Cape Breton Island – golf travel finds a new destination

Cabot Links in Inverness, Nova Scotia

We shall begin offering programs to Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia later this summer and a recent visit was extremely insightful on various levels.

Cape Breton has long hosted Highland Links which for a number of years has been in GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 in the World list (currently #98) . It remains a fine test of golf in a spectacular setting within the Cape Breton National Park  along the internationally renowned Cabot Trail. In far more recent times Cape Breton is receiving much attention from the golf media with the pending opening of Cabot Links in Inverness, on the west coast of Cape Breton.

Cabot Links is the brainchild of Ben Cowan-Dewer with the significant involvement of Mike Keiser, the mastermind and owner of Bandon Dunes on the Oregon coast. I recall clearly playing the original Bandon Dunes course two months before it officially opened in 2000. The course was built in the middle a remote part of the coastline and Mike’s belief was that if you built it…and it is great….they will come. He has proved his critics wrong time and time again with 5 courses now open, scheduled airline service to the nearby airport from San Francisco and Salt Lake and tens of thousands golfers annually converging on Bandon Dunes, and all that they bring to the local economy. Time will be the judge as to the success of Cabot Links…but having walked a good portion of the holes, I am confident in predicting it will achieve international recognition sooner rather than later. I suspect that within five years it will be recognized as the mini Bandon Dunes on the East Coast. Proximity from major East Coast gateways coupled with nonstop service to Halifax make it quite accessible.

As a result of the above two courses, Cape Breton has an extremely interesting story to tell. The quality of golf ranges from local courses to world class, as described. The accommodations range from extremely comfortable and welcoming B & B’s to first class hotels and Lodges. Due to the relatively remote geography, as you will find in similar places, the welcome form the locals is particularly heartfelt and sincere.

Due to the logistics of travel and locations of the golf courses, there truly is a multitude of options for golfers in terms of how you design a trip Cape Breton. To follow in no particular order are my observations and thoughts on how best to plan a trip;

Getting there

Halifax Airport is approximately 30 minutes north of the city. Halifax is the principal business and government city in this region and as a result enjoys significant nonstop air service from all of the principal hub airports on the east coast. The airport terminal is modern, spacious and efficient. When returning to the USA you clear Immigration & Customs at check-in in Canada thus arrival into the USA is treated as a domestic flight with no formalities. Rental cars are located within the airport so just a short covered walk to rental car lot beside terminal…same for return of vehicles.

The Cabot Trail is spectacular

Travel Comments

Cape Breton is connected to the mainland by the Canso Causeway which is approximately a 90 minute drive north from Halifax Airport. It is an easy drive on good roads, mostly four lane, very well marked.  Depending on flight arrival and departure times there is good rationale for an overnight visit to Halifax to see and enjoy this historic Seaport.

Golf

Cabot Links – Officially opening in late June, 2012 with clubhouse and 48 rooms open at the same time. Located in the small town of Inverness it is going to be a really special links golf experience. Good background reading from Golf Digest.

Highland Links – The original Stanley Thompson design alongside the Cabot Trail in the northern part of Cape Breton. It is a classic course from Canada’s finest golf course architect of his time. One of the by products of Cabot Links has been to encourage the government ownership of Highland Links to re-invest in the facility and return it to it’s former glory and conditioning, which is occurring.

Dundee Golf overlooking Bras d'Or

Bell Bay – Located on the western side of the magnificent Bras d’Or Lake, overlooking Alexander Graham Bell’s retirement home and where the first plane flight (in the British Empire) occurred, the course is challenging, playable, forgiving and always in excellent condition. The town of Baddeck where it is located is a bit of a summer playground with a nice selection of restaurants and shops. If you are a traveler that prefers to unpack once and drive out to the various golf courses, Baddeck is a terrific option as everything is 60 – 90 minutes drive.

The Lakes – Similar in may respects to Bell Bay for quality of golf experience, except this course is on the eastern shore of Bras d’Or, it uniquely is coupled with a skiing area. in the winter months the skiiers use the same clubhouse that golfers use in the summer months….that is efficient!

Le Portage – If you are a traveler who enjoys the many aspects of new cultures and experiences, Le Portage in the town of Cheticamp is just one of these finds. While the golf course may be more basic than some of the others on Cape Breton, it generally always exceeds expectations and the overall experience is very unique. Cheticamp is immersed in the Arcadian culture with a distinct accent and strong French cultural connection.

Dundee Resort – Located overlooking the southern end of Bras d’Or, the resort and golf course are especially attractive for families given the accommodation options and amenities of the resort. The course is routed up the hillside improving views of the lake.

