Success Story: How Cabot’s Ben Cowan-Dewar built a Canadian empire and some of the best golf courses in the world.

As a 12-year-old boy living on a farm north of Kingston, Ont., most of Ben Cowan-Dewar’s friends spent their spare time practicing their slap shots or swimming in the local pond.

Cowan-Dewar sat at a desk in his farmhouse designing golf holes. Long ones. Short ones. Holes with crazy-hard sand traps. Then he went out and built some. “I didn’t just cut the grass,” Cowan-Dewar told BOLD Traveller in a recent chat. “I literally built a green. I dug a really deep, penal bunker. I created sod walls. I had, like, seven tees and all these different approaches” to the green. 

His mom is still living at the farmhouse, and the hole is still in a rough form out behind the house. She’s also kept all the golf holes drawings her son dreamed up as a kid.

Ben Cowan Dewar in Saint Lucia. Photo Courtesy Cabot Golf and Jacob Sjoman.

Ben Cowan Dewar in Saint Lucia. Photo Courtesy Cabot Golf and Jacob Sjoman.

Nowadays Cowan-Dewar plays in a slightly larger sand box. He’s co-founder and CEO of Cabot, a company that owns and runs Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia; two of the top 40 courses in the world in the Golf Digest 2023 rankings. 

Cabot also owns Castle Stuart golf course in Scotland (listed in the world’s Top 75), a 54-hole layout north of Tampa, Florida called Cabot Citrus, and a stunning, new course on the north shore of Saint Lucia. His company is building a new, 18-hole course in Scotland, and also one high in the mountains in Revelstoke, British Columbia.

Castle Stuart golf course in Scotland. Courtesy of Cabot Highlands

Castle Stuart golf course in Scotland. Courtesy of Cabot Highlands

It’s an impressive empire, but, like most success stories, it didn’t happen overnight. After graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in political science and economics, Cowan-Dewar in 1999 created a company called Golf Travel Impresarios. It was around the beginning of the world wide web.

Prior to the Internet, Cowan-Dewar said a golf course in Scotland might send feelers out to tour operators and hope they would rustle up a group. Now, he adds, they could send an email with photos to hundreds of thousands of people they already knew loved golf. 

His success with Golf Travel Impresarios (now called Travel Impresarios Golf), a company he founded that organized private golf trips to the top courses around the world that allowed him to travel around the world and play great courses, fueling his dream of designing courses with a bit more cash than he had on the farm in Kingston.

Where it started

As luck would have it, Cowan-Dewar was at a dinner in his home city of Toronto in 2004 and sat next to Nova Scotia’s minister of tourism. “He said to me, ‘I have a great golf site in my home riding.’ And I said, ‘Sir, every farmer with 200 acres tells me he has a great site for golf.’ But he said, ‘No, it’s the real deal.’”

It turns out that no less than Jack Nicklaus had scoped out the land in Inverness on Cape Breton Island and drawn up a potential layout. Other designers told him it was a special piece of land, and Cowan-Dewar began to get reeled in.

“I went to visit that year,” he said. “I had played most of the great Ireland and Scotland courses, but to imagine a mile of ocean frontage with a rectilinear strip of land you could build a golf course on with a town built inside of it was something else. In most places the town would be on the coast, but there had been a coal mine for years” and the town was set back from the water.

The empty land over the old coal mine would make an awesome course, Cowan-Dewar realized. And so it began. “In hindsight it was insane that I tried to do it. We left downtown Toronto when my wife was 35 weeks pregnant and lived in Cape Breton for seven years to build the course.”

When it was time to get investors, he made an early call to Mike Keiser, the genius behind the top-rated Bandon Dunes courses in Oregon. Keiser quickly cottoned on to what Cowan-Dewar had in mind. “Mike agreed to partner with me, and we went about building. Everyone else thought we were out of our minds.”

His business plan was simple; build two of the best courses in the world and the two best in Canada. He couldn’t imagine that he might pump needed life blood into an entire town, a municipality on the Cape Breton coast that had struggled for existence after the coal mines closed in the 1960s.

