Why Howard Was Completely Wrong About Our Buddies Trip to Nova Scotia

Eight friends and I recently spent four days playing six and a half rounds at Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, on Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia. There would have been twelve of us if three of the five lawyers in the original group hadn’t dropped out. The first lawyer to bail was Howard, whose principal objections were: (a) traveling to Cabot takes longer than traveling to Scotland; (b) playing two golf courses three times each is a waste of a good golf trip; and (c) overseas golf itineraries should consist solely of famous old courses that have been famous for a long time.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

It’s true that Cabot is slightly tricky to get to. Unless you have your own airplane, you fly to Halifax and then drive for three hours. But the flight is a breeze, especially by comparison with any flight to the British Isles—it’s less than two hours from either New York or Boston—and the drive, which follows the coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, is pleasant in itself, especially if, as in our case, you’re being driven in one of Cabot’s fleet of eleven-passenger Mercedes vans. And once you’ve arrived at Cabot you don’t have to travel again until it’s time to go home. (There’s an ice-cream stand across the street, but you can walk.)

As for repeatedly playing the same two golf courses, I think three rounds could be considered the minimum ideal exposure to any great golf course. Repetition on that scale is hard to pull off if you’re racing death to the end of your bucket list, but you can’t fully appreciate a course until you given yourself opportunities to make up for bad shots and stupid decisions in earlier rounds. Besides, the best courses improve with repetition.

Photo by Mike Bowman.

Both courses at Cabot also belong on the surprisingly long list of new and relatively new courses that hold their own in any comparison with the great courses of the past. (Cabot Links was designed by Rod Whitman, a Canadian protégé of Bill Coore’s, and Cabot Cliffs was designed by Coore and Ben Crenshaw.) And Cabot comes very close to my conception of the ideal golf resort.

Photo by Mike Bowman.

Our rooms—all of which overlooked both the golf course and the water—were nice, but not too nice. The food was good, but not ridiculous. The staff was unfailingly friendly and accommodating without ever seeming overbearing. The week after our visit, one of the members of the women’s version of our club’s Sunday Morning Group went to Cabot with a friend. They liked it so much that, before they left, they signed up for a return visit, in the fall. All the guys on our trip are going to go back, too, Howard be damned.

Photo by Mike Bowman.

A Golfer’s Bucket List: No. 7


Make a hole-in-one, hit a 300-yard drive, reach a par-5 in two, drive a short par‑4, shoot your age, make a natural eagle, make a natural birdie—or achieve some other personal best that you aren’t likely to repeat. I once hit a good drive on a par-5 on a course whose name you would recognize in an instant. I asked my caddie how far I had left to the pond in front of the green, intending to lay up, and he gave me a fierce look that translated roughly as, “Are you so bored with life that you are willing to squander what may be the only opportunity you may ever have to duplicate the Shot Heard Round the World?” Chastened, I chose a fairway wood, made a good swing, and put my ball on the green. I didn’t make a double eagle, an eagle, or a birdie, and I almost didn’t make a par, but the caddie was right, of course. Nobody on his deathbed ever consoled himself with memories of hitting the fat part of the green in three.

A Golfer’s Bucket List: No. 6

Home course, flooded fairways, September, 2011.

Home course, flooded fairways, September, 2011.

Play in weather so miserable (lightning excluded) that yours is the only group left on the course. Old golf joke: An obsessed golfer heads to the club in pouring rain for his regular Saturday-morning game. The storm turns out to be too intense even for him, so he returns home, takes off his wet clothes, and slides back into bed next to his wife. “The weather’s horrible,” he whispers, and she says, “And can you believe it? My idiot husband is out there playing golf.”

Gairloch, Scotland, May, 2007.

Gairloch, Scotland, May, 2007.

He should have stayed at the club. Golf was invented in a country where bad weather is almost the only kind, so to take the game’s full measure you have to play it occasionally when all the sensible people are indoors watching Sports Center. There’s something sublime about putting through casual water or over pea-size hail, especially if you have the course to yourself.

On the road to Tralee, Ireland, May, 2006.

On the road to Tralee, Ireland, May, 2006.

A Golfer’s Bucket List: No. 5

The Lord, Other Gene, Member-Guest, 2008.

The Lord, Other Gene, Member-Guest, 2010.

Win something.  Not the U.S. Open, probably—maybe not even the super senior flight of the Memorial Day Scotch Foursome—but a title of some kind in a contest that makes your heart pound when you’re called to the first tee. Surprisingly many golfers pass through the game without ever entering an organized competition and, therefore, without ever sampling their own adrenaline on a golf course. Competing is a good way to meet other golfers, and making a putt that means something while others watch is a thrill that doesn’t fade quickly. Harry Hurt III, in his book Chasing the Dream (about his failed attempt, during his early forties, to become a professional golfer), writes that his father, on his deathbed, didn’t know the day, the year, or the name his doctor, but did remember what he had shot when he won the pro-am at Seminole: “One over.” (In fact, those were his last words). My own father was a terrible golfer—when he talked about “one over,” he meant 101—but he had a golf trophy on his dresser, and for a number years he kept his clubs in a leather bag that was too heavy even to put on a golf cart. Both the trophy and the bag were prizes from some long-ago member-guest, forgotten by everyone but him.


A Golfer’s Bucket List: No. 4 (T.P.C. Edition)

TPC at Sawgrass, February 9, 2009.

TPC at Sawgrass, February 9, 2009.

