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 fitting that he should also be the man chosen (over Willie Park Jnr) to design Eastward 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.
“Keith Foster’s brilliant restoration of Eastward Ho! cements its place as the most exciting course on the Cape, if not New England,” said Tom Doak in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses. “Seeing a 6,400-yard course get proper recognition on a few Top 100 lists is a welcome sign that character is replacing difficulty as a metric… The roller-coaster fairways are not every golfer’s cup of tea – there are several places where your drive either crests a hill and rolls another thirty yards, or falls short and rolls back toward the tee. But there is never a dull moment, and the ridgetop views of Little Pleasant Bay are breathtaking.”
Wild terrain, mind-blowing views, and exceptional strategic design. Rivals Fisher Island as the very best ocean-side course in the Northeast (although I haven’t played Shinnecock or National Golf Links).
Visiting Eastward Ho! was something of a pilgrimage for this limey. It was therefore with several ironies that my drive along the thin strip of Cape Cod - passing signs for the likes of Sandwich, Falmouth, Yarmouth, Harwich, & Barnstable with a b - occurred on Patriot Day.
Stepping out of my car I was taken aback by the enticing vista of holes 1 & 9. Aside from the absence of any sea views, this relative safe haven typifies what you can expect for the remainder of the course: Rising & falling fairways that resemble a rolling heaving ocean swell. Golfers with open umbrellas are likely to resemble little sailing ships all at sea. If your soul is not shaken or stirred at this point, then you might be better off staying in the clubhouse with a Martini.
So I set sail from the first tee, hoping for fair winds & following seas, facing a scenic downhill drive followed by an uphill long shot. It’s a great opener to get the heart rate up. The second involved crossing a road to a tee box down by the waterside and a hit up over the water and over a rise, slightly blind. You’re unlikely to be dead in the water with this carry as it’s of no significant distance. Crossing another road to get to the third tee, you may be reminded that this unusual design element was also employed by Herbert Fowler, less successfully, at Walton Heath. Here in Chatham it worked much better in the routing.
The third was another blind tee shot as you tee off over another rise, with the right tack being to shoot across the bows of the inside fairway bunker on the left. I cannot agree with the previous reviewer saying this is a great strategic short 4, because if you can’t see the options off the tee then it’s hard to make or appreciate the decisions. It’s a good hole though but relatively plain sailing up to this point.
At this point I turned the corner and arrived at a tee box overlooking Pleasant Bay, with the lovely short hole 4th to contemplate. From here on I sailed closer to the wind, and on this Par 3 caught between the devil & deep blue sea. My advice would be to focus and club up. Beautifully framed holes now came hand over fist. The par 5 5th tacked uphill with a dramatic fairway that looked remarkably like something from Royal Hague. Hitting my third onto middle of the green, by the time I’d made it up there, the wind - helped by the slope - had blown it off the false front like a rat deserting a sinking ship.
The 6th was a beauty and unless you’re a long hitter your tee ball will likely end up kicked right off a crest into a fairway trough, leaving a blind second into a back to front green perched into a dune. Don’t go long here - unless you’re running short on balls in which case you’ll find many that have run aground behind this green. Great hole. The Par 3 7th was another scenic short hole, this time uphill, giving more challenge than it’s short predecessor. The 8th was a lovely open Par 4 when you can make waves with your driver and the 9th moors your anti-clockwise loop back to the clubhouse in fine fashion. It’s a tough fairway to hold and easy to go off course. The outward half went by at a significant rate of knots and at this point everything was shipshape & Bristol fashion. Nothing other than world class describes the voyage thus far.
The back nine didn’t quite hit the same heights, but this was largely due to the early holes that play away from Pleasant Bay. This reminded me to rate the painting & not the canvas. The tumbling fairways, shot values, beautifully varied & restrained bunkering, excellent presentation, & pure greens all remain. Holes 12 & 13 might be where the course found itself in the doldrums - at least scenically speaking - but then I turned another corner on the clockwise routing and welcomed back the pleasant sight of the bay for 14 & 15. Both great holes. You’ll want to give the right side a wide berth if you can on 14 to make your second easier, and take an extra club on the picturesque 15th to avoid being high & dry in one of the frontside bunkers. Battened down the hatches for one final battle with the wind on 16, before trying to channel my inner John Daly on 17 & 18. If you can get a long drive away at the last, you may roll all the way down a steep slope to give yourself a shorter but blind shot in. Leave yourself a bit shorter and you’ll have a longer but well sighted look at the target. I opted for the former but achieved the latter. The beautiful clubhouse framing the 18th green - land ahoy! - is a welcome sight after being all at sea for a few hours.
The rolling fairways and elevation changes were a huge part of the challenge here, liable to bamboozle. You may need multiple plays before passing this test with flying colours, ideally shaping it up both ways to hold them. This is beyond me - at least intentionally - which meant my tee balls would often hit the fairways and then follow the currents to a final sunken resting place. But there is often line of charm to toe at Eastward Ho! This usually became evident after finishing a hole, so the course will be easier when you know the ropes. You will need to be a decent player to hit these targets consistently.
Having played the course in both calm and rough waters, you may find yourself feeling blue & under the weather when it really blows. Members decided to scuttle their rounds and landlubber it up the clubhouse during my second round - a sensible enough course to chart to avoid shipwrecking confidence. Apparently the rough will grow significantly during the summer, adding a third dimension of difficulty. This would make it very tough and then it’d also be Yo Ho! Ho! & a barrel of IPA for me.
Despite the aforementioned Olde English towns on Cape Cod, it’s Royal Hague that springs to mind at Eastward Ho! It has the same scale of property, (arguably extreme) natural landforms, tilted greens, and tough-cookie thrill. It’s just as good yet right on the ocean. So why is one ranked in the World top 100 and the other “only” present in the USA top 100? You’ll often read reviewer comments like “if this course was located elsewhere, then it’d be more highly regarded”. This sound bite is usually reserved for courses in isolated or unfashionable locations - and I don’t generally agree with it. But for Eastward Ho! the opposite might be true - it potentially suffers as it’s in the North East amongst so much quality. As though Massachusetts is not permitted to claim too many world ranked courses. Or maybe because US raters are always looking further Eastward for seaside courses. It of course also helps Royal Hague that the likes of Golf Magazine is seriously over-indexed with raters from Holland. But whatever the reason, switch locations with the Dutch Cousin and it’d be Eastward Ho! in the world top 100 - no question in my mind.
This is epic & inspiring golf beautifully presented over dramatic landforms. The course is good enough to distract you from the wonderful sea views. It may beat you up but it’s hard to beat. As you gratefully dock on the 18 green, you are fully onboard & convinced that Eastward Ho! is a world class course that has fully earned its exclamation mark.
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!