There is a certain pride, call it a badge of honor if you will, dedicated golfers share when late October and November roll around. The crowds have disappeared, leaving the courses to determined men and women who continue to pursue their pastime even though they must now cloak themselves in heavy sweaters and wind jackets.
For some of us only the first snows of late fall or early winter are enough to push us off the fairways and into our heated homes. Even then we hopefully survey the landscape and keep close tabs on The Weather Channel, praying for a warm snap in January or February that will allow the courses to open again, if only for a few days.
One of the best places to knock it around during late fall and even into the winter, weather permitting of course, is Cape Cod, where the mild breezes of the Atlantic take the chill out of the air and the sun warms the land over which courses meander.
If Mother Nature cooperates many golf courses on the Cape will stay open through the winter, providing an added bonus to our annual golfing experience.
It doesn’t take a visitor to Cape Cod long to run into one of the best golfing values on that narrow strip of land, Sandwich Hollows Golf Club. Sandwich Hollows Golf Club has seen its overall conditioning improve dramatically and offers views of Cape Cod Bay to the north from several holes, and the course is bordered by hundreds of acres of conservation area to the east, west and south. This gives the golfer a feeling of being isolated from players on other holes.
Sandwich Hollows features a number of par-fours on the short side, several long par-threes, and challenging par-fives, one of which (the sixth hole) measures close to 600 yards from the tips.
A few miles away The Brookside Club is another course that has seen its overall conditioning improve dramatically. Designed by Michael Hurdzan in 1986 and “refined” by John Sandford in 1996, Brookside is the first golf course a traveler comes upon crossing over the Bourne Bridge and traveling south on Route 28 for a bit.
But Brookside would be worth considerable more effort to reach from the mainland. For it presents a solid test of golf and has received plaudits for its conditioning and interesting routing. It also has one of the most impressive clubhouses on the Cape, sitting atop a hill overlooking Buzzards Bay and a railroad bridge that crosses the Cape Cod Canal.
“The course has grown in nicely,” says Dave Bartlett, director of golf. “Some people claim it is target golf and you have to hit it straight to score well. But there aren’t a lot of forced carries and the undulating fairways are unlike the typical Cape golf course.”
Brookside has three sets of tees to meet the playing abilities of all visitors. While relatively short this is a course that can eat your piping hot New England clam chowder if you’re not thoughtful on each shot.
“We don’t have members and are open 363 days of the year weather permitting,” claims says Dave Bartlett, director of golf.
Golfers are buzzing about the improved conditions and wonderfully scenic test of golf Bay Pointe Country Club presents. Once known as Warham Country Club, Bay Pointe offers a fun routing and a course that is easy to walk.
“We have really improved conditions here,” said Tom Tobey, head professional at Bay Pointe Country Club in Onset. “Our new superintendent, Russ Bragdon, deserves a lot of credit for all he has done.”
Bay Pointe, located just a mile from the Cape Cod Canal on the mainland side of the Cape, plays only 6,201 yards from the tips and is a par-70. It is a shot maker’s course, one where correct club selection and accurate positioning is rewarded more than brute strength off the tee.
The terrain of Bay Point is gentle, except for some hilly sections on the opening two holes, the first a par-five that measures close to 500 yards and the second the longest par-four on the course at 465 yards.
The layout also features one of the few island greens in Massachusetts, the seventh hole, which plays only 100 yards from the back tees. But you had better hit it right on the number or double bogey or worse comes into the equation.
Up Route 6 a bit from Sandwich Hollows is the Yarmouth’s 45-hole facility that includes Bayberry Hills Golf Course and The Links 9 and Bass River Golf Course.
The original 18 holes at Bayberry Hills was designed by the notable team of Geoffrey Cornish and Brian Silva and opened for play in 1986. This is a true “championship” layout, which can be stretched to almost 7,200 yards. The track features seven par-fours of over 400 yards and three par-threes over 200 yards, including the monstrous 241-yard 17th hole. Number four is a superb par-four, playing around 400 yards with water guarding the right side of the fairway landing area and the front of the green.
