Golf Heaven – Cape Breton

Golf Heaven – Cape Breton                                                                                                                           by Michael Mastarciyan

 

Walking through a ghostly ocean mist on the 17th fairway at Cabot Cliffs, bewitched by the breathtaking sunset views of the rocky, wave battered Cape Breton coastline, it’s easy to start believing in spirits.

Jones, Hogan, Nelson, Snead, Ballesteros – the gods of the game – they’re all here making shots and sinking putts on the most heart-stopping new golf course on the planet. It is a little green slice of heaven perched on a magnificent stretch of bluffs high above the Atlantic Ocean on Nova Scotia’s northwest coast. Trust me, if you close your eyes, listen to the crashing waves, and breathe in the fresh sea air after making that perfect golf shot, you’ll see them too!

If you’re a fan of the game, you’ve probably already heard about Cabot Cliffs as it’s been making headlines since its unofficial opening last summer. This is a transcendental spot on the golf map, not unlike the cornfield Kevin Costner transformed into a baseball diamond in Field of Dreams. But this is not Iowa, it’s Cape Breton island, Canada’s little piece of Scotland on the northern tip of the province of Nova Scotia. A visit to this part of the world is more of a spiritual experience than a simple golf trip, especially if you’ve dreamt of playing this ancient game the way it was originally meant to be played on the sandy coastal links of its native homeland Scotland. From the bilingual road signs in English and Gaelic, to the Glenora single malt whisky distillery, to Colaisde na Gàidhlig the only Gaelic college in North America, Cape Breton is the closest you’ll come to an overall golfing experience in Scotland or Ireland without flying across the Atlantic.

Cabot Cliffs first came to my attention last summer when I started to hear chatter about a new golf course that was being compared to Pebble Beach, Cypress Point and Bandon Dunes, the titans of North American links golf. My fascination with this new kid on the block morphed into obsession in January when Golf Digest ranked it No. 19 on its 2016 World’s 100 Greatest list, a remarkable feat given the track wasn’t even officially opened yet. It’s sister course Cabot Links, which opened in 2012, was also on my radar as is it was ranked No. 45 on that same list in 2015 (it’s No. 93 this year). Both courses were now at the top of my bucket list and it was imperative I play them as soon as humanly possible.

Golf Heaven - Cape BretonCape Breton Bound

When ski season ended in April, I packed my boards away for their long summer slumber and focused my attention on getting me and my clubs to Cape Breton pronto. I contacted the good folks at GolfCapeBreton.com, and with the help of one of their golf concierges I booked a 4-day getaway for the July 4th weekend which would include two days at Cabot Cliffs and Links as well as golf at a couple of other bucket-list worthy courses. My itinerary would also include a tour of the Glenora Distillery, and an overnight stay at the Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa, one of Canada’s most famous grand hotels located in the heart of Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

My journey began with a short flight from Toronto to Halifax and ended with a painless connector to Sydney, Nova Scotia. After picking up a rental car at Sydney Airport, I hit the road to sample some of the best holes at The Lakes Golf Club at Ben Eoin, one of Cape Breton’s premier tracks. After a pleasant 20-minute drive through the leafy hills and dales of Nova Scotia lake country, I pulled up to one of the most popular and scenic ski resorts on the East Coast – Ben Eoin – which transforms itself into a challenging mountain golf course when the snow melts every spring.

The Lakes Golf Club at Ben Eoin

Sitting just below Ben Eoin’s verdant summer slopes, The Lakes Golf Club is a true mountain track with undulating fairways and a never-ending supply of elevated tee decks offering spectacular views of the shimmering turquoise waters of Bra d’Or Lake, a salt-water inland sea made up of barrier beaches, rocky headlands, and ponds with a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation.

I toured the course with Rob Carmichael who is the resident golf pro in the summer and ski school director during the winter months and played a few of its signature holes. My favourite was No. 6, a towering but driveable Par 4 with panoramic views of Bra d’Or Lake. A downhill drive off an elevated tee deck that doglegs left toward a roomy green protected by a few bunkers. It reminded me of Treasure Island, the Par 5 first hole at Spyglass Hill, one of the Pebble Beach courses, which also happens to be one of my all-time favorite golf holes. The only problem with No. 6 is the pair of extremely inviting wooden Adirondack chairs they’ve set up on the tee box. The choice of playing golf or lounging around with a cold drink in your hand gazing at the million dollar view of sailboats cutting through the blue waters of the Bra d’Or Lake is a tough one.

