An Alex Findlay golf course that Donald Ross redesigned in 1936, the Hyannisport Club layout weaves around the tidal marshes of Nantucket Sound. Although the combined length of the fairways is a mere 6,443 yards, they’re hard to navigate when the wind gets up.
Founded in 1897, the club boasts some of the most scenic views on Cape Cod, with water visible from every hole. Hyannisport is located next to the Kennedy Compound and a number of its family members have been associated with the club down the years.
The better holes on the course all lie along the coastline – exemplified by the likes of the 410-yard 4th, a left angled dogleg, and the 202-yard 8th, where tee shots must carry a large expanse of marsh – with the three closing peninsula holes forming a formidable conclusion to the round.
If there is a “perfect” club on the east coast, Hyannisport might be the one. Misquamicut in Rhode Island also comes to mind. It does not have a perfect golf course, nor quite the perfect clubhouse, practice range, putting green, or even the best views. But combined it is as special a club/golf course as one will ever want to play.
The club was founded in 1897 with the first course consisting of six holes. In 1902 Alex Findlay expanded the course to nine holes. Finally in 1936 Donald Ross was hired to design the current course which has essentially remain untouched.
Hyannisport Golf Club has an ideal location for a links golf course, although many of its holes are inland and more parkland. It starts and finishes on a rise offering magnificent views across the course and to the ocean. There are few better places to play in the USA for enjoyment/view/fun with the course having several holes that will provide a challenge except for the longer/better players.
It should be no surprise that the memorable holes are those along or with views of the water.
The course is short with the Black tees playing to 6443 yards, par 71, rated 72.0/132. The White tees are 6079 yards rated 70.7/128. There are two sets of lesser tees. I thought the slope to be about right with the index a bit too high. As I was playing the course as part of an outside event, we played the White tees. There are three holes where there are substantial differences between the Black and White tees.
1. Par 4 – 439/435. Playing from an elevated tee to a wide fairway the only real danger to this hole comes from its length. The first fairway bunker lies 330 yards off the tee to the right. Bigger hitters can reach it due to the roll-out of the ball. There is a flanking bunker left another 30 yards on the left. The green has a deep bunker on either side and is long at 36 yards and rectangular. The front sits below the higher pitch of the middle with the back left falling off a bit. There is a chance for recovery if one is short or long. The green has a couple of inner spines/tiers to it. It is a good starting hole with ripples throughout much of the fairway.
2. Par 4 – 280/270. There is not much to say about this hole as it is easy for everyone unless the wind is really howling in one’s face. Three bunkers are placed down the right side spaced 40 yards apart but it is pretty obvious the line is to the left. As long as one avoids the three trees on the left they should be in good shape. The green has a long bunker on either side just short of the green and then a deep bunker on both sides. The front of the green is narrow. There is not much one can do to improve this hole unless the club wants to buy the house behind the tee across Marchant’s Mill Road. Quite frankly, I would keep the hole as is as it is so much fun even if lacking in challenge.
3. Par 4 – 395/345. The next three holes are fun holes as you play nearer the sea and one has to think about water/wetlands/marsh. The third is a sharp dogleg left with the ground rising above you. There is a break in the fairway for the wetlands of about 25 yards. The bold player will cut off as much of the dogleg as they dare. From the back tee is requires a shot of 330 yards to clear the wetlands and 310 yards to reach the front of it. The conservative play is to play to the center of the fairway but if one lays back too far they have to decide whether reaching the green in two is the correct play due to a stream cutting across the fairway about 50 yards short of the green. There is fairway to the right of the green after crossing the stream with a single bunker on the front right. Going long over the green or right of the green will leave one’s ball in the wetlands as they sit close to the green. However, sometimes the wetlands are dry enough to play from there. I like this hole a lot.
4. Par 4 – 410/400. This is another dogleg left going away from the ocean to a small green. Bigger hitters can cut off much of the dogleg as it takes a shot of 280-300 yards to clear the wetlands (they were dry when we played it). If one ends up in the “wetlands” on the left they have a good chance of finding their ball and being able to play it. The tee shot is somewhat blind as the land rises on the right side although the left side provides a view of the fairway in the distance. Bigger hitters who do not cut enough of the dogleg will run through the fairway. The green has a slight dip before the start. Behind the green are three bunkers. The green has a tier in its back half but otherwise is fairly flat. It is another nice golf hole.
5. Par 3 – 176/158. This is the best par 3 from a visual standpoint. The green is placed slightly above you with a significant tier in its middle. The left side of the green is partially hidden from the tee behind perhaps the largest bunker on the course and it is only when you arrive that you can see that the left side has more width than it appears with the green overall being 35 yards deep. The right side has a bunker with two small bunkers placed back left and at the rear. The green has a definite tier in it and if the pin is on the left one needs to go at it or they will be putting up the tier. The back right of the green is on slightly higher ground making the front right sort of a thumbprint. The green overall tilts to the right. The bunkers on this hole are surrounded by taller grass. Club selection is vital on this hole.