The Links 9 was opened in 1999 and is a fun course to play if you want to tack another nine holes onto your round or merely looking to fit a little golf in between sightseeing or a day at the beach. A number of the holes are doglegs, which makes approach shots tricky if you don’t put your tee shot in the proper position. Number nine is a 195-yard par-three that demands a solid shot over water to reach a medium size green.
In contrast to the modern styling of Bayberry Hills, Bass River offers a 100-year-old course that the legendary Donald Ross renovated and expanded in 1914. The course rolls along among trees and sandy hills and features narrow fairways, small greens and views of nearby Bass River.
The club’s signature hole is the sixth, a 169-yard three par that plays across the river. The layout is on the short side, but the holes demand good shot making and a deft touch around the greens, a Ross trademark.
The Captains Golf Course is Brewster offers 36 holes of very good golf on two distinct 18-hole layouts. The club bills itself as the Cape’s premier public golf facility and who is going to argue. The conditioning here is always top notch, the golf is challenging and scenic, there are two practice greens and a driving range, a restaurant, a staff that is always available for lessons, and a fully-stocked pro shop.
The two courses--The Port and The Starboard--are solid routings. The Port plays to a yardage of 6,724 yards and has a slope of 131 and a rating above its posted par of 72, which gives an indication of the difficulty of some of the holes. Perhaps the best is the 573-yard, par-five eighth. A pond guards the putting surface and there are several large fairway bunkers to complicate matters.
The Starboard Course plays around 6,800 yards and has a slope of 122. It’s a bit more “player friendly,” with wide fairways and large greens and fewer bunkers than its stable mate, which makes it more suitable for seniors and mid handicappers. But there is enough challenge to keep even the best players interested. Number 18 is a great finishing hole, a 534-yard par-five that can be reached in two by big hitters.
Located in Plymouth, a few short miles from the Cape Cod Canal lies Waverly Oaks Golf Club, which stays open well into the winter season. Waverly Oaks is a challenging and scenic layout that is impeccably manicured, with wide, forgiving fairways and Tour quality greens. There’s an 18-hole championship tract and a nine-hole “challenger” course. The layouts here embody many of the classic designs associated with some of the most famous courses in the country and feature dramatic elevation changes. The championship 18 measures 7,114 yards for the tips, but has several teeing areas to meet the playing abilities of all golfers.
Waverly Oaks has a number of superb holes, including possibly the most difficult and imposing par-three in New England--or anywhere else for that matter. It’s 251 yards from the tips and the tee shot is to an elevated green. You had better hit it true. Balls short tumble down into a monstrous sand trap that sits some 30 feet below the putting surface.
The coastal courses of Rhode Island’s South County will also push the calendar back as far as they can.
Richmond’s Beaver River Golf Club features superbly conditioned fairways and impeccable bent grass greens. This is a truly enjoyable course that favors careful course management and a thoughtful approach to each shot rather than brawn.
Beaver River plays only 6,006 yards from the tips, but narrow, tree-lined fairways, many of which are bend one way or the other, and plenty of hazards can turn a seemingly easy hole into a double bogey.
The 333-yard second hole is a prime example of the risk/reward philosophy that dominates the Beaver River routing. You can cut off a huge chuck of yardage on the dogleg left by drawing your tee shot. But miss it left or straight and the woods come into play. Several other holes on the front side dare you to take a driver over the trees framing the doglegs to shorten the hole.
Number 18 is a good finishing hole. It plays 410 yards from the tips with the drive needing to stay clear of woods left and right and a large fairway bunker. The approach is to a deep green that has a pond guarding the left side. Beaver River is a course that will leave you wanting more.
Laurel Lane Country Club, located in West Kingston, bills itself as “The Gem of South County” and features immaculate conditions and a player-friendly routing.
