Cabot Saint Lucia ready to wow the golf world
When Ben Cowan-Dewar first came to Saint Lucia seven years ago to see if some 350 acres of available land would be suitable for a golf course, he would pack some water, get a driver to drop him off at 8 a.m., and tell him to return at 2 p.m.
For the next six hours, he would wander over the hills and down to the coastline, not so much surveying the property but letting the land wash over him.
Certainly, what was in front of him was jaw-dropping: volcanic hills filled with a wide range of vegetation dropping to rocky outcrops that jutted into the ocean where waves crashed, spraying the beaches on the vast stretches of coastline.
“I think it's the only way I know how to figure out whether I really want to do something,” said Cowan-Dewar, the Toronto-based co-founder and chief executive officer of Cabot, the golf course developer, of his long walks. “I’m sure other people have lots of different processes. Some people can do it from maps. I just really want to be in the place.”
There were numerous hikes as Cowan-Dewar, who has played almost every great course in the world, tried to see a course, imagine holes that would make this another gem in an expanding jewelry box of great courses under the Cabot banner. It’s something he’s done since his childhood, when he used to draw imaginary holes on paper during school hours.
On one walk, his wife, Allie, accompanied him. They paused near a high point, looking out over the property and he pointed out what he imagined if the course was to be built. She turned to him and said: “You’re doing this. I can tell just by looking at you.”
Indeed he was, and at that moment Cabot Saint Lucia went from an idea into a project, one that has the potential to rival or even exceed any golf course in the world as far as beauty and playability are concerned.
Bill Coore has come to expect the unexpected when it comes to Cowan-Dewar. Coore, and his partner Ben Crenshaw, have designed some of the world’s best golf courses, including Cabot Cliffs, ranked as the No.-1 golf course in Canada.
“When I see Ben’s name come up on my phone, I know it's going to be something interesting,” he said with a wide smile. “I don't know exactly what that's going to be, but it will be interesting.”
The first call concerning Cabot Saint Lucia was, well, very interesting. Cowan-Dewar sent along some photographs of the property and Coore saw the same coastline and promontories along the ocean that Cowan-Dewar had on his walks. But he also saw the sharp climbs away from the ocean that would be hard to transform into golf holes.
“My first reaction was that it was off-the-charts spectacular,” stated Coore. “But it was also severe.”
While it would be easy to see some dramatic holes along the water, the challenge for the architects would be to build the inland ones that would add to the overall experience. The land rose up quickly from the water, and finding room for tees and fairways and greens in what was almost entirely rock seemed next to impossible.
But impossible is not a word in Cowan-Dewar’s vocabulary. He convinced Coore to pay a visit to the site and then, after a walk around, offered up some encouragement.
“To Ben’s credit, he just said, ‘I believe you guys can do this,’” Coore recalled. “In so many ways, at Cabot Cliffs to some degree, and (at Saint Lucia) to a much greater degree, he has challenged us, pushed us to go outside our comfort zone. This may end up looking like we just laid it on the ground. Hopefully it will but there’s been some pretty serious work there to make some of these holes.”
Coore and Crenshaw have often been labelled as minimalist in their designs. This is not a minimalist course.
During a February visit, 14 holes were grassed in and, for the most part, playable. Four more were still under construction but carved out of the land awaiting the final steps. The plan is to open for play on Dec. 1.
What’s clear is that the Point Hardy Golf Club, the official name of the layout, is stunning. That’s really not a strong enough word to describe it but it’s truly thesaurus-defying. The beauty can’t really be described, it must be experienced.
The opening hole climbs to the top of wide ledge and then moves through a few more dramatic holes at the top of the property before tumbling down the fifth and sixth hole towards the water.
The fifth and sixth were among the most difficult to construct and provide a good indication of the demands of putting a course on this property. First, they required the movement of some natural drainage routes that had no doubt been in place for a century or more. Later, when COVID hit, it set timing back on course construction, but a crew of dedicated workers continued to plug away. The delay meant the two holes were seeded – it’s against the rules to import sod into Saint Lucia – right ahead of the rainy season. Just as the grass was taking, it stormed, water pouring down the holes, taking everything with it. It happened over and over.
