Cape Cod: Seaside playground

CAPE COD, Mass. – Cape Cod is unusual in that it’s a high-end vacation destination that, even for native Northeasterners, doesn’t readily connote golf. Sailing, lobster, chowder, Kennedys, sure. But golf courses? Well, it would make sense.

As it happens, the virgin Cape visitor discovers a delightful place to tee it up, most of all for the layouts’ stylistic range. Cape Cod, perhaps because it’s only 100 square miles, has a strong collection of that sadly passé creation, the par-3 course. Most acclaimed: the 18-hole Blue Rock Golf Course in South Yarmouth, designed in 1962 by the dean of New England golf architecture, Geoffrey Cornish. The holes play from 103 to 255 yards, up and down and flat, over water and through trees, simple and intricate. It’s an ideal appetizer – serious golf but still a charming, brisk parkland walk.

Anyone still with the financial wherewithal to do so should park his bags at the Wequassett Resort and Golf Club, on the outskirts of the beautiful town of Chatham. The Wequassett is all clapboard charm on the outside; on the inside of the splurge-sational Signature Waterview guest room, however, it’s all ultramodern creature comforts. About the only thing the remote control couldn’t control was the direction of the toilet flush. The resort’s shared spaces prove no less impressive, with a spectacular pool area adjacent both to Pleasant Bay (also spectacular – the name is typical Yankee understatement) and the lively Outer Bar & Grille, where the seafood is almost as good as the staff is warm and attentive. It would be worth the outlay to stay here even absent the fact that only the Wequassett provides guest-play access to Cape Cod National, ranked No. 3 in the state.

From the get-go, CCN proves unusually adventuresome for a modern, meticulous, big-money private club. A clever semi-blind approach complicates the seemingly innocuous first hole. There are must-be-bone-of-contention holes from the zany, heaving, 311-yard, par-4 seventh (thrilling, to my mind) to the hitch-up-your-pants brutes such as the 459-yard, par-4 17th, with an all-in, chasm-spanning approach. It’s a varied, dramatic piece of land that architect Brian Silva’s design matched in kind, a memorable course that demands considerable decision-making and extracts scribbles of delight on the scorecard. (Feel free to borrow “gorgeous,” “devious” and “wow!!!”)

The Wequassett-CCN pairing is a tough act to follow, which was the unfortunate fate of the nearby Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club. The golf portion of the duo suffers less in comparison, thanks to a multimillion-dollar makeover finished last year by Nicklaus Design. It’s got that new- course smell, handsome looks and does a stellar job balancing the accepted shorthand for “Nicklaus course” (hard) and “resort course” (straightforward). The layout comes across tougher than it plays, as long as you avoid the forbidden zone, the location and clarity of which no reasonably attentive player could miss. Only the name misdirects, as it’s an inland 18.

Highland Links opened in 1892, a time of magic elixirs that were neither, but this 2,700-yard nine-holer is indeed a links on high land – dazzling high land, in fact. The scruffy course is a hoot and – when the powers that be let the fescue grow – brutal, because these are one-lane fairways. (The USGA would have to double their width to host an Open.) It’s a minor miracle that the layout hasn’t been modernized or bulldozed, and thank heavens. Highland Links is a great nature hike with stunning views occasionally interrupted by some entertaining golf shots.

For 15 holes, Cape Cod Country Club is cool, captivating, charming and classic. (And so good that never mind the last three forgettable holes, which in part result from an ownership dispute.) Some courses seem designed to produce a memorable round, where you’re destined to make three 2s for the first time (including, say, a deuce on a 265-yard par 3), shoot 10 shots lower on one nine than the other, save bogey with a second-ball birdie, and so on. While these things may not happen on your specific loop around this circa 1928 gem, you are guaranteed the pleasure of looking out from the third tee box to the perfectly staggered fairway bunkers, and the cagey cross bunkers beyond, and getting the sense (ultimately validated) that the green complex will fascinate. You also get the feeling – also later confirmed – that CCCC possesses all the handcrafted Golden Age glories you could want.

If one course synthesizes the many strains of Cape Cod golf, it’s elegant Farm Neck Golf Club – excusing the fact that the Bay State’s fourth-ranked course actually is a half-hour ferry ride away, on tony Martha’s Vineyard. A shrub set in a greenside bunker on the first augurs the native scrubby character elsewhere, balanced by the restrained use of the waterfront. There are gorgeous holes, modern holes, retro holes, all in balance, each pleasingly detailed but never fussy.

Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Snapshot: Cape Cod

Golf

>> Blue Rock GC (bluerockgolfcourse.com; 508-398-9295)

>> Cape Cod CC (capecodcountryclub.com; 508-563-3057)

>> Cape Cod National GC (capecodnational.net; 508-240-6800)

>> Farm Neck GC (508-693-3057)

>> Highland Links GC (508-487-9201)

>> Ocean Edge GC (oceanedge.com; 508-693-3057)

Lodging

>> Ocean Edge (oceanedge.com; 508-896-9000)

>> Wequassett Resort and Golf Club (wequassett.com; 508-432-5400)

Food

>> Arnold’s Lobster & Clam Bar (arnoldsrestaurant.com; 508-255-2575): There’s no shortage of casual seafood joints around (the lobster doesn’t know it’s on a paper plate); this always bustling Eastham institution doesn’t disappoint.

>> Brewster Coffee Shop (508-896-8224): A quaint small-town spot that gets everything about breakfast just right.

>> Captain Parker’s Pub (captainparkers.com; 508-771-4266): An unassuming family restaurant in the equally unassuming town of West Yarmouth. Best damn clam chowder on the Cape.

>> Chatham Squire (thesquire.com; 508-945-0945): A hopping pub-restaurant where you’ll likely find interesting conversation and laughter in the air.

Activities

>> Cape Cod Bike Trails (capecodbiketrails.com): If you have any inclination to hop on a bicycle, the Cape is the place to do it.

> Cape Cod National Seashore (nps.gov): Start at the Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham and take a bracing hike to the lovely beaches.

>> Cape Cod Baseball League (capecodbaseball.org): From mid-June to early August, this premier collegiate wood-bat league provides a nightly glimpse of future MLB stars.

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