Hitting the Cabot Trail

After playing a few more holes I thanked Rob for his hospitality and punched Keltic Lodge into my car’s GPS, the luxury hotel I’d be spending the night at. The 2-hour drive to this iconic Canadian hotel would take me along one of the most famous scenic coastal roads in the world; Nova Scotia’s famed Cabot Trail. The 185-mile loop snakes around the island on a series of narrow coastal cliffs, beachside roads, and eventually winds through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park giving drivers and passengers a front row view to some of Canada’s most spectacular oceanfront scenery, and the flora and fauna that go with it.

Keltic Lodge and Highlands Links

My first view of Keltic Lodge’s sprawling, white Tudor style manor house came at a distance as I drove into the sleepy seaside resort community of Ingonish that borders

Cape Breton Highlands National Park’s eastern entrance. Spread out over a narrow peninsula called Middle Head just inside the park’s gates, this majestic hotel sits on a throne of rocky cliffs jutting out over the Atlantic Ocean. The lodge which has just gotten a $5-million facelift, and its next door neighbor Highlands Links golf course (ranked No.79 in the world by Golf Magazine in 2007) are celebrating their 75th anniversary this year. The set-up here is incredible for golfers and non-golfers alike. The hotel has its own Aveda Spa and a large outdoor swimming pool with ocean views, wilderness trails, a nearby beach, whale watching, kayaking and lots of lounge chairs if chilling out is your top priority.

For golf junkies in search of the exotic, Keltic Lodge and Highlands Links are unique. Imagine what it would be like to spend the night at The White House if it was located in a mysterious Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew coastal setting, smack dab next to one of the most impressive oceanside golf courses in North America. That’s the Keltic Lodge/Highlands Links experience in a nutshell. And there’s lots of fresh lobster…. did I mention the lobster?

Lobster, lobster, lobster…

Dinner on my first night in Cape Breton was an orgy of lobster at the Keltic Lodge’s luxurious post-and-beam Purple Thistle Dining Room. My starter was the Purple Thistle’s signature dish Butter Poached Lobster – sous vide butter lobster with conflit of leek, and lobster bisque sauce…yes lobster heaven! My main was Lobster from the Base of Smokey (Cape Smokey is a nearby provincial park and former ski area overlooking the Gulf of the St. Lawrence) straight up locally caught lobster served with butter and a side of vegetables. I would have had lobster for dessert too as I have no shame when it comes to consuming vast amounts of my favorite shell fish, but I was talked into ordering the delicious Passion and Mango Cheesecake, which although lobster-free, was still very tasty.

Golf Heaven - Cape BretonWhen my one-man lobster appreciation party finally concluded I made my way into the Keltic Lodge’s roomy bar for a wee dram of Scotch as a nightcap. What I walked into was a full-blown Cape Breton Céilidh put on by Colaisde na Gàidhlig / The Gaelic College as part of their Kitchenfest! Féis a’ Chidsin! an annual festival celebrating Cape Breton-based local music and dance. If you like highland dancing, Scotch whisky and vibrant fiddle music, this is your kinda place. I absolutely adored it and when it ended I wandered off to bed with visions of highlanders dancing in my head.

The next morning I woke up to an amazing sight just outside my window – a tiny red, white, and blue lobster boat tugging around the inlet just below the hotel’s swimming pool checking on its traps… pretty cool for a city boy like me. After a quick shower and a massive 5-star buffet breakfast, I checked out of the Keltic Lodge and checked into Highlands Links for my 8:14 am tee time.

“Mountains and Ocean” Golf

Ranked No. 3 by Canadian Golf Magazine in its 2016 list of top Canadian golf courses (Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links are 1 & 2) Highlands Links is a master stroke of course architecture. Designed by Stanley Thompson, the Frank Lloyd Wright of Canadian golf architects, and carved out of a spectacular piece of land tucked between the lush, green, Cape Breton Highlands and the Atlantic Ocean with the Cylburn River running through it, this Par 72, 6161-yard course is like a real life landscape painting you can hit golf balls on. Thompson proudly called Highlands Links his “mountains and ocean course”, and as members of the Stanley Thompson Society say, golfers are “taken back to a time when the game was still pure, and where golfers tested their skills on courses set by the sea, in true Scottish fashion.”

Tim Westhaver, one of the starters at Highlands Links grew up across the street from the course and has been playing it for the last 54 years. A lifelong fan of the game, Westhaver also views Highlands Links as a work of art, and says he’s proud to be one of its curators.

