Touring the Courses on the Lower Cape

By: Rob Duca


Lower Cape Cod includes the towns of Brewster, Harwich, Wellfleet and Truro and features some of the finest, most historic golf courses in the region. Here's a look at five of them.

An Aerial View of Highland Links & Historic Highland Light

Highland Links, Truro

No tour of Lower Cape golf is complete without a visit to Highland Links. It will feel like you've been transported back in time, to an age of hickory-shafted clubs and golfers stylishly clad in knickers. This is the closest you'll come on Cape Cod to a genuine Scottish links course without actually jetting across the Pond.

Built in 1892, Highland is the Cape's oldest course - and looks every bit its age. There's no fancy clubhouse or oak-lined grille room; just a basic snack bar. No elaborate practice facility; just a small putting green. And it's only nine holes, a par-35 measured out at barely more than 2,500 yards. But if you love golf history, you'll quickly understand that simplicity here is the point.

Highland Links forces you to play a different brand of golf, where knock-down shots, bump-and-runs and delicate chips are requisite. The greens aren't especially fast, but they're undulating and a challenge to read. The par-5s are reachable in two (long hitters can drive a few par-4s), but there are risks involved in taking that route.

Along the way you will play shots toward historic Cape Cod Light, which guards the green at the par-3 seventh. You'll walk along fairways that run parallel to the Atlantic, staring from a cliff to the water below. Even though you might stumble a bit with a bogey or two, you'll find it difficult to become disenchanted while strolling across such a unique course.

The third hole defines Highland Links. A par-3 of only 160 yards, the green is perched atop a hill, making it a blind tee shot. The prevailing wind is in your face, and with the Atlantic mere steps away it's usually fierce. Balls that land short will catch the hill and roll to the bottom, leaving a long and treacherous uphill chip to a pin you won't be able to see.

Highland closes with the spectacular ninth. Only 136 yards, this has been called by national magazines as one of the world's greatest par-3s. The two-tiered green slopes severely from right to left, meaning that hitting the green from the tee guarantees nothing it all.

For more information, visit www.truro-ma.gov.

Cranberry Valley Golf Course, Harwich

This should be your first stop on the journey down Route 6. From the superb practice facility, to the intriguing design, to the pristine conditioning, to the scenic cranberry bogs and tree-lined fairways, everything at Cranberry Valley is top-notch.

Imagine walking to the 16th tee with the chance to shoot a career score. Here's what you'll face to close out the round: A monster 443-yard par 4 that usually plays into the wind; a 205-yard par-3 that is all carry to an elevated green; and a horseshoe-shaped, double-dogleg par-5 that requires enough power to clear the corner and enough finesse to place your iron to a narrow landing area on the second shot.

These are three vastly different holes, and three marvelous challenges.

Cranberry Valley is about such variety. There are stimulating and short par-4s and demanding par-3s. Although the par-5s - with the exception of 18 - are relatively mundane, they are dotted with plenty of bunkers to complicate matters.

Open in 1984, the town of Harwich has poured more than $1.2 million into renovations in recent years, moving several bunkers to reflect modern technology and improving others.

Precision off the tee is essential. You must stay left on the first and third holes to avoid being blocked by trees on the approach, and you must be right on the fifth for the same reason. That 435-yarder is the No. 1 handicap hole and has been made more difficult with the addition of a bunker to the right that catches overly long drives. A slight dogleg-left, the fifth then rises to a green bunkered front-right and left.

The most frustrating hole on the course might be the 361-yard 10th. Unless you can thread a needle with a 1-wood, do not hit driver off the tee or you'll risk running through the fairway into trees on the left or finding water along the right.

Birdie holes? Yes, there are a few, notably the 445-yard par-5 14th - easily reachable in two - and the straightforward, 308-yard 15th. It's almost as though Cranberry Valley gives you a chance to catch your breath before embarking on the treacherous trio at the end.

For more information, visit www.cranberrygolf.course.com.

Harwichport's Third Hole

The Captains Golf Course, Brewster

It has 36 holes and is on the short list of best places to play on Lower Cape Cod. You can choose between the Starboard course - which includes eight of the original holes from when the club opened in 1985, to the slightly more challenging Port, which boasts a collection of difficult doglegs and outstanding par-4s.

