While We're Young: My 2013 Hundred Hole Hike (Vol 3, Cabot Links)


Walking up to the 10th tee at Highlands Links, Stanley Thompson’s masterpiece in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, I finally approached the twosome that I had been dawdling behind for most of the front nine. They were in the middle of a conversation with the woman at the halfway house (someone they obviously knew) and offered to let me play through. Of course, I obliged. As I pulled my club for this short, downhill par 3, one of the gentlemen offered, “Take an extra club…this hole always plays longer than it looks.”

That didn’t really compute, but I was on foreign soil. Maybe downhill shots played longer in Canada. Who was I to question the local knowledge? Instead of clubbing up to Pitching Wedge, I kept my gap wedge and swung as hard as I could.  The ball was solidly struck and with the help of the right-to-left wind, started tracking at the pin. “Be good,” I said emphatically (only because I thought my first choice, Hal Sutton’s eponymous “Be the right club, tu-DAY” might be lost on my new friends from the North.)

As the ball descended, I thought about how cool it would be to make an ace during my first round of golf in Canada. I thought about how a ‘1’ on the scorecard would help offset the ‘12’ I wrote down just three holes earlier (more to come on that). And I wondered how fast I would blow through my carefully-calculated allotment of International data, messaging and phone minutes --  most notably with a long-winded “EEEEAAAGGGLEEE…on a par THREEEEE” voice-mail to my buddy/adversary Jefe (seeing it’s me, and knowing generally when I’m on the golf course, he’s pretty-much stopped picking up my calls for this very reason.)

Just as I was wrapping up these thoughts, the ball landed on the back fringe, then took a mini-hop to the back-edge of the green, a good 35-feet past the hole. I stared at the ball on the green, staying in my post-shot position for a couple beats longer than normal, like a slugger who’d just been rung-up looking on a questionable strike to end a baseball game.

“Well, I guess I forgot to the factor in that you’re left-handed,” the man explained.

Hold the fort...I’m getting left-handed grief in Canada? I thought this was the land of the lefties? After 30-years of hearing every “wrong-side of the ball” variation known to man, I thought I was in a safe haven here. Nope…still singled-out, ostracized and oppressed. The story of my life as a southpaw golfer.

Why start with this seemingly insignificant golf story? Because it was really the only time I felt like an outsider during a very enjoyable and memorable four-day journey to Nova Scotia, which included the third leg of my four-part Hundred Hole Hike at Cabot Links.

Though I travel all the time for work domestically, I hadn’t had use for a passport in over 10 years. Hence, it was time for a new one. Amazingly, my 2013 passport photo managed to be even creepier than the 2000 version. It’s nice to know that I morphed from ‘bugged out heroin addict’ to ‘international criminal mastermind’ in the span of 13 years. No wonder I was ‘randomly chosen’ for "SSSS" security screening on the way out of town. My best guess is that it stands for Sketchy Subject, Screen Swiftly.

Admittedly, I felt a bit strange traveling out of the country by myself. Plus, I was going straight from Canada to Scotland before going home, which just added further logistical issues. As I was scrambling to pack, I had all those first-time traveler type questions, like “Can I use my iPhone there?”, “will my ATM card work overseas?”, “will I be able to access my work e-mail?” etc. I felt like a complete newb – thankfully my well-traveled friends suppressed their condescension when answering my last-minute panic texts.

I flew into Halifax late, late Friday night, with the two-hour time difference, I wasn’t in bed until 1:30 AM. Six hours later, I was on the road to Cape Breton. The plan was to drive to the aforementioned Highlands Links (which up until June 29, 2013, I had always called Highland Links), then swing over to Cabot for a two full-days of golf (one, very full).

My initial impressions of Nova Scotia were not positive. My friend Harris was vacationing in the area with his wife, and gave me the heads up to pack the rain gear. A lot of it. It was raining when I landed. It was raining when I woke up in the morning. It oscillated between drizzle, downpour and deluge during my drive to Cape Breton. I questioned the logic of driving to the eastern coast of the island to see this one golf course. The alternative would’ve been to head straight to Cabot Links and rest up for the hike.

