Cape Cod is one of the nation’s most beloved summertime destinations. Just an hour-and-change from Boston, (barring traffic, which can be considerable, depending on the time of day!) on the southeast coast of Massachusetts, generations of New Englanders have enjoyed the sand, surf, bicycle paths, clam shacks, seafood houses, and all there is to see and do on ‘The Cape.’
However a lesser-known secret is how lovely the area can be in the cooling temperatures of autumn. Crowds dissipate, humidity ebbs, leaves transform, traffic abates, and the area’s golf courses are often at their peak.
Some of the best public golf on Cape Cod isn’t actually on the Cape itself. The neighboring town of Plymouth (yes—home of ‘The Rock’) is but fifteen minutes from the Sagamore Bridge, along with the Bourne Bridge, the two main entry points to the Cape.
Historical significance aside, Plymouth is home to what many consider to be the finest 36-hole public facility in the region. Pinehills Golf Club has courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and Rees Jones, and can be the centerpiece of any Cape-based golf excursion.
Andy Wade has been a golf professional at Pinehills for fourteen years. Impressive resume, considering the facility is but a year older than that. “We have about 300 pass-holders, who have year-round privileges,” explains the area native. “They account for about half our annual play, while visitors and tourists account for the other half.”
Whether you tee it up regularly or just get a single taste of the dual facilities, most everyone agrees that the Jones Course plays a few shots harder. The fairways are narrower than its sibling, and though the greens are sizable, there are more hazards, more elevation, and offline shots can take hard bounces away from the fairways. By contrast, the Nicklaus Course has wider fairways, making for a relaxed grip on the driver. Furthermore, containment mounding helps propel misdirected tee shots back to the short grass.
As the facility’s name implies, the topography features a surfeit of pine trees, surrounding fairways with notable pitch and roll. Taken as a whole, the courses are fair and playable. There’s nothing overly tricky, blind shots at a minimum. “After all,” continues Wade, “we want everyone to come back!”
Highlights on the Jones Course include the long par-3 14th, all carry and well-bunkered. The elevated tee shot on the succeeding hole is no trifling matter, the opening salvo must carry an intimidating swath of conservation area. Notable holes on the Nicklaus Course include the 2nd, a reachable par-5, though water-laden, that will tempt big hitters to have a go for the green with their second shot. The 12th is a downhill-then-uphill par 4, the 14th a short-but-tricky par-4 with a semi-blind shot to a funky, two-tiered green. “As the crow flies we’re only a few miles from the ocean,” explains the pro. “In the afternoon the breeze often kicks up. It can cool the course on a hot day, but makes club selection and ball-striking a bit more problematic.”
There’s nothing problematic about a visit to Cape Cod Country Club, located in the picturesque burgh of Falmouth, located about 35 miles due south from Plymouth. Located on the borders of sparkling Coonamessett Pond, this petite (less than 6,500 yards from the tips) but always-popular venue has been an area favorite for generations. Undulating fairways and tricky greens help to defend the par of 71. The course hosted the Massachusetts Open three times consecutively some sixty years ago is not only testament to its long history, but also that, despite its family-friendly nature, it can be a formidable challenge to the region’s most proficient golfers.
This is the Cape’s oldest public golf course, debuting as a nine-hole facility in 1928. It’s hillier terrain than what’s typically found in this part of the world, particularly on the inward nine. It’s the inward nine that also has the most memorable hole, and equally memorable story associated. The 14th hole is known as ‘The Volcano’ due to the elevated green. Arnold Palmer appeared in an exhibition just months after winning his first and only U.S. Open in 1960. The course owner bet him $50 he couldn’t par ‘The Volcano,’ which prompted Palmer to double the bet if he could make birdie. Three flawless shots later, ‘The King’ had a C-Note in his pocket!
There are as many worthy eateries, both casual and elegant, on the Cape as there are umbrellas on the beach. So we’ll limit the discussion to a single choice in Plymouth, and one in Falmouth. East Bay Grille in Plymouth offers lovely water views from the town wharf. Mussels, crab cakes, bacon-wrapped scallops and ahi tuna are stalwarts from the appetizer list. (And if the seafood theme isn’t evident enough, their raw bar features shrimp cocktail, crab cocktail, oysters and clams.) Entrée highlights include macadamia scallops, champagne halibut, arctic char, Asian sea bass, and for the true carnivores, wagyu burgers, sirloin steaks and filets. In Falmouth, one could do much worse than the memorably named Glass Onion. An extensive wine list complements a wide range of gustatory highlights including baked littlenecks and an Anjou pear salad as starters. Seared swordfish, Long Island duck breast, and butter poached lobster with wild white shrimp are among the entrees to note.