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.

Reader’s Trip Report: Pinehurst, North Carolina

photo 1

This year’s U.S. Open and the U.S. Women’s Open will be held at Pinehurst during consecutive weeks, beginning on June 12 (for the men) and June 19 (for the women). The U.S.G.A. has never tried that before, although my club has done it successfully with the men’s and women’s member-guests. Adam Sachs, a reader in Kansas City, recently traveled to Pinehurst with three friends to check things out.

Sachs 9

Sachs is the guy in the middle in the photo above. The guy on the left is Steve Swartzman, and the guy on the right is Chip Fleischer, whose fiftieth birthday was their excuse for taking the trip. They all went to high school together. We haven’t met Glenn Jordan, the fourth member of the group, yet, but you get the idea.

Pinehurst flag

From Sachs’s report:
Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore happily brought Pinehurst No. 2 back to its sandy Donald Ross roots in 2011. As for its altogether vexing, convex-shaped greens, our caddies Eddie Mac and Jamie liked to say, “Mr. Ross likes you to visit, but he doesn’t want you to stay too long.” The restored waste areas now define the course as much as the greens. We had top-notch caddies, a sun-drenched afternoon, and nary a gust of wind, so scoring conditions were ripe. I’d like to tell you we all managed to stay in the nineties. But I can’t.

No 2

Pinehurst No. 2 is definitely bucket-list material, but from now on my destination courses in the area will be Pine Needles and Mid Pines, just five miles down the road. Pine Needles has hosted three U.S. Women’s Opens in the past twenty years, yet the clubhouse personnel were low-key and friendly; the practice area was conveniently close to the first tee; and the golf course was full of rolling hills and (of course) pine needles. Our hands-down favorite course of the trip was Mid Pines: 

mid pines

I myself haven’t been to Pinehurst in about ten years, and I want to go back. And here, finally, in the photo below, is Jordan, the fourth man. He’s standing with Swartzman, even though the guy he went to college with is Fleischer. Jordan is a sportswriter for the Portland (Maine) Press-Herald.

chip (1)

Sachs also forwarded me an email from Swartzman, whose post-trip reflections support my theory that men get to know each other mainly through parallel play:
As I told Adam in the car (to Adam’s relief, driven by someone other than me) on the way home, I’m not sure what I’ll say when Evelina asks me what we talked about all weekend.  She’ll want to know what everyone’s doing and how old their kids are, and she’ll ask about everyone’s health, summer plans, sex lives, etc. Of course, we didn’t talk about any of that. Should I tell her about Chip and Adam almost choking at the thought that a waitress had farted after delivering our food (when in fact it was me)? Or about how serious everyone was about taking home a large glass boot? The great thing about gatherings like this is how little we talk about our lives, our cares and concerns, or the future.
I couldn’t agree more. They’ll be plenty of time for all that other crap in the grave. Meanwhile, check out these urinals:

urinals midpines

Reader’s Trip Report: Sand Hills Golf Club

Sand Hills Golf Club, 16th hole.

Adam Sachs, a reader from Kansas City, recently returned from a trip to Sand Hills Golf Club, near Mullen, Nebraska. Excerpts from his report:

Sand Hills is a sublime private venue for purists willing to travel ten hours or more to The Middle of Nowhere, Nebraska. Here’s the pre-game formula:

(1) Either fly to Denver or Omaha and drive four hours on I-80, then another one to two hours through a landscape that looks like what you might think you’d see on the moon, including sand-dune craters; or fly private or commercial into North Platte and drive an hour and fifteen minutes up state highway 97 to mile maker 55.  (Note: if you reach Mullen, the closest town, you’ve gone about thirteen miles too far north.)

(2) Drive about two and a half miles down a winding road, free from power lines or really much of anything, veer straight/left past Crenshaw Drive.

(3) Introduce yourself to the nice lady at the reception desk, identify your host, get your cabin assignment, load up your travel bags on a golf cart and take a short drive around back to some sparse but comfortable cabins: two firm queen mattresses, a couple of small TVs, a completely adequate bathroom with a shower, and a telephone for calls up to the Clubhouse and long distance collect calls. (There is almost no cell phone coverage and only limited Wi-Fi, in the lobby of the decidedly humble clubhouse.)

Seventeenth green.

I convinced my wife I had to go because my new client invited me. Turned out he checked himself into the hospital the night before the trip with chest pains. He’s fine—a little blood-pressure issue—but he never made it to Sand Hills. I played with ten guys I had never met and hardly know a thing about (besides their home courses: Castle Pines, Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, etc.) and had a fantastic time.

You can read Adam’s blow-by-blow account of his favorite holes here.The photos are his, too—including this one:

Dan Daly, the chef at the halfway house, preparing the staple meal of my own Sunday Morning Group.