Cape Breton Island, off Canada's eastern coast, is famous golfing country. Highlands Links, perhaps the best-known work of Stanley Thompson, Canada's greatest golf architect, lies on the northern side of island, which is part of the province known as Nova Scotia – New Scotland. So perhaps it is fated to be famous for golf.
The town of Inverness on Cape Breton was formerly a mining centre, but the mine closed 15 years ago. The site, along the seashore, was capped by the government, and, around ten years ago, the local authorities decided a golf development would be of benefit to the area.
Since then, the project has faced a number of false starts. At one stage, the Nicklaus group was involved, and at a later date, Canadian architect Graham Cooke produced a proposed routing, but the development fell through. Now though, the Inverness site looks set to be turned into a course fit to match the other great test on Cape Breton.
"It's a beautiful seaside property," says architect Jeff Mingay, who, with his colleague Rod Whitman, has been appointed to design the golf course. "The landscape tumbles down the hill to the dunes and beach. It is unquestionably the best site available for golf in Canada.
"There is good contour and good elevation change, plus we have good soils," says Mingay. "The south side of the property – the part at beach level – is very sandy. Any fill we need, we should be able to find within the site.Moving north, the land rises – our proposed seventh hole, for example, is atop a 20-30 foot high bluff."
Mingay says the intention is to break ground in March; the construction cost, because of the good soils on site, is budgeted at a relatively modest C$3.1m (£1.5m). Located between the town and the sea, Cabot Links will, says the architect, be a vital part of the community in the same way as Scottish courses such as St Andrews and Royal Dornoch are part of their towns. But he is at pains to stress that, despite his and Whitman's appreciation for the classic courses of the British Isles, the proposed course will not be a facsimile. "We're not trying to build a pseudo-links," he says.
"I know it's a cliché, but this site really does have it all," says Mingay. "So we want to allow these remarkable natural characteristics to drive our design at Inverness as a means to create a natural course with singular character and timeless appeal. That suits the site, and it fits with our overall philosophy."
The proposed routing begins with four holes playing adjacent to the beach, with, says Mingay, spectacular views down the coast, toward the highlands of Cape Breton in the distance.With the general lay of the land tilting toward the sea, every hole will present ocean views. "From the fifth hole on, no two consecutive holes play in the same direction, forcing golfers to confront the wind at varying angles," he explains. "While the course can be stretched to nearly 7,000 yards (par 71) for special occasions, flexibility will be provided by a variety of tees at each hole and wide corridors of play, broken up by well-placed hazards."
Safety is a key concern. "Considering a majority of golfers slice, our proposed layout has been arranged so that not a single hole features adjacent properties at right," says Mingay. "This scenario greatly reduces the risk of errant golf balls damaging property and harming people off of the course, particularly non-golfers using the boardwalk and beach. Also note the beach access trail designed to meander through the centre of the course which does not run parallel to play at any hole."
This article first appeared in issue 3 of Golf Course Architecture, published in January 2006.