Park and Golf?

This time last year, I was writing multiple articles (see here and here and here) about golf magnate Ben Cowan-Dewar’s controversial new course on the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia.

Rodney MacDonald

Source: The Gaelic College website 

Cowan-Dewar and partner Mike Keiser have not even completed that course (Sports Illustrated says Cabot Saint Lucia is scheduled to open in 2023) nor have they opened Cabot Revelstoke in B.C. or Cabot Citrus Farms in Florida or the second course they’re planning at the Castle Stuart Golf Links in Inverness, Scotland (which they bought earlier this year and rebranded Cabot Highlands), but they’re already planning another high-end course: on provincial park land in West Mabou.

For as Cowan-Dewar once said:

You can’t have two until you have one, you can’t have three until you have two and you can’t have 10 until you have nine so I think, you know, keep doing it.

I have nothing to add in terms of original reporting this week, I know only what I heard (and read) on the CBC, but I do have a few initial thoughts, first and foremost about former NS Premier Rodney MacDonald’s role in this project, that of “community liaison” or as I prefer: “shill.”

MacDonald’s loyalties are clearly to the developer and not the community—how could it be otherwise? Remember Episode 10 of Annette Verschuren’s ridiculous podcast? The one where she interviewed Cowan-Dewar? Okay, you’re normal people and you probably don’t remember it, but I do, it’s where I got that quote I used above. Verschuren asked him how a young guy from Ontario ended up opening Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links in Cape Breton and Cowan-Dewar told her that:

He was 24 in March of 2004 when he found himself seated next to Nova Scotia’s 31-year-old Minister of Tourism, Rodney MacDonald, at one of those “dinners” these people seem to spend their lives attending. MacDonald told him he had the perfect site for a golf course in his riding and Cowan-Dewar replied:

“Minister, every farmer with 200 acres thinks they have a great site for golfing.”

MacDonald wasn’t put off and by December 2004, Cowan-Dewar was in Inverness, touring the site.

MacDonald brought Cowan-Dewar to Nova Scotia and now he’s trying to convince, not just the people of West Mabou but all Nova Scotians, to give up 1/3 of a provincial park because Cowan-Dewar needs ANOTHER golf course.

I have a slightly different objection to MacDonald as a community liaison for Cabot than I do to CBRM Councilor James Edwards as a community liaison for the owners of the Donkin Mine, although I think it all boils down to different flavors of the same basic problem.

With Edwards, the issue is clear—he’s an elected official whose first responsibility is not to Kameron Collieries but to his constituents.

With MacDonald, it’s more complicated. Former politicians are infamous for putting their political connections to work for the private sector. I don’t like it, but MacDonald is not the first to do it, nor will he be the last.

The problem is MacDonald is also the president of the Gaelic College at St Ann’s and I don’t think the president of the Gaelic College should be carrying water for Cowan-Dewar’s golf empire. I feel it gives the impression the College itself is supportive. I think MacDonald needs to pick a lane, and if working for Cowan-Dewar is what he truly wants to do with his life, then he should do it—and give up his day job.


Carving out a golf course

The other facet of the current discussion that struck me is Cabot’s contention that it can build a golf course in an area as ecologically sensitive as West Mabou Beach Provincial Park without interfering with the existing beach and trail system.

Nadine Hunt, chair of the West Mabou Beach Committee which fought to have the beach designated a provincial park in 2001, told CBC Information Morning Cape Breton host Steve Sutherland that when her group constructed a three-foot wide path through the woods there, they were told, by provincial officials, “we can’t go here, we can’t go there,” because the land is so sensitive.

Golf Course proposed for West Mabou

(Source: CBC)

It reminded me of discussions in Saint Lucia, where critics of Cowan-Dewar’s course worried about a variety of potential negative impacts construction of the course alone could have. As I wrote in November 2021:

Cabot Saint Lucia is a links-style golf course, which means its designers attempt to work, as much as possible, within the contours of the natural landscape. But when the land doesn’t lie as they like it, they move it — and creating the holes involves, as [Alison] King [chair of the Council of the Saint Lucia National Trust] says, “scraping off all that topsoil” and vegetation. King argues that much of the environmental damage associated with golf courses occurs during the construction phase…

Now consider what Cabot Saint Lucia’s course designers told Sports Illustrated about the construction process in that October 2022 article cited above:

As [Bill] Coore recalls, when he and [Ben] Crenshaw first visited the site and saw the extreme elevation changes, they knew that a lot of earth would need to be moved to make several of the holes playable. “It’s a hugely complicated job, and we knew it was beyond our experience and our abilities,” Coore says, referencing all of the technical work involved in constructing golf holes on such an extreme site…

When Coore and Crenshaw set out to design Point Hardy Golf Club, they knew that they had at least seven, possibly eight sites for compelling oceanfront holes. The challenge was uncovering the remaining 10 or so that needed to be built farther inland and then discovering the best way to link them all together. To do that, Coore started near the future site of the clubhouse and looked up, carving a par 5 into the unrelenting hillside.

That sounds like a lot of strain to place on a sensitive ecological area.

But those are just my initial thoughts, I will try to pull something more comprehensive together for next week’s edition.