6. Par 5 – 520/510. This is a part of the course that feels parkland other than the eighth and continues to be inland until the sixteenth. if one can avoid the trees left or right they have a good chance of scoring well on this hole. Unfortunately I hit a wayward shot to the right into taller grass on my second and had a lost ball. There are three bunkers right off the tee from 187 to 260 yards but I felt they were too far right to be in play most of the time. The next bunker is on the left side 170 yards from the green. There is a final fairway bunker on the right set at 100 yards from the green. The green has flanking front bunkers and a rear bunker. The green also has a spine running through it and is slightly tilted to the front. There is a back left section of the green that is harder to get to due to the bunker on the left.
7. Par 4 – 414/384. This hole plays parallel the opposite way to the fifth. A fairway bunker is on the right at 200 yards off the tee with the one on the right beginning at 260 yards. The green complex has two deeper bunkers on the right and one on the left. This is a smaller green at 27 yards sloped a bit back to front. The fairway has good contouring. Behind the green is a nice view of the bay but not as good as several other holes.
8. Par 3 – 202/187. This hole is back near Nantucket Bay and has a forced carry of 140 yards. There is ample short grass before the green. There is tall grass and a grouping of trees placed well off to the right but in play due to the prevailing winds. Go left and you will be in the reeds/marsh. The green is very tricky looking more flat than others but with a lot of hidden slope to it. It is a smaller green at only 24 yards with three bunkers at its rear set into the side of the hill providing an appealing visual from the tee.
9. Par 5 – 540/460. I wish we could have played the Black tee on this hole as it is a much better golf hole. I did walk and take a look from it as it sits on elevated land right behind the eighth green. The Black tee offers a shot that makes it seem as though you are hitting into a chute of trees with out-of-bounds and trees down the left and right. From the White tees it is easy to clear the trees on the right and find wider ground, although the bigger hitters can run into even more trees later. The first bunker is 127 yards from the green on the right, while a second fairway bunker is 80 yards from the green. They are set inside the fairway making the second shot for the average length hitter a bit more daunting. Flanking bunkers are at the front. The bigger hitter in our group from the white tee hit driver, pitching wedge. This hole is all about the tee shot. I think it is the best par 5 on the course despite the drama of the sixteenth hole.
10. Par 4 – 410/383. Playing the opposite way parallel to the tenth hole, this straight hole offers its first fairway bunker at 310 yards from the back tee on the right. A second bunker is found left front of the green. There is a bit of a false front to the hole. After the green one has another view of the bay although it is not very close.
11. Par 4 – 424/413. Heading back the other way parallel to ten, this is a slight dogleg right with the first bunker on the right about 320 yards off the tee. The green complex has two bunkers left and one on the right. This hole is more heavily tree lined than many of the others. It has a nicely sloped green, one of the better ones on the golf course.
12. Par 4 – 415/385. Working you way to the tee to get around the seventh and eighth holes, one finds a sharp dogleg left with two inner corner bunkers 220-265 yards off the tee. The bigger hitters will cut the dogleg although the smart play is out to the left. The green is set off to the left and has no bunkers with decent contouring.
13. Par 4 – 318/307. The next two holes do not offer the visual attraction or strategic options available on many holes before them. Other than the second, these are the two less memorable holes on the golf course. The first fairway bunker is 245 yards off to the left and is a long one at 20 yards. There are two bunkers aside the green which is angled left to right and small at 25 yards. For those who go too far right they are trees that could come into play.
14. Par 4 – 380/369. Another slight dogleg right follows with an internal bunker on the right at 245 yards from the tee and a flanking bunker set opposite it. Strangely enough there is a bunker set right at the start of the fairway just 135 yards off the tee. The green has flanking bunkers to either side. The bigger danger on this hole is the heavier use of trees on both sides as you near the green. The green seems to tilt to the right.
15. Par 3 – 185/170. This is an okay hole with a deep bunker to either side of the green. You again get a view of the bay behind the hole although you aren’t quite on it.
16. Par 5 – 482/471. After the turn at the top of the hill, you return to playing along the Nantucket Bay. This hole should have the trees removed on the right corner of this sharply turned dogleg right. In addition, there does not seem to be a reason to have out-of-bounds beyond the 175 yard mark on the right side (perhaps the land is owned by the owner of the house about 70 yards off the tee). The land rises 25 feet or more from the tee shot with the safe play being out to the left. It is likely even the biggest hitters will have a blind second shot if they are right due to the trees or if the wind does not allow their ball to crest the plateau. The smart play for the bigger hitters is down the left where they can see the green. Much like the fourteenth, there is an early bunker at 140-170 yards off the tee that is not likely in play but perhaps the wind can blow more strongly than I imagine. After the crest of the hill the hole turns sharply right with a bunker set on either side about 15 yards short of the green. The green has a bunker middle right, one back left and two back right. For its length the green is small at 29 yards and has a definite back to front slope. All of us liked the hole. The view of the green and the bay behind it is the best on the golf course. It is almost like walking down the tenth hole at Augusta National and waiting for the hole to reveal itself. You suddenly realize how fortunate you are to play here and also why one’s score does not matter.