“I’ve played 20 of the top 25 courses in the world, and this one is just a natural wonder that was made to be a golf course. Stanley Thompson was a big student of the game and that’s why his courses have stood the test of time. He really made a link between the old Scottish style links courses, which you can see on some of the holes with the more American parkland looking courses. Even though this course was built 75 years ago, you can still play it on the ground, which is what the Scots and the Irish built their course to do. It’s like a Tom Thomson or Group of Seven (some of Canada’s most famous 20th Century landscape painters) painting, but the canvas here is rock and coastline. It’s rugged, it’s individualistic and it’s definitely a piece of art,” Westhaver said.

With the morning sun beaming on my shoulders and lungs full of fresh sea air, I confidently put my first shot onto the fairway with a gallery of locals on deck cheering me on. As I drove my golf cart up a rippled fairway that mimicked the rolling highlands backdropping the 397-yard Par 4 first hole (a trademark Stanley Thompson design feature, he loved to copy the natural features of the landscape on his tracks) I knew this enchanted place was more than just a golf course.

Variety is expected when you’re playing a track dubbed a “mountains and ocean” course by its creator and that’s exactly what you get at Highlands Links. The front nine is a tourist photo snapper’s Nirvana.  There are a million ocean view photo ops to be had as the holes make their way along the Atlantic shoreline, and across the marshland near the mouth of Clyburn River. The back nine is pure mountain golf. Long undulating fairways through a rocky landscape full of elevated tee decks through a lush hardwood forest of towering pines.

Hole No. 4 with its narrow crown shaped elevated green guarded by giant bunkers was a treat. Half the fun was driving my cart on its roller coaster fairway under the watchful eye of highland peak Franey Mountain in the distance.  Another memorable hole was No. 15, a great Par 5 that ends on a green across the street from St. Peter’s Catholic Church, a beautiful white, twin steepled country church that is also an excellent backdrop for Instagram photos you can post comparing golf to a religious experience!

Highlands Links may be a religious experience for some, but it took a hellish toll on the golf balls in my bag, as I finished up on 18 with a half dozen less than when I started (missed shots into the woods at Highlands Links are very punishing). I marked 96 on my scorecard and plowed through a tasty burger on the 2nd floor patio of the clubhouse with a view of Mr. Thompson’s beautiful course on one side, and the glassy Atlantic Ocean on the other.

Single Malt Magic at The Glenora Distillery

Back on the road by 1pm, I meandered along the Cabot Trail’s western edge and must have gotten out of the car about 10 times to take pictures of the magnificent Cape Breton coastline. I texted a few pix to my wife and described it as a mini-Big Sur, the famous eye-popping stretch of road along California’s central coast we’ve driven together a kazillion times.  I even crossed paths with an old ski buddy named Greg Frechette who works as a coaching instructor for Alpine Quebec. After posing for a few selfies together and meeting his lovely wife Kristina for the first time, I headed southward to the Glenora Inn & Distillery, North America’s first single malt whisky maker, a stone’s throw from the seaside town of Inverness and Cabot Links and Cliffs where I would spend the next two days.

Driving through Glenora’s gates later that afternoon I felt like I was about to go whisky tasting in the Scottish Highlands. Glenora’s main building sits at the bottom of a large green hill at the foot of Cape Breton’s Mabou Highlands. The single malt magic takes place in an impressive large white stone building that looks like it was built 500 years ago. The whisky distilled here is basically Scotch without the appellation, as single malt whisky can only be called “Scotch” if it’s produced on Scottish soil. Tours are available year round and you can also rent rooms at Glenora’s Inn.

My tour began on the banks of the quaint MacLellan Brook that babbles through the property and provides the water Glenora uses for its Uisge Beatha (which means “Water of Life” in Gaelic). Walking past the traditional copper pot stills inside the distillery, my guide gave me a lesson in single malt whisky making and let me taste an assortment of delicious whiskies, each one better than the next. My favorite was Glen Breton Rare, a golden-yellow coloured mixture with hints of butterscotch, honey, almond and earthy peat. After purchasing some “souvenirs” from Glenora’s gift shop I made my way back to Inverness to check into the Cabot Links Lodge.

Is Inverness the Next Hamptons?

The Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s largest daily newspapers recently said that  Inverness is on the verge of becoming “Canada’s Hamptons” and reported, “tales of deep-pocketed tourists flying in for a round on their private jets (and a quaint main drag that seems poised to fill up with chic boutiques) fuel ongoing speculation that Inverness is on the cusp of becoming a world-class luxury destination, known as much for its high-end shopping, dining and designer villas as its acres of manicured fairways.” Having seen Inverness as well as The Hamptons first hand, I’d say this is a very accurate observation.

