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A golfer’s dazzling Cape: Golf along Cape Cod

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When a sandy strand extends out into the ocean, it doesn’t take long for golf to establish itself as a primer recreational and fiscal entity. Cape Cod’s proximity to the Atlantic ocean extends its golfing season on both shoulders of summer. As a result, a great number of diverse golf courses are able to make a financial go of it. If you’ve never been, you have no reason to avoid golf on the Cape any longer.

Of 43 or so golf courses and clubs on the extensive promontory, 31 are public-access venues boasting varied topography, turf base and fairway trace. Stretching from Falmouth in the Southwest corner of the peninsula to Truro at the point of the hook, the golf along Cape Cod should be recognized and respected at a different level of awareness. That it isn’t might be a testament to the ability of Codders to guard a secret or of the variety of parallel activities available from town to town.

For a region known for antiques, seafood, vineyards, cranberries, beaches and wooden-bat baseball, it’s not a stretch for golf to take a back seat to the extraordinary offerings found along the cape, from the mainland out to Provincetown. Fair enough, the Cape doesn’t need to promote itself as Myrtle Beach North or Monterey East. If you find yourself in Woods Hole, Barnstable or Chatham and your clubs happen to be in your trunk, you’ll discover how profound the golf is along the 65-mile stretch of Route 6, from the Sagamore bridge to Provincetown.

My time on Cape Cod was brief, for reasons best left to the denouement of a sad romance novel. I arrived on a Friday morning and left at a Tuesday sunrise. Don’t ask why I spent Thursday night at a truck stop instead of a motel; instead, take a page from my as-yet unpublished golf junket strategy book on pre-pinches and pull-aways. A pre-pinch is a quick nine or 18 that you play the evening before the trip officially begins. I did that at Whitinsville (pronounced like the color) golf club in Massachusetts, a classic nine-hole layout kinda sorta Southwest of Boston. A pull-away is a round of golf you play on your way out of town, serving as a bridge between vacation and reality. I was able to play Pinehills’ Jones course (and photograph the Nicklaus as well) on my way out of town on Tuesday.

Oh, right, the Cape of Cod. There are two types of driving that you undertake when moving east-to-west or west-to-east on the great sandy stretch of Massachusetts. If you find yourself kicking back, enjoying the sun and breeze, the smell of the sea and the taste of lobster, you drive along unmarked paths, through roundabouts and past shanties, cottages and shacks. And it takes a while, but remember, you’re kicking back. If you absolutely and positively need to get somewhere promptly, you take Route 6, also known as the Mid-Cape Highway. It’s four lanes at times and moves well. It doesn’t have much of a shoulder, but you’ll get up to speed and stay there most days. I highly recommend it for golf junkets and you can’t miss it if you enter the Cape at the Sagamore bridge.

Rather than move west to east, as a typical Cape Cod rendezvous works, it just might be easier to reverse direction and start at the hook. In truth, there is no golf in Provincetown, but there are amazing beaches on the outskirts and a funky, hilly, trendy place filled with really good-looking people to pass a day. About 10 miles outside of Provincetown is a can’t-miss golfing opportunity, one of the few, true links golf courses in North America.

For those not in the know, a links golf course is found on land that “links” the sea with the farm land. It was land where animals grazed, too sandy to be of any worth to crop growers. As a result, it boasts perfect drainage for golf, along with firm fairways and a variety of native grasses. Highland Links in North Truro is a nine-hole haven, in the shadow of the Truro Lighthouse. It begins like a Scottish course might, across a bluff to the first green, then down a descent into a valley far below to N0. 2. The third scales the cliff and your breath scarcely returns until you find yourself halfway up No. 4. Highland Links play thus for six holes, then suddenly turns into an Irish glen, offering a different experience the last third of the way. Your only regret is that, looking left or right, a complimentary nine holes on adjacent property are easily imagined.

Highland Links

Highland Links

My next stop along the way was the Captain’s Golf Course, a 36-hole property officially in the town of Brewster, but situated as close to Chatham as one could imagine. I played the Port course early in the trip and anticipated a return to play the Starboard. Unfortunately for me, a foul, rain-soaked wind blew in as my tee time approached, and I was forced to retreat to a local shack where I gorged myself on delicious lobster tails. No matter, for my trip around the Port course gave me a sense of the property. The Captain’s is a memorable layout for vacationing and resident golfers alike. Its conditioning is far above average and the variety of holes is diverse enough to satisfy any architecture buff. The staff was exceedingly accommodating and the pace of play, laudable.