Accommodations

As noted, there is a good range of accommodation options to suit varying expectations and budgets. I would not describe any of the accommodations as lavish deluxe but that is in keeping with the destination. Keltic Lodge is in the midst of a refurbishment and enjoys a spectacular setting beside Highland Links. The vista in both directions from the Lodge is truly memorable. Cabot Links will have 48 rooms this summer and all shall be very well appointed with ocean and golf course views. The Inverary Resort in Baddeck provides good accommodations and excellent dining in a convenient, attractive location overlooking Bras d’Or.

When in Cape Breton, you must try the local lobster

For travelers who enjoy the more intimate experience of bed & breakfast type accommodations Cape Breton provides some outstanding options. Adjacent to the Lakes is the delightful Birches, in Cheticamp you will find Maison Fiset House and near Highland Links the Castle Rock Country Inn.

Other options

While not on Cape Breton Island, you may want to consider a visit to Fox Harb’r which opened in 2001 and is located on the  north coast of Nova Scotia, looking across the Northumberland Strait at Prince Edward Island (PEI). It is a self contained luxury lifestyle experience with golf course, spa and a host of other amenities. Importantly, it is located a short 90 minute drive from Halifax Airport so would serve well for arrival or departure scheduling. Uniquely this resort has it’s own 5,000 foot runway onsite lest you want to fly privately.

Summary

Cape Breton offers a wide array of choices and options…plus with the addition of Cabot Links it makes a previously good golf destination now a truly memorable one. Importantly, although the golf, accommodations and welcome are all first class, you will find the cost to enjoy this part of the Canadian Maritime s to be unexpectedly reasonable. We shall have a host of ideas in the near future when we launch this program.

UPDATE April 2, 2012 – Great article on economic impact of Cabot Links from Toronto’s leading newspaper.
 

About the Author: Gordon Dalgleish is the Co-Founding Director of PerryGolf, the leading provider of international golf vacations. You can find him on Google+

Old world and new world are similar

There are some things which you hear and you simply want to share with people..such is the power of new technology.
I was speaking today with a golf industry professional who is one of the best and most respected…he was proudly telling me how he has been making the effort to play at least 9 holes with every new member of his Club…to welcome them and explain club policies and protocols. His view and experience is that spending a few hours with each new Member makes them a far better asset to the Club while significantly enriching their long term Member experience…they know the ropes quickly.
Two weeks ago I was fortunate to have spent a couple of hours with one of the brightest minds I have ever experienced. He is a Venture Fund partner on Sand Hills Road in Menlo Park, Ca who has invested in many of the social media technology companies we know today. In his summary of the opportunity we discussed he recounted how most successful social media concerns regard the “entrance experience” as critical. Entrance experience is the welcome you receive to the latest Internet connectivity.
It struck me that the old world and new world are terribly similar in so many respects, and from a hospitality standpoint, which is our business; the warmth of the smile, firmness of the handshake and genuineness of the concern are the most important things that your welcome person can ever do for you…or the organization.

 

About the Author: Gordon Dalgleish is the Co-Founding Director of PerryGolf, the leading provider of international golf vacations. You can find him on Google+

Portugal – undiscovered gem

Having traveled to Portugal since 1973 I have long been a admirer of the country, not only it’s climate, but people and quality of lifestyle. Jim Frank provides a more in-depth perspective of this terrific golf destination.


Portugal Awaits Its Turn

James A. FrankTheAPosition

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Overshadowed by its next-door neighbor Spain, as well as the rest of Europe, Portugal deserves more attention

Pity poor Portugal. Like a third-string quarterback, it rarely gets the good look, seldom a chance to strut its stuff. In European golf, Great Britain is the franchise player, Spain the backup. Lowly Portugal rides the bench, saying, “Play me or trade me.”

My advice? Play.

It’s not as if anyone …

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About the Author: Gordon Dalgleish is the Co-Founding Director of PerryGolf, the leading provider of international golf vacations. You can find him on Google+

Your dream golf trip

The following is an interesting collection of thoughts and travel ideas from a group of well travelled golf writers, in the event they were given $10,000 to spend, what would their trip look like;


How Would You Spend $10,000 on Golf ?

TheAPosition

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In this season of gift-giving, the writers at golf’s leading website offer presents to themselves-and give back to the game they love

I love links golf, have since the moment I ran a shot onto the second green at The Old Course the first time I played the old gal. What fun! And that’s where we spend the ten thousand, going to and playing the great …

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About the Author: Gordon Dalgleish is the Co-Founding Director of PerryGolf, the leading provider of international golf vacations. You can find him on Google+

Q&A with Gordon Dalgleish / State of golf travel

The co-founder and President of PerryGolf assesses 2010 from an international golf travel perspective and looks ahead to 2011.

