Bill Coore always knew the first hole at Cabot Point was going to be difficult to build.
“I just don’t know about the first hole,” he confides. “I don’t know how it’s going to turn out.”
Cabot Point will be the centerpiece of Cabot St. Lucia, the newest golf and resort venture from the group behind Cabot Links on Cape Breton Island in Canada. The property consists of nearly a mile and a half of rocky shoreline in the Cap Estate section of St. Lucia’s northeast coast, much of it giving the impression it evolved explicitly to swaddle breathtaking golf holes.
Each nine, when complete, will conclude with stretch runs coming in from opposite directions along the elevated bluffs. The holes will terminate on a central plateau above the beach (and below the future clubhouse), creating one of the most transfixing meetings imaginable of golf and glimmering blue sea. Plans remain for the course and property to open in 2021. Covid-19 has paused construction for the past couple of weeks, but crews hope to continue work at the end of the month.
“When I stood on the site and saw the amount of ocean frontage, you just knew it was going to yield great golf,” says Ben Cowan-Dewar, who along with Mike Keiser is one of the principle investors in the Cabot development team. “It’s easy to have that first impression, it’s another to get a routing that takes advantage of it.”
There’s the rub. Rotate the view away from the rolling Caribbean water toward the interior of the property, and Coore’s concerns become evident.
St. Lucia is a volcanic island that sweeps from mountainous central highlands down to the Atlantic. Cabot Point is draped over these types of elevations, and in order to play golf here the routing must incorporate some steep topography. Coore has chosen to use the stark ascent early on, for both the first and 10th holes. But he’s concerned about making them work.
Coore and design partner Ben Crenshaw prefer to find and use what Cowan-Dewar calls “quiet moments” on a site, and Coore will often talk about whether a property’s natural features and locations are “good for golf.”
Cabot Point has numerous graceful interludes—the upland second, third and fourth holes; the 12th and 13th beyond the uplands on the calmer back half of the course; and five of the eight holes touching the ocean. There are also places that need more engineering than Coore and Crenshaw projects typically require, like the first, the par-4 fifth that races severely downhill, and the 14th, a big, tumbling hole that will become a memorable par-5, but only after massive cuts and fills.
Nevertheless, Keiser, who has developed golf on some of the world’s greatest sites, knows that this is a rare property and a rare opportunity. “If they get it to work, this has the chance to be one of the most spectacular courses in the world,” he says.
Jacob Sjoman/Courtesy of Cabot Saint Lucia
When Keiser walks sites early in the construction process—at Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links and Barnbougle Dunes, for instance—he grades each hole on a scale of one to 10. He liked what he saw at Cabot Point, particularly the par 3s, giving perfect scores to the one-shot, point-to-point 16th and 17th holes that each play over crashing surf. “He’d never given a 10 before on any of the courses he’s done,” Cowan-Dewar says.
Keiser and Cowan-Dewar began searching five years ago for possible new properties to develop. Since Cabot Links is closed during the winter and early spring, finding a year-round location was a priority. They homed in on the British West Indies—Canada is part of the British Commonwealth, and British travelers comprise a significant portion of the Cabot clientele—and looked at every golf project in the islands that had been shuttered following the recession of 2009.
The 375-acre Cabot St. Lucia property easily offered the most in terms of drama and golf potential. Several architectural firms had previously done routings for a proposed resort development here, and Nicklaus Design had even started construction before operations ceased about a decade ago.
While the same stretches of shoreline were utilized, none of those routings, in the minds of Keiser and Cowan-Dewar, connected the holes well enough, or adequately solved the riddles of the site.
“When you get a great piece of land, you want to give it to Bill and Ben, whose routing skills to me are just unequivocally the best, and give them the chance to say where you want to start, where you want to finish, and what’s the best golf course we can build here,” Cowan-Dewar says.
The routing Coore developed places the finishing holes, as described, down along the water. And that brings us back to the issue of getting up the hill at the first hole, a par-5 that starts off across a plain before hitting the upslope.
To help soften some of the incline, a significant degree of grading is required to raise the bottom of the natural valley that the hole follows. The second shot will play uphill to a more level area before swinging hard right along a ridge toward the green. Players going for the green in two will have to carry the edge of the ridge or see their ball rolling backwards, who knows how far.
Though seen only in crude, dusty form during an early March visit, it’s evident the first hole will function as an embarkment, a kind of slow, measured entrance into an immense temple. Or better yet, like the tense, clacking journey of a roller-coaster mounting the ride’s highest point, building hard-won inertia for later moments.
Once at the top, the tension collects and releases as the holes of each nine unwind, banking and dipping in a rush back toward the edge of the ocean, and to holes that golfers dream about.
Now another kind of tension has beset the Cabot St. Lucia project, the kind from which no one and no place is immune. St. Lucia government shut down all non-essential construction work in late March/early April, but a mandatory quarantine was lifted last week. Keith Rhebb, one of Coore and Crenshaw's shapers, and a team of contractors, have been in quarantine since construction was halted, and they're hopeful construction can begin in the next few weeks. The future, and what the taste for luxury golf will be when the pandemic is over, is uncertain.
For now, Cowan-Dewar is taking it in stride.
“We built Cabot Links through the (2009) financial crisis, so we kind of have a playbook for this,” he says. Social-media interaction, at least the way we know it now, was in its infancy then. But Cowan-Dewar believes the photos they shared at the time showing construction moving forward at Canada's Cabot gave many people a point of light to look toward. The same could be true now.
“Not to overstate it, but I think there’s a little bit of hope in those things, and a little bit of dreaminess,” he says.
“I think fantasizing about golf is something a lot of us are doing right now.”