Captains-Port Course

Captains-Port Course

A bit more to the west brought me to the Cranberry Valley golf course, designed by the same architect (Geoffrey Cornish) who laid out the Captain’s. Cornish, who recently passed, was known for his ability to design playable courses that allowed beginners to get around, yet challenged the expert to a certain degree. The Cranberry Valley layout fits that model to a tee. It’s rare that you get bitten with a double bogey or worse, but to make par or better, you have to accurately place each shot in the proper space, in order to access the next optimal space. My best round, score-wise, took place at Cranberry Valley. I picked up a hitchhiking golfer on the No. 18 tee and gave her a ride in. She kept my mind on conversation and off the golf, at which point I promptly hit driver, 5 iron, wedge to 4 feet for a closing birdie. She would have followed me to the next course, I suspect, but you know, the wife and all…

Cranberry Valley golf course

Cranberry Valley golf course

Farther inland, in the town of Yarmouth, lies the Bass River golf course. As far as hidden gems go, lasses and lads, this is one to remember. Donald Ross, the transplanted Scotsman, laid down the fairway corridors and green sites over this magnificent tract of land. Adjacent to an inlet and a bog, the Bass River course arcs beyond crevasses and barrancas, over salt ponds and across rumpled fairways. Putting greens are benched into hillsides and fairways at times are hidden from the tee. It was my good fortune to run into a collegiate hero, Jim Hallet. Hallet was a PGA Tour player whose career was derailed by injury. A native to the area, he is back as a pro and instructor at Bass River. I played 14-or-so holes with his nephew, a good stick and conversationalist. When the lad took off No. 15’s tee, I surmised that the text he received was from a younger and cuter playing companion. Ahh, sweet birdie of youth.

9th Hole at Bass River

The ninth hole at Bass River

I haven’t mentioned it, but Cape Cod is home to a number of first-class private clubs. They are exceedingly restrictive in their access, but the proper letter from your club professional just might forge the key that turns the lock. It’s worth an effort, as they are the stuff of memories, both in conditioning and strategic layout. For me, I’d seen enough over my four days (plus pincher plus pull-away) to know that I’ll find some excuse to return for more golf. After all that, I’ve still got to get to the Vineyard and Nantucket, where they say that more links golf awaits.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. david

    Dec 15, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    Just curious, why did you choose Pinehills over Waverly Oaks?

  2. Sean

    Nov 20, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    If you ever go back, play Blue Rock. A Cornish design par three track in S Yarmouth, with holes ranging from 103 to 255 yards. A real gem. I believe in 2011 Golf Magazine rated it one of the top ten par three courses in the United States.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Nov 21, 2013 at 6:33 am

      Sean, that is helpful. It is very close to Bass River, no? I considered it but wanted to play par 72s my first time through. This gives me yet another reason to return!

  3. Ronald Montesano

    Nov 18, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Thank you for your comments. Keep them coming, along with suggestions for other course for the next trip. Tell your friends about this piece, so that they might offer up opinions and suggestions, too.

  4. Sam

    Nov 18, 2013 at 9:34 am

    Make the trip to Nantucket after Oct. 15th. Stay for at least one night and play Miacomet one day and Sankaty Head the other. Sankaty Head is private club that opens to the public after Oct. 15th and is one of the most picturesque golf courses you’ll ever play. Miacomet was just voted the best public golf course in Massachusetts. A fantastic weekend trip.

  5. Jim

    Nov 18, 2013 at 8:48 am

    Nice article. You can truly play golf year round, assuming not too much snow, on the Cape although it might get cold at times. Most of the public courses there are very nice, challenging and well kept year round. A few more to consider are Bayberry and Old Barnstable Fairgrounds too, all of which were designed by either Cornish or Silva and are terrific courses. There’s also quite a few private courses that are worth begging your way onto as well. Those of us in MA consider playing on the Cape during the fall and winter as some of the best times to play too.

  6. Sully

    Nov 18, 2013 at 2:46 am

    Growing up on the Cape this was a cool article. Especially your choice to play Highland Links. One cool fact is that little round tower in the background that aim at on the downhill second is an old WWII submarine lookout tower. One correction though….Cape Cod is just about as far south as one can get in good ol MA.

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Courses

Hidden Gem of the Day: George Dunne National in Oak Forest, Illinois

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member DeeBee30, who takes us to George Dunne National in Oak Forest, Illinois. The course is a part of the Illinois Forest Preserve golf system, and in DeeBee30’s description of the course, the challenge provided is underlined as just one of the highlights of the course.

“Really fun tree-lined parkland layout with some interesting holes that cover rolling terrain that you don’t find in many Chicago-area golf courses.  Coming in at 7262 yards and 75.4/142 from the tips, Dunne offers four sets of tees that will provide a good test for most golfers.  The course gets a lot of play, but it’s always in great condition.”

According to George Dunne National’s website, 18 holes during the week will cost in the region of $40, while the rate rises to $75 should you want to play on the weekend.

@ThomasRWitt1963

@GolfTfs

@Kurtis1908

Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Hidden Gem of the Day: Gearhart Golf Links in Gearhart, Oregon

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member Mr Guy, who takes us to Gearhart Golf Links in Gearhart, Oregon. Established in 1892, Gearhart Golf Links is the oldest course on the Oregon coast, and in his description of the track, Mr Guy praises the design of the course.

“Super fun links design out on the northern Oregon course. Ocean not visible but right near it and there a few holes that would not be out of place anywhere.”

According to Gearhart Golf Links’ website, 18 holes can be played for $50, however, to play in peak summer months will set you back $85.

