Could the Scottish Highlands Become a Golf Destination on Par with St. Andrews?

Cabot has tasted early success with a formula that’s made it one of the fastest growing brands in the golf world: great golf in great locations and a boutique resort and lifestyle community component.

In recent years, Cabot has added properties in the Caribbean, the U.S., and Scotland to its two locations in Canada. Real estate and home ownership is a key part of the model.

But that doesn’t mean Cabot isn’t willing to incorporate different approaches based on locale. For its first European property, Cabot co-founder Ben Cowan-Dewar will harken back to his roots as a successful golf tour operator when Cabot Highlands in Inverness, Scotland, opens its second course (a Tom Doak design) in 2024 to complement the existing Castle Stuart course.

cabot highlands
(photo by Erik Matuszewski)

“The business model around each needs to really be reflective of the community,” says Cowan-Dewar. “If we come in and imprint ourselves on these places saying it’s going to be the exact same everywhere, it’s not going to work.”

With the Scotland expansion, the vision is to use Cabot as a jumping off point that better positions the Scottish Highlands as a golf destination on par with other popular regions like St. Andrews and the county of Fife (Kingsbarns, Carnoustie, Crail, Gleneagles, Dumbarnie, etc.), the West Coast (Royal Troon, Prestwick, Trump Turnberry, Western Gailes, Dundonald, etc.), and the Northeast Coast (Royal Aberdeen, Cruden Bay, Murcar, Trump International, etc.). Cabot Highlands is just five minutes from the Inverness Airport, 20 minutes from Nairn, and within an hour or so of other famous courses in the Scottish Highlands like Brora, Royal Dornoch, Golspie, and the Carnegie Links at Skibo Castle.

“With the two courses here, where Ben’s headed is to take control of the visiting golfers in the Highlands,” Cabot Highlands General Manager Stuart McColm said after a recent round of golf and helping me experience nearby Loch Ness and one of the local whiskey distilleries. “If you’re staying with us for the week, a five-night stay, you’re going to play the two courses at least once. You’re also going to play Nairn, Dornoch, Fortrose, Brora, and others potentially. We want to take control of all of that.

“You stay with us and, if you want to go for a tee time at Dornoch, we’ll take you and pick you up. Because you’re coming back, eating our food, sleeping in our beds, and drinking our wine. It’s masterful. It becomes a one-stop shop, especially with how close the airport is. And we’re taking care of all of your travel if you’re staying on site. You can’t get easier than that. As a destination management, it will take the edge off the tour operators. Ben was one, he knows that world. If you’re here and want to go out to dinner, we’ll take you and pick you up. We want to become the organizers.”

cabot highlands
(photo by Erik Matuszewski)

Real estate is still a key component at Cabot Highlands, with upscale, modern cottages inspired by the Scottish countryside. When homeowners aren’t in residence, the cottages will be available as luxury accommodations for visiting guests.

But for many, the golf will be the focus.

Castle Stuart is already considered one of the finest courses in the world. And the new layout from Doak will have even better views of the property’s namesake castle, including a downhill par three to a green hard alongside the 400-year-old landmark. Holes will be routed across and along hillsides, expansive open land, and a large stretch of shoreline southwest of the current course.

“One of the hard parts about this is there’s a lot of land out there to potentially use,” says Doak. “Your natural instinct is to use all the land closest to the shore first, but that’s not necessarily where the best views are.”

Doak said he and his team aren’t overly concerned about trying to make the new, unnamed course different than the first course.

cabot highlands
(photo by Erik Matuszewski)

“People come to Scotland to play a variety of golf courses. They’re all seaside and the wind is a factor in all of them, but the featuring is very different from one to the next,” Doak adds. “As long as it feels like it fits in Scotland, whether it’s a little more like this or less like this, doesn’t really make a big difference. But we’ve talked through some interesting twists on concept.”

In a relatively short period of time, the Cabot brand has shown a strong willingness to embrace new concepts and new approaches as its grown.

And in expanding to Scotland, they recognize an opportunity to strengthen an entire region already rich in golf.

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