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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 Don’t ask why I spent Thursday night at a truck stop instead of a motel; instead, take a page from my as-yet unpublished golf junket strategy book on pre-pinches and pull-aways.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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Branson, Missouri Continues to Evolve as a Golf Destination

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If you think you know Branson, Mo., it’s time to think again. While the live music venues that put the bucolic Ozark Mountains town on the map continue to thrive, its reputation as a top notch golf destination has grown … and continues to evolve.

Heck, golfers who’ve visited just a few years ago will find the scene almost unrecognizable. Sure, the awe-inspiring Top of the Rock — designed by legendary Jack Nicklaus and holding the honor of being the first-ever par-3 course to be included in a professional PGA championship — is as striking as ever, but its sister course, Buffalo Ridge, has undergone a metamorphosis.

No. 15 at Buffalo Ridge

Designed by renowned architect Tom Fazio and originally opened in 1999, Buffalo Ridge has done the unthinkable – make its list of previous accolades pale in comparison to what now graces the land. In conjunction with owner and visionary conservationist Johnny Morris, Fazio has exposed massive limestone formations, enhanced approaches and added water features to make every hole more memorable than the last.

Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio masterpieces not enough? Gary Player has stamped his signature in the Ozarks with the recently opened Mountain Top Course. This 13-hole, walking-only short course is unlike anything you’ve ever played.

Strap your bag to a trolley and let your imagination dictate your round. There are stakes in the ground with yardage markers nearby, but they’re merely suggestions. Play it long or play it short. Play it from different angles. The only mandate is to enjoy the course, nature and camaraderie.

No. 10 at Mountain Top

The Mountain Top greens are huge and as smooth as putting on a pool table. Nearly as quick, too. And the bunkers are as pristine as the white sands of an isolated Caribbean beach. Capping off your experience, the finishing hole plays back to the clubhouse and the green boasts multiple hole locations that enhance golfers’ chances at carding an ace. Hard to imagine a better way the end an already unforgettable round.

It shouldn’t take you much longer than two hours to get around Mountain Top Course. If it does, you were likely admiring the stunning panoramas. One notable addition to those views is Tiger Woods’ (TGR Design) first public access design — Payne’s Valley (named to honor Missouri golfing legend Payne Stewart) — which is full speed ahead on construction and scheduled to open in 2019. As a treat, the 19th hole was designed by Morris. Named “The Rock,” it’s a short par-3 that promises to be amazing.

Payne’s Valley will be both family-friendly and challenging. It has wide fairways and ample landing areas along with creative angles and approaches that shotmakers love and expect from a championship course.

If two years is too long to wait for new golf, then Morris and his Big Cedar Lodge have you covered with the yet-to-be-named ridge-top course by the industry’s hottest design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. With all the heavy lifting complete, the Ozarks is scheduled to be unveiled in 2018.

The Ozark Mountains form the backdrop on No. 5 at Buffalo Ridge.

Once opened, this par-71 (36-35) track will play “firm and fast” and offer multiple avenues into each green. Both Coore and Crenshaw bristle at the notion that there’s only one way to approach the playing surface. Bring it in high or run it along the ground. Considering the exposed nature of the course and propensity for high winds, the latter may be your best option.

There’s more. Tiger won’t be finished with Branson when he wraps up Payne’s Valley. He’s also designing a family-friendly par-3 course on the grounds of Big Cedar Lodge. There isn’t a date attached to this project, so stay tuned.

These new tracks join the likes of Thousand Hills, Branson Hills and Pointe Royale Golf Village to make Branson a powerful player on the golf destination scene. Combine that with world-class fishing and camping, as well as countless museums, restaurants and points of interest and this bustling Ozarks town is a must-visit spot in Middle America.

Learn more or plan your trip at explorebranson.com.

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Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club

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Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own. 

Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.

All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.

A view from the ninth fairway

Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.

Trees, or no trees?

The 18th tee

The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.

The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.

Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.

A good variety

Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16.  What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14.  These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set.  The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.

A view of the ninth fairway from across the Pennsylvania Turnpike

The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s tempt the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.

Green complexes are…complex

The green on the 18th hole

Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world.  They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.

The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a decent lie.

Ari’s last word

All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.

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Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers too many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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