Mike Keiser made it official on a flight from Nova Scotia to Chicago last Thursday: There will be a second course at Cabot Links, the Cape Breton Island resort he co-owns with Ben Cowan-Dewar, and Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw will design it.
With rough plans on the empty middle seat between them, Keiser, in the aisle, and Coore, on the window, discussed the routing of Cabot Cliffs, a 200-acre course to be built on a 600-acre piece of land a few miles north of Cabot Links, which opened to solid reviews in June. The owner of Bandon Dunes and the builders of Bandon Trails and Bandon Preserve have the "dilemma" of a lot of options, but one thing was sure: This is happening.
They've cleared the land that will hold the 18th green and a nearby clubhouse, both of which will overlook the Atlantic Ocean. Some small political and land-acquisition hurdles remain, but with the cooperation of the Canadian government (which is keenly interested in tourism and jobs), Keiser's financial support and record of success, Cowan-Dewar's determination and Coore/Crenshaw's reputation, don't be surprised if there's preview play by the end of 2014. "Today, every issue has a solution," says Keiser, 68, who believes it takes at least two courses for a resort to be considered a true golf destination.
As he told Coore when they deplaned in Chicago, "I think we're on to something big here."
Coore, 66, put the plans for Cabot Cliffs under his arm and raced to make a connecting flight to Arizona, where he lives.
On Friday, Coore called Rod Whitman, 58, the longtime Canadian friend who built Cabot Links and who knows the land that will be Cabot Cliffs. Whitman agreed to be a member of Coore and Crenshaw's crew.
Coore and Whitman met in the mid-1970s, when the building of new courses had slowed as drastically as it has now; Coore was the superintendent of a course in Huntsville, Texas, and Whitman was a student at Sam Houston State University. Whitman would mow greens in exchange for green fees at Waterwood National and Coore helped the struggling student by buying him dinner at the local Pizza Hut. "We used to talk about how one day both of us would be in the design business," says Coore, who has since become one of golf's elite modern architects.
"I used to just want to play golf," says Whitman. "It was after spending so much time talking to Bill that I got interested in course strategy and design."
Now Coore and Whitman will be working together on what might be Coore and Crenshaw's best yet. "I'll put it this way, and it's a little like I felt about Sand Hills: If we don't build something outstanding, we will have failed," says Coore, the white-haired, soft-spoken, humble minimalist who confirmed Crenshaw has agreed to be a part of this project, even though he doesn't usually like to travel for work outside of the United States.
Walking through the tall brush, overlooking the half-mile of coastline that will be the 17th and 18th holes (pictured below), Coore knows Keiser has awarded him land that will not only be compared to Pacific Dunes, but soon, be measured against such classics as Cypress Point and Pebble Beach.
Bumping along in a spacious Airbus at 35,000 feet, listening in on Coore and Keiser contemplate the use of a natural sandy punchbowl as a green, this lifetime 49ers fan can't help but draw a fun comparison to Bill Walsh discussing a Super Bowl game plan with Joe Montana.
The revolutionary coach is encouraging his quiet and cool quarterback to find six par 3s, preferably all along or playing toward the Atlantic Ocean. "Golfers like and remember par 3s," says Keiser, who was the one to sign off on Tom Doak's beginning to the back nine of Pacific Dunes, which starts with back-to-back par 3s, one playing toward the ocean, one playing along the ocean.
Coore would consider such a request only because it came from Keiser. "He's the patron saint of golf architecture," says Coore. "I trust him and his instincts explicitly."
The feeling is mutual.
The view from behind the green of the proposed 367-yard second hole.
Bill Coore climbs the mound where the Cabot Cliffs clubhouse will sit.
Bill Coore (R) with Josh Lesnik, president of Kemper Sports and a trusted set of eyes and ears for Mike Keiser, discuss Cabot Cliffs' finishing stretch of holes.
From behind the green of what will be the 530-yard 18th hole.
A rough routing has six par 3s (Nos. 4, 6, 7, 12, 15 and 16).
On the flight from Canada to Chicago,
Keiser (L) shares the plans for Cabot Cliffs with Lesnik.