by Bill Higgins
Golf buddy trips are musts on bucket lists for many lovers of the small ball. Dreams of a getaway junket to Pebble Beach on California’s Monterey Coast or a vacation to the roots of the game in the British Isles would quench the thirst of anyone who lives to grip it and rip it. However, you need not travel far for terrific places to tee it up. From the bridges of the Upper Cape to the National Seashore on the Outer Cape, Cape Cod and the islands is a worthy golfing destination.
There are nearly three dozen public courses offering a variety of challenges. The area is rich in history, from one of the nation’s oldest courses to some of the most exclusive private clubs. President John F. Kennedy called Hyannis Port home. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama played on Martha’s Vineyard during summer vacations.
As a public service to visitors and year-rounders alike, we’re offering a vacation week sampler: Seven courses in seven days, highlighting locations across the Cape and islands. A word of advice: Make tee times in advance and check out the courses online.
So let’s play with this thought from the great golf ambassador Arnold Palmer: “What other people may find in poetry or art museums, I find in the flight of a good drive.”
We begin at Highland Links in North Truro, a nine-hole gem perched along wind-swept bluffs of the Atlantic Ocean with Cape Cod Light serving as an iconic backdrop. The historic course dates back to 1892, making it one of the oldest in the country.
Highland’s raw, natural beauty is reminiscent of the game invented in Scotland in the 15th century. As you stroll through the moorland and Rosa rugosa you can almost hear the wailing of bagpipes. Wind is always a factor here and the vagaries of links golf often yield odd bounces and lies.
A couple of favorite holes: Number two is a par-5 from an elevated tee into a beach canyon. The fairway is guarded by the Jenny Lind Tower, a stone castle turret named for the 19th-century Swedish opera star. The ninth hole is a wonderfully short par-3 requiring a precise iron to a diabolical two-tiered green.
No golfer worth his soul should leave the Cape without playing Highland Links. And the good news is the course is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore and will forever remain protected land.
10 Highland Light Road, North Truro
Duly inspired and with a hint of salt spray still in the air, our next stop is Cranberry Valley in Harwich. The course was ravaged by a tornado in July 2019 and nearly 200 trees came down, but the character of layout was not impacted.
This is a pleasant, walkable course and the finishing holes are memorable. The 17th is a long par-3—225 yards from the tips. Take enough club to carry the false front. The 18th hole is a doozy—it measures 500-plus yards and is a horseshoe-shaped, double-dogleg par-5. Tall trees that were spared by the twister remain and guard the approach to the green.
183 Oak Street, Harwich
Today we’re at Blue Rock Golf Course in South Yarmouth, which has earned national acclaim as one of the best par-3 courses in the country. The holes range from 100 to 255 yards, making it attractive for youngsters and a nice change of pace for experienced players. However, 18 par-3s are anything but a pitch-and-putt breather. Blue Rock demands accurate iron play and a confident putting stroke.
Among the best holes are the ninth, which is 169 yards over water to a kidney-shaped green, and the 18th—184 yards over water from an elevated tee to a bowl-shaped green.
Blue Rock Golf Course
48 Todd Road, South Yarmouth
We’re island hopping, setting sail for Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard and the Farm Neck Golf Club. Actually, it’s a ferry ride so have a second cup of coffee and enjoy the cruise. Farm Neck has been ranked among the best public courses in the United States and the recognition is deserved.
You’ll also chuckle at a unique local rule: “Any ball moved or stolen by seagulls should be moved back or played at the original lie.” When you get to the fourth hole, you’ll see why it has been called the “Pebble Beach of the East.” The par-3 plays from an elevated tee to a narrow green set against a backdrop of Sengekontacket Pond.
Farm Neck Golf Club
1 Farm Neck Way, Oak Bluffs
Twice is nice and the second island on our itinerary is Nantucket’s Miacomet Golf Course. All you need to know about the quality of this track is the U.S. Golf Association awarded it to cohost the 2021 national mid-amateur championship.
Miacomet was expanded to 18 holes in 2003 and renovated in 2008 to create a links-style experience of wispy fescue and the stunning views you’d expect from a course 30 miles into the Atlantic. There’s a laid-back atmosphere, but don’t relax too much—your game will be tested and you’ll finish on 18 wanting more.
Miacomet Golf Course
12 West Miacomet Road, Nantucket
Back on the mainland, it’s on to the Cape Club in East Falmouth. The former Ballymeade course was quirky, to be kind, but the old design has been completely transformed into a terrific layout. White-sand bunkers similar to Augusta National (think Masters) are among many aesthetic touches. Wider, more receptive fairways and multi-tiered putting surfaces also make the Cape Club more enjoyable.
The par-3 11th from an elevated tee to a green surrounded by bunkers is the signature hole. No. 18 is a par-5 that—with a good drive—might tempt you to get home in two, but beware the pond fronting the green.
Cape Club in East Falmouth
125 Falmouth Woods Road, East Falmouth
We finish our tour at Olde Barnstable Fairgrounds in Marstons Mills. “Old Barny” is home to the Cape Cod Open and gets its name from the former site of the Barnstable County Fair.
Arrive early and get loose. The first hole is a challenging par-5 with trouble left all the way to the green. The closing 18th hole is another par-5. A good tee shot will leave you with an interesting decision. A tall holly tree in the middle of the fairway gives you an option to go left, right or over, leaving a short approach to an elevated green.
Olde Barnstable Fairgrounds
1460 MA-149, Marstons Mills