You’ll need to get airborne or test your sea legs if you’re lucky enough to be invited to play Nantucket Golf Club. It’s likely that your friendly member has a few bucks in the bank too as Nantucket Golf Club had one of the highest joining fees in the world when the Rees Jones designed course opened in 1998. Not everyone has a cool $200,000 lurking in his or her back pocket so suffice to say that Nantucket is a rather exclusive golf club!
Located 30 miles to the south of Cape Cod, the Atlantic island of Nantucket is a veritable haven for the endangered Hen or Northern Harrier. The course at Nantucket Golf Club is located on the southeast corner of this popular little island adjacent to the humble and ancient Siasconset Golf Club, which is today thought to be the oldest privately owned golf course open to the public in the US. So if you can’t find a Nantuket member to befriend, you can catch a glimpse of the exclusive layout from Siasconset’s fairways.
Nantucket is an eminently fair course where everything is laid out before you, so you instinctively know where to hit the ball. As most of us know aiming and hitting in the right direction can be rather tricky and factor in the fickle island winds and you have a stern challenge especially from the tips on this 7,100-yard layout.
Only the lucky few know the heathland-like Nantucket intimately and those that do will vouch for the severity of the 18th hole, a daunting 590-yard par five whose fairway weaves its way past threatening bunkers and a wildlife reserve before reaching a well-bunkered green.
One of the challenges when rating golf courses is dealing with preconceptions about the architect. My host at Nantucket told the story of a visitor to his club in Florida. The visitor was enjoying himself immensely until the middle of the round when he asked who designed the course. Learning that the architect was Pete Dye, the visitor announced, “I hate Pete Dye courses” and stopped enjoying his round.
I confess that after playing over a dozen of Rees Jones’s courses, I’m not generally a fan of his work. But I managed to play Nantucket with an open mind. After the round, one of my playing companions asked me if the course met my expectations. “No,” I replied. “It exceeded them.”
There’s plenty of strategy here. Each of the first three holes asks the player to drive close to a fairway bunker to open up the best approach to the hole. On the par 5 3rd, there’s a two-fer. The golfer is also asked to position the second shot close to a fairway bunker to open up the green for the third shot. At the short par 4 fourth hole, Rees channeled Dr. Alister Mackenzie, artfully placing bunkers so that no fairway is visible from the tee. But once off the tee, the golfer sees a generous swarth of green. The 14th has similar characteristics. Early in my round, I was unimpressed with the green complexes. The first two were flat and dull and the 3rd, 5th and 6th were quite similar to each other. But things got decidedly better as more contours and variety appeared. My favorite green was the 11th green, with its gentle Biarritz configuration.
The routing also provides plenty of variety, as the player faces the constant Nantucket winds in all directions. Though Sankaty Head Golf Club is only s few hundred yards away, the land here is not nearly as hilly as at the neighboring course. And while there are a few nice vistas (in particular from the 7th and 16th tees), I did not care for the holes where man-made mounds obscure the views of the rest of the course, but that’s a small nit to pick at.
Just getting to the course is no easy task here. Located on Nantucket Island makes for a bit of an effort to play this Rees Jones design. The main issue with Nantucket is that the course is more man-made rather than flowing with what Mother Nature provided. More of a "wild" and "adventurous" look would have made the layout even more appealing. It's not that the course is simplistic -- quite the contrary. Jones did a good effort in providing for hole differentiation but the sum total is that something more should have come out of such land in such a beckoning destination. Sadly, the setting gets more billing than the course itself and therein lies the issue with Nantucket.
by M. James Ward
This is a very private club on this famous island locally referred to as the ‘little gray lady of the sea’.
The course conditioning is as good as it gets.
There’s so much potential with this piece of land and a great invitation.