Is the economy starting to loosen its grip on international golf travel?

GD: It’s starting to move in a better direction. It’s getting better but we still have a long way to go before we return to our high water marks of five or six years ago.

Did you expect 2010 to bounce back stronger than it did?

GD: As precipitous a drop as it was, it was unlikely that international golf travel would bounce back quickly. 2009 was a miserable year; 2010 was a decided improvement for us. So it’s clearly going in the right direction. But every bit of it is earned. I didn’t really think it would bounce back much more than it has. I just didn’t think the signs were there. If you look at the economy, there are still some serious underlying issues.

Are there signs that the worst is over?

GD: The confidence that the worst is over varies directly with your socio-economic standard. At the very high end, the recession hasn’t affected the travel habits of the uber rich to any great extent. But just beneath that level, you have a group of people – the Wall Street guys and others – for whom it just hasn’t been appropriate to be seen spending money. But they’re back in the game. I think they’ve taken the attitude: “I’m going to enjoy my lifestyle. I don’t have as much as I had before, but I’m going to get back into the game.” Then you look at the guys who had done well before the economy turned – the car dealers and the developers, for example. They’re coming back because they’re seeing their businesses rebounding. We’re starting to see a lot of these guys resurface who traveled with us historically. I think that’s indicative of an underlying confidence level. So it’s kind of a return in some ways to where we were. But people are just a little more cautious in their spending money. Let’s put it this way: We’re not chartering many helicopters these days to help golfers avoid traffic tie-ups in Scotland.

Compare the effects of the Ryder Cup on Wales and the World Cup on South Africa as far as their status as golf destinations?

GD: The Ryder Cup certainly helped get Wales recognized as a golf destination. I’m not sure the U.S. market will be beating the door down to play Celtic Manor because it’s not the links type course they anticipate in the UK. But travelers from other markets – like Scandinavia or Germany, for example – take a different approach. So there’s no doubt that long term they will benefit from it. As far as World Cup, it certainly didn’t hurt, and I’m sure the long-term benefits of putting South Africa on the world stage will pay dividends. But there’s nothing we’ve particularly noticed as far as a decided uptick from golfers. It’s a great destination and it represents good value. But you can think of it this way: The week after the British Open our phones are busy with people inquiring about a trip. But that wasn’t the case after World Cup.

What will Ireland’s latest economic challenges mean to the traveling golfer?

GD: The Irish economy has been in tatters for two years and prices reflect that. I think the deals will still be there in the aftermath of the latest turn of events in Ireland. But suppliers have already priced in these new challenges, and I do not think Irish pricing will fall much more. Ireland got overbuilt, prices got high, and the Irish economy is in trouble. So the country as a whole is not getting much local business support and traffic. Three years ago we had to pre-buy all of our times for the following summer at certain course. That seems such ancient history because the demand is just not there anymore. When will it be back? I just don’t know.

Is there a silver lining in all this for international golf travelers?

GD: It’s absolutely a better environment today for the traveling golfer. A lot of clubs in the British Isles had a long period when they enjoyed visitor income that was fairly free and easy. Every year they would bump up their greens fees a little and people would turn up and play. The next year they would do the same thing and people would turn up and play. It was a very nice cycle and it continued for a number of years. To their credit, the vast majority of clubs that enjoyed that cycle also spent a fair amount of money that was coming in from visitors on improving their facility. They improved the visitor’s locker rooms, upgraded the bar and foodservice, for example. They’ve made an effort to reinvest in the visitor experience. The members enjoyed that as well, and it is important to realize a lot of that was funded from the visitor side of things.

Will value-add continue to be a strategy employed by hotels and golf courses to attract golfers?

GD: 2009 was like, “Hey, what do you need?” Suppliers were desperate for the business. So we were watching with interest about 12 months ago to see what suppliers were going to do. For the most part, they held their rates about the same and retained some of the value-add promotions they had put in place. Pay for three nights and get the fourth free, or play a second round for free if you play within seven days, that type of thing. But we’re also seeing a number of suppliers move back their pre-booking cutoff dates to qualify for these value-add specials to the end of the year or the end of January. That’s a sign people are getting just a little more bullish, thinking the worst may be over and thinking they may be able to squeeze a little more yield out of the rooms and golf.

Which destinations represent the best opportunities for value-conscious travelers?

GD: The British Isles, relative to what they were three or four years ago, still represent good value. Within the euro zone, I think Portugal represents good value. So does Ireland because there are so many places where suppliers are struggling.
 

About the Author: Gordon Dalgleish is the Co-Founding Director of PerryGolf, the leading provider of international golf vacations. You can find him on Google+