and spectacular views north over the lake. There are only three holes to me which seem somewhat pedestrian; 1, 9 and 10. All others set higher up in the hills provide breathtaking scenery.
The course has fair landing spaces off the tee but penalizes errant play. Greens are generous and fair, but too will challenge approach shots with strategic bunkering. Accuracy is more of a premium than length. That said a prevailing wind from the west will make some holes play long! Greens were running fast and firm, demanding respect and an awareness to leave the ball below the hole. Slope ratings are high, representing the need for solid ball striking!
Pace of play was consistent and not an issue. I really enjoyed the experience to play this course. In my opinion, it is a hidden gem set amongst world class courses of Cape Breton Island and worthy of a stop within the golf trip rotation of the Island. Located close to Sydney, it provides some convenience for travelers but is set in a quaint, rural location. This course is not on a top 100 list in Canada that I am aware (yet) so will remain a reward for those who come play.
Aura – 8 out of 10 – The fact it was hosting a PGA Tour Canada stop justifies this ranking. The scenery and quality of the course cemented it.
Value (cost / experience) – 8.5 out of 10 – Green fees are very reasonable for a course of this quality, but explore stay and play options to maximize value (see below)
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – The course was already gearing up for their tour debut. The efforts of staff to prepare the course, including details like fairway conditioning and surprisingly few ball marks on greens reflect the high mark – 9 out of 10
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – Visually impressive, with a quality of play to match. This course held its own in the opinion of playing partners in relation to Cabot Links and Highlands Links; unique, complementary and not the signficant drop off we had expected. Memorable in its own way, with many positives! – 8 out of 10
Highlight (what is great about the course) –Stand on the 6th tee on a sunny day and you will struggle to identify a more beautiful golf hole in Canada. Drivable par 4’s have their own mystique but this maybe one of the best. Certainly part of the conversation in terms of most scenic golf holes I’ve ever played!
Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – 5th hole may have the most abrupt slope on the fairway…nothing unfair, but does require some attention on your approach! Do yourself a favour, play one tee box ahead and enjoy the round! Minor issue, but surprised the pro shop did not have swag out for the PGA Tour Canada event when we were there…though my bank account may have appreciated it! Watch the SCOREGolf video; it will help cement your decision to play there!
Just So You Know – It is highly recommended that you explore a stay and play package through The Birches Country Inn. Quality accommodations, sensational homemade breakfasts and a true commitment to service which extends to providing carts for golfers in their back lot, a 5 minute cart ride to the course clubhouse! And yes, they can help take care of securing your tee time for you as part of your booking! Take time to enjoy breakfast and watch the hummingbirds! Thank you again, Mr. and Mrs. MacPherson!
My Best Shot – Hole 1, an errant drive in the bunker off the tee meant a GIR was not possible. My 4th shot a sand wedge, bounced once and struck the pin, leaving the ball 4 feet away. A slippery left to right par putt dropped in the hole. Nerves settled and scorecard unscathed…a great start to a great day!