@rg_ducksports

@mauilou808

@tonijdear

Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Exploring Ireland: Where to golf, drink and stay on the Emerald Isle. Pt. 4. Bearna Golf Club, Galway

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In these series of articles, I will be taking you around the Emerald Isle providing you with great golf courses to visit in some of the loveliest spots in Ireland. I’ll also be highlighting the best and most authentic Irish bars in these spots, as well as places to stay, eat and how to get there. Whether you’re taking a golfing holiday to Ireland in 2019 or are interested in doing so sometime in the future, I’ll make sure to let you in on the best places to spend your time.

In Part Three of our Exploring Ireland Series, we went west and focused on Spanish Point Golf Club in Clare. Now it’s time for Part Four, and we’re staying on the west coast and taking the short trip up to County Galway.

Galway city is famous for its bustling nightlife, and in terms of bars to choose from, there are few better places in Ireland. Whether it’s a quiet night out and a meal, enjoying a few pints with some live traditional music, or a wild all-nighter you’re looking for, Galway certainly has you covered. Conveniently, the city also homes some top golf courses, which makes it a must-visit destination for anyone coming to this island.

Bearna Golf Club, Galway

@kevinmarkham

Galway Golf Club and Galway Bay Golf Resort are usually the two golf courses that people think of when they mention this county. But lurking under the radar is Bearna Golf Club, which will provide you with just as incredible an experience as those two courses, at a lower price.

Located within a 15-minute drive of Galway City, Bearna GC offers an authentic Irish golfing experience. Surrounded by bogland, you can expect your nose to take in all of the scents of Ireland as you navigate your way through the rugged land of humps, gorse bushes and ditches that will give your game a real workout.

@kevinmarkham

Creeks will appear on most fairways, so don’t expect to be able to turn up and grip it and rip it. Bearna is a golf course that is going to make you think, and with the challenges provided, will most likely test your patience as well as your skill.

The track offers five different sets of tees, all of which provide for a fun test. The course ranges between 4,897 yards and 6,271 yards and plays as either a Par 72 or 71 depending on the tees you choose. Thirteen holes feature water, and the one relief that you will find here that is different than other courses in the area is the lack of fairway bunkers.

@IrishGolfPhotos

Robert J. Browne designed the course back in 1996, and as well as the feeling you will have of being amongst nature, you will also have impressive views of the Aran Islands, Galway Bay and the famous Burren.

During the week, 18 holes around Bearna GC will set you back just under $50, while to play on the weekend the rate rises to $75. Don’t be surprised if after your round you want another crack at this deceptive course.

Food & Drink – Tig Coili, Galway

@DBloom451

There is no “best pub in Galway.” The city has an inordinate amount of amazing watering holes to spend your night, and it just comes down to personal taste and what experience you are looking to have for your night. As someone who loves the feel of an old traditional Irish pub though, Tig Coili gets my vote.

@stacy_sobieski

Located in the Latin Quarter of Galway City, this place will often have swarms of people flooding out from the bar onto the street. Traditional music plays here every night, with 14 music sessions each week. The pub prides itself on its music, with pictures of famous musicians that have played here in the past covering the walls.

Also, Tig Coili’s pint of Guinness is renowned for being one of the best in the area, and it’s what 90 percent of folks will be drinking for the night here.

@MeetInGalway

As for food in Galway, it can only be oysters. Described by multiple top chefs as the “best flavoured in the world,” the oysters here come from Galway Bay and are so popular in the city that should you visit here in September you can enjoy Galway’s three day Oyster festival.

You can hop into most bars in Galway serving food and throw back half a dozen oysters, but if you want to experience them for a sit-down meal then go and visit Oscars Seafood Bistro, where the flavour will blow your socks off. An early bird two-course meal of half a dozen oysters and a plate of steaming hot mussels with fries will cost just $20. The perfect drink pairing for oysters? Guinness. Ideal.

Where To Stay

My recommendation is to stay in the center of Galway. We’ve gone traditional in our visits to Donegal and Clare, but for Galway, the city is so alive that you will want to stay right in the heart of it. The Jury’s Inn is a solid option, which will leave you within walking distance of the best bars, restaurants and sights to see in the city. A double room here will set you back in the region of $100 a night.

@WriterVicYates

If you like to shop then visit Quay Street, where you can take in the shops while plenty of buskers on the street entertain you, while the bronze statue of Irish writer Oscar Wilde and Estonian writer Eduard Vilde is an imposing outdoor sight that is a trendy spot for a photo.

@IndoSport

But as we’re sports lovers, then when in Galway do whatever you can to catch a game of hurling. Galway’s hurling side are currently one of the best teams in the land, winning the All-Ireland title in 2017, and they possess some of the most passionate fans. Just try not to mention the last final when you get here.

How to Get There

Galway is about as accessible as it gets from anywhere in the island. You can take the train from any major city in Ireland, and it’ll take you right into the city center of Galway. A direct train from Dublin City will arrive in Galway in just over two hours.

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