“It had to be monumentally frustrating to finish something beautiful,” said Coore, “and then seed it and then watch it rain five or six inches in two days. And then wash out and wash out and wash out, repair, repair, repair going back two, three, four or five times and redoing the same things.”
Today, there’s no evidence of the challenges; everything on the holes look as if it has been sitting around waiting for someone to hit a shot since featherie balls were in use. That includes the green on the sixth, which is set up against an ocean backdrop. It’s the first of nine holes that plays by the water.
It’s followed by the seventh, a short par 3, with a green that sits out on a tiny spit of land. The eighth, where a tee shot needs to traverse a rocky inlet, and the ninth, a par 3 where the winds test a golfer’s confidence, play beside water, round out the front. The 10th once again climbs back up to the heights of the property providing an expansive view of the surrounding beauty.
The most memorable stretch of holes on the course and quite possibly on any course, anywhere, starts at the 15th. It’s a par 4 where the tee shot is played from a rocky point that juts into the ocean and must cross the water to a fairway that is slightly higher. It’s reminiscent of the 17th hole at Cabot Cliffs. At least, that’s how it appears today. In the early walk-through of the property, Cowan-Dewar showed the proposed hole to Coore, who didn’t see the same thing. He saw a wall of rock.
“I remember the two of us were standing there,” recalled Coore, “and he said, ‘Bill, you can play it from out here.’ I looked across and there's no fairway. There's just a cliff and then it goes up from there. But to his credit, he told us we could do this, that he believed we could do it.”
And they did it, lowering the level into a fairway that is now the landing area for a challenging tee shot on a short par 4. It looks as if it was always there, just waiting to be found.
The 16th is a gorgeous par 3 where the tee shot once again needs to get over the ocean waves. On most courses this hole would rank as the most beautiful, memorable on the course. But when you walk to the next tee, you can be forgiven for having no memory of the last hole.
The back tee on the 17th is not large. Players need to climb a thin hill to the flat spot at the top that is just wide enough to play home to the teeing ground. Massive waves crash below sometimes rising high enough to blur the view of the green on the other side, 186 yards away.
If the 16th at Cabot Cliffs was the most photographed hole in the world the last few years, the 17th at Point Hardy is a good bet to claim those honours in 2024.
The final hole is a wonderful par 5 that gives players a chance to try to fly a second shot over Donkey Beach and finish in style or take a safer route to the green with three swipes. No matter what you choose, when you finish, you’ll be standing there, looking at the ocean, drinking it all in.
It’s easy to see that Point Hardy will quickly rise to the top of must-play lists. It is bold, breath-taking and beguiling. When you think your senses can’t take any more, you’ll walk up to the next tee and attempt to absorb yet another stunning opportunity. The scenery and beauty are almost overwhelming, but the course is also exquisite from a playability standpoint too. Some of the best holes aren’t even on the water. But there is a careful balance of the parts assembled and it is nothing short of magnificent.
For Cowan-Dewar, it is another course that shows those days drawing holes on paper as a youngster didn’t go to waste. Cabot Links and Cliffs are both established, and more courses are being added to the collection in Revelstoke (B.C.), Citrus Farms (Florida) and Highlands (Scotland). All are currently under construction or renovation, and are expected to be equally impressive.
“I get so much joy from the process and so much joy from hearing how meaningful the golf courses are to others,” said Cowan-Dewar. “And most importantly, I get great joy from the communities in which we work and seeing the impacts of the investment and the jobs and really the opportunities we create. So, I think it's really not one singular thing. It's not about a number of pins in a map. I don't have any number of golf courses that I set in my mind I want to do, I just think it's as long as it's this much fun, we'll keep trying.”
Golf lovers should consider themselves lucky.