Once Cape Cod National Golf Club founder John Pfeffer acquired an additional 69 acres of land beside the 85-acre tract that he already owned, there was no stopping his quest to construct a golf course next to the Wequasett Resort in Barnstable County. And so, four years after Pfeffer had dared to dream of such an eventuality, the course opened for play in 1998 as a private 18-hole layout with additional access granted to guests of the resort.
Laid out on a rolling Cape Cod landscape that’s dotted with kettle ponds, the course has all the appearance of a classic track that’s been in play for many a year – little evidence now, more than a decade after it debuted, that fairways were actually fashioned by shifting three quarters of a million tons of earth and laying 850,000 square feet of turf.
Muscular par fours feature prominently here. On the front nine, the 467-yard 2nd and 449-yard 5th are heavily bunkered on opposite flanks while, on the back nine, the 471-yard 11th and 459-yard 17th both dogleg to well-protected greensites.
Cape Cod National is a design by Brian Silva. It is a good design across rolling topography that is a feature of nearly every golf hole. It must have been a real challenge to route the course thought this wooded, sometimes rocky, and always hilly/rolling terrain. Mr. Silva pulled it off beautifully through the use of twelve doglegs.
I was prepared to not like the course having gotten some input from very good players as to its pros and cons. After playing it, the course deserves praise as it has a lot of merits to it. I wonder if the course “suffers” from an image problem of being on Cape Cod but with no views of the coast. Certainly it sits in the shadow of Eastward Ho which is definitely a top 100 course in the USA and possibly a top 100 course in the world due to its excellent routing, seaside views, and wondrous holes beautifully built across its rolling/hilly terrain. It also sits in the shadow of Hyannisport which is pure fun offering views of the bay. I have not yet played Nantucket nor Sankaty Head but I imagine them to be as good as they are considered to be. Yet despite the amazing competition in a golf-rich state, Cape Cod National is considered to be one of the top twenty five golf courses in the state of Massachusetts. This is likely due to it being a course offering strategy and shot-making from the tee to holing out the putt.
Cape Cod National offers a good routing with uphill and downhill shots, easier holes and more difficult holes, well-placed bunkers and sometimes easier greens and sometimes confusing greens. The greens are usually surrounded by trouble, yet the trouble is usually fair. It is a course where one has to hold their concentration throughout the round due to the many doglegs which result in some blind tee shots as well as definite sides of the fairway being preferred. Due to the trees, change in terrain, high grass or the numerous bunkers, wayward shots are rarely received with good luck through a favorable bounce or ricochet. Yet, if one finds their ball and play smartly with the recovery shot, they will have a resonable chance to obtain a par.
The course is also well-balanced across the various pars – whether 3, 4 or 5. Unlike other courses where the par 3’s stand out or the par 5’s, there is no real standout hole or set of pars here. Nearly all of the holes are good and the few I did not like as much were due to land restrictions where I saw no other alternatives.
My only other “slight” criticism is that there seem to be an abundance of bunkers on the course, particularly often on the left side of the fairway. I counted nearly 90 bunkers, many of which are very long that in effect would be two-three bunkers on other courses. However, the bunkers are placed into land on the corner of doglegs and where there are slight rises, falls, or knobs which add visual drama.
Some might also say the course is too difficult for the average player. It is a course that one must know as the doglegs create definite preferred landing areas off the tee. The greens are confounding, but perhaps one will get to know them. The 90 bunkers are a constant thought as well as several holes involving ponds. The greens are the biggest defense of the course. No one in our group was able to successfully putt them on a consistent basis. We were unable to figure out either the correct line or the correct speed. Sometimes we could not figure out either at the same time.
The course plays to 6954 yards from the Blue tees, par 72, rated 74.0/135. From the White tees it is 6375 yards rated 71.2/131. There are two tees of lesser yardages. As we were non-members in a tournament, we played the White tees, which was more than enough for me given the somewhat soggy conditions. The course’s rating and slope appear to be correct.
1. Par 5 – 504/489. The first is a relatively tame opener with the biggest danger being a left side bunker 220-240 yards from the tee. Longer hitters can carry that bunker. Bigger hitters need to avoid the bunker on the right at 270-285 yards followed by a second one at 315-330 yards. There is a nice speed slot between the fairway bunkers. Average hitters should go right off the tee and then carry the two bunkers on the left. If one stays left there is another bunker on the left about 30 yards short of the green on a raised hill. The view of the green is blocked from the left. There is another bunker on the right front of a green that is narrow at the front, and then angles to the left with a slight back to front tilt. There are heavy trees on both sides of the hole but overall this represents a birdie or par opportunity.
