Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have planted their flags on plenty of stunning seaside sites. Their golf design team is responsible for such highly ranked coastal layouts as the Sheep Ranch at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon, Cabot Cliffs in Nova Scotia and Kapalua’s Plantation Course in Hawaii, among others.
They’ve built stop-you-in-your-tracks golf holes that seemingly hang over salt water from the U.S. to China to New Zealand. But their new course scheduled to open in 2022 at Cabot Saint Lucia in the Caribbean offered a unique set of opportunities – and challenges.
Named Cabot Point, the Windward Islands setting offered Coore and Crenshaw a jaw-dropping canvas rising out of the sea. But how to take a volcanic site that climbs straight up from the waves and construct a course that is playable, while staying true to the design duo’s ethos of low-to-the-ground, minimalist design?
“It wasn’t a challenge to build a golf course that would be photographically spectacular and dramatic and all those kinds of things,” Coore said. “The question was, could we possibly create a golf course with the playability aspects and let’s just call it the enjoyment factor? We had to make sure those two things would measure up with, at least approximately, the visual drama of the site. You know, Ben and I try to be very low key about everything. But it’s very possible that Cabot Saint Lucia is the most visually stunning and demanding site we have ever worked.
“The challenge is, will the course be really playable and enjoyable to play, or is it just going to be one of those courses that make for spectacular photography and dramatic situations and just incredibly dramatic shots, but that isn’t really that much of a joy to play.”
Among all their coastal layouts, the recently renovated Plantation Course provides an interesting comparison. Home each year to the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champion on Maui – which looks like a slice of tropical heaven to viewers stuck in mainland snow each January – the Plantation Course climbs a mountainside overlooking the Pacific. Think whales and long views across the sea to other volcanic islands.
The Plantation Course – ranked No. 1 in Hawaii among Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play – rises and falls about 400 feet from its lowest point to its highest and offers the most elevation change of any course on the PGA Tour. But Coore said that is mostly across long runs of elevation changes, which provided reasonable room for holes to be laid out without going too vertical from tee to green. Hilly, yes, but playable.
At Cabot Saint Lucia, the elevation changes are amplified.
“It’s a volcanic island, and the changes in elevation occur very quickly,” Coore said. “It’s not long runs of elevation changes like at Kapalua. It’s a shorter span. That was a challenge.”
Despite the vertical challenges, Coore said that when he first walked the site, he recognized many areas that looked like traditional golf architecture. He set about identifying where holes could fit to take advantage of the natural contours on the sometimes-rocky site.
“You have to put it all in context and try to visualize how the golf balls are going to react in the air and certainly on the ground,” Coore said. “The ideas of using the natural contours and of laying the golf course on those contours without altering the landforms to the point they’re unrecognizable, that applies. It’s to a different degree than what we normally do, but it’s the same basic philosophy applied on a somewhat different site. …
“Runoffs are very much a part of the golf course, and the ability to play the ball on the ground, that’s very much a part of the golf course. At the same time, we certainly were aware that in some of the fairways and borders and near some of the greens, we had to be careful that the golf ball wouldn’t get totally away from the players.”
Coore said there were spots on the property that would present incredible green sites, but the problem is how to approach those sites and retain enough playable areas to then play back away from those sites – that’s the trick.
“It’s all about the routing,” he said. “Not just how do you get to that green, but how do you get back out.”
He’s happy with how it all worked out, and the payoff should be fun, playable golf on paspalum grass with post-card views from each of the 18 holes.
“You would have to work really hard to get yourself into a position to not see the ocean from any hole,” Coore said. “I guess on some holes you might see the ocean on the tee and the ocean from the green, but you kind of go into a valley in the fairway. But for people who count those kinds of things, it would be 18 ocean-view holes.”
The course originally was slated to open in 2021. Then, COVID. Keith Rhebb, one of Coore and Crenshaw’s main course shapers, remained on the island for months early in the pandemic, often toiling by himself or with local workers when allowed. Rhebb’s frequent posts on social media have had many golf fans salivating over the Caribbean views and ready to hop on a plane as soon the course opens at a date to be determined in 2022.
All the plans for the site – which include a luxury home development – began with Ben Cowan-Dewar, the founder of Cabot Cape Breton and its two courses, Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links. Those are the top two on Golfweek’s Best Modern Canadian Courses list and have made it onto the bucket lists of golfers from around the world. Cowan-Dewar again partnered with Mike Keiser – founder of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon, among other properties – in developing a Cabot property, this time in a tropical environment atop Point Hardy above the Caribbean Sea.
“Ben was the visionary who found this property and this opportunity,” Coore said. “And I would say to him, ‘Boy, if we can beat this challenge to make the playability measure up to the visuals … I just don’t know.’ And I saw Ben down there a while back, and I told him I think it’s going to work. And he was like, ‘Finally!’ ”