Escape To The Cape

Road Trip To Maritime America

September 13: On The Road

Cape Cod.  Those two words conjure up a variety of images.  Fishing villages, lighthouses, the Kennedy family, the high-end retreats of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.  It is all part of the lore of a place that was settled almost four hundred years ago.  Personally, as someone who has a strong family link with the Maritimes, the thought of travelling to Cope Cod had always been on my mind but it wasn’t until the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina that it became the most viable option for the annual Road Trip taken by Flagstick Publisher Jeff Bauder and myself.

We had spent a better part of the year making plans to visit Louisiana and their Audubon Golf Trail but that all changed with the arrival of Hurricane Katrina.  While our thoughts were with the people of the gulf coast as they struggled to get back on their feet we turned our attention to Cape Cod partly on the advice of Adam Holden.  Holden, an Australian golf professional, teaches in Ottawa and lives on the Cape in the winter season.  By the graces of short notice planning by John Cherry and Arthur Ratsy of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, we soon had a fabulous itinerary in our hands and were eagerly looking forward to our somewhat improvised journey.

After weeks of anticipation the time to hit the road to Cape Cod had arrived on September 13th.  Seven days of great golf and adventure lay ahead for Jeff and I who were joined by Shawn Bauder, the Art Director for Flagstick.  Our little trio enjoyed an east coast road trip to Nova Scotia several years ago and we were all eager to make our way back to the Atlantic shoreline.

On this day however, despite being only a nine-hour drive from Ottawa, we would not be making it all the way to Cape Cod.  With Jeff soon to be celebrating a birthday I had made plans for an overnight stop in the Boston area, a recommended layover for those who want to get a real sense of New England at its finest.

The fall air was crisp but inviting as we pushed through upper New York State and then diagonally bisected Vermont and New Hampshire.  Several stops at Dunkin’ Donuts (and a quick look at the picturesque downtown of the Vermont’s capital, Montpelier) later the Boston skyline came rising out of an unusual afternoon fog.

From our hotel in Braintree (about 20km from downtown and putting us on the Cape side of town for the morning drive) we hopped a cab for a $40 ride into downtown.  As expected out driver was able to give a few tips on Boston culture.  We absorbed the info while contemplating whether our rickety chariot would actually get us to our destination.  (It wasn’t quite as funny when the cabbie also started to joke about the car falling apart).

The evening was a little cool and wet but it did not dampen our spirits as we explored the historic core of the city.  The obligatory visit to both “Cheers” restaurants followed as well as a walk around Boston Common, the leafy and scenic park that is an agreeable retreat for the urban crowd.  It became very clear why Boston is considered one of the most “walkable” cities in the world.  A dearth of historic sites within a close proximity make it a can’t miss for those who fancy such adventure.

With an early morning drive to the Cape scheduled it was an early birthday night for Jeff but a fun one nonetheless as we receded back to Braintree – thankfully in a much sturdier cab this time.

September 14: Welcome to the Cape

Less an hour’s drive from Boston the Sagamore Bridge greeted us to Cape Cod.  On this day also waiting for us was loads of inclement weather.  A weeklong rainstorm was still taking up residence but we wouldn’t be denied golf on this day.  After arriving at our slated golf course, Cranberry Valley, to find it closed for play due to the weather we settled in the lobby of the clubhouse to consider our options.  Joining us on the day was our gracious host, John Cherry, who, like us, was determined to get in few holes of golf despite the storm.  John made a few calls and we were off on a ten-minute trek to the town of Dennis and the Dennis Highlands Golf Club.

Our first impression of Dennis Highlands was simple – wow!  It was our first introduction to what would become a familiar theme – quality municipal golf facilities that rival what many private clubs offer around the world.  Bright green strips of fairways draped over rolling hills always makes for a scenic golf experience and the Dennis course delivered.  From the first elevated tee box to the final green we couldn’t stop wondering what would delight us on the next hole.

An outstanding feature at Dennis Highlands is the bunkering.  The numerous sand hazards look very natural with long native grass surrounding them.  It adds a nice contrast to the well-manicured fairways.  According to Director of Golf Dennis Penner,

“We did a lot of work on our bunkers.  They really make many of the holes stand out.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Dennis Highlands also has a sister course, Dennis Pines, a slightly narrower, longer, and older design.  The duo provides a full day of great golf.

Our jaunt from Dennis to our rooms at the Seashore Park Inn in Orleans was a short but scenic one.  It gave us a thorough look at beautiful seaside homes and a seemingly endless row of quaint inns and antique shops along the Old Kings Highway.

The Seashore sits within view of the main traffic circle in Orleans, a point that joins critical routes as they lead off to the Provincetown and the tip of the Cape.  Its makes perfect quarters for family stays with large rooms, two pools, a game room, and complimentary breakfast.  It also acts as a great jump off point to the beaches and other attractions with its central location.

Minutes away we found the suggested dinner haunt for the night, the Land-Ho, claimed to be the oldest pub in America.  Although busy, we had a table in minutes and food sitting in front of us almost simultaneously.  The Clam Strips – beautiful.  We had found the gastronomic heaven we had anticipated.

