The Architect Behind the New Course at Bandon Dunes and a West Coast Cabot Golf Destination
By Adam Stanley
Rod Whitman during the design of Canada's Cabot Links.
He’s got this gravelly, identifiable voice. He’s slow and steady – and often, these days, Rod Whitman is winning the race.
Whitman, now 69, is spearheading some impressive projects and is showing no signs of retreating to the sidelines any time soon.
“Over the next couple of years,” Whitman says with a smile, “we’ll be busy enough.”
A worldwide slate of projects
The ‘we’ in this instance is the firm of Whitman along with Keith Cutten and Dave Axland. Formed in 2020, the trio (both Whitman and Cutten are Canadian while Axland is American) have already put their names on some serious architecture efforts – The Nest at Cabot Cape Breton being one, with renovations near Toronto and Montreal, as well as a new build in Oregon called The Tribute Club, according to Beyond the Contour, being others.
Cabot Pacific in Revelstoke, British Columbia, is another big one (more on that later) while just recently it was announced the trio would be taking on a 19-hole par-3 course at the famed Bandon Dunes.
The eighth course at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon will be laid out below Bandon Trails and near Bandon Preserve, with 19 short holes of various lengths with more Instagram-worthy views and kisses of salty ocean air. This is a second short course option at the sprawling property alongside Bandon Preserve, a 13-hole course designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.
“It’s really cool,” Whitman says of the new Bandon project. “Any time you get a chance to work on some links land is pretty rare. We’ve got a routing in there to take advantage of whatever the land can give us – and it’s pretty exciting. It’s all sand and you can do a lot of things and at the same time you need to be careful not to do too much.
“It’s a little bit of a balancing act (but) it promises to be a fun place to play golf.”
Heart and soul
Whitman’s first solo design came in Alberta 40 years ago, the Wolf Creek Golf Resort. It continues to be one of the most celebrated courses in Canada and it’s often suggested that if the course wasn’t so remote in its location, it may have gained even more global accolades.
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“When I think about Wolf Creek I think about some of the people who put their heart and soul into its making,” Whitman told Golf Club Atlas in 2000. “And that is probably why it turned out special.”
Blackhawk Golf Club, as well as Sagebrush, are part of Whitman’s ever-growing list of amazing architecture. He’s worked on golf courses across North America, Europe, and Asia in his career and alongside Pete Dye and Bill Coore, mentors both. It was Coore who first introduced Whitman to golf architecture when he was in college in Texas.
“(Bill Coore) got me into the business and excited about golf course design, not just the subject, but as a career choice,” he says. “It was more ‘accident’ than ‘good sense’ in a lot of ways but I’m happy to be in the business.”
Whitman’s current crowning achievement, depending on who you ask, may be Cabot Links. Whitman and Axland built the course in 2011, the first at Cabot Cape Breton – which put that Canadian resort on the golf destination map and quickly became one of the top ranked courses in the world. It remains one of Canada’s best layouts, according to the Top 100 Golf Courses in Canada list by SCOREGolf Magazine, the country’s longest-running such list. It is currently ranked No. 5.
Whitman has another great Cabot opportunity, however, with the project in Revelstoke.
It could be a legacy-leaving project for Whitman, who is less known in his home country as some of the other big names like Doug Carrick, Ian Andrew and Tom McBroom. If Cabot Pacific does what many assume it will, given the landscape, Whitman will likely have five of Canada’s top 20 golf course designs under his name.
“It was all forest, and I knew there would be a few severe parts of it to negotiate around. Once we opened it up with clearing … the land gives you some exciting stuff for golf,” says Whitman of the Revelstoke project which has a “fingers-crossed” opening of 2024. “It was a tough job in some ways because you couldn’t always see what you were doing. You were limited in scope a little bit, the way the land was laid out. It had to go the way it ended up going in a lot of ways.”
Still, the idea, he admitted to Canada’s The Globe and Mail last year, is to have something that “rivals Banff Springs” – arguably the top mountain course in the country.
So, whether it be a short course at a world-renowned resort, or a mountain layout set to potentially become a country’s best, Whitman continues to have an authoritative – albeit quiet – voice in the golf architecture space.
“Mostly it is,” Whitman says with a laugh when asked if being a golf course architect is as fun as it’s always been. “It wears you down a little bit, the travel, which I’m not quite as fond of like I used to be. But other than that, it’s a fun thing to do.”
And golfers are having their own kind of fun around the world thanks to Whitman.