17. Par 3 – 143/131. This short par 3 caused all of us troubles as we misjudged the effect of the wind. The green is placed against the wetlands/marsh to its right with ample room to miss left. However, this is a thinner green with multiple tiers in it with highest point at its rear. There is a long bunker on the left and two on the right. I like this hole and not just for the views of the water. Much like the fifth, club selection is vital on this hole.
18. Par 4 – 310/301. You play uphill back to the clubhouse. While there is trouble off to the right you can miss anywhere to the left. The green is expertly placed into the rise with multiple tiers and swales. The first bunker is 270 yards off the right side with the green then surrounded by four bunkers. The bunker on the right has tall, thick grass behind it. Going into that grass is likely a near impossible recovery shot. The flagpole, church and clubhouse behind the green provide a near-perfect backdrop.
While the course lacks length it has plenty of character and drama. Many of the holes require decisions as options are presented to you. There are much more difficult and better seaside courses, but one will pinch themselves to play Hyannisport. Donald Ross created something very special here and the members are likely very grateful every day. Other than Eastward Ho, this is the course to play on Cape Cod. There is a wonderful variety of short and long holes, holes inland, holes with views, and holes alongside the bay. The green complexes are interesting although the greens are not nearly as difficult as many other courses designed by Mr. Ross. This is a course one plays for the experience. They will thoroughly enjoy it.
Conditioning can get more emphasis in these reviews than it deserves. After all, conditions can vary depending on a multitude of factors….while other factors, e.g. routing, shot strategy, green complexes, are constant and can compensate for occasional shortcomings in conditioning. That said, a mid-April round at Hyannisport showed off superintendent Thomas Colombo’s’s splendid efforts. My stimpmeter measured the greens at 12………..and the aprons at 11! I could not find one unsanded divot nor one footprint in a bunker.
Colombo’s predecessor, Ryan Walsh, along with architect Ron Forse, did a lovely job a few years ago restoring much of Donald Ross’s original design. Their efforts , however, did not result in complete fidelity. A perfect example is the second hole. After a strong opening par 4 down a rolling fairway to a contoured green, the golfer is faced with a short, rather dull par 4. Ross’s original plan called for a green to be benched into the hill farther left and behind the current green. But when the members hired a local contractor to build the course, he decided that was too much effort and built a green in the current location.
Two of the course’s finest holes follow, both doglegs with water threatening a poorly played tee shot. After a sweet par 3, the next nine holes suffer from a case of sameness. Numbers 6-14 include one par 3 and one dogleg, but the rest are straight two and three shotters that parallel one another, with little to distinguish them. Routing was usually one of Ross’s strong suits, but this was not his best effort.
Hyannisport redeems itself in its last four holes: two good par 3s and a pair of excellent half par holes at 16 and 18. The walk up the hill on the final hole is exhilarating both for its steepness and for the spectacular views of Nantucket Sound.
This one of my three favorite Cape Cod courses, along with Eastward Ho! and Cape Cod National.
Hyannisport Club has world class views of the water and the surrounding tidal marshes looking out into Nantucket Sound. The course has a set of small, very fast greens. Many of the greens are quite narrow as well with bunkers on long side of the greens. More than once I found myself in a bunker, and if you don't hit the perfect high shot you will find yourself in a bunker on the other side of the green.
The course begins with a relatively straight 448-yard par four, a gentle opener. This is followed by a 265-yard par four that is also relatively easy. The third features a dogleg left that plays at an angle off the tee to a fairway set over a tidal marsh. The fourth is a 410-yard dogleg that plays around the same body of water. The par threes on the course all feature a landing pad in front of the green that at first slopes away from your line of play and then slopes upward. This makes the approach shots to the green very tricky because if you land your shot just a bit short and it hits on the downslope then it will likely shoot across the green. Factor in the wind and it becomes even trickier. Particularly good par threes include the 195-yard eighth, which plays into a cross-wind coming off the Sound. The fifteenth, a 177-yarder and the seventeenth, a 141-yarder play directly into the prevailing wind. All three are good golf holes.
Another hole of note is the 476-yard par five sixteenth which plays through a dramatic left to right sloping hill. Your tee shot is blind as is your second over the hill. Although you will likely have a very short iron into the green, it is also highly likely that you will have an uneven lie as the terrain slopes on the entire hole from left to right.
The holes along the water and marsh reminded me quite a bit of Maidstone in East Hampton, and many of the approach shots play the same way they do on the holes that border the pond at Maidstone. Aside from a couple of holes on the front that play over marshes the course has no water hazards. The golf course is a great day out in an idyllic location. I personally got goosebumps walking where JFK used to play, making this a very memorable days golf.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs