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Courses on the Mid-Cape

By: Rob Duca


Golf on mid-Cape Cod offers a selection of solid town courses that are challenging, intriguing and reasonably priced. From Sandwich, just a five-minute drive over the Sagamore Bridge, to Dennis and Yarmouth, you will find seven top-notch layouts, including an historical Donald Ross-designed venue and a pair of courses that regularly host the Cape Cod Open, the area's top professional event.

Here's a look at all seven.

Sandwich Hollows Golf Course

Sandwich Hollows Golf Course

The perception of Sandwich Hollows Golf Club was cemented through the years in the minds of locals and tourists. Ask golfers to comment on the course and you'd often hear unkind descriptions like "too hilly," "burnt out," "rock-hard greens" and, "What's up with that towering tree in front of the 18th green?"

Since purchasing the course in 1999, the town of Sandwich has made the course more playable and golfer-friendly. There's not much that can be done about the hills (take a cart) and, regrettably, that tree is still there, but the fairways are now in superb shape, the greens are smooth and roll true, and the hardpan that sent balls rocketing into the woods has been replaced by a manageable rough and even some heather.

The Hollows measures only 6,307 yards from the back tees. But you'll face a series of challenging lies on the rolling terrain, and there are blind shots along with wonderful par-3s.

The 127-yard downhill third is one of the majestic spots on the course, with scenic views of Cape Cod Bay. It also features a dastardly green with a severe left-to-right and back-to-front slope.

You begin experiencing the teeth of the course at No. 5, a par-4 of 366 yards into a prevailing wind. The fairway slopes right to left, and the elevated green is protected by a false front and bunkers right and left.

The sixth is a legitimate par 5-by anyone's standards. Measuring 592 yards, you'll tee off to a blind, uphill fairway. The hole then rolls downhill on the second shot, and back up to an elevated green for the approach.

The front nine closes with the signature hole. At 417 yards, this par-4 is long enough. Add the prevailing wind in your face and an intimidating approach to an elevated green fronted by a steep bank, and you've got reason to celebrate par.

Finally, there's the par-4 18th, which doglegs sharply right and presents a difficult enough tee shot that must be struck precisely and solidly. But golfers are often taken aback by the towering tree that stands directly in front of the green, knocking down even well-hit approaches.

But in the end, that's a minor inconvenience to a surprisingly pleasant experience. For more information, visit www.sandwichhollows.com.

Olde Barnstable Fairgrounds, Marstons Mills

Opened in 1992, Olde Barnstable is carved out of the woods and located across the street from an old-time, grass-field airport that welcomes gliders and private planes. Hit it straight, display touch around the greens and you will be rewarded. At only 6,479 yards from the tips (playing to par 71), length isn't a prime ingredient to success. Fairways are generally flat and forgiving, water comes into play on only the par-5 third hole and there isn't a blind approach on the course. In fact, there are only three elevated greens (fifth, 12th and 18th).

But while Olde Barnstable is comfortable to walk, it's not a complete walk in the park. The well-manicured greens offer subtle undulations that demand course knowledge, and many holes are guarded by fairway and greenside bunkers. The par-3s and par-5s are testing, and the par-4 seventh , rated the No. 1 handicap hole, is a hefty 457 yards and usually plays into the wind.

You won't be afforded the luxury of easing into your round, either. The first hole is a taxing 505-yard, par-5 from an elevated tee. Shots that veer left will either find the woods or leave no angle on the second shot, and balls sliced right will be blocked by a large tree. The second shot also demands accuracy, and the green has bunkers at the front-left.

Perhaps the most deceptively challenging hole is the 395-yard fifth, featuring a ribbon fairway that slopes left to right and kicks balls into the woods. The green is elevated and guarded by a front-side bunker.

The eighth is only 338 yards, but is a sharp dogleg-right around deep heather. The wise play is a 3- or 5-wood to the left side of the fairway, leaving approximately 100 yards to the green. But some big hitters attempt to cut the corner with drivers.

A series of bunkers provides protection for the course. There are four fairway traps to swallow up tee shots on the 13th hole and a steep wall of sand behind the green on the 185-yard, par-3 15th.

Olde Barnstable closes with its most memorable hole. At 560 yards, the dogleg-right 18th is a classic finisher, marked by a huge holly tree that sits in the middle of the fairway and creates havoc with second shots.

Play intelligently and it's possible to record a career round at Olde Barnstable. But like any good design, get too greedy and you might pay the price. For more information, visit www.obfgolf.com.

Hyannis Golf Course

Hyannis Golf Course

Conveniently located, moderately priced and featuring among the silkiest greens of any Cape Cod public course, Hyannis Golf Course provides one of the area's finest options.

It is centrally located on the mid-Cape just minutes from Barnstable airport, from the ferries arriving from Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, and a stone's throw from Exit 6 off the Mid-Cape Highway. With a 55-station practice range and two putting greens, there's ample opportunity to work on your game before heading to the first tee.

Length isn't the issue at this tree-lined, Geoffrey Cornish-designed layout. With the notable exception of the ninth and 18th, the driver can be left in the bag on virtually every par-4 and you'll still have a reasonable-length approach.

It's the approach shots that make Hyannis challenging. Usually, they are to elevated, sloping greens that demand proper club selection and pinpoint accuracy. Once successfully executed, the expansive greens feature subtle slopes that can easily lead to dreaded three-putts.

There is some debate over the course's signature hole. Some would contend it's the treacherous 18th, a par-4 of 429 yards to a crowned and elevated green with no room for error. Others shudder at playing the second, an equally difficult par-4 to reach in regulation. A par on either of these holes is cause for celebration.

The tee shot on the 420-yard second, from an elevated tee over a hazard to an uphill fairway, must be kept left-center to avoid being blocked by trees. That leaves a long uphill approach to a deep, undulating green that can quickly ruin your round.

Then again, your round can be ruined with no chance for recovery on the closing hole. This is one of the few at Hyannis where you must hit it long off the tee to have any chance of reaching the green in two. Otherwise, you'll be having a blind chip from the bottom of the hill for your third.

This course can reward or punish you with equal delight. A few years ago, I watched a friend fire a career round 72 here; not long after he shot 89 on the same course. That's what Hyannis can do for or to you. For more information, visit www.town.barnstable.ma.us/hyannisgolfclub.

Bayberry Hills

Bayberry Hills, West Yarmouth

For whatever reason, Bayberry Hills Golf Course has never been on the short list when locals and tourists rank Cape Cod's finest public layouts. But its time may finally have arrived.

Opened in 1988, every hole is tree-lined and set apart from the remainder of the course, leaving golfers with a feeling of relaxed isolation. The course is well-bunkered, with soft, expansive greens. Toss in a superb three-tiered, all-grass driving range and one of the largest putting greens to be found anywhere, and Bayberry Hills has it all.

The championship layout (there's also a nine-hole links that opened in 2000) measures 7,172 from the back tees and 6,523 from the blues. It's a tough, fair test from either set of blocks. The course features a succession of holes that bend right and left where the premium is on finding the proper side of the fairway.

That test begins right off the bat with a par-4 of 445 yards from an elevated tee that doglegs right. A large bunker protects the corner, and another huge trap awaits left of the green. The par-5 second veers in the opposite direction, while the sixth and 10th are dogleg-rights, the 13th bends left and the par-5 15th gives you an option on the second shot to go either way. Obviously, Bayberry is an equal opportunity layout for golfers who fade or draw their tee shots.

The top hole is 533-yard 15th. If you follow the fairway, the route is to play right of the trees on the second shot, taking you around the corner and offering a wedge into the green. But many choose to run the risk of aiming between a tree chute that provides a more direct line. The reward is reaching in two, but the risk is finding trees, heather or strategically placed rocks.

Bayberry's par-3s are worthy tests, with three measuring more than 200 yards, capped off by the 241-yard eighth. If you're playing the blues, the par-3s range between 170 and 185. But the teeth of the course are found in its par-4s. Even from the blues, you'll only play one hole shorter than 350 and three that exceed 390. From the golds, you'll be facing holes measuring 445, 416, 392, 402, 424, 451, 396, 407 and 409.

For more information, visit www.golfyarmouthcapecod.com.

Bass River Golf Course

Bass River Golf Course

It's not often you can play a classic Donald Ross course without being a member of a private club or forking over hefty greens fees. But at this century-old Cape Cod layout you'll pay greens fees of only $58 during peak summer months and embark on a layout that features all the characteristics in the legendary designer's arsenal.

That means generous fairways with daunting approaches to small, crowned greens where trouble is always lurking on shots that fly long. Opened in 1898, Ross redesigned the course in 1914.

Measuring 6,129 yards from the tips, Bass River features par-5 holes that stretch only 488 and 484 yards, par-4s that are a mere 258, 310, 312 and 328, and a par-3 of 129. But don't for a moment believe any of these holes is a cinch par.

On 258-yard 10th , for example, the drive must find a narrow fairway that slopes sharply right to left toward the woods. The green is perched on a hill, protected by bunkers and a steep embankment on the right.

The guts of the course begins with No. 10, which opens a back nine that is considered more difficult than the outward side. The 406-yard 11th is a bear, featuring a nerve-wracking, blind and uphill tee shot that must be threaded through a narrow band of trees. The approach is also blind to a green set in a deep valley with an embankment in front rejecting shots that aren't hit flush. And long is dead.

Most of the greens are in the shape of a bottleneck, with little margin for error. At the 155-yard par-3 14th, you're hitting from an elevated tee with trouble left (trees), right (bunkers) and long (treacherous drop-off). The 17th is a slight dogleg-right of only 328 yards, but the two-tiered green is the smallest on the course, which is truly saying something. There are also bunkers right and left-front and a mammoth trap long.

The ninth is the unquestioned signature hole. One of the most difficult and memorable par-3s on Cape Cod, it runs alongside Bass River. At 169 yards, you'll usually encounter a howling cross-wind off the water. Drives must find a green that provides no real bailout area. Shots to the left hit rocks and kick into the water; those that land short find a hill and roll backward, and long leaves an impossible chip to a severely back-to-front sloped green.

With short holes, generous fairways and difficult approaches, this layout is playable for intermediates and challenging for low-handicappers. That's not a combination often found in a golf course. For more information, visit www.golfyarmouthcapecod.com.

Dennis Pines Golf Course

You like holes that seem to stretch for miles? You like fairways surrounded by majestic pines that are bowling-alley narrow? You like doglegs that test your decision-making? You like pristine conditions? You like a challenge? You'll get it all at Dennis Pines.

You will be forced to play every club in your bag here. There isn't a public golf course on Cape Cod that more fully tests a golfer's skills. From the back tees, the Pines plays more than 7,000 yards. It's no picnic from the gold markers at 6,500, either. And if you play the front tees from 6,150, you'd better shape your drives or you'll often run out of fairway.

The par-4s are demanding, while the 12th is considered by many the toughest par-5 on the Cape. The 10th and 11th form a horseshoe around a large pond, with both fairways sloping toward the water. The second shot on No. 10 is uphill, while it's easy to run out of fairway off the 11th tee. And then comes the 518-yard dogleg-left 12th with a second shot that also bends left and a fairway leaning in that direction.

The par-5 15th has water on each side of the fairway, while the 365-yard 16th requires a lay-up off the tee.

The Pines closes in style with a superb finisher. From an elevated tee, you're looking down at the green and toward the clubhouse. All true golfers will savor every minute of the challenge. For more information, visit www.dennisgolf.com.

Dennis Highlands Golf Course

Dennis Highlands Golf Course

Playing Dennis Highlands is like riding a rollercoaster . . . in the middle of a Kansas prairie . . . where your margin of error off the tee is, give or take, in the vicinity of 100 yards. You could ski on some of the fairways, while the greens have more twists and turns than a Shakespearean tragedy. Flat lies are merely a rumor. The terrain ebbs and flows like a shaky penny stock.

But there's good news: You shouldn't lose many golf balls. If you do, it's time to re-evaluate your golf swing. Golfers who prefer to pull out the driver and grip-it-and-rip-it will love the Highlands. Fire away. On virtually every hole you can miss the fairway and play from amongst the trees. Or you can play from an adjoining fairway. Many of the holes run parallel, with little obstruction in between.

The Highlands is all about the approach to those greens and then figuring out how to get the ball into the hole. The greens slope here, there and everywhere, with steep dips that make it essential to place your ball on the proper side of the pin. Making it through a round without a three-putt is a worthy achievement.

The par-4 fifth provides a good example of the challenges. Only 362 yards, the green is surrounded by a series of mounds, leaving a nearly impossible pitch to the stick on any approach that misses the putting surface.

The first of many doglegs come into play on the par-5 second, with another deep gulley catching second shots, and bunkers guarding an elevated green. The par-3 third shifts downhill, where the first of many sloping greens awaits three-putts. The fourth, a par-4 of 354, plays to another undulating green, while the 416-yard sixth features one of the few narrow fairways, followed by a severely elevated green, with a bunker left. Not surprisingly, this is the No. 1 handicap hole. The uphill fairway slopes to the right, while the pin on the elevated green can't be seen from the approach.

It seems as though every hole has either an elevated tee or green - or both.

The Highlands closes with an outstanding par-5 that seems to blend every course characteristic into the final hole. The fairway slopes left to right, then dips into a valley, then winds back uphill, then slopes in the opposite direction and concludes with another drop-off in front of the green.

It's a dizzying finish to a rollercoaster course. For more information, visit www.dennisgolf.com.

Rob Duca is an award-winning sports columnist who wrote for the Cape Cod Times for 25 years, covering golf, the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Celtics and the Boston Bruins. He is now managing editor of Golf & Leisure Cape Cod magazine and has written for a variety of other publications, including Sports Illustrated, the Boston Globe, Yankee magazine and Cape Cod Life.

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