Nova Scotia

Cabot Links, Cabot Cliffs golf courses closing a month early

Golfers would normally play until after the Celtic Colours music festival ends in October, but with border restrictions on Ontario and international tourists, the courses' main markets have been shut down.

'It's been a bit of a disappointing season for us,' says golf resort general manager

A trio of golfers putts on the 17th green at the Cabot Cliffs golf course in Inverness, N.S., which has gained international recognition along with its sister course Cabot Links. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The internationally-popular Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs golf courses in Inverness are closing a month early this year.

Golfers would normally play until after the Celtic Colours music festival ends in October, but with border restrictions on Ontario and international tourists, the courses' main markets have been shut down.

While the golf courses have sparked a business boom in western Cape Breton, tourism industry operators in the area are not all panicked by the early closure this year.

Andrew Alkenbrack, general manager of Cabot Links Golf Resort, said the courses were on pace for a record season until the pandemic hit.

"We've had a softer season ... than we would like," he said. "Quite frankly, it's been a bit of a disappointing season for us."

The golf courses are busy now in the latter part of the season, he said, but it's mostly on weekends.

Cabot Links Golf Resort general manager Andrew Alkenbrack. (Submitted by Cabot Links Golf Resort)

In past, the courses have been busy throughout the week, as well, and would normally close the season at the end of October. 

This year, the last day of operations is Sept. 27.

Alkenbrack said Atlantic golfers have taken advantage of the tee times cancelled by clients from Ontario and the U.S., but not enough to make up for the loss.

He said it will hurt having the Celtic Colours music festival online only this year.

The courses also lost some large tournaments and the PGA Scramble national tournament final, which was scheduled for Cabot Cape Breton, was cancelled.

Alkenbrack said staff will use the remainder of the growing season to work on the courses in October.

The 176 yard, par 3, 16th hole at Cabot Cliffs, the seaside links golf course rated the 19th finest course in the world by Golf Digest, is seen in Inverness, N.S. on Wednesday, June 1, 2016. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

"We'll use that to our advantage and get some greatly needed projects done out there and make sure we're set up for a very big 2020-2021," he said.

Some tourism operators in western Cape Breton say locals have picked up some of the slack within the Atlantic Bubble, but others say it hasn't been enough.

Rose Mary MacDonald, president of the Inverness Development Association, said the summer started off slowly, but it improved with the advent of unrestricted travel within the Atlantic provinces.

Rose Mary MacDonald is the president of the Inverness Development Association. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The development association's beach amenities — the concession stand, accessibility equipment and boardwalk — were surprisingly well used, she said.

"The beach, over the last couple of years, we've been seeing in excess of 25,000 people," MacDonald said.

"That would be during the eight-week period that we had our lifeguards down there. I would have to say this summer, we were very close to reaching that.

"We have at least five kilometres of sandy beach running through and we have our two-kilometre boardwalk and they were busy, busy, busy."

Early closures a damper

The community's main street and restaurants seemed to do reasonably well, MacDonald said.

The early closure of the golf courses could put a damper on the town's economy, but MacDonald said she isn't hearing a lot of concern yet from local business owners.

"Of course, Cabot is a big, big player in this area for the commercial tax ... and for hiring people and students. I still think with the Celtic Colours — they're doing live stream concerts and all that — I think that's still going to bring people right through until the end of October."

Scott Archer, owner of Archer's Edge Luxury Camping near Judique, said the season hasn't been all bad and it's not over yet.

"After all the cancellations we had to go through for any international travellers, it made us quite concerned, but shortly after, once we realized that people could vacation within the bubble in their own province, that really picked up for us, so we're really happy with how busy we are," he said.

"We can be as busy as we want to be."

The Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs golf courses usually draw tourists from the U.S. and Ontario, but COVID-19 stopped those visits. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The business opened last year with five domes facing west over the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

"We're kind of set up for social distancing and the bubbles with the five individual domes," Archer said. "It's made it quite easy to follow all the new restrictions and rules."

Archer said that's one of the main reasons the domes are booked solid until the end of October.

"We're pretty well jammed up, with a cancellation list, but we will be opening our 2021 calendar within the next couple of weeks with a lot of requests to book," he said.

"Not knowing quite what the future holds, I guess everyone wants to get on a list for next year."

Time to pop the bubble?

However, Grant Haverstock, who just opened Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins in Whycocomagh last fall, said tourist traffic is definitely slower than predicted.

He said he's been getting a lot of calls from people outside the Atlantic provinces asking about bookings.

"We've probably had 50 in the last week," Haverstock said.

"This Atlantic Bubble thing is ridiculous. They need to open it up, or we're all going to die. Businesses are going to collapse."

Grant Haverstock and Jessica KleinHerenbrink opened Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins in Whycocomagh, N.S. in September 2019. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

Haverstock said there aren't enough tourists in the Atlantic provinces to replace those who have been kept out by travel restrictions.

Even just opening up to the rest of Canada would help, he said.

"The amount of people that come to Cape Breton and Nova Scotia from Ontario and Quebec, it's huge," Haverstock said.

He is not overly concerned about bringing COVID-19 into the region if it means keeping some businesses alive.

"I mean risk-reward," Haverstock said. "I think we've got to really take a hard look at this."

About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 16 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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