Stanley Thompson was one of the great golf architects, and is responsible for many of the best courses in Canada. He designed St Georges, Capllano, Hamilton, Jasper & Banff Spring and many more...
In the depth of the depression years in the 1930's Thompson approached the Canadian government with the suggestion that championship golf courses be built in the National Parks, and when this radical suggestion was embraced he went on to build the wonderful Highland Links in the Cape Breton Highland National Park.
Cape Breton is about as remote as it gets, but the terrain is spectacular. Thompson routed a course that takes you from sea views and clifftop golf into marshland, heavily forested hills, river gullies, and more. Even though he reputedly used aerial photography, I just cannot imagine how he could envisage such a routing in his day.
The course has significant elevation change, and long walks between greens and tees- so it is not really a walking course. What a pity!
It would have been one of the great walks in golf, with the variety in terrains all adding to the spectacle, as well as the drama on the golf course.
One of the outstanding features of the course is 'the rumple'- the natural rolling fairways with dips and bumps and hollows so that hardly a level stance can be found. It is natural and you just can't beat that natural look. And I love playing these surfaces where you need to adjust your stance and swing to play the course as intended.
The green surfaces were of the same ilk, generally largish with subtle movement. The bunkering was I thought a little underwhelming, although I believe some renovation work has been undertaken by Canadian architect Ian Andrew. More needs to be done. Ian Andrew has long been a student of Thompson's work and is the perfect man to bring it back to life...
Currently renovation work is concentrating on the removal of many of the trees that have cluttered the course over the years. Pictures of the course in 1941 are set on the tees to illustrate just how much the course has been overgrown and what needs to be done.
Favourite holes include:
- Tam O'Shanter- the impressive long par 4 second hole with a downhill approach to a green protected by a steep bank in front
- Lochan- the par 3 third hole over the water
- Heich O'Fash- hole 4- a shortish twisting rolling dogleg par 4, with a small raised green that is not so easy to hit...
- Mucklemouth Meg- hole 7- a dramatic par 5 where the elevated tee shot really asks the question- the carry over water is long, the cross winds knock the ball around, and there is water all the way down the right as well. It's one of the great tee shots!
- Cuddy's Lugs- the short sharply downhill par 3 tenth hole
- Dowie Den- hole 17- a downhill par 3 with teeth.
Highland Links is a course worth travelling to play. The scenery is exceptional , and the course itself is like no other with enormous variety in terrain and the golf holes themselves. You can stay on course at Keltic Lodge where work proceeds on the renovation of both the hotel and the golf course. It is planned that all the renovation work will be complete within the next 2 years...
Highland Links is one step away from being top shelf on a world scale, but possibilities abound. Canadian developer Jamie Pyper had suggested some time ago that the in and out roads be combined to leave the coastal land free for opening and closing holes. And a couple of clifftop holes would really raise the profile of this terrific old course
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