The 72-room Cabot Lodge (designed by award-winning Nova Scotia architect, Susan Fitzgerald and talented interior designer Alexandra Angle) is best described as 21st Century “low-key luxury” beach hotel chic. Each room has a mind-blowing view through a giant postcard window that serves as the wall between you, the first fairway, and the  deep blue Atlantic Ocean…this is golf-in/golf-out accommodation like you’ve never seen before folks! The cedar and heavy timber Cabot Lodge, as well as the 2 and 4-bedroom Golf Villas at Cabot Links (designed by Omar Gandhi, one of Canada’s architectural rising stars), blend in perfectly with the beach landscape they’re constructed on. The rooms are spacious and the ultra-comfortable beds are perfect for midday naps between rounds of golf (if you are playing 36-holes in one day). The bathrooms are an 11 on 10, with heated floors, L’Occitane bath products, gigantic soaker tubs, separate glassed showers, and lots of elbow room!

When I finished unpacking, I headed over to Cabot’s Panorama Restaurant for dinner. I could go on an on about the exquisite cuisine (Lobster Ravioli as a starter and Butter-Poached Cape Breton Lobster as a main), the first-class service, and the very genuine and sincere down-home hospitality of the staff, but truth be told, it was the jaw-dropping sunset that had all my attention that night. Like the rooms at Cabot Lodge, the only thing between you, the Cabot Links golf course and the Atlantic Ocean is a massive piece of glass. Just as my poached lobster arrived (freshly de-shelled lobster soaking in butter in a little hot-pot) the skies overlooking the 18th green transformed into a shade of vermillion I’d only ever seen in a Crayola crayon box as a child! Orange is my favorite color and vermillion is its most beautiful shade. The sky I saw that night, lit up by the sleepy sun going down over the gulf of the St. Lawrence are sights I won’t soon forget.

 

After a deep sleep in my luxurious beachfront golf cocoon, I was lured back to the Panorama Restaurant in the morning for their famed Lobster Benedict…and yes, it was amazing! On my dance card this day was 18-holes at Cabot Links in the morning and another 18 at 4pm at Cabot Cliffs. Both courses, it should be mentioned, are walking only…electric golf carts are only available to those who need them for medical reasons. However, you can rent a pull-cart or reserve a caddy, if lugging your clubs is not part of your preferred golf ritual.

 

Cabot Links

 

My caddy for the next two days was Inverness native, Randon “No B” MacKinnon, a 19-year-old freshman university business major who also happens to be a scratch golfer with an encyclopedic knowledge of every fairway, bunker, and green at Cabot Links and Cliffs. I hit the caddy Powerball with Randon as it was like golfing with my own son. This kid was amazing!

 

“Welcome to the most beautiful golf course on earth,” Randon said to me as he shook my hand on the first tee, a statement backed up by one of the most sensational oceanside opening holes I’ve ever seen in North America.

Designed by Rod Whitman, Cabot Links (Par 70, 6854-yards), is the Spanish Bay (one of the Pebble Beach courses) of the Links/Cliffs duo, a sea-level type golfing experience that makes you feel like you are right on the water. Cabot Cliffs (Par 72, 6764 -yards) on the other hand, the brainchild of course designers Bill Coore and World Golf Hall of Famer Ben Crenshaw, is more like Pebble which is situated mostly on elevated cliffs overlooking the ocean. If you’ve played the Pebble courses, I’ll let you make your own judgement on how the Cabot courses compare. I’ve played all four, and for me Cabot edges them out. I love Spanish Bay, but it has a number of holes with quirky layouts that I’m not entirely enamoured with…Cabot Links has none, each hole was a dream! Pebble Beach and Cabot Cliffs are on par in terms of spectacular scenery, but every step you take on Cliffs is pure, unadulterated golf. Pebble, on the other hand, is a course with big beautiful mansions all over it…and as beautiful as these homes are, I’m not a big fan of houses on golf courses. That being said, if anyone out there reading this wants to leave me one of the grand Pebble Beach course homes in their will, I am open to changing my opinion…but I digress.

Rounding out the foursome on the tee deck that morning under partly cloudy skies, The Hom family from Manhattan – Ann, Sandy and their son Ryan, a former Division I golfer from Bucknell University – by far one of the best ball-strikers I’ve ever played with. Like my chance meeting with my caddy, Lady Luck showed me love again with The Homs, the most incredibly warm, fun-loving and talented trio of golf junkies a writer could have the good fortune of randomly meeting.