Higher handicappers tend to gravitate toward Starboard, which isn't to suggest this 18 is a walk in the park. It's just that some golfers prefer Starboard for its unfettered layout as opposed to the Port's handful of gimmicky holes.

Still, Port is more of a test. The layout is defined by its par-5s, which are rated the first, second, fourth and fifth toughest holes on the course. The 531-yard 12th begins at an elevated tee, providing a nice view. Hit it long enough and you'll get extra distance off a down-slope, but beware the bunker left of the green.

The 18th is an outstanding finisher of 544 yards that bends gently to the right. Tee shots should be aimed to the left side for greater distance and a better glimpse of the green.

There are a number of brilliant par-4s, beginning with the 407-yard second that plays longer to an elevated green. You'll face another uphill approach at the fourth, after which you'll switch directions to a downhill 155-yard par-3 where you absolutely, positively must not fly the green.

The 448-yard par-4 seventh will test your mettle. There is a steep drop-off to left of the fairway and a cavernous bunker protecting the left flank of the green.

The best hole at Port might be the 371-yard 16th. The fairway bends to the right from the landing area to the green and drives must find the left side to peek around the corner. A kettle depression lurks right of the green, so don't block the approach.

Starboard demands accuracy off the tee to avoid its ever-present pines, thoughtful approaches, and the ability to work the ball in different directions. The 533-yard seventh is reachable in two, but the approach must avoid bunkers left and large oak trees right. The 371-yard 10th veers sharply to the right, and you must land your ball in the correct spot on its elevated three-tiered green means for any hope of two-putting.

The par-3 second was considered the signature hole on the original course. It plays 162 yards downhill (take one less club) to a green framed by bunkers.

Finally, there's the 16th, a par-4 of 468-yard beast that requires both accuracy and length. The tee shot is downhill, which helps a bit, but the approach over a series of bunkers to a distant green is flat-out frightening.

All in all, The Captains is one of the Cape's prime public layouts. For more information, visit www.captainsgolfcourse.com.

Looking from the Green Back
to the Clubhouse on Harwichport's First Hole

Harwichport Golf Course

Don't call for a tee time here because there aren't any available. The wedding-white clubhouse - a converted barn - has stood since the club opened in 1920. Only nine holes, Harwichport plays to a par-34 at 2,461 yards, with two par-3s and seven par-4s. The fairways are wide and mostly flat and there isn't a single nasty sand trap on the entire layout. Clearly, this is a course for a casual round for seniors, a great spot for beginners to learn the game and even a place that can provide lessons to serious golfers.

Though no-frills, Harwichport can pose challenges. There are dogleg holes both right and left, elevated approaches, delicate downhill pitches and the smallest greens this side of a miniature golf course. You'd better be able to play finesse chips around the greens because you won't be hitting many of them in regulation.

One thing is for sure, the price is right: $22 for nine holes and $32 for 18. For more information, visit www.harwichportgolf.com.

Chequessett Yacht & Country Club, Wellfleet

With a name like this, you might think you're visiting an ultra-expensive, exclusive place. Instead, this charming nine-hole track in Wellfleet is as relaxed and unpretentious as any on the Cape.

Using two sets of tees that slightly change the holes and create an 18-hole outing, it plays only 5,288 yards over two circuits and won't strike much fear into your heart. Even short hitters can drive the 234-yard par-4 first, and they might dream about doing the same on the 314-yard seventh. However, the longest hitters have no chance to reach the green on the uphill 368-yard third, while the 373-yard seventh is protected by a severely sloped, back-to-front green.

The course features a series of elevated tees and greens that provide scenic vistas. No spot is more spectacular than the third green, where you'll have a panoramic view of Wellfleet Harbor.

Chequessett demands a meticulous short game as you must be adept at playing pitch-and-run shots if you hope to get near the pins. The putting surfaces are minute, yet offer subtle slopes that wreak havoc. It's absolutely essential that you land on the proper side of the pin on the second and seventh holes or you'll almost certainly three-putt.

There isn't a hole longer than 449 yards (the lone par-5), while three of the par-4s are less than 320. But if you're searching for a casual, stress-free round of golf in a stunning setting, Chequessett Y&CC fits the bill. For more information, visit www.cycc.net.

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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