Cabo Cliffs. Photo: Cabot Cape Breton/Matt Hahn/

Cabo Cliffs. Photo: Cabot Cape Breton/Matt Hahn/

“The transformation of the local economy is amazing. I was there twice in the last month and it’s great to see. It’s not why I did it, but it’s why I would do it today. I think there’s a pretty compelling economic development story, but I just set out to build great golf and hoped the rest would follow.”

Cabot Links opened in 2011 and quickly found a home on the list of the top golf courses on the planet. A few years later came Cabot Cliffs just up the road. In 2023 it was named the 10th best course on the planet by Golf Digest. Cowan-Dewar now sells private homes near the course. Millionaires fly in from Toronto to play. Billionaires fly in from New York City on helicopters.

Join the club

Now the expansion continues in Scotland as well as the Caribbean and Canada. Cabot is now building Cabot Highlands next to Castle Stuart Golf Links in Inverness, Scotland.

I had a brief tour of the construction of Cabot Highlands on a recent visit to Scotland, and it looks sensational. Set to open in 2025, the course is being designed by renowned golf architect Tom Doak and will feature plenty of views of the glistening Firth of Moray and of the building for which its sister course, Castle Stuart, is named. The idea is to test the best, but be playable for the rest, Castle Stuart manager Stuart McColm told me as we went for a spin around the course.

After opening Cabot Cliffs in 2015 Cowan-Dewar wasn’t sure he wanted to build another layout. But he was taken aback by the stunning, rocky coastline in Saint Lucia. The Port Hardy Golf Club/Cabot Saint Lucia opened in the fall of 2023.


Cabot St Lucia. Photo: Jacob Sjoman

The rocky, rise-and-fall coast looks like a jigsaw puzzle that was tossed in the air and landed in a humble-jumble fashion. The natural landscape may even exceed what nature has generously provided at Pebble Beach in California. “I think it’s just jaw-dropping,” Cowan-Dewar said.

Cabot Citrus Farms is scheduled for a grand opening sometime this year in central Florida. Located on rolling hills and sand dunes near Brooksville, about 50 minutes north of Tampa, the two courses at a layout previously known as World Woods were totally redesigned. Cabot Citrus Farms features two 18-hole layouts, a nine-hole course and an 11-hole par-three, as well as a new clubhouse and practice facilities.

Where to golf next

Just as he wasn’t sure about building Saint Lucia, Cowan-Dewar said he wasn’t necessarily looking for a course to design in Revelstoke in B.C. “They had a routing for a golf course that was a victim of the financial crisis. I knew the family, and I said I’d take a look at it.”

Steep mountain sides generally don’t make for great golf layouts. But he said the Revelstoke property has a “beautiful bench” with maybe 30 feet of elevation change. “And then it drops into the Columbia River valley, and it has beautiful views in all directions. It’s so spectacular.”

In addition to overseeing his growing golf business, Cowan-Dewar recently took a couple years to act as chairman of the board of what is now Destination Canada, which promotes Canadian tourism around the world. “As a Canadian, the country has given me a lot, I was very proud of it. I hope in a way it was a chance to give back to a country that’s given me a lot.”

Cowan-Dewar has been able to play the finest golf courses in the world. He cites his three top layouts as Royal Melbourne in Australia, the old course at St. Andrews in Scotland, and National Golf Links of America on Long Island in New York. “They’re all very different, but in some ways they’re similar to what we set out to do. I’m not saying we accomplished it. They’re really fun for a 15-handicap player but really challenging for a scratch golfer.”

Like a fine sculptor, Cowan-Dewar says great golf architects have been artists. “They had this huge canvas, which was a raw piece of land, and they ended up looking at how to use it correctly. It’s an unbelievable symphony. That’s what I always aspire to do with our golf courses.”

So, is there more expansion on the way? Cowan-Dewar won’t say for sure, but he is looking around Europe and North America. “I’m 44 years old,” he said with a smile. “I tell people I’ve got 44 good years left in me.”


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