GT: So, you must be the envy of all your golfing buddies now that you own your own golf course – and soon, two golf courses. Is this something that’s always been a dream of yours?
BCD: Building a golf course has always been a dream of mine. It started when I was a kid drawing golf holes and, from there, I graduated to building a par 3 with my dad on our family farm. From there, one thing led to another. When I decided to pursue golf course development I heard about the site in Nova Scotia and, upon seeing it for the first time, made that my goal. Now here we are – as you said – with one and soon to be two courses! It’s certainly exciting.
GT: Exactly how did you originally find the site for Cabot Links and what were the early steps you took to get started on the project?
BCD: I heard about the land while having dinner with the Minister of Tourism, who later went on to become the Premier, for the province of Nova Scotia in 2004. In reviewing a series of aerial photos that didn’t really highlight the contours of the land I could see a mile of sandy beach and what looked like a pretty interesting place for a golf course nestled in between the town and the beach. That prompted a visit to see the property and I remember at the time thinking that it looked so much like the great Links courses in Scotland and Ireland. The chance to build something similar in Canada, having lived in Ontario my entire life, was obviously appealing. I followed that trip with a few more visits and finally brought Rob Whitman down to see the land. That’s when the process really began and then continued over the next few years until we started construction three-and-a-half years later in 2008 and then opened the course in 2012.
GT: I understand that Mike Keiser, the owner of Bandon Dunes, is involved with Cabot Links. How and when did he become part of the picture?
BCD: I talked to Mike in the spring of 2005 when he was very busy with Bandon Trails, which was about to open, and Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania. At that point, he wished me well and we both went back to work. The two years that the land assembly took really worked in our favor because Mike circled back when things had settled down for him and he had more time. We had dinner in Chicago in late 2006 and then in early 2007 he made a visit to Inverness to look at both the Cabot Links land and the Cabot Cliffs land and from there we proceeded to partner.
GT: There’s not a better guy to have on your team when you’re doing a project like Cabot Links, that’s for sure. Tell us a little bit about Rod Whitman and how you came to choose him for the first course.
BCD: Rod was someone who I had known for quite a while before the Cabot process began. I knew of his association with Pete Dye and the Coore/Crenshaw team, and I played his courses in Alberta, which had always been very highly ranked in the Canadian top 100. In 2003 I was playing with Rod at Blackhawk in Alberta and I could see that his style had evolved so much from Wolf Creek, which was built in the early 1980s and was really a reflection of what Pete was doing at that point, into something that looked quite natural. Blackhawk showed a great appreciation for the importance of melding strategy and aesthetic in golf design. I remember saying to Rod then that if I was going to look at something in Canada, I would like to look at it with him. Having heard that a hundred times before from others, he just smiled and said “for sure.”
I think Cabot was probably the best site that Rod had worked on, so he was keen to be hands on, and the timing of Cabot – in the depression of the golf course construction business – allowed Rod to move to Inverness and spend every day on site. To get that level of commitment from almost any architect would have been nearly impossible and, yet, there he was – out there every day shaping the land and captaining the team. Overall, I think it was a really great opportunity and one that we were thrilled to give him.
GT: Can you tell us a little bit about what Cabot Cliffs is going to be like?
BCD: Despite being less than a mile away from Cabot Links, Cabot Cliffs is different from the first course in so many ways. It is highlighted by physical cliffs at the North end which stretch a 110 feet above the water and sand dunes in the South end that go right down to the water. In comparison to Cabot Links, there is more varied coast line at Cliffs which will mean, particularly on holes 16, 17 and 18, hitting shots over the cliffs as opposed to down the coastline. It really is a spectacular piece of land and I think it’s going to yield something very exciting.
GT: What has the process been like working with Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw. They have a reputation of being the nicest guys in the business as well as some of the very best.
BCD: Bill and Ben have earned their reputation as the nicest guys in the business. Moreover, despite not having the largest quantity of work, the quality of their work is outstanding and reflected in how many courses they have in the Top 100. That is indicative of a career that has focused on finding the best sights and building the best courses. Of course, if you asked them, I think they would they say that they just try to go out and build nice things and hope golfers will like them. This is likely why they are considered some of the nicest guys in the business!
GT: How is the progress on Cabot Cliffs coming along? When are you expecting the course to open?
BCD: Cliffs is progressing really well. Bill was here the entire month of July for a strong early construction phase and we all got a little more excited each day watching the shapes take form. We’re looking forward to seeding some holes in the late summer with our eye towards a July 2015 opening.
GT: Clearly this is looking quite a bit forward, but if you continue to have the success that you’ve enjoyed so far is there a possibility of a third course?
BCD: The question of a third course is an interesting one because it didn’t seem like long ago that we were fielding questions about whether we could even do one course. Mike always has the best answer so I’ll borrow his which is: “You can’t have three until you have two.”
GT: That’s a great point and sounds exactly like the response I would expect from Mike. I wanted to stay focused on Cabot Links for this interview, but I know you’re a well traveled golfer who has played a vast majority of the world’s best courses – Cabot Links aside, what are your Top 10 favorite golf courses?
BCD: It is hard to name ten, but “favorites to play” would be: National Golf Links of America, The Old Course, Royal Melbourne, Pine Valley, Cypress, County Down, Seminole, Sand Hills, Old Macdonald and Prestwick.
GT: That’s a pretty darn good list of courses that we should all be so lucky to see. Thanks for taking the time to chat Ben and we’re anxiously looking forward to the opening of Cabot Cliffs!