Like most traditional links courses, the fairways at Cabot Links are wide and inviting giving golfers the impression this will translate into less lost balls and hence better scoring. The reality is, that like most oceanside links courses, fairways by the sea are usually also hard and fast. Hard and fast can be a good thing but it can also work against you when your perfect drive finds its way into a big, bruising pot bunker, a links course’s most nasty line of defence. Let’s just say this happened to me a few times and leave it at that. The wind was also a factor on this morning, not gale force, but just enough for me to dip into the Tom Watson golf lexicon, with queries to my caddy about whether or not certain holes were “one or two club winds?” when selecting clubs.

My favourite holes were the Par 4 No. 3, which is set up on one of the windiest spots on the course. A real risk-reward type hole that you can attack in a variety of ways with a very firm green and a daunting water hazard on the right hand side. You can go for the green with a driver or hit a 4-iron and 9-iron in on your second shot. It’s a knee-knocker all the way, but a real beauty if you make par.

Numbers 5 and 6 are also a rare treat as these holes work their way around MacIssac’s Pond, a floating parking lot for brightly colored lobster boats. I truly thought I might get photo-bombed by Gilligan and The Skipper while taking a selfie in front of the boats, but alas it didn’t happen! I also really enjoyed No. 16, a bumpy, long Par 4 that runs right along the beach, with a view from the green that’s even better than off the tees.

As impressive as the oceanside scenery and excellent layout of the course was, I think I was most blown away by the combination of Mama Hom’s golfing skills and physical endurance. The father and son tandem of  Sandy and Ryan played a lot of quality golf on this day, but Ann Hom (a former competitive swimmer now in her late 60s) never missed the fairway and walked Cabot Links 18-holes (and later that afternoon another 18 at Cabot Cliffs) with a spring in her step I wish I still – and  I’m 20 years her junior!

After handshakes on 18 and marking a big fat 95 on my scorecard, I went back into my room for a 15-minute power-nap. A quarter of an hour later, rejuvenated by my little snooze sesh and changed into fresh golf clothing (I’m a golf dandy, what can I say) I zipped over to the Cabot Bar (the first floor bar/restaurant under the Panorama Restaurant) for a take-out burger I was planning on eating in my room before my 4pm appointment with Cabot Cliffs. But I never made back to my room as I was flagged down by Papa Hom who insisted I dine with Ann and Ryan at their table. The lunch invitation also included a invite to golf Cabot Cliffs with them at 3:45, an offer I could not refuse.

Cabot Cliffs

I met the Hom’s and Randon on the first tee at Cliffs after a 5 minute shuttle ride from Cabot Links. The awe-inspiring scenery of the cliffs, sand dunes and the dreamy oceanscape of this course are like a punch in the stomach right off the bat on the first tee deck. But it’s when you get to No. 2 that you really see the majesty and grandeur of this dazzling golf course. No. 2 at Cabot Cliffs is now one of my favorite holes in the world. It has a stunning view of the beach and the Gulf of The St. Lawrence especially if you’re hitting from the back tees. The tee shot takes you over natural sand dunes and beach grass to a “V” shaped fairway. If you drive through the fairway you are into a pond that guards a bunker and sand dune in front of the green, not the longest hole you’ll play, but a masterpiece of beauty and strategy.

The sun which occasionally made an appearance at Links in the morning was now playing hide-and-seek at Cliffs. The winds were also gustier, and there were a couple of rain drops here and there. Navigating this cliff-top behemoth with its rolling fairways twisting and turning through wispy fescue, sand dunes, and pastoral meadows required more than a couple creative club choices for myself, as well as the Homs. The bulk of the  round at Cliffs was spent battling the forces of wind, sea and sand, but we crossed paths with some trees starting at the picturesque 7th hole. Forests are rare on links courses, but it was something I’d seen before at Spyglass Hill, which also dips into a forested area for a few of its inland holes. A nice little taste of green sandwiched between a host of sand and sea links gems.

No. 15 is also an eye-catcher. A very reachable Par 5 with an incredible view that

showcases a mysterious looking island right out of a Jules Verne novel. It’s called

Seawolf Island, but Randon told me locals call it Margaree. If you’ve played at

Scotland’s Turnberry you’ll swear Captain Nemo towed that course’s famed Aisla Craig to Nova Scotia with his submarine when you approach the green.

