By Jason Bruno
Cabot CEO and Co-Founder, Ben Cowan-Dewar has had a passion for golf courses for about as long as his memory serves him, dating back to his days growing up in eastern Ontario Canada. As a young adult and a successful businessman over a decade ago, Cowan-Dewar had the opportunity to dive into his real passion as a golf destination developer with the creation of Cabot Cape Breton and its first layout – Cabot Links in Nova Scotia. It was 2011, and his hiring of Rod Whitman for his maiden journey into life as a golf visionary took flight. For the sequel at Cabot Breton, he chose the can’t-miss duo of Coore/Crenshaw to craft the dramatic Cabot Cliffs as the ideal sibling to the original. These days, Ben has many irons in the fire –
Cabot Point, another Bill & Ben design set on the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, is slated to open this December.
Cabot Pacific in British Columbia, also known as Revelstoke, is another Whitman design (with new partners Dave Axland and Keith Cutten) set in the mountains of BC and will also open in late ’23 or spring ’24.
Cowan-Dewar’s latest project, Cabot Citrus Farms in Brooksville, Florida is the former World Woods site (that property has been a personal favorite) that’s being transformed by Kyle Franz (Barrens Course) and Nike Nuzzo (Oaks & The 21 short course). Cowan-Dewar and I spoke via phone just after the PGA Show, where he had just returned to his offices in Toronto . . .
LinkNation: I wanted to ask you a little bit about this journey that you’ve been on, it has been quite a ride. For those who don’t know your story, where did the inspiration come from, is it your passion for the game, purely business or a combination of both?
Ben Cowan-Dewar: I think when you do something for 19 years, it looks like you’ve been doing the same thing for a long time, and I think with Cabot it has been such an evolution of things. Obviously, as we’ve gone from the initial dream of building a golf course – which was entirely fueled by a childhood dream of building golf, and has morphed into a business with a lot of people every day who are pulling hard. I think it is absolutely wonderful and fun to watch that evolution, it sometimes feels like you’ve been doing the same thing, but things are certainly a bit different from 12 years ago when we built Cabot Links. . . and to be able to do something at a very high level around the world, probably was always the goal, even if it was sort of an unrealistic dream. And as we built on the foundation and built on the initial dream, it’s been pretty fulfilling.
LN: Your association with Mike Keiser (Developer at Bandon Dunes Resort, Sand Valley, etc) is well known within the industry, can you tell us a bit about what that’s been like, and how has he influenced you?
BCD: Mike has been a friend, an exemplar, and a partner of 16 years now. Mike really believed in the idea of Cabot, I guess I was 24 years old when I heard about it. I don’t think there’s anybody in the world who would have looked at somebody that young with a dream of building a golf course on the side of an ocean and thought: A) it was achievable, and obviously Mike had achieved it at Bandon. And or B) had given me the chance he did, but I’m so blessed every day to have been given the opportunity to be his partner, and we’ve had a lot of fun over the last 16 years and continue to have a lot of fun. Saying he’s been a good mentor would be a grand understatement. As an exemplar of how you do business, how important family is, sort of all of the things you’d like to find in a mentor, he’s been the best.
LN: When Mike began his journey, he kind of took a huge leap of faith in hiring a young architect from Scotland which was certainly a risky proposition – which obviously turned out to be quite successful with David McLay Kidd. What is your process of going through who you choose as your course architects? There are so many good young ones out there, and of course, there are so many established ones, what is the process of how you choose your architects for a new project?
BCD: I almost always have an idea of someone that I want to work with. I’ve traveled the world and played most of the world’s great golf courses and know a lot of the game’s architects. Rod Whitman, who was similarly obscure when we hired him for Cabot Links, but he certainly had an amazing track record. He worked with Pete Dye, Bill Coore and both were huge fans of his, but I think he wasn’t a household name and people thought that was a bit of a risk, and we knew he would commit his time and give it everything he had, and we think the job he did at Cabot Links is unbelievable. Rod grew up in the mountains of Western Canada, when I saw Revelstoke in British Columbia for the first time, I literally called him while I was there and I knew it was sort of a home game for him (Rod lives in B.C), he had always loved Banff and Jasper (that Stanley Thompson designed), as did I, so it was really a super easy decision there. And similarly, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw who I really have thought of as two of the very best at applying their craft – so when we were going to do Cabot Cliffs we really knew we wanted to work with them, and you couldn’t find two better gentlemen in the game. It was such a pleasure. So similarly, when I was on Saint Lucia, I didn’t think of anyone else (other than Bill & Ben). Then in Citrus Farms, we announced that we were working with Mike Nuzzo, who’s building “The 21”, who has an amazing career and talent, but maybe isn’t in the primetime spotlight.
Kyle Franz (Cabot Citrus Farms – Barrens course) is one the most talented young guys, he has worked with Coore, Doak and Gil Hanse – I think he’s got it. Kyle built bunkers with us at Cabot Links about 13 years ago. I’ve known him and have gotten to watch him grow up in the game and see the work he’s done at MidPines, Pine Needles, and Southern Pines, I have been so impressed with him. I think with Citrus we knew we really wanted to go with something unique and original in the state of Florida. Mike’s choice of David, probably emboldened me to choose Rod versus somebody who was more prominent. I think the output of a golf course, much like Bill & Ben at Sand Hills, or Doak at Pacific Dunes, if you can find that opportunity to locate the talent, they literally give you everything they have and what more can you ask for.
LN: The property at Citrus Farms has always been a personal favorite of mine ( as World Woods), what will people still recognize from its former self, and what won’t they recognize?
BCD: Well, I think it really is a re-imagination, what you’ll recognize is the great land for golf. Cabot Barrens that Kyle is doing was that exposed sandy look, and I think he’s really come up with an original take on it, he cleaned up and cleared some of the vegetation, removed some of the trees that were really choking off the airflow for golf. Then you get to see all of these majestic mossy Oaks that dot the Oaks course. We have a neat and fresh look on how to use that land. Nuzzo’s “21” is around the old 360° range, par 3, and where the short course was. I think for people with a memory of the place like yours, they will look at it and feel like they’re trying to piece it together, and for others, it will be what it is.
(While designing the unconventional short course known as “The 21”, Nuzzo spoke of drawing inspiration from global classics – “The Postage Stamp” at Royal Troon; Merion’s cambered par 4 – fifth ; and Mackenzie’s tilted masterpiece green complex on the 9th hole at Cypress Point. Players will be encouraged to use the ground contours – Cabot Citrus Farms will consistently feature firm and fast playing conditions. “The 21” features 14 par-3s, six par-4s, and one par 5)
LN: Are the routings on Barrens and Oaks completely changed from their original orientation?
LN: When does Cabot Saint Lucia open?
BCD: It will open in December. We were down there with Bill and Ben, some of the early buyers have played a few holes and we’ll be ready to play 9 holes soon.
LN: You have Tom Doak signing on to do your new course in the Scottish Highlands, can you describe how that came to be?
BCD: We would like to do another course at Cabot Cape Breton, but we are working through a public consultation now, which is about 15 minutes south of Inverness. We had Tom do a plan for that, and I’ve known him for 20+ years. We were thinking about how to expand Cabot Highlands and how do we build something truly special. His love of Scottish and Links golf combined with the land we have that has amazing ocean frontage and we wanted to do something together there. He and I walked it immediately after covid restrictions were lifted, and we came to an agreement. It’s great fun to work with Tom.
For more info on Cabot, check out: https://dreamgolf.com/