There were a couple key factors that kept me going east instead of north. First of all, last summer my good friend Tom Dunne worked on the course for a week, getting his hands dirty to help architect Ian Andrew renovate a bunker on the par 5 7th. I really wanted to see his handiwork (he wrote about the unique experience in Links Magazine. You can read about it here: Additionally, Tom also called Highlands a “must see” and “one of the greatest walks in golf,” not to mention “a great drive.” He had me at hello.

Thankfully, my decision to forge ahead turned out to be the right choice. In the last 15 minutes before reaching the course, the skies cleared. Highlands is part of the Cape Breton National Park, and you have to pay a nominal fee to enter the park for the day. The young man at the gate asked if it was my first time there, and after I answered in the affirmative, he began to tell me about the 26 trails located within the park.

“I’m just here to golf,” I remarked.

“Okay. Just make the first right,” he replied.

It turns out we were both right. Highlands Links is very much a walking trail through the National Park with golf sprinkled between. It has multiple long green-to-tee treks that would normally get panned as poor routing. Instead, there was a method to Thompson’s madness – the walks were used to give the golfer time to appreciate the surroundings and to transition from different environs. Far from a tree hugger, I did find my mind wandering away from golf during these walks. There was a distinct cooling effect on these trails, and on an otherwise humid day, I thought to myself, “This is kinda nice.”

While Links is a misnomer, the golf course is a blast to play, with strong strategy mixed with a dash of visual deception and whimsy. For instance, the bunkering on the par 3 5th hole is meant to resemble a dragon spitting out a fireball (though my initial guess was a camel eating a large Cocoa Puff). Over the course of the round, I got the sense that Stanley Thompson is a guy that I would’ve liked to have hung out with, or at least hero worshipped from afar on The bold fairway contours reminded me very much of the Course at Yale, another personal favorite.

Adding to the it’s-just-golf-let’s-not-take-ourselves-too-seriously vibe are the names of the holes, many of which sound like things Ron Burgundy would say when given shocking news. Mucklemouth Meg! Cuddy’s Lug! Saint Damian’s Beard! Only one of these isn’t from the golf course.

Which brings us to the 7th hole, a.k.a. Killiecrankie, which is named for a famous long and narrow pass in Scotland. Personally, I take the literal view – after playing the hole, you might be cranky enough to kill somebody. I did my best Sergio Garcia impression on the tee – insanely thinking that the same swing would somehow yield a different result. I kept trying to hit a bunt cut starting down the right side. Instead, I got three low hooks donated to the National Park System of Canada. The bunty driver that was so good to me at Ballyneal had abandoned me, as did my Yoda headcover.

Recalling that 7th hole four days later still gets my blood pressure going. Let’s just give Tom a picture of his island and move on...

After the round, I hopped back into the rental car and punched in the directions on Google Maps to Cabot Links. Maps will tell you to go south back the way you came, but the only real choice is to go North. The Cabot Trail winds up and around the northern edge of the National Park, or if you have extra time, I believe you can go to the very northern tip of the island. Wow, what a drive! I guarantee you will snap some scenery pics for your friends back home. Just make sure you pull off the road before you do it.

I pulled into Cabot Links on Saturday night around 8:00 PM, plenty of time to enjoy dinner at the on-site restaurant, its large windows and close proximity to the 18th green providing a great view and free entertainment watching golfers make a mess of the home hole. Speaking of great views, the 48 rooms in the four lodges adjacent to the sixth fairway offer up floor-to-ceiling windows and great little details. Everything is geared for a comfortable stay. For the first time since I can remember, I slept with the windows open.

