It is a curious footnote that in the last 30 years, Americans have defined most of the new golf development in Scotland. Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf were the first Americans to work in Scotland when they built Loch Lomond in the early 1990s. Tom Doak designed The Renaissance Club next to hallowed Muirfield in 2007. Donald Trump’s struggles to complete Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen in 2011 were well documented but ultimately successful. And US developer Mark Parsinen worked closely with two US designers, Kyle Phillips and Gil Hanse, on a pair of major building projects, Kingsbarns and Castle Stuart, respectively.
Now the Canadians are getting in on the action.
Cabot, the founders of Canadian-based golf destinations including Cabot Cape Breton and the Cabot Saint Lucia development, have acquired Castle Stuart in Inverness, near the Scottish Highlands. The course and the surrounding planned resort community will be renamed Cabot Highlands.
“Castle Stuart has been considered an exceptional Scottish golf landmark since it first opened thirteen years ago,” Ben Cowan-Dewar, CEO and co-founder of Cabot, said in a statement. “We are honored to be stewards of the land and carry forward the original vision for the property.” Amenities will include luxury cabins, retail stores, restaurants and additional outdoor recreation.
Castle Stuart was the second Scottish golf project for the late Parsinen, who passed away in 2019. The course, currently ranked 72nd on Golf Digest’s World’s Top 100 Courses list, was among the handful of original designs from Hanse and his partner Jim Wagner. who established his reputation among leading modern golf architects, helping them land the coveted commission for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic course.
The addition of the Cabot Highlands gives Cabot three of the top 100 international courses, along with Cabot Cliffs (No. 10) and Cabot Links (No. 39).
Just as compelling is the announcement of a second course planned by architect Tom Doak and his Renaissance Design group. Doak will have significant help from partner Clyde Johnson, a designer of English origin who lives in Scotland. A talented designer in his own right, Johnson has helped Doak build courses as far afield as Nebraska, Ireland and New Zealand. The Cabot Highlands project will be a well-deserved home game.
Although it looks the part, Castle Stuart is not a true links course. It was manufactured from farmland along the Moray Firth coast. The second course will occupy similar terrain to the south and west of the original course. The low holes, near the water, will be covered with sand for drainage and to allow the architects to create link-like elements in the ground.
“I’ve been lucky enough to work on many link sites and I appreciate the difficulty of trying to create an artificial link land,” Doak told Golf Digest. Although these are not natural links, he points out that the property has the advantages of wind and a long stretch of coastline along the Moray Firth.
“It’s really a beautiful site in its own right: waterfront, streams, and even a big stand of pine trees that we’ll play with,” Doak says. “So instead of creating big man-made dunes to focus views and such, we’re going to focus on building smaller undulating contours like those found on golf courses around the world, plus a dynamic bunkering scheme.” It probably looks more like nearby Nairn, he says, with no holes in the back and back through low mounds of gorse and grass, than the vertical dunes of a Ballybunion.
Mike Keizer, the Bandon Dunes developer who partnered with Cowan-Dewar on several Cabot projects, knows that second courses are force multipliers that elevate remote locations from curiosities to destinations. Castle Stuart gave golfers another attractive stopover on their journey north up the Scottish coast to Royal Dornoch and Brora. Once the new course is complete (construction is expected to begin in early 2023), Cabot Highlands will be its own port of call.
“Gil’s course had to attract an audience to go to Inverness, where the new course just has to provide a contrast and deserve its place on the itinerary,” says Doak. “Interestingly, that might free us up to build something compelling.”