2. Par 4 – 467/415. The second offers two deep bunkers on the left side, the first beginning at 180-213 yards followed by the second at 224-258 yards. The obvious play is to the left but the longer hitters will fly both of them. There is a third left bunker 90-65 yards from the green. The green’s bunkers are on the right to a green angled to the right with a false front. This hole is also heavily tree lined. This is a hole where par would feel good and a wayward shot will likely lead to a bogey or worse.
3. Par 5 – 566/521. The second par 5 comes early in the round with a long fairway bunker on the left at 255-277 yards. This bunker is 33 yards in length. The fairway drops towards a pond on the right which narrows the landing area considerably for the approach shot to an uphill green. There is another left bunker 80 yards from the green while a greenside bunker complex begins on the right between the pond and fairway/green about 60 yards short of the green. This makes the fairway very narrow for the second shot. The green has a substantial back to front tilt to it with a sustained rising slope in front of it. The hole is very punitive to the wayward shot and perhaps the fairway does not need the bunker right opposite the green, but overall I felt the hole to be good as one has an option to be aggressive or conservative on this hole.
4. Par 4 – 361/335. The first “short” par 4 again has fairway bunkers on the left set at 200-220 yards from the tee. This dogleg right also has an outer corner bunker at 225-250 yards from the tee. There are two more fairway bunkers on the right at 60-45 yards from the green which has a fronting central bunker. This has a two-tiered smaller green. The tee shot is uphill with the right side of the fairway offering a view of the green. Three of the four of us bogeyed the hole due to the difficulty of the approach shot and green.
5. Par 4 – 449/409. Playing parallel to the second in the opposite direction, none of us foursome parred this hole even after respectable tee shots. The first bunker is on the left at only 165-195 from the tee with a flanking right side bunker another 30 yards. There are two more bunkers on the right at 240-277 and 273-304 from the tee. The green has two bunkers on the right side. If one has a good tee shot, the second shot plays downhill to a larger green but with short grass chipping areas. It is my favorite hole on the front nine.
6. Par 3 – 203/178. This hole plays to a slightly elevated green with a green sloped like a redan. The long green is angled to the left with two long bunkers on the left placed between the green and pond. These bunkers are steep due to the raised green. The miss is either short or left. It is a visually attractive hole due to its setting.
7. Par 4 – 311/275. This is my least favorite hole on the front nine although my playing partners thought it to be fun. I generally like short par 4’s due to the risk/reward nature of the hole but this dogleg left feels too unbalanced to take the risk. It is not a great piece of land so I think Mr. Silva did his best here. The hole plays uphill with three bunkers left placed at 190-233 yards from the tee. Longer hitters can drive over these bunkers but the trees pinch in a bit too much from the left to make it worthwhile for this blind shot. There are two outer bunkers on this dogleg at 220-250 yards creating a narrow saddle opening to a saddle-shaped green. Behind the green is a substantial fall-off while a final bunker awaits on the right side. Maybe the hole has too many bunkers on the left and right or perhaps the severity of the dogleg is a bit much.
8. Par 3 – 186/159. This sharply angled left to right par 3 is a very nice hole with the slope of the green mirroring the shape. There is an unnecessary bunker about halfway to the hole and a deep long bunker fronting the green with a sliver of a bunker behind half of it. It is a pleasant golf hole but one where a high score can happen.
9. Par 4 – 401/342. The ninth is a fine hole with a cross bunker on the right at 230-260 yards off the tee. Farther up there are two bunkers at 260-310 yards from the tee on the left. The land slopes down to the green initially before flattening out. There is another cross bunker coming from the left about 50 yards shy of the green. Finally, there is a deep bunker right of the green. This hole has a tricky green.
10. Par 5 – 510/483. Playing over a small pond to a sharp dogleg right, one must stay left and preferably long off the tee to have a clear view for the second shot. The right side has trees that will obscure the line into the hole as the fairway bends. The right side is overly punitive as there is a long fairway bunker 220-245 off the tee that extends for nearly 30 yards. There is also a fairway bunker on the left at 285-310 off the tee that is not in play for most hitters. The second shot needs to avoid flanking bunkers about 85-55 yards from the green. The green is set back to the left with a final bunker on the right front. The hill side down the left side all the way to the green is filled with trees and presents a difficult recovery shot to another green that was a mystery to all four of us.