Though he’s quick to deflect credit to others, that attention to detail is a credit to co-owner (w/ Bandonista Mike Keiser) Ben Cowan-Dewar (BCD), who can best be described as the driving force behind Cabot Links. This was his baby. He worked tirelessly to turn this abandoned seaside coal mine into Canada’s first true links course. I’m sure there were times where things looked grim and he kept plugging away to make this dream a reality. He uprooted his family from Toronto to Inverness to oversee construction and now manages the day-to-day operations (and now overseeing construction of a second course, Cabot Cliffs, a design by Coore & Crenshaw. I got a brief tour of the property and some of the initial routing and tree clearing – all I’m at liberty to say is "Wow").

After spending time with BCD, I couldn’t help but think of my friend Rob Rigg, an equally focused, equally passionate and equally Canadian golfer/family man who turned that passion into something tangible. Rigg saw that nearly all golf shoes were uncomfortable and ill-suited for walking, and ended up revolutionizing an industry. While most days I sit at a computer pipedreaming about someday building my own golf course, Ben went out and did it. Now twice. Meeting guys like this through golf only fuels my passion for wanting to make HHH everything it can be.

One of the first things you’ll notice about Cabot Links is how closely ingrained it is with the community of Inverness. It is right off the small town’s main strip. Although I haven’t been anywhere in Scotland other than St. Andrews, it is what I would picture of a small town in Scotland, with the golf course part of the city center and very much the fabric of life for all of its residents. And from what I could tell, Cabot Links is starting to have that kind of impact in Inverness.

Ben was supposed to join me on Monday, but a foot injury forced him to postpone his charity hike for the lunch programs and sports programs at the local K-12 school. Given a) he lives in town and b) he owns the place, I’m sure he’ll be able to find a suitable alternative date. The original plan was to tee off on the 9th hole at 5:00 AM, which would allow us to finish on the 18th green for the 100th and final hole of the day. The caddies graciously volunteered to help out throughout the day. In fact, in what I take to be a testament to the caddies and charitable nature of my new Canadian friends, they had more caddies volunteer than they had spots to fill.

The silver lining to Ben’s absence was that I was able to forge ahead flying solo and on a much quicker pace. Knowing by now that there's enough light on 30-minutes either side of sunrise and sunset to see the ball, I pushed for a 4:45 AM tee time. There to meet me early Monday morning was Neal, perhaps the most energetic 70-ish year old person you'll ever meet. By 4:38 AM, I was off with a drive down the middle and the first Hundred Hole Hike in Canada was on its way.

One of the unique things about the Cabot hike was that I had a fresh caddie after each round. I think each was eager to post the best time and best score, as they often zipped on ahead of me and gave me a good pace to keep to. Also, it provided me an opportunity to get to know each a little better. Seven of the caddies -- Neal, Bruce, Keith, Eddie, A.R., Steve and Jim, were all older gentlemen in or near retirement.  Some had been born and raised in the area, only to have to leave to find work, then ultimately came back.  Others had lived and worked here their whole lives.  Each had the work ethos that you'd expect from a small, Canadian fishing town. I'm sure many of them could've walked 100 holes in a day without problem.

I also got the sense that the caddies truly loved the place. Neal kept popping up throughout the day, first as a caddie obviously, then showing up in round 3 while on a walk, then I ran into him as he was playing golf in the afternoon. Both Neal and Bruce pulled alongside the road later in the day to see how I was holding up and to witness some very mediocre golf played quickly.  They had a genuine interest in the event and how I was faring on their turf.

Frankly, I did not fare nearly as well as I would've liked. Despite having a decent sense of the greens (aggressive is key), I couldn't seem to capitalize on the infrequent birdie opportunity. My driver was off for most of the day, and I found many holes difficult to unlock even after multiple plays to the same pin positions. The par 5s are very strong at Cabot, and definitely confounding.  The 2nd hole baffled me to no end. A perfectly placed pot bunker at the crest of the hill wreaked havoc, and I never even hit into it.  The 13th green shares a double green with the 4th, and has a valley of sin-esque swale guarding the approach shot. I couldn't get myself to aim down the left side with the beach running parallel to the hole, therefore I was forced to negotiate a 90-125 yard shot from the right, across the swale and to the pin just on the other side of a large ridge.  Good luck with that one.

Also, the par 4 8th hole was a personal nemesis throughout the day.  I made eagle on the hole on Sunday by driving the green to less than four feet. Perhaps I disappointed the golf gods by gloating about the shot and basking in the limelight everytime my playing partners Neal and Diane retold it to someone new, because Monday was payback time.  The first four rounds I hooked the ball into the frog-infested swamp guarding the entire right side of the hole. I managed to hit the fairway in onlynone round, and even lost a ball on both the drive and approach  in the sixth and eighth rounds. All told, I played the 335-yard hole +12 for the day with nine lost-ball penalties.

I was losing golf balls left and right, and losing faith in my golf swing as the day wore on. My scores slowly deteriorated from respectable to rotten. The first five rounds went 82-81-83-82-85 in times ranging from 1:30 to 1:50 (the slowest due to a 10-minute oatmeal break in Rd 3). The clips were slightly slower than the rounds at Pinehurst and Ballyneal, though Cabot made up time by having the 1st tee so close to the 18th green.  Often, the transition from the end of one round to the beginning of the next, with caddie transfer and the prefunctary picture, was less than two minutes.

Similar to my Pinehurst hike, burning around a course open to the public meant playing through a lot of groups.  Director of Golf Joe Robinson and the staff at Cabot were fantastic in working through the logistics. During the busier rounds, a forecaddie walked ahead and informed groups that I was coming up. All of the golfers we met were extremely supportive and excited to be a part of this special day.

On the 10th tee of the 6th round, Notorious BCD was there to greet me and snap some pictures of my 100th hole. Thankfully, I hit a nice 6-iron to the back of the green and lagged it to a couple feet. 100 holes were in the books. Just 101 more holes at St. Andrews and I would hit my goal of 500 holes for the Solich Academy in Denver and the Evans Scholars Foundation. The end.

Yeah, right. I had to keep going. Mainly because it was 1:45 PM and there was over seven hours of daylight left. Also because Cabot, like Bandon, has the after 36 holes your golf is free policy, and everybody knows there's nothing better in the world than free golf. And of course pushing the number higher meant more many raised for my causes.

Based primarily on my time spent with the caddies and staff at Cabot, I also wanted to do something for the community of Inverness. I came up with an idea to create a special pledge for my bonus golf above holes 100, with the proceeds going to the Inverness school lunch program and sports program that Ben was already walking for. I personally committed to $5/hole, with a promise to match any other pledges up to a total of $10/hole. Fortunately, a few friends and fellow hikers chimed in with their support right away. I felt this extra motivation would help me down the stretch.

There was a foursome on the 11th tee as I putted out on number 10. It turned out to be the same group that I had played through on the 3rd green of my 5th round, meaning that I had played 24 holes in the time it took them to play seven.  Each player had his/her own caddie and with Ben and my caddie, there was quite a party watching me hit the terrifying tee shot around or over water on this cape hole.  Normally such attention would mean one thing - a quick, duck hook, but I managed to hit my best drive of the day, a towering shot that carried the corner safely onto the fairway.

The rest of the sixth round went relatively smoothly (46-39 85, 1:47 split), but from the start of the 7th round, it looked like this bonus golf idea was a big mistake. Upon meeting my 15-year old caddie Ryan, I remarked that he was the youngest caddie that day by a good 50 years. I honestly felt bad for subjecting a minor to such a horrifying display of golf.  He might be scarred for life. I made four triple bogeys on the front nine, including a myriad of shanks, topped shots and worm burners.  I was one whiff away from hitting for golf's golden sombrero.