This is another relatively short, 6,128 yard course that is owned by Videtta Golf Management, which also operates Country View Country Club in Burriville, R.I., Putnam Country Club in Putnam, Ct., and Pine Ridge Country Club in North Oxford, Mass.
Laurel Lane only has two par-fours that play over 400 yards, the first and 10th, with a number of short “fours” that allow the player to get it as close to the green as possible with driver or play safe with a fairway wood or long iron off the tee.
The toughest hole on the track is, ironically, the first. The 400-yard par-four seems pretty straightforward, but a pond protects the right side of the fairway landing area and three bunkers will gobble up shots that wander too far left.
Number 18 is a fine finishing hole, measuring 536 yards from the tips. The layout in fact ends with an interesting mix of two par-threes and two par-fives.
Fenner Hill Golf Club, another track that is only a few years old and located in Hope Valley, is another shot maker’s course. Longer than Laurel Lane and Beaver River at 6,650 yards from the back markers, Fenner Hill places a premium on accurate drives and careful approaches to the greens. There are a number of forced carries here, which can complicate matters but also add to the thrill of playing.
The number one handicap hole is the 579-yard par-five eighth, which is just one long, beast of a challenge and a true three-shot hole for most players.
The 15th is perhaps Fenner Hills’ signature hole. The 325-yard par-four plays from an elevated tee with a pond protecting the right side of the putting surface and three bunkers standing sentinel to the front and left of the green.
Number 17 is a very nice example of a tough, short par-four. It plays only 315 yards, but doglegs left and the drive must clear a waste area and stay away from fairway traps on either side of the landing area.
The 18th is a difficult way to conclude a round. The par-four plays 455 yards from the tips and requires a second shot over a waste area to a slightly elevated green.
Connecticut’s Shennecossett Golf Course in Groton, built in 1898, is as close to a true links course as you will find in the Nutmeg State and stays open all year if there is no snow. The layout rambles over mostly flat land and has the design features--pot bunkers, tall fescue grass off the fairways and even three holes on or near the ocean, albeit Long Island Sound--that are hallmarks of links courses. When the wind blows hard at Shenny in early April it can bend the flagsticks and make some par-fours impossible to reach in two.
While there are several holes that are tree lined, the course for the most part is wide open with several sunken fairways that are so prevalent on Scottish and Irish courses.
The new holes at Shenny are 15, 16 and 17, with the 16th, a 400-yard par-four, finishing on a green that lies within a chip shot of Long Island Sound, offering stunning views of the water. The finishing hole, a 500-yard par-five, is a strong way to end a round. It’s a classic links style hole that has fairway bunkers and plays up a hill over open ground and then down to a green protected by more bunkers.
Laurel View Country Club in Hamden, although inland a bit from Long Island Sound, will stay open as long as it can if the weather cooperates. A reconditioning of the layout has dramatically improved conditions in recent years and this Geoffrey Cornish design is a true hidden gem.
The course can be stretched beyond 7,000 yards and features some of the toughest par-fours in the state, like the 479-yard fifth. There’s a pond guarding the right side of the green, which often must be attacked with a long iron or fairway wood. Number nine is 450 yards from the back markers, and climbs up a hill to the putting surface, making the hole play 20 to 30 yards longer than its listed yardage.
The seventh hole is a monstrous par-three, measuring around 250 yards from the tips, leaving even the best players with a fairway wood in their hands on the tee box.
Ironically, the par-fives are on the short side, but they are not pieces of cake. Take the 490-yard 14th, which plays even shorter because it’s downhill off the tee. However, there is a pond in front of the green that must be carried and bunkers guarding the putting surface. The hole is a superb example of a par-five that can be attacked on the second shot. But bogey or worse waits if you don’t put your approach in the right spot.
So, don’t pack your clubs away to quickly, there is plenty of golf to be played in Southern New England.