Play the Stadium Course at the TPC at Sawgrass. Hacking your way around a memorable course that you can watch the pros play on TV is both exciting and instructive, and the Stadium Course is the most engaging regular tour venue that mere civilians can play for a somewhat reasonable price. Bay Hill, Cog Hill, Doral, Harbour Town, and Torrey Pines are also possibilities. So is Pebble Beach, although eighteen holes there, including the obligatory add-ons, may cost more than the annual dues at your home club, and your round will seem to last for several days, and the greens will disappoint you, and the people in the group in front of yours will turn out to have taken up golf the day before yesterday. The Stadium Course is fun to play, and when you later watch The Players Championship—the fifth major!—on TV you will recognize more than just the last two holes. Playing a tour course will help you appreciate how the pros make their living, and the next time Tiger or Rory or Rickie dumps one in the water on seventeen you can tell your buddies, “Hey, I’ve done that.”

Seventeenth green, TPC at Sawgrass.

Seventeenth green, TPC at Sawgrass.

A Golfer’s Bucket List: No. 3


Devote a month or two to becoming somewhat more competent at the part of your game you hate the most. All golfers have shots that give them the heebie-jeebies. I know players whose preferred club for sand shots is a rake, and others who are so terrified of chipping that they sometimes putt from the rough. Few of us will ever master a real golf swing, but most of us would enjoy our favorite pastime more if we could reduce the anxiety caused by our weakest weakness. For yippers, the flaw may lie too deep for therapy. For almost everyone else, though, the worst problems can be moderated with professional intervention. In some cases, the answer might even be to invest in modern equipment. I’ve known several old guys who lived to play golf but insisted, out of sheer cussedness, on continuing to use the rusting, groove-less, stiff-shafted blades they loved in their prime. I once saw my club’s oldest member, a wealthy nonagenarian, inspecting an ultra-forgiving senior-shafted driver in the golf shop but deciding, after lengthy equivocation, not to upgrade from the ancient sledgehammer in his bag. I asked him (good-naturedly), “What are you waiting for, Doug—the grave?”

Slade chip front

A Golfer’s Bucket List: No. 2

Tony, Hacker (real name), Harry, Stanley, Ray. Bay Course, Seaview Resort, Atlantic City, New Jersey, October, 2007.

2. Go on a golf-only trip with people who love golf as much as you do.  The ideal itinerary consists of the British Open rota plus a dozen or so courses in Ireland and Northern Ireland, but the destination is actually secondary. The high point of my golf year is usually the Sunday Morning Group’s annual weekend excursion to Atlantic City—a trip that our wives let us take because we have been able to prove mathematically that sending us and our golf clubs away for a couple of days each fall is cheaper and more restful than keeping us at home. Absecon Bay ain’t the Firth of Forth, but golf is golf, and playing a full schedule with like-minded companions is bliss. Lying on a beach or lounging on the deck of a cruise ship won’t prevent you from brooding about your job, your debts, your disappointments, or the condition of the world. Playing thirty-six a day with favorite playing partners, in contrast, leaves room for nothing but your slice and deciding where to eat dinner.

To be continued.

Other Gene, Ray, David O., Tony, Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland, May, 2008.

A Golfer’s Bucket List: No. 1

My luck-of-the-draw playing partners at Tarbat Golf Club, a ten-hole course in Portmahomack, Scotland, across Dornoch Firth from Royal Dornoch Golf Club. I don’t remember their names, but they lived nearby and worked in the oil industry. They were playing in a tournament but had no expectation of winning anything and so didn’t mind having me along. May, 2007.

Life, I discovered recently, is much shorter than it seemed to be when I was fifteen years old and waiting to get my driver’s license. I’m going to turn sixty in a little over two years, and not long ago I realized with distress that I scarcely have enough time left to paint the rest of my shutters, much less to qualify for the senior tour. And what about that twenty pounds I was going to lose?

Fortunately, I’ve already managed to accomplish more than I ever thought I would. In a club tournament a few years ago, I five-putted from six feet, turning a merely bad round into one that I’ll be able to boast about to my grandchildren. I also once spent part of a family vacation writing an apology letter to the entire membership of my golf club, after (allegedly) behaving like a man half my age.

Now that I really am my age, I intend to devote the dwindling remainder of my time on earth to telling other people what to do. Here is the first of ten important things that I think every serious golfer ought to try to accomplish before it’s too late:

1. Explore golf from the singles line. Like most golfers, I play most of my rounds with people I know already—guys I tend to think of as my best friends, even though I’m not sure where some of them work or whether they have kids. However, I’ve played more than a few of my favorite rounds with total strangers after showing up at an unfamiliar course by myself or with less than a full foursome. At various times over the years, on golf courses on four continents, I’ve fortuitously been paired with: a French real estate developer who had a weekend house in Morocco, a guy who owned and operated a souvlaki pushcart in Manhattan, the man who served as the Senate’s chief counsel during the Iran-Contra hearings, a retired Korean wigmaker, three guys who were playing hooky from their jobs on the assembly line at Boeing, a future chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a teacher who had recently started a golf program at an inner-city high school, a retired cotton broker who had once been a colleague of Paul McCartney’s father, and an unemployed carpenter who looked like George Carlin and told me that the key to golf is to “swing easy as hard as you can.” How many other relatively ordinary activities throw you together with people like that for an afternoon?

To be continued.

The ninth/eighteenth at Tarbat. This is one of my favorite golf holes anywhere: a short par-four that plays either around, over, alongside, or into a cemetery, depending on the shape and length of your tee shot.