When Canadian architect Stanley Thompson arrived in Ingonish Beach, NS back in the late 1930s, he likely thought he’d instead stumbled into paradise. A gorgeous setting bordered by water and mountains tucked against the northeastern shores of Cape Breton Island, in his mind, it resembled Scotland. Over the next two years, supported by hard-working locals and not much more than horse-powered machinery, Thompson turned this land into 18 of the finest holes in Canadian golf.
The course, which sits beneath Mount Franey and against the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and the Clyburn River, has garnered accolades a-plenty, including once being named Canada’s No. 1 golf course by SCOREGolf Magazine. In 2012, the most recent ranking, it was listed sixth – a testament to its continued strength.
It’s only been in recent times that Highlands Links regained its Stanley Thompson imprint. Years of small change after small change coupled with growth of the surrounding vegetation took much of the course’s original look away. But using the designer’s plans and borrowing from historic photos, architect Ian Andrew restored much of the bunkering and Hudson’s crew thinned out trees and bushes to bring back the charm and character.
“All the bunkering is back to the original size and shape on all the holes,” states Graham Hudson, the longtime general manager of Highlands. “We’ve had a lot of work done on tree clearing which has really opened up the vistas. Three or four years ago you could see the water on four holes, now you can see it on 11 holes.”
Thompson would likely be proud of where the course stands today, especially as the restoration progresses. A statue of the great man is appropriately situated there as a welcome to those who will head out to enjoy what is certainly one of the most magnificent days they could ever have on a golf course.