Golfing It Old School

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Roy and I played our first nine holes on Cape Cod this morning, and we did it at the oldest golf course on the Cape.  Which also has the distinction of being the only “links-style” golf course in the region.  The course website makes a fairly big deal out of the last, which led me to believe that I had no real idea what they were talking about.  As far as I knew, “links” was a slang term for a golf course, any golf course.  So why the big deal about the “links-style” course and rarity of same?

This, friends, is where Wikipedia shines.  Not, as I tell my students, in research for the classroom.  It’s too shallow, insufficiently reliable, and not the place I want my accounting majors to regard as Authoritative.  But for ad-hoc research like this, it’s invaluable.  Wikipedia revealed to me that yes, “links” is now a general term for a golf-course…but…it has a historical genesis in that the land originally used for golf courses back in the Old Country (Scotland) was the land between (linking the) the ocean and the farmlands.  Coastal sand dunes, called link lands from the Old English “hlinc” meaning “rising ground”.  Golf courses, on link-land, become “links”.   And that “link-style” means that the course is right at the ocean, that it’s sandy, that there aren’t many trees so it’s also windy, that the roughs – which on your not-links-style courses are just zones of longer grass – are truly “rough”, and that there’s an exceptional diversity to the terrain.

All of which was Completely True about the place we played today.  And it had the Added Bonus of a Real, Working Lighthouse!!  Right there in the middle of the golf course.  And a World War II Air Force Surveillance Station, and a medieval-style granite tower that was erected in honor of Jenny Lind.  It was like the best putt-putt course imaginable, only huge.

It was awesome.

This course roars straight through Old School and doesn’t even slow down until it gets to Primitive.  It’s Roots Golf.  Not because the grounds are unkempt.  They aren’t.  The fairways were in beautiful condition, and while the greens were not exactly “pristine” they were as nice as anyone could possibly hope for this early in the growing season.  In truth, I expected the conditions to be a lot more…iffy…since the course is proximate to some spectacular sand dunes and directly on the edge of the ocean.

No, it was Primitive because of the Golf.  The Rough was, well, dune grass.  Very durable dune grass, but dune grass nonetheless.  That is, where the Rough was not massive planations of beach plums and wild cranberries.  And rugosas. And one frightening mass of some kind of tree I thought only existed in animated Tim Burton films.   The fairways existed as narrow bowling lanes of green grass in between the terrifying expanses of Rough.  It doesn’t take the brain of a rocket scientist to realize that you had better hit the ball straight on this course, or it will be gone forever. 

I know that fans will be clamoring to know what our Team Score was, given our golfing history.  Here it is:  5.  We lost only five (5) balls on the entire nine holes.  This was our previous record low score, and while I would ordinarily not be impressed with racking up that kind of score – not after playing an entire eighteen (18) holes with only losing one (1) ball…on this course, it was Cause For Great Rejoicing.  When I sussed this course out initially, my mental estimate of the Permanently Lost Ball Score was in the double-digits.  Well into the double-digits.  So when you’re expecting to lose, say, twenty (20) balls forever, losing only five (5) is something to celebrate.  And all of those were Lost To The Terrifying Rough.

And – by the way – a couple of the extremely friendly course employees assured us that if we came back in another month or six weeks, the game would be even more exciting due to the Rough really Coming Into Its Own.  They made gestures at approximately mid-thigh-height to illustrate what this meant.  The mind boggles.

Back to the Primitive Golf.  Back In The Day, any dirt that got moved to make features on a golf course, or to even out terrain, got moved by shirtless muscle hunks with shovels and blisters. Not like today, where it’s all John Deere and Komatsu moving the earth for you.  Evidently, yer links-style (i.e., Authentic) course has features Made By God, Weather, and Tectonic Activity.  They put the tee boxes in the flattest spot they can find, they carve the fairway out with grass, and the greens, well, the greens are where the fairways end.  Wherever that is.

The “tips” provided by the course management involve keeping the drives low…because otherwise, the constant on- or off-shore winds will grab high-flyers and take them…wherever.  And hitting straight, yeah.  And expressing Deep Gratitude and Thanks any time you manage to come in anywhere near par.   They also involve words like “moor” and “heath” both of which I did see as we made our way around.

The second hole had a fairway that was twelve (12) yards wide.  That’s where the Terrifying Tim Burton Thicket was, too.  Roy lost two balls on that hole alone.

The third hole involved hitting the ball straight up.  Well, not exactly straight. Straight as the crow flies, maybe.  But there were three (3) small ravines as the grass located in the position that should be occupied by a fairway on a Civilized Golf Course dipped and ran in ways that magnetically attracted a short-hit ball.  Roy stood in the tee box, gazing skyward at the flag, and simply said “This is insane.”

And it was.  Or, we thought it was, until we arrived at a later hole to discover that  you couldn’t actually see the green from the tee.  This wasn’t your garden-variety hard-to-see-the-flag-because-of-a-dogleg.  No.  This was a totally lunatic impossible-to-see-the-green-because-of-a-horizon.  You had to hit the ball up and over a completely blind hill, hoping that the general shape of the fairway as it headed up the hill was some vague indicator of the direction in which you would find the green.

“No,” I said. “This is insane.”

We sent the balls over the top, like foot soldiers out of a battlefield trench.  Roy hiked forward while I pulled the cart up.  We found the balls, lying in the middle of the fairway, with another totally blind hill confronting us.  That’s right.  We took our second swings, still with no idea at all of where the green was.  

“Really insane” I said.

I was wrong.  What was really insane was that when we found our balls lying from the second swing, they were still out of sight of the green, still with another totally blind hill to send them over.

Someone, decades past, described this course as having “aboriginal hazards”.   No kidding.  The sixth hole is a short par 3, and looks easy until you realize that if you over-hit the ball, you could send it directly into the mass of tourists clustered on the observation deck overlooking the sandy cliffs. If a bunker is a Sand Trap, this hazard would have to qualify as a Tourist Trap.

Golfing this course was everything I’d hoped it would be.  Terrifying, intriguing, challenging, and fun.  And we only lost five balls!!

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About Lori Holder-Webb

I'm a Southern Woman by birth and a Texan Woman by upbringing...and yet I find myself living in New England and married to a New York City boy. Up here we use the same currency as we do at home, and I don't need to travel with a passport, but the commonalities pretty much end there. The language is different, the jokes are different, the people are different, and the weather and terrain sure are different too. I moved away from Texas in 2002, and ever since then, I've been the stranger in the strange land... I've had some questions about the name of the blog - if you were not alive, or living abroad or under a rock, or in grad school during the late 1980s, Oldsmobile attempted to shuck its stodgy image with a series of commercials intended to bring brand appeal to the younger generation: this car, they said, is not your father's Oldsmobile. If you have a morbid curiosity, hit YouTube for William Shatner Oldsmobile...it will take you right there.

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