The most striking and dramatic hole, hands down, at Cabot Cliffs is the Par 3, No. 16.  Quickly becoming one of the most photographed holes in the world of golf because of its location on a jagged outcropping of rock high about the crashing waves of the Atlantic, No. 16 is the “dream golf” location on a nationally run Canadian television commercial for a popular lottery, as well as the backdrop for major TV ad campaign for Titleist Velocity golf balls.

Walking towards No. 16,  I felt like a small child waiting to open a birthday present. I’d seen it on television but was stoked to see it with my own eyes. Excited, I asked Randon to give me his take on the hole.

“It’s a magical,” Randon told me with a grin. “The view from the tee never gets old. Whether the wind is blowing and the waves are crashing, or it’s a beautiful calm day, it’s something you’ll never forget, hold on a bit longer and you’ll see it for yourself.”

Well the kid wasn’t kidding. No. 16 is pure eye candy…worthy of every “golfporn” hashtag it gets on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Sitting around the Cabot Bar after returning from Cliffs (I shot 90!), No. 16 was all I could hear people talking about. The birdie putts missed, the pars made, the countless balls lost in the ocean, the ominous “danger cliffs” sign on your walk to the green…16, 16, 16!

“I love No. 16 and it was the first hole we identified,” Ben Cowan-Dewar, the Toronto-born businessman who co-owns Cabot Links and Cliffs with American golf entrepreneur Mike Keiser (of Bandon Dunes fame) told me when I quizzed him about the iconic hole.

“Its so spectacular, but what amazes me most is how Bill (Coore) and Ben (Crenshaw) got so much out of the green site. There is a distinct, otherworldly feeling at Cliffs and Links as a whole, especially at sunset or when the course is affected by the mist and fog off the ocean. I felt this even when I was walking around during construction. It’s always been a very special landscape. I’m so glad we now get to share it with so many people,” Cowan-Dewar added.

Cabot Cliffs Head Golf Pro Ryan Hawley, one of the stars of the Titleist TV commercial (which you can see here: https://youtu.be/QG2gUfBoVew) is also a big fan of No. 16.

“It’s a jaw-dropping golf hole,” Hawley told me when I played with him the next morning under sunny skies and zero wind. “Hitting a cliff-to-cliff shot on a 176-yard Par 3 to a two-tiered peninsula green surrounded by sand bunkers perched high above the Atlantic should be enough to get any person excited to hit their shot, golfer or not. It’s understandable why it’s becoming the most talked about hole in golf. It doesn’t matter what tee deck you are playing, it’s always a very intimidating shot.”

I loved the thrills and chill of No. 16, and yes it scared me, but in terms of pure intimidation, Cliffs No. 17 is a soul-crusher. A drivable, Par 4 blind shot, launched off a cliff over a craggy, golf ball guzzling abyss. On my first attempt with the wind at my back and the Homs rooting for me, I crushed a 4-wood and immediately shouted, “D’oh, there goes my ball into the Atlantic!” But Randon, part-caddy/part-psychologist talked me off the cliff figuratively and literally, and convinced me my ball was on the green…primed and ready for an eagle putt. We did find one ball on the green, but it wasn’t mine. I had flown my ball over the green and landed it on the 18th tee box. Despite the predicament I was in, I miraculously made 4, and coined the new golf term “tee box save” that afternoon.

The next day, as my visit to Cabot Links and Cliffs was nearing its end (I would be driving back to Sydney airport and flying home right after my morning round at Cliffs) I had my second encounter with the dreaded No. 17. This time, with zero wind to affect my shot, Randon pulled a 3-hybrid and told me I’d be in prime chipping position in front of the green if I hit the same shot I’d hit the day before.

“What about my trusty 4-wood?” I asked.

“Uhhh, that’s kind of aggressive,” Randon responded with a wince.

I chose the aggressive option that morning, and piped a perfect tee shot about 30-feet pin high to the flag. This time the ball we found on the green primed and ready for an eagle putt was all mine. Well I didn’t make the putt, but I did settle for a birdie. I revisit my eagle at Cabot Cliffs No. 17 often in my dreams, standing high above the Atlantic with the briny sea breeze in my face…and I get chills every time because I see the ghosts of the game smiling and laughing as my putt falls into the cup…and I think I must be in heaven.

WHEN YOU GO: There are direct flights to Halifax, Nova Scotia from New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Newark year-round on a variety of different U.S. carriers, and you can fly directly to Sydney, Nova Scotia from Toronto on Air Canada and Westjet.