Keltic Lodge in Ingonish, Nova Scotia, Canada, and Highlands Links has had a roller-coaster 75-year-history. After fading in recent decades, a $5 million renovation has restored the property to its past glory. Ian Andrew, ASGCA, and Ian Andrew Golf Design, served as a consultant on Highlands Links, and spoke to Toronto Globe and Mail about the project.
The Globe and Mail reports:
The golf course has been on the mend for several years and the Keltic Lodge has just completed a $5-million facelift under the management of GolfNorth, an Ontario-based company owned by former BlackBerry co-CEO Jim Balsillie, which began leasing the property from Parks Canada in 2015. The Globe’s Guy Nicholson asked GolfNorth CEO Shawn Evans, Ingonish-born historian Ken Donovan and consulting golf architect Ian Andrew discuss about how a Maritime icon came to be, and where it’s headed.
Ian Andrew, consulting golf architect for Highlands Links: [Canadian golf architect] Stanley Thompson conceived the idea of getting Parks Canada to build new courses as a make-work project … he actually met with [prime minister] Mackenzie King. He sold it to the government as a way to take the hardest-hit communities and put those people back to work. … The government was interested because the fisheries were in distress and the communities were in decline.
Why have visitors come to see it as a special place?
Evans: The geography is truly unique; the aboriginal name for Ingonish means, roughly, “remarkable place.” The scenery, the hospitality, the food, the outdoor lifestyle, the best course design by Canada’s best golf designer – you couldn’t recreate what’s here.
Donovan: During the 1920s and 1930s, grand hotels were considered essential to go with splendid golf courses: Think of St. George’s in Toronto and the Royal York, Jasper Park Lodge and Banff Springs, the Algonquin at St. Andrews, N.B. The Keltic fit right in there and there are many other examples in Canada and the United States. These properties were built on a grand scale – beautiful, iconic buildings set in special places with good ground for building golf courses. Of course, I think Ingonish is special.
Andrew: The golf course is an education into the unique geography found on the peninsula. Planned or not, the long transitions between holes help to emphasize the differences between each unique geography. The course unfolds like a series of chapters from a great book: a rolling headland with panoramic ocean views, forested highlands, the wide-open floodplain of the Clyburn River, views out to the ocean, then a walk past the church to a ramble over the rugged headland back toward the clubhouse, finishing on the 18th with two ocean views. Combined together, these chapters make for a wonderful journey through, or story of, the local landscape.
What were the challenges of running a property of this scale in northern Cape Breton?
Evans: It’s a rocky peninsula sticking several kilometres out into the Atlantic, on the opposite side of a 700-foot cape. The roads were so bad in the 1930s that Thompson never actually drove here. He always came back and forth from Prince Edward Island – where he was also building the Green Gables course – by boat, because it was faster. Staffing is still a challenge; we supply housing to 80 staff. It’s a difficult environment to grow grass. The season is short and everything costs more here, except seafood.
Andrew: Short season, cold spring weather created by the ocean currents and limited local resources make it a tough place to operate a golf course as a business. It’s always been remote. But the cost of staffing it using union employees became a real difficult issue in recent times as Parks Canada saw budgets pared back in their operations, and the costs could not be supported by the income.
A few decades back, Parks Canada began to treat the golf course as a thorn rather than an important draw to the park. They had stopped investing in the facility and it began to run down. … What further complicated matters were some hardline environmental people [there] who viewed the course as “incompatible with a park” and refused for more than a decade to allow a single tree [to be] removed. As it overgrew, this only sped up the decline and essentially made the situation unworkable. That’s the point [when general manager] Graham Hudson and I began working on the course.
What restoration efforts have been made?
Evans: The rooms in the lodge were “demodernized” a few years ago. Carpets were removed and beautiful hardwood floors were exposed. The golf course has been steadily returned to its original state under Ian’s guidance. There was a redesign in the 1990s that most golf purists don’t like to talk about – much of his work has been about undoing that. The course now plays almost exactly as it did in 1941.
Donovan: [The golf work] was a renovation, not a restoration. There was little or no historical research for this project on Thompson’s original design. The restoration work done under Ian … was based on comprehensive research. I know this because I was commissioned, as a Parks Canada historian, to do the research.
Andrew: We convinced Parks Canada to look at this as a historical landscape. This allowed us to clear all the historical corridors to grow better turf, make the course more playable and, most importantly, return all the ocean views. We restored all the bunkers back to their original locations and shapes, undoing all previous changes. And we began some drainage projects.
The complete article can be found here.