Though Ryan did yeomans work trying to stay positive and keep me headed in the right direction, I had hit the wall and was completely famished. I'll say that I was bonking to throw out a term that makes me  sound like a real marathon athlete, but truth is I have no idea what that means. I hadn't eaten anything since that early bowl of oatmeal, and all I could think about was the halfway house.  I managed to par the tough 9th hole from the left fairway bunker, thanks to a nifty flop shot from short of the green.  That par saved me the embarrassment of posting a 54. 53 seemed so much more respectable.

On the 10th,  I hit my tee shot, then sat on the bench and devoured a caramel candy bar and bag of sun chips [you know's funny about Canada and America? It's the little differences.  I saw this mostly with candy bars. You can't find snickers or M&M's here, instead they have other candy like Caramilk and the not-so-subtle innuendo known as Mr. Big (I can only image the advertising campaign). Even the same candy like Kit-Kat has a different, shinier wrapper and a 'crunchy' version.  I'm not even sure what that means.] That lunch of champions thankfully got me back on the right track, and I started to hit something resembling a golf shot. I got around the back nine in 39 (Cabot has a PacDunesish 37-33 par set-up, with four par 3's on the back. For the day, I averaged seven strokes worse on the front nine, never shooting better than 42 on the front while never shooting worse than 39 on the back nine.)

Towards the end of the 7th round, I started getting text messages from Harris. He was done playing 18 and wanted to help caddie for my next round. Given my state of play and the course providing more than enough caddies, I urged him to go off and get another round in.  Still, as I putted out on 18, Harris was there waiting, willing to help out in any way possible.

That's when I had the idea to have Harris play with me. I also decided that we would play 24 more holes to make it a round 150 holes played. Those turned out to be the best decisions I made all day.

I also declared on the first tee that we would play a singles match. Given I had just come off 126 holes and a smooth 92 and last I knew, Harris was a 2 or 3 handicap, there was a good chance I was going to get Stephen Amesed, but at least I'd have something to take my mind off the death march.

Facing Harris, I really only three things going for me: my caddie Jim, my seven rounds of experience of the pin positions and the ability to play bad golf quickly. We've seen Tiger slow-play his playing partners to gain a competitive advantage. Poor Harris couldn't keep up with the break-neck pace. I won the first hole with a nice lag putt. I benevolently offered a halve on the second hole after I made double-bogey while Harris mistakenly thought the green was 70 yards left of where it actually is. Harris couldn't quite get the speed of the greens right, and I slowly built the lead. By the turn, it was starting to get ugly, and eventually I had him dormie with five holes to play.

Harris won the 14th with a birdie and got it to 3 down after the 15th. After Harris piped his drive on the tough but beautiful 16th, I was fairly certain I was going to lose the last five holes. But I hunkered down and smoked a drive down the middle, the ball ending up adjacent to Harris's.

I was away by about a yard, and my caddie Jim called out the yardage: 164 yards to the pin, 151 yards to the front of the green. Downwind, I yanked a pitching wedge that fortunately caught the right edge of the green.

Harris was up next, and he fired right at the flag. "Oh yeah, be right," he said confidently.

Then the ball landed 10 yards short of the green. "Did you say 151?" Harris asked my caddie, still baffled how his ball ended up short.

"Yes, 151 to the front edge."

Based on his reaction, I believe Harris thought that was the number to then pin. I lagged to about 6-7 feet above the hole. Harris putted up the big slope and came up 7-8 feet short. He knew he had to make his next putt and hope I would miss. Still, his next putt curled to the left of the hole and short. My putt was inconsequential, but I rolled in my par putt. Colton wins 4&2. Harris's golf buddy Matt was following the action on Twitter: "You've brought shame to our country on Canada Day!" he scolded Harris from afar. My guess is he won't be able to live down losing to a guy on his 8th round for a long time.

