Herbert Fowler, the esteemed English golf course architect – best known for his work at Walton Heath and The Berkshire – was the man responsible for creating this classic layout in 1921 at the former Chatham Country Club on the eastern seaboard at Cape Cod.
Coincidentally, Fowler had reworked Old Tom Morris’s original course at Westward Ho! (Royal North Devon) a few years earlier so it was somehow rather fitting that he should also be the man chosen (over Willie Park Jnr) to design Eastern Ho! on the other side of the Atlantic.
Fowler’s understated approach is apparent here on the cliffs above Pleasant Bay with simple tee box areas, minimalist bunkering and straightforward greens (that are often seamless fairway extensions) laid out on a rolling landscape.
The four par threes at 4, 7, 10 and 15 are exceptional short holes with the 140-yard 15th considered the signature hole on the course. Some, however, regard the best on the scorecard to be the 395-yard par four 9th, which is played from the highest point on the property towards a landing area that leads along the spine of a ridge to the green.
Cape Cod was formed by a glacial retreat of ice thousands of years ago, and the resulting extreme land movement left on parts of the Cape, including that which Eastward Ho! sits on, highlights how some rare plots of pure fun golf property can only be found, rather than built.
Herbert Fowler took full advantage of the roller coaster land movement when designing the course, where lines of charm are on nearly every par 4 and 5 and one leaves the course feeling that there are a bunch of holes at Eastward Ho! unlike any other one has seen or played before, especially in the U.S. You can disregard the yardages on your scorecard here, as elevation changes, wind, and some fun quirk make this course play more challenging and longer in length than you would think.
I cannot imagine anyone trying to build an argument around any single hole here being a “weak” one, but a few favorite ones that continue to linger in memory are 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 14, 15, and 18. Each one of these holes can be played numerous different ways, and depending on the wind, you might have to play one of 4-5 different clubs for your approach shot on any given day.
#3 is one of the best short par 4s I have ever played. Off the tee, you can either play a driver, hybrid, or a 4-6 iron off the tee and potentially end up anywhere from a bump-and-run shot up on to the green to a 150 yard approach. You might have a better view and look at the green from further away and have better odds of finding the fairway if you lay up, but you will have the navigate the wind more and anything right or long of the green is dead. These risk-reward decisions are constant through your round and keep a player thinking.
#4 is an outstanding par 3 that is often deceiving in distance due to the wind, as you are right along the water, and due to the hump in front of the green that looks like it is right up against the green but it actually about 30 yards short. Most pin placements will require an uphill putt, making this hole also feel longer than the yardage might indicate.
#6 has a fairway unlike any other you have ever seen, with a massive hill carved into it that will repel most balls down and to the right side of the fairway, leaving one with a challenging uphill short iron in to an elevated green that, if you do not hit and hold, you could be left with a delicate short chip/flop shot to a green 15 feet above you. One can play their approach shots from other areas, though there are considerations to this tactic. You can play a slightly shorter tee shot and keep it left, leaving you with a more clear and visible look at the pin but from further out. You can also push your drive to the right in to the #5 fairway and also potentially have a very clean look at the flag with a short iron, though you run the risk of having your ball end up in the rough, making it harder to hold an elevated green upon your approach. Another incredible two shot hole.
#7 is a great uphill par 3. The wind will typically help most balls left, and if one misses the green far to the left, they are down the fairway funnel of #6 and have a very uphill second shot to hit to try to find the green and save par. The wind and elevation require choosing the right club and likely striking a pure mid-iron to find the green.
#8 is another excellent short par 4 hole where one can take a few different tactics to make par. The further you hit your tee shot, the closer you are to the green, but the flag will be less visible as you get closer as the fairway slumps down before coming back up to a green that is on the same level as the tee. The further you go down the fairway, the more that bunkers on the left that cut into the center of the fairway come into play as well. Longer hitters who choose driver from an elevated tee will find themselves either right in front of a bunker and a blind approach shot, or in the bunker and a blind approach shot. While only a 100-120 yards will remain, one will not feel fully confident of their line here. The right side of the fairway does have a maybe 10 yard wide landing area where you have good visibility of your approach with a wedge, but one needs to thread a needle and also hit it 290 yards or more to find this reward of an approach. Players who lay up and land their ball in the fairway before it dips down into the aforementioned gathering area will have a mid-iron approach shot but will be able to see the flag fully. Anything past the flag will leave a slippery downhill putt.
#14 is another superb short par 4. Play your drive up the right side and hope for a slight draw, where you can catch a slope to propel your ball another 30 yards or more for a short wedge in to a green. While your tee shot is not as exposed to the wind, leaving you to feel confident ripping a driver, your approach shot to the green will likely be quite exposed to the wind and may be a downhill shot wedge/short-iron, which keeps the hole exciting and requires one to really think about club selection and the angle you want to take.
#15 is a signature hole, and while all of the par 3s at Eastward Ho! are outstanding, this is the best one. The hole runs along the bay and wind is a huge factor. I played this hole twice in the same day and hit 9-iron in the morning and 5-iron from the same tee in the late afternoon. A front pin, especially when windy, is a perfect challenge. Go long, and you have a slick downhill putt. Fall short of the green, and you have a challenging sand shot or chip from the rough with little green to work with to get up and down. The yardage on the scorecard is meaningless on this hole, and a pure shot is required off the tee.
#18 is an outstanding finisher and a long par 4. Shot shape off the tee is critical. The fairway shapes right to left, with a huge downhill shoot that longer hitters can catch before heading back uphill for their approach. A shorter drive that stays right will leave a long iron and hard angle to the green, but those who can draw the ball and stay left center of the fairway can get another 40-50 yards of roll and leave them with, depending on the wind, a 7-iron to a 9-iron approach shot in to an elevated green.
Eastward Ho! is a perfectly well conditioned and fun course to play, because on any given day, it can play like a completely different course. If you get the opportunity to play here, drop everything and make your way to the Cape.
Massachusetts has a number of superb top tier layouts – many congregated in and around the Boston metro area. But I can say without any hesitation or reservation that those fortunate to play Eastward Ho! will reap a golf experience of the highest order. The course is blessed with first rate terrain – heaving and moving about so that golfers must by necessity adjust to both the lie and the wind pattern of the day. Those who have grown accustomed to flat and predictable fairways had best be forewarned when coming to the course because shotmaking dexterity is a prerequisite to success.
Herbert Fowler did a stellar job in creating the layout but it's the work of architect Keith Foster who is to be saluted for a sensational restoration completed in 2004.
One of the elements I often consider when reviewing a golf course is whether the blood was stirred – the emotions front and center. Being at Eastward Ho! does just that. You relish the varying holes and conditions. The penalties are commensurate with your skill level – or lack thereof. Fun golf – not the slavish devotion to inane difficulty – is what makes the course so appealing. Eastward Ho! is not a long course – but the wind will have you gritting one's teeth when facing a 3-4 club headwind or even more challenging crosswinds.
When you reach the long par-4 18th hole – you play one of the fine closing holes in the game. The fairway reminds me of an ocean on a stormy day – and as you come around the corner you see the clubhouse perched on the hillside with the green just below. Be ever mindful of the menacing false front that is quick to grab the half-hearted approach.
The Cape Cod area has long been a draw for vacationers and the enchanting views of the Chatham area along the coastline are mesmerizing on a sunny day. Eastward Ho! is a powerful statement that golf need not be the banal cookie-cutter assembly line variety of designs that dot the landscape. The memories of one's time here are indelible.
by M. James Ward
“A variety of stances in the fairway is a key challenge of golf, and Nature is much better at providing this variety than the hand of man.” Tom Doak
I’m not sure Doak had Eastward Ho! in mind when he wrote his Minimalist Manifesto, but I can think of few other courses in the U.S. where the undulations of the fairways are such an integral part of the challenge. And it’s more than just the uneven lies. Only one hole here (#8) has fairway bunkers to challenge one’s drive, but on half the tee shots (5, 6, 9, 11, 13, 17 and 18) there are opportunities to find the most advantageous landing spot, or conversely, the difficult one—all courtesy of the rolling terrain. And when the wind blows, as it does most days, the challenge is even greater, despite the shortness one finds on the scorecard.
The lovely views of Pleasant Bay—on all but one hole—also help to make playing here a pleasurable experience.Most of the challenge on the greens at the Ho! (as the locals call it) lies in the severely sloped greens, particularly on #s 1, 4, 6, 7, 8, 11, 14 , 15, 17 and 18, some of which are blessed with amusing undulations to really test one’s nerves. The other eight greens are rather dull. Nonetheless, this is my favorite course on Cape Cod and easily one of ten favorites in Massachusetts.
I would love to catch this in a dryer period or play it when it was really being maintained as a true links course playing very firm and fast. That would be heaven. As it is now it's already fantastic. What a wonderful surprise, don't miss Eastward HO!