This article originally appeared in the second issue of Boundless Magazine in March 2021.
Author: Darcy Rhyno
On a rolling dogleg running up to a volcano green, my mom and I are facing a heich o’fash. Gaelic for “heap of trouble,” it’s the nickname for this tricky fourth hole at Nova Scotia’s Highland Links. If we overshoot, we’ll end up in the North Atlantic. The sigh of waves washes over the undulating fairway where the raised green mirrors the surrounding tabletop mountains, the palette of greens framed by a cloudless sky so deep, it speaks of infinity.
We’ve come to Cape Breton Island to continue our 30-year rivalry—I’ve never beaten her—on three of the world’s top ranked courses, this one hand hewn from Cape Breton Highlands National Park back in 1939. Known as his “mountains and oceans course,” legendary designer Stanley Thompson nicknamed many holes in Gaelic, to honor the province’s heritage.
Mom chips to the flag and putts for par. I score a grouse. With that heap of trouble behind us, we follow the brook to “Canny Slap,” built as a tribute to golf’s best known one-shot hole, “Eden” on The Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland, the birthplace of the game. Mom’s shot is a sly slap off the bowl’s slope to the flag for a bogie. Round one goes to her.
The next day, we drive the Cabot Trail through the park, heading for twin courses at Inverness, pausing to watch a bull moose browse in a shallow lake. We snake cliff-edge switchbacks with skyline views, then follow the winding route unhurried along the coast.
At Cabot Links, we settle into accommodations that complement the meadow-like landscape, then hit its adjacent sister course, Cabot Cliffs, routinely ranked among the top 15 of the world’s 39,000 courses. Cabot Links is ranked in the top 50 and Highland Links among the best 100. The difference between the two Cabots becomes apparent as we play along knife-edge fairways where emerald bluffs drop to the rocky coastline below.
That evening, we hit Glenora Distillery for tastings and dinner. Bruce Jardine, the visionary creator of this, North America’s first single malt whiskey distillery, learned the craft in Scotland. We sample 15-year Glen Breton and decide it belongs in the company of the finest scotches. Our appetites stirred, we devour plates of lobster gnocchi and tap our toes to a fiddler ripping into Celtic jigs and reels.
The morning dawns damp and cool over Cabot Links built in homage to golf’s birthplace. The threat of rain hangs in the bellies of the clouds hunched up against the hills and coiled over the inshore lobster boats straining their lines at the wharf. On this rare, true links course, fairways dip and rise over rolling coastal dunes and hard-packed turf as they do in Scotland.
We smile as a curtain of briny showers reaches the beach and sweeps over this traditional course. Even when we both land in a sand trap reminiscent of the fourteenth hole “Hell Bunker” on The Old Course, our smiles broaden.
Mom’s lifetime undefeated record intact, we take refuge in the Panorama Restaurant overlooking the eighteenth green. The setting sun punches through the clouds, filling the room with light. In those warming rays, my mom’s ruddy cheeks are glowing as she raises her glass and toasts, “To the trip of a lifetime!”