Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have planted their flags at many stunning seaside locations. Their golf design team is responsible for highly rated coastal developments such 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 golf holes that will stop you in your tracks and seem to be suspended over salt water from the United States to China to New Zealand. But their new course slated to open in 2022 in Cabot St. Lucia in the Caribbean offered a unique set of opportunities – and challenges.
Named Cabot Point, the Windward Islands setting offered Coore and Crenshaw a breathtaking canvas rising out of the sea. from the minimalist design duo at ground level?
“It wasn’t a challenge to build a golf course that would be photographically spectacular and dramatic and all those sorts of things,” Coore said. “The question was, could we possibly create a golf course with the playability aspects and just call it the fun factor? We needed to make sure that these two things would live up to, at least approximately, the visual drama of the site. You know, Ben and I try to be very discreet about everything. But it’s very possible that Cabot Saint Lucia will be the most breathtaking and visually demanding site we’ve ever worked on.
“The challenge is whether the course will be really playable and enjoyable to play, or will it just be one of those courses that allow for spectacular photography and dramatic situations and incredibly dramatic shots, but isn’t it really much of a joy to play?
Of all their coastal courses, the recently renovated Plantation Course offers an interesting comparison. Home to the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champion every year on Maui — which feels like a slice of tropical paradise for viewers stuck in the snow of the mainland every January — the Plantation Course climbs the mountainside overlooking the Pacific. Think whales and long sea views to other volcanic islands.
The Plantation course – rated #1 in Hawaii among Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play – climbs and descends approximately 400 feet from its lowest point to its highest and boasts the greatest vertical drop of any PGA course Tower. But Coore said it was mostly about long series of elevation changes, which provided reasonable space for the holes to be laid out without going too vertically from tee to green. Hilly, yes, but playable.
In Cabot Sainte-Lucie, the elevations are amplified.
“It’s a volcanic island and elevation changes happen very quickly,” Coore said. “These are not long series of elevation changes like in Kapalua. It is a shorter duration. It was a challenge.
Despite the vertical challenges, Coore said when he first walked around the site he recognized many areas that resembled traditional golf course architecture. He set about identifying where the holes could fit to take advantage of the natural contours on the sometimes rocky site.
“You have to put everything into context and try to visualize how the golf balls are going to react in the air and certainly on the ground,” Coore said. “The idea of using natural contours and laying the golf course on these contours without altering the reliefs to the point that they are 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. …
“The playoffs are really part of the golf course, and the ability to play the ball on the ground is really part of the golf course. At the same time, we were certainly aware that in certain fairways and edges and near certain greens, we had to be careful that the golf ball did not fly completely away from the players.
Coore said there are places on the property that will feature amazing green sites, but the problem is how do you approach those sites and keep enough playable areas to then play away from those sites — that’s the thing.
“It’s all about routing,” he said. “Not just how do you get to that green, but how do you get out of it.”
He’s happy with how it all worked out, and the payoff should be fun, playable golf on paspalum grass with postcard views from each of the 18 holes.
“You would have to work really hard to get into a position that you can’t see the ocean from any hole,” Coore said. “I guess on some holes you can see the ocean off the tee and the ocean off the green, but you kind of go into a valley in the fairway. But for people who count that stuff, that would be 18 holes overlooking the ocean.
The course was originally scheduled to open in 2021. Then COVID. Keith Rhebb, one of Coore and Crenshaw’s main course shapers, stayed on the island for months at the start of the pandemic, often working alone or with local workers when permitted. Rhebb’s frequent social media posts have had many golf fans salivating over the sights of the Caribbean and ready to hop on a plane as soon as the course opens on a date to be determined in 2022.
All plans for the site – which include a development of luxury homes – began with Ben Cowan-Dewar, the founder of Cabot Cape Breton and its two courses, Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links. They are the first two on Golfweek’s list of the best modern Canadian courses and they are on the lists of golfers around the world. Cowan-Dewar has again partnered with Mike Keizer – founder of the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon, among other properties – to develop a Cabot property, this time in a tropical setting atop Point Hardy above the Caribbean Sea.
“Ben was the visionary who found this property and this opportunity,” Coore said. “And I was like, ‘Boy, if we can pull off this challenge to get the gameplay to match the visuals… I just don’t know. And I saw Ben there a while ago, and I told him I think it’s going to work. And he was like, ‘Finally!’ ”