The one word that comes to mind when thinking about the Cliffs course is DRAMATIC (like "hitting you in the face with a cold mackerel" dramatic). Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw structured the routing to wring every inch of sea views, to squeeze every inch out of quirkiness out of lands in the dunes, and to maximize every natural feature on the holes that didn't have much of the first two.
In other words, this course is cranked up to an 11 when the knob only goes to 10. That isn't a bad thing.
The 18 starts off with a gentle handshake of a par 5 (the course has an even distribution of holes, 6 par 5s, 6 par 4s and 6 par 3s) with rumpled fairways and C&C's classic blown-out bunker looks.
The second hole is a superstar, all-world golf hole with an elevated tee shot to a tidal plane surrounded by dunes and pine trees.
I loved this hole and even though I hit 4 iron both times I played it, I would love to try all different types of shots on this one.
The third hole is also a classic short par 4 with a gentle left-to-right movement and a fantastic dunescape protecting the left side of the green.
The 5th is a great example of a cape hole which is very reminiscent of Cal Club's version using elevation to really enhance the options and the quirk.
The 6th hole is set amongst protected dunes with an outrageous green that falls away down the back so if the pin is in the front you better hit short.
This stretch of 2-6 is perhaps as strong and unique as any course I have played ever. High praise indeed as each hole is memorable, challenging but also fun.
I am not a fan of the 7th hole. Hitting from a hillside across a water-filled ravine to an elevated, shelf fairway which has a huge 747-sized bump running along the middle, the 7th seems over engineered and quirky for no sake other than being quirky with no real strategy attached to it. After the amazing 2-6, the 7th was a bit of a letdown.
The eighth seems benign but it brings you back to the sea with great views and awesome dunes and earthworks running down the right side of the fairway.
9 finishes what 8 starts by having a great little downhill par 3 to navigate.
10 wends it way back to the starter's podium with great cliff views on the left. It is pretty straightforward but beautiful all the same.
The favourite (Canadian spelling) has to be the 14th, a great par 3 with what I call dinosaur claw marks guarding the green on the bottom right. It sure is a tasty tee shot when you are standing there contemplating all the possibilities.
Much like the 8th hole, the 15th brings you back to the sea
and sets up a run of the quirkiest 3 golf holes you will ever play, EVER!
16 is world famous, hitting over the chasm of the cliffs to a par 3 green which is 75% obscured by a bunker. The green slopes toward the cliffs and there are tons of bunkers and bramble patches to catch up the ball (making it slightly less do or die than it appears).
Guys in my group tried to play this in every which way but me hitting off the tee with a 4-iron, then running a 7-iron on the ground led to birdie putts within 15 feet each time I played it. The land is SO severe in this portion of the course, the greens are kept VERY slow to keep them from running off given the tilt of the land.
The 18th is a classic clifftop finishing hole right out of Pacific Dunes,
but even if you find the fairway, you still have to keep on your toes as C&C interestingly allowed for the cliffs to sneak in near the landing zone of your second and third shots.
You end the round by hanging out on the sofas by the 18th soaking in the views.
There is no denying the beauty or quirkiness of Cliffs and it is easy to see why it is consistently ranked in the top 100 of the world. An argument can be made that by making certain choices in the routing, C&C's hands were forced in some ways to really accentuate the craziness of the land at perhaps the detriment to the golfer but they clearly reached for the stars on this one - and I commend them for that. If you are a fan of Coore and Crenshaw and/or golf in Canada this is a MUST-play course and one you won't easily forget!
For more information about the Cliffs course, check out the link: https://www.cabotlinks.com/golf/cabot-cliffs/