Cape Cod's best layouts offer something for everyone

By James Y. Bartlett, Contributor

With apologies (but not too many) to David Letterman, here are the Top 10 Reasons (and Places) to Play Golf on Cape Cod.

You've been sitting in traffic for hours and need to stretch your legs. Nobody likes to talk about the Cape's traffic woes. The two main highways that provide access to Cape Cod end in traffic rotaries before they cross the Cape Cod Canal, which means traffic almost always backs up -- usually for miles in both directions during busy summer weekends.

After sitting in stop-and-go conditions, you'll want to play someplace -- anyplace -- fast. Try the Falmouth Country Club. There are now 27 holes here, the course is good for walking, and it's an enjoyable layout through the piney woods. Conditions are usually good -- if not great -- and the best thing is that it's less than 10 miles from the Bourne Bridge.

9. You want to pretend you're a Kennedy.

Chances are JFK never played the Hyannis Country Club. Nor RFK or even Teddy K. But after a day of hanging around the famous Kennedy compound in Hyannis, or just with some time to kill before catching the ferry over to Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket, a round at the Hyannis muni isn't a waste of time.

Hyannis has hosted the Cape Cod Open and many other tournaments. The 6,711-yard track features open fairways, but the greens are small and quick. It's usually in pretty good condition, and there's a nice clubhouse where you can sit at the "bah" before you go get your "cah" and relive the glories of Camelot.

8. You want to pick some fresh cranberries off the trees.

Well, OK, cranberries -- one of the Cape's cash crops -- actually grow in bogs, and it's hard to pick one when you're waist-deep in the muck (which is why farmers flood the bogs at harvest time in the autumn and scoop up the floating berries).

But you can pretend at the excellent Cranberry Valley course in Harwich. The Geoffrey Cornish design bypasses a couple of working bogs, along with some wetland marshes. Lots of trees and dogleg holes make it tough. The facility includes a nice pro shop, driving range and putting green.

7. Your forebears came over on the Mayflower and you want to relive the glory.

Given the number of families claiming Mayflower heritage, the boat must have been as big as the Queen Mary II. Still, if you insist on maintaining your patrician roots, try a round at Ballymeade, the queen of the Cape's public courses.

The course was renovated about 10 years ago by Jim Fazio, working with the irrepressible Chi Chi Rodriquez. It's a spectacular routing on rolling terrain, and is usually in excellent condition. The view from the tee of the downhill par-3 11th is great: Buzzard's Bay and, on a rare clear day, Martha's Vineyard can be spotted off in the distance.

Ballymeade is a little more expensive than most Cape courses, but, after all, you can afford it. Your people came over on the Mayflower.

6. Your nautical roots run deep.

But you still need Dramamine when you go out in a rowboat. No matter. Golfing seafarers will feel right at home at the Captain's Golf Club in Brewster. The twin courses here -- Port and Starboard -- were designed by Brian Silva, and while the actual ocean is never in sight, the usually fresh ocean breeze does affect play in a big way.

You'll find the usual Cape Cod terrain of gentle hills, fairways tightly bordered by those scrubby Cape Cod pines, with a few large hardwoods thrown in for good measure, more than a few water holes, and good strategic bunkering. Each of the holes is named after a famous Cape Cod sea captain.

5. You've come for the fishing but forgot your pole.

Well, aren't we forgetful? No worries. A round of golf at Bass River golf course in Yarmouth is almost as good as fishing on the Bass River. In fact, hit enough balls into the Bass River and you can fish for those instead.

Originally laid out in 1900, this course was redesigned by Donald Ross in 1914 and its one of the Cape's most venerable tracks. Delightfully old fashioned, this is a nice antidote to the highly manicured, target golf design of the modern era. The fairways are quite open, but the Rossian greens are tiny. The par-3 sixth plays over a piece of the river -- so get your retriever ready.

4. If you get hungry, you can go to Sandwich.

It's one of the Cape's quaint little towns, not lunch. But I'm sure you can find a good sandwich in Sandwich.

You can also find Sandwich Hollows, the town's municipal course. Formerly known as Round Hill, the course starts and ends atop that elevation, and there are some nice views of Cape Cod Bay along the way.

The routing is more typical Cape golf: heavily tree-lined fairways that will give claustrophobics the willies, smallish greens surrounded by deep fescue rough and the occasional bunker. Still, the course offers good value. For a sandwich.

3. Your friends say you're a menace.

Naturally, you'll want to head for Dennis.

Ouch. Still, the town maintains two very good courses: Dennis Highlands and Dennis Pines.

The Pines course is the older of the two, and much the more challenging. Pines border almost every fairway of this twisting layout which stretches all the way out to 7,000 yards. Hit it sideways and start adding big numbers to the card.

The Highlands is a bit easier at just 6,400 yards and much more room off the tees. But the terrain is rolling and the design, one of the earliest courses by Michael Hurdzan, can be tricky in spots.

If you go, don't ask for Mister Wilson. They've heard that one about a zillion times.

2. You've got friends in high places.

As always, there are a healthy handful of truly wonderful golf courses on the Cape reserved for members only. Get out the Rolodex and find someone you know who can get you on one of the top-notch private courses.

Willowbend is the home course of Paul Fireman of Reebok fame. In fact, he owns it. Great 27-hole layout, bedecked with gorgeous flowers. The olde money types play out of venerable clubs such as Eastward Ho! in Chatham, Cohasset CC, Cummaquid in Yarmouthport or the Hyannisport CC, where JFK probably did play.

You'll find the nouveau riche playing out of the newer clubs, such as Cape Cod National in Brewster, or the newly privatized New Seabury courses.

And the Number One reason to Play Golf on Cape Cod is .

1. You're looking for something completely different.

You could just skip golf and visit Provincetown, away out on the tip of the Cape. One of the world headquarters for, ummm, "alternative" lifestyles, P' town is an interesting place, but for something different on the golf course, two suggestions.

Geoffrey Cornish is one of Massachusetts' better home-grown architects, and his Holly Ridge course in Sandwich is a perfectly lovely par-three course. Playing a par-three track is always an underrated experience - we all need practice with the short game - and this imaginative design is a joy to play. No pushover, either, with a good mixture of long and short one-shot holes.

And one of my all-time favorite Cape Cod golf experiences came at the Highland Links in Truro, on the road up to Provincetown. One of the oldest courses in the United States, dating from 1892, the course plays in the shadow of the towering Truro Lighthouse.

Though just nine holes and often somewhat raggedy around the edges, this course offers one of the few authentically Scottish-style links golf experiences to be found on this side of the pond. Built in an area of towering sand dunes, and with some stunning ocean views, this treeless course is at the mercy of the wind and weather.

Hard fairways, run-up shots to the greens, a few ball-swallowing bunkers -- it's all here. And it's great fun to play.

James Y. Bartlett, Contributor

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