September 15: Rain, Rain Please Go Away

A night of listening to rain pour down on the roof of the Seashore Park Inn left us with predicable results – a day that would be without golf.  At first things looked somewhat promising but by the time we were scheduled to head for the Highland Golf Links in Truro the cadence of the rain had grown and the winds whipped to a fury.  We made the journey anyways, north and east to near the tip of the Cape where the golf course founded in 1892 can be found.  PGA Pro Jim Knowles was more than surprised to see us and it wasn’t much of a shock to have him tell us that the course would be closed for the day.  Fortunately he invited us back so we could experience the storied course and its cliffside setting the next day.

Despite the daunting weather we took the time to make it to the furthest tip of the Cape where massive sand dunes emerge dramatically.  Shawn and I took a quick trip over the dunes to catch a glimpse of the ocean by the winds and rain turned us back within seconds.  Even closing the van door took an effort by both of us.  Golf was out of the question.  A daylong visit to the numerous stores of nearby Hyannis was in order.

The former town lockup in Orleans was our culinary home for the evening.  The Old Jailhouse Tavern is as fashionable of an eatery as you can find in the area, successfully blending upper level dining and a long and friendly bar area.  The Jailhouse Nachos and Clam “Chowdah” was top notch and accompanied by a pint of Waymouth, Mass. brewed Green Monstah Ale, are even better.

September 16: Blown Away

The good news on this day, the rain had stopped.  The bad news, the winds were still blowing ensuring that our day on the golf course might be an interesting one.  Our scheduled stop for the day – the Captains Golf Course in Brewster, about a ten-minute drive from our hotel.

Captains’ reputation had already reached my ears before we got to the Cape.  As the site of regular tournaments on the Cleveland Golf Tour, a golf pro I know had played there a few times and raved about it.  We would be playing the Starboard Course, which joins the Port course to create the 36 hole complex.

Although void of water hazards (great for the average player), the Starboard course is a strong one, defended by dense, tall pine forests and an ample amount of elevation changes.  There was impeccable use of the properties natural features in the design.  We marvelled about how similar the course was to top layouts in the Carolina’s at a fraction of the price.  It temporarily kept us from thinking about the 60 kilometre an hour winds that we had to deal with on every full shot but the breeze would certainly get our attention as the day progressed.

The gusty conditions made for an almost surreal situation as we rushed to return to Highland Golf Links to finally play our postponed round.  Famed British journalist once called the course the best representation of a true British links golf course in America and the blowing winds made it even seem more so.

Laid out in 1892, Highland is THE must play for true golf aficionados who make it to the Cape.  This rough and tumble nine hole course sits atop the cliffs that parallel the Atlantic Ocean and surround the famous Highland Lighthouse, a common stop for most tourists.  It only adds to the magnificent ambience.

The course is as pure as golf gets with small greens, natural turf conditions, and a layout follows the innate terrain.  I was joyful in playing as it reminded me of my home course during my teen years on the Canadian west coast.  For Jeff and Shawn, it provided their first real links golf experience and showed them a different way to play, one where you have to hit shots and consider more factors than just yardage alone when playing a shot.

We enjoyed it so much that we spent the time between the end of he round and sunset replaying the par 3, ninth hole over and over  (6 more times, in fact) again.  We did so void of company except for the watchful eye of the historic lighthouse.

It was time to trade in the Seashore Park Inn for the Bayside Resort for the next two nights so after our round we ambled our way to West Yarmouth and found refuge from the turbulent weather.  The Bayside is well located, within easy reach of many restaurants and we sauntered 400 metres to Clancy’s where we found quality food and a very friendly atmosphere.

Bayside Resort has all the amenities to satisfy the travelling golfer including a wide range of affordable golf packages, clean rooms, a tasty (and free) breakfast buffet, games room, and even a pub.

September 17:  Let The Sun Shine…finally.

When morning came it brought with it a much-needed sight for us, sunshine.  The day was again set to be a double round involving a little scrambling due to some tight tee times.  First off was Bayberry Hills, a 27-hole complex where the red and white nines awaiting our attention.  Here we found less use of hills than what we saw at Captains but like it the layout was wrapped in a pine forest.  Intriguing and varied hole designs really appealed to us but unfortunately our play was cut a few holes short by an impending tee time a short drive away at the Blue Rock Resort.  Our experience at Bayberry Hills was greatly enhanced by a helpful pro shop staff and starter who offered up valuable tips and information to make our round more enjoyable.

It turns out we could have finished up at Bayberry as by the time we reached the Blue Rock Resort and their Geoffrey Cornish designed golf course, the 1st tee was wide open.  Found in a somewhat concealed location in South Yarmouth, the setting for this 44-room resort and golf course is part of its grand appeal.  Coupled with the openness of the staff, you may feel you are hanging out at one of your friends’ houses.  It is an endearing quality.