11. Par 4 – 471/432. I feel this is the most difficult hole on the course as it plays as a long dogleg left with the first bunker being on the right at 230-250 off the tee. There is a string of four bunkers right followed by another bunker right 50 yards short of the green. Finally, there are two bunkers left of the green and one on the right. The back of this green slopes away from you and the green is narrow for the length of the hole. A par here is well earned; I feel the hole is overly bunkered.
12. Par 4 – 391/364. From an elevated tee, this is a sharp dogleg left with a steep, grass-filled hill to the right and a fairway tilted to the left. A long bunker awaits at 260-280 off the tee on the inner corner of this dogleg. The second shot is played over wetlands to a circular green with a single bunker on the back corner. This is not a good hole but is limited by the land.
13. Par 3 – 239/209. This long hole has three bunkers down the left of which the first two are unnecessary. There is another bunker right about 20 yards short of the green. The left side has thick trees and lower ground while the right side has scattered trees and a hill that sits above the green. The green is sharply tilted back to front and to the left. It is a hard hole to make par although one has the chance to land short and play onto the green. The green is overly severe.
14. Par 4 – 344/313. This hole has a big hill from the right side to contemplate. Once again, there is an unnecessary bunker on the left before the beginning of the fairway which I think only adds to the cost of maintenance. There is a single bunker left side of the green. I like the hole due to the drama of both the tee shot and the second shot as the green is tucked into a corner angled to the left.
15. Par 5 – 527/501. Despite its length, this is a difficult hole. It begins with a bunker at 177-194 yards off the tee on the right that should not be in play for a generous fairway. But then the fairway shrinks to half the size due to a pond coming in from the left at 350 yards from the tee. The wind was in our faces making the hole play much longer and there was a bit of drizzle so I did not look at the yardage book and went into the long and deep bunker that begins about 30 yards short of the green on the right. This bunker is deep and hidden on lower ground. The green is angled to the left and sits mainly behind the pond, sloping towards it. Hitting long over the green will result in going down a hill. It is rated the number one index although I feel eleven is more difficult. However, one certainly can run up a very high score here.
16. Par 3 – 151/127. The green is surrounded by bunkers on three sides, angled slightly to the left. It has a slant away from the front of the green. It is a nice short par 3.
17. Par 4 – 459/425. After the “breather” of the sixteenth, the seventeenth is a difficult hole playing uphill as a blind tee shot with a forced carry over a cross bunker and one on the right. Those carrying the crest of the hill will pick up another 50 yards or more on the downslope on the other side. There are four bunkers off to the left to a green placed uphill after the ravine well to the right resulting in another club. One can use the hill behind the long green to bring a ball back onto the putting surface as the green is sloped back to front with ripples in it. After the tee shot, this is a visually pleasing hole.
18. Par 4 – 424/377. The final hole is a dogleg left with a long outer bunker at 200-235 yards off the tee. This bunker is 35 yards long. There is another bunker 245-375 off the tee to the right. Two bunkers are also on the left at 270-323 off the tee. The greenside bunkers all sit to the right of the green on lower ground. There are four of them. The green tilts back to front. It is a nice finishing hole. As was typical during the round, none of us made our short putts for par.
Cape Cod National is a challenging golf course throughout the round. Perhaps there are two-three “breather” holes. One will likely score 3-5 shots higher here than the typical course due to the difficult greens and numerous doglegs. I think that would happen even if one moves up a tee from one’s regular yardage. The change in terrain on many of the holes are substantial and create extra drama. It is certainly a course worth playing and a testament to a clever layout.
I was lucky enough to play this course as a guest of a member. Despite the grand title, as you locate the club and come through the gates there is no great fanfare or the name in lights. Not unlike the rest of the region this course is blessed by nature and classy but also understated and not showy in any way.
There is a nice practice ground, a pleasant clubhouse and friendly starter but the course itself is a total revelation. It reminded me of El Saler (Spain) and also Woburn (England) in places but is unique and not really like any other course I’ve played here in the States. There is no weak hole and some absolute classics. Holes 10, 12 and 17 will live long in the memory as will the two par 5s which are laid out alongside each other with Hawks patrolling above. As my playing partner remarked there are also several very characterful lone pine trees in and around the greens which created some amazing vistas.
It is hard to believe that this course isn’t completely natural and hasn’t been around for decades. Beg, borrow or bribe your way on here if you are in the area. A real treat and hard to believe this isn’t in the US top 100. It ranks nicely alongside other classics such as Piping Rock or Winged Foot which I’ve also played.