Predictably, we both reverted to the mean the last two holes after it no longer mattered. Harris nearly birdied 17 and hit a big drive on 18. I had to pull off some short game magic just to make bogey on each. I ended up with an 81 to match my lowest round of the day. We played a two-ball in about two hours and five minutes.

One of the cool things about Cabot is there are numerous mini-loops you can play at the end of the day. Looking for six holes to get to 150 and wanting to finish on the 18th hole, a loop starting with 1 & 2 then hopping over to 15 to play the closing four holes was the perfect solution.

We were joined by Ben Hilliard, a Facebook friend from Australia who I met at Bandon a couple years back. Ben was a turf-grass intern at St Andrews' and now works on the maintenance staff at Cabot in the mornings and caddies in the afternoon. He was a caddy in that group that I played through twice.

Ben had more youthful energy than both Harris and me combined. He stormed down the first fairway as we lagged well behind. On the green, both Harris and I lagged our par putts to within a foot of the hole. Ben then picked up both balls off the green and went to hand them to us to go to the next hole.

"Wait...I have to putt everything out," I informed Ben. Ben quickly dropped both balls and reassembled them close to their original positions.

"I don't care about putting out!" Harris admitted, picking up his ball and heading off to the next tee.

A heavy fog rolled in for that last stretch of holes. On the par 3 17th, my last hope for a hole-in-one, I fired a 8-iron right at the flag.

"Go in the hole!!!" I pleaded. I had all those same thoughts while the ball was in the air like I did at Highlands Links, plus the thought of a HHHole-in-one being worth about $3,000 for charity. The back left pin position masked the view of the bottom of the flagstick.  We waited anxiously for the sweet sound of that cowbell.  Unfortunately, none came. And yes, I three-putted from six feet.

Like our 4th of July, our friends to the North celebrate their birthday with barbecues and fireworks. Inverness had plans to launch their fireworks from the bay by the 11th hole, perfectly viewable from the course. I imagined a picture of me putting out on the 18th hole for the last time at dusk, with the fireworks going off in the background.  Instead, the fireworks were postponed due to the fog  and damp conditions.

My consolation prize: one last cowbell. 150 holes played, 150 little cracker-jack prizes in the form of a chime. I looked forward to the hearing the bell each hole. It kept me going.  And I look forward to hearing them again, and seeing my new friends in Nova Scotia, as soon as possible.

By the numbers:
Holes 150
Miles ~50
Strokes 699, +115
Stroke Avg 83.9
Par 3 Avg 3.63
Par 4 Avg 4.75
Par 5 Avg 6.04
GIR 41.3%
Par 3 GIR 46.3%
Par 4 GIR 40.5%
Par 5 GIR 36.0%
Fairway 56.0%
Eagle 0
Birdie 3
Par 58
Bogey 67
Dbl Bogey 15
Trp Bogey 7
Quad Bogey 0
Par 3 Bird% 2.4%
Par 4 Bird% 2.4%
Par 5 Bird% 0.0%
Putts/Rd 34.9
Putts/GIR 1.98
0 Putts 0
1 Putts 29
2 Putts 111
3 Putts 10
4 Putts 0
Best Ball Score: 67
Worst Ball Score: 104
Easiest Hole: 15th, 4.33 (+3)
Hardest Hole: 8th, 5.50 (+12)
Golf Balls Lost: 29
Match Play Record: 1-0

More Hundred Hole Hike:
Part One: Pinehurst
Part Two: Ballyneal
Final Leg: St. Andrews (coming soon)

Note: I am walking 500+ holes for charity as part of the Hundred Hole Hike, a charity golf event that I founded in 2012. I am raising money for the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy in Denver and the Evans Scholars Foundation. If you'd like to support my hike, please go to the link below and click on any one of the "Pledge Thru Me" buttons on the page. Also, please review any of the 84 other hikers participating for a variety of worthwhile causes.


Wegoblogger #31 © 2011 | Designed by Bingo Cash, in collaboration with Modern Warfare 3, VPS Hosting and Compare Web Hosting