The golf course at Blue Rock debuted in 1961 and consists of eighteen holes spread over 3300 yards.  If you plan to score well, bring your best game.  Great holes with well-contoured greens appear throughout but the clear highlights are the start and finishing holes of each nine.  Several of which play across a slim lake from elevated tees to elevated greens.  You can expect to play in less than 3 hours but don’t anticipate breaking par.

September 18:  Speedy Play

With intermittent showers returning in the morning, Tuesday found the golf courses rather barren.  In fact when we arrived at the Twin Brooks golf club in Hyannis, the Executive length course was devoid of any other golfers.  We got away quickly and discovered what a joy this shorter length course is.

Affiliated with the Four Points Sheraton Resort, Twin Brooks offers up a well laid out course covering rolling property and highlighted by extremely good turf conditions.  Adding to the appeal were the ample bunkers and large greens that made for smooth rolling putting surfaces.  Like Blue Rock, it is a Geoffrey Cornish creation and his routing over the compact property makes splendid use of the topography and natural elements.

The resort offers golf packages that include two rounds per day and we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as there is no way any true golfer would be bored playing the course over and over again.

The rain didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm and friendliness of people around Blue Rock, from the pro shop all the way to the Superintendent, Gregg MacKintosh.  Gregg made sure to check in with us on the 18th hole so we could give him some feedback on the course and our response was nothing but gleaming based on what we had seen in our 2 ½ hour round.

With our fast morning play, we had time for pleasant lunch in Hyannis (lots of local and chain choices) before heading to Hyannis Golf Club, the frequent home of the Cape Cod and Senior Cape Cod Open.  Recently acquired by the municipality of Barnstable, the club is a classic course with an appearance that hardly belies its 1972 origin.  For Canadians, the comparison would immediately be to a Stanley Thompson designed old style course of the 1930’s.  Ample room off the tee shot is what you first see, but a closer look will reveal that those initial shots on each hole must be placed carefully to ensure the easier approach into the small and tilting greens.  It is simple to see why the professional golfers don’t even tear this course up.

We shifted accommodations again for the last time on this night, making the move to the Heritage House Hotel in Hyannis for greater convenience.  Located right on main street, from here it is easy to wander down to the harbour, over to the John F. Kennedy memorial and to the shops and restaurants further down the street.  They offer golf packages and a large array of room choices.

September 19: Photo Time

With just two rounds and two days to go we were beginning to tire a bit but the prospect of playing Ballymeade Country Club perked us up.  A 25-minute drive to the course from Hyannis (amazingly one of the longest we would have to make to reach a course during our whole trip; thumbs up to Cape Cod for travel time) allowed us to tour though Cape Cod landmark towns like Mashpee.  Our tee time was not until later in the day but we used the break to do a 2-hour photo shoot on Ballymeade’s magnificent practice range and putting green.

Ballymeade is one of the top publicly accessible courses in Cape Cod with a large clubhouse, numerous amenities, and a top-notch golf course recently renovated with the help of former PGA Tour champion Chi Chi Rodriguez.  A local member and doctor joined us for the round.  He guided us expertly around the course and made a more than able partner for Shawn for a little four-man match.

Ballymeade made a strong impression on us with many elevated tees and greens, tree-lined fairways and panoramic views of nearby Buzzard’s Bay.  Even at the full price of USD $82 with a cart on the weekend in prime season it would be a welcome addition to any trip as it is comparable to facilities around the world that would cost a whole lot more.


September 20:  One More For The Cape

And then there was one.  One round of golf left to play on the Cape that is.  Our last stop, The Brookside Club in Bourne where John Cherry would once again join us as a way to bookend the trip with us.  Open year round, The Brookside Club is the first club you can reach as you get on to Cape Cod, making it a popular stop.  The course itself is not long and is enhanced by some solid views of Buzzard’s Bay, especially off the opening tee.  A strong practice area and quaint clubhouse are also big pluses.  The conditioning of the course is extremely solid and the quaint clubhouse offers a tasty menu of local fare to more than tide you over before or after a round.

One Fine Day

With such a hurried scheduled, often involving rounds of golf and additional travel, we were not able to see much of the non-golf side of Cape Cod so both Shawn and I felt compelled to rise early on the day of our departure to take individual walking journeys through downtown Hyannis.

For me that meant heading down to the harbour in the rising light of the sun accompanied by nothing but a cup of coffee and my camera.  Seeing the harbour in Hyannis at sunrise all I could think of was the first settlers arriving in Cape Cod hundreds of years ago.  As rough and wild as it may have seemed they were probably inspired by the sight of the Cape to try and find a way to make a life there.  For them the place that provided both food and income was also a tranquil retreat away from the wilds of the world, just as it remains today.

Fortunately the friendly residents of Cape Cod, whether they are from the privileged families that reside in enclaves on Martha’s Vineyard or simply your average middle class American citizen, have fought hard to maintain the roots of the Cape.  While some commercialization has crept in, it is far from what you might expect.

If you need to breathe a little, Cape Cod certainly has the space and setting to do it in.  Throw in a little great golf, fine food, and vacation package options and you have a scintillating combination.  Add in affordability, accommodating people, and an easily accessible location and an “Escape To the Cape” is not to be ignored.

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