20 minutes with: golf real estate developer Ben Cowan-Dewar
The world of golf has its undisputed pantheon of superstar real estate developers. There is Dana Garmany, founder and president of Troon; Steven Lesnik of KemperSports; and the Keizer family behind Bandon Dunes in Oregon and Sand Valley in Wisconsin.
Ben Cowan-Dewar is carving out a niche for himself among this group, carefully developing a collection of courses across the hemisphere tagged with bucket list views, luxury real estate opportunities, and community involvement.
The 42-year-old husband and father of three turned the golf and travel industry upside down in 2004, partnering with Michael Keizer Sr. to open Cabot Cape Breton and his golf site, Cabot Links. Built in what was once a mining town in its native Canada, the Nordic golf destination of Cowan-Dewar is home to three oceanfront courses, Cabot Links, Cabot Cliffs and The Nest.
The next page of Cowan-Dewar’s growing golf portfolio will turn to the Caribbean with the 2022 opening of Cabot Saint Lucia. Swept by ocean breezes and featuring a golf course designed by Coore and Crenshaw, the site will be a luxury real estate construction employing hundreds of residents recovering from the setbacks of the pandemic.
Following the opening of the Saint Lucia property up close, the focus will be on Cabot Revelstoke, a golf resort experience amid the mountain towns of British Columbia.
PENTA: After making Cabot Cape Breton a success in Nova Scotia, you expand into the Caribbean. Why there and not in Asia or South America?
Ben Cowan-Dewar: When we looked at our success in Cape Breton, we looked at where our guests collectively came from. If you had told me 17 years ago that people would come to Nova Scotia from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, I would have been shocked. Still, those are four of our top eight U.S. states for guest visiting. We expect this trend to continue, as populations in states like Florida and Texas will only increase as people continue to leave California.
We started to see where this same clientele went in the winter. This led us to focus on the Caribbean and the British Commonwealth Islands.
Why did you choose Saint Lucia in particular?
What we were looking for was what we had in Cape Breton, a spectacular property for real estate. We also wanted to find good air access and a strong and sustained island population. If you’ve added up everything we were looking to find on a list, it’s all here in Saint Lucia.
What business environment did you find when you first considered developing a property in the Caribbean?
Many projects were completed in the 2000s. Unfortunately, many of them did not survive the 2008 financial crisis. We looked at different sites across the islands at different levels of development. Some have come a long way to close, and others have barely started before suddenly stopping.
Even though I had never been to Saint Lucia, I heard of a promising development on the island. So, I came here in 2016. I was on the site less than 15 minutes before I knew this was it. I love Hawaii and the diversity of this landscape, and have found the same elements here, from the ocean to the rainforest to the drylands. The fact that the equator keeps it at 84 degrees all year round is a happy bonus.
The economies of the Caribbean suffered until 2008 from multiple hurricanes and a year of restrictions linked to Covid-19. What does it mean for an island like Saint Lucia to host a development like Cabot?
Saint Lucia was wonderful before we got here. It is known around the world for its wonderful culture, its people, its food. Yet the financial crisis was particularly devastating for Saint Lucia, as it was just beginning to develop with several properties nearing completion when the 2008 downturn hit.
We have brought an important development here to coincide with the arrival of Covid and the effect that has had on the main tourism industry on the island. The world has been turned upside down, and the world of golf has seen a lot of projects shut down. The decision to continue working on the Saint Lucia project during the pandemic made it important to the island’s recovery.
What increase in resort and golf travel do you expect to see as the pandemic abates?
I believe you will see a massive rebound in leisure travel. In fact, I think it will be one of the first economic crises after which you will see leisure travel lead a recovery. Usually, business travel is in the lead, but now the demand for leisure is so pent up that you will see a renaissance.
Saint Lucia’s development helps employ local workers after pandemic. You also support environmental and social causes around Cape Breton. Is philanthropy a signature of what Cabot is trying to build?
We are the largest employer in Cape Breton and we understand our responsibility to be a good corporate citizen in this community. In order to be able to build in places like Nova Scotia and St. Lucia with their immense natural beauty, it behooves us to be stewards of these regions – to give back to them. This standard remains the same wherever we are in the world.
This article has been edited for length and clarity.