I played Cape Wickahm in Feburary, 2019. Wow! An incredible golf course where Mike DeVries and Darius Oliver did perhaps a perfect routing given a spectacular piece of land. There are only a handful of golf courses where I never wonder whether the routing could have been improved. Cape Wickham is one that I believe is just about perfect given the land. It is not a perfect golf course, but as I played it I could not think of how the routing could have been any better.
This is the real deal for a links course along the ocean offering incredible views. The bunkering is not overly penal. One potential criticism is that the back nine has fairways that are wider which made those holes a little too forgiving from the tee. There are eleven holes that take advantage of the water with views of it and the famous lighthouse. The holes I really liked were 1, 3, 4, 8, 9, 13, 16-18. But make no mistake, I liked every hole here, it is just that those holes I noted are really special.
The challenge begins on the first tee with high dunes and grass left and the coastline to the right. The tee is right at the edge of the putting green and the wind is typically very high. The fairway looks really narrow. It is a daunting first shot and I think more daunting than the tee shot on the first at Machrihanish Championship (Old). The second shot on the first hole is no bargain to a raised green with different tiers and four bunkers with the right side of the green having a falloff down the cliff edge. After playing this hole, you know you are in for a treat. Finally, I had no idea when staying in the cottage that I was overlooking the first hole.
The second hole is a short par 4 with hidden bunkers near an infinity green with a steep falloff on the back left of the green. Brilliant.
The third hole is a long par 3 with a long carry over the rocks. You simply can’t go right or you are over the cliffs. It is a spectacular hole. There is some room in front of this somewhat flat green.
The fourth heads inland and is a straight forward par 4. It has the first view of playing towards the lighthouse but the ocean is very evident. I liked the green due to its size and shape.
The fifth hole plays back the opposite way from the fourth and is a short par 4 with a fairway sloping left to right and a crowned green on all sides.
I thought the sixth, a short par five with a generous fairway, was the weakest hole on the front nine. The green sits inside of several mounds, but they are not particularly high.
A short par 3 follows and has one of the trickier greens on the golf course with its many mounds and ripples. I did not find it to be a difficult hole as one should just hit to the back of the green.
The par 4 eighth follows of medium length with a fairway sloped slightly left to right and a very well placed bunker on the left front to defend the green. The tee shot felt like it is through a low valley. This is a beautiful hole to play.
I never could figure out how to play the ninth hole, a twisting/turning/falling/rising par 5 to a small tucked green. It seems simple, hit a tee shot slightly left of center and then lay up in front of the green at the bottom of the hill, but on my two tries I missed the tee shot to the left and made the mistake of trying to be heroic with my second. The green to the ninth is perched on a shelf and you cannot approach it from the far right or you risk going down a very steep, sandy and nasty bank on the left side of the green. Yet if you come in from the right side you have to clear a large bunker and dune/grass that is raised to block your view of the green. I did that twice. But I liked the hole. I looked back from this green towards the tee and wondered how I messed it up as it looked simple. Yet I did mess it up. I just shook my head and moved to the tenth with a wry grin.
The tenth is a short downhill par 4 at the farthest point of the property playing back to the ocean. The hole is framed on the left by dunes and the hole narrows as you approach the green. It is beautiful to play but not a difficult golf hole.
The eleventh is a mid-length par 3 with the coastline all to your left. You cannot be short or left here. It is a beautiful view once again. There is adequate bail-out front and right of the green which has a spine running through the middle.
The short par 4 twelfth follows next with the coastline all down the left side. As a mid-length hitter, this was an easy hole for me because I was not tempted to try to drive the green like my partners tried. They didn’t make it and were short left with lost balls or balls nearly unplayable on our two rounds. I found it to be an easy par having played it safe. The green has huge undulations in it to protect it but we had an easier pin placement on our day.
The mid-length par 5 follows next, going back inland and slightly uphill. The fairway is generous and the trouble is easily spotted and should be easy to be avoided. It’s a very nice hole where if you hit a bad shot, you likely will find it difficult to recover.
The fourteenth plays as a shorter par 4 from an elevated tee towards the lighthouse. I thought the fairway was much too wide for this hole. The green is a punchbowl green sat against a dune on the left. It’s a good hole, but one that could have been pinched a bit more.
The fifteenth is a long par five playing to the farthest point closest to the lighthouse. I wish it had been even closer. There is a crest to carry for the tee shot and although I was told the easier way to the hole was to go to the left fairway, I played it down the right and took advantage of being able to roll my third shot onto the green. There are numerous bunkers on the left side as you get closer to the green as well as the cliff line pinches in as well the closer one gets to the green. It’s another fun golf hole with outstanding views.
I thought sixteen was the most beautiful hole on the golf course as the mid length par 4 runs parallel to the ocean on the right. The fairway tilts that way as well. It requires a somewhat lengthy carry to reach the fairway and the green is situated at the end of the cliff edge. You cannot miss the green to the right by even one yard.
I thought it was the best hole on the golf course, until I played seventeen.
The seventeenth is an outstanding longer par 3 requiring a forced carry over rocks and avoiding the cliff edge on the right side. The green is surrounded by seven bunkers, has a big mound in the middle and is by far the best green complex on the golf course. It is one of the finest par 3’s one will ever play. It is absolutely beautiful as well.
You finish on a wonderful par 4 of mid length requiring a forced carry over the rock and cliff and having to navigate the horseshoe bay. My tee shot ended up about a yard from the crest of the water. With a different tide it would have been out to sea. I thought this hole to be nearly as beautiful as Pebble Beach and certainly as challenging. It is a fabulous end.
Obviously the wind plays a factor here on every shot. It never escapes you. It is exhilarating golf. No matter what you score on a hole, you are satisfied with the experience. There are long and short par 3's, 4's, and 5's. Some holes rise and some fall. Some holes are doglegs and some are straight. It is a joy to play this golf course over and over. You would never get bored with this course. I loved it. I played most of it twice, having to skip the final five holes on the second round due to time. I wish I could have played the second nine all the way through since I played the final hole from the beach, just missing my par putt but loving climbing down there to the sand and back up again. I thought it was fantastic how the first tee shot required courage for the dogleg right and the last hole required a similar shot over the corner of the beach, but with a slightly lower and different wind.
Every tee box I stepped on to hit I looked at the hole and smiled inside. Strategy is everywhere here due to the routing, the ever-present wind, the bunkering and tall grass and bushes. The greens are simple to read but difficult to execute a single putt, yet you really should never three putt. Everything is "fair" at Cape Wickham.
This course deserves its reputation in the world rankings.
Date: October 18, 2019