C is for CAPE
National Golf Links of America serves as a showcase for template golf, and it’s only fair that Charles Blair Macdonald would contribute his own designs to the mix—rather than draw inspiration from the Scottish standbys. Being so, the No. 14 “Cape” also underwent more tweaking by the architect than the rest of NGLA’s entries.
NGLA 14th hole - image courtesy of National Golf Links of America
The original played just more than 300 yards, ending with a green surrounded on three sides by water, providing the template’s name. The player also needed to reason against the fairway’s left-to-right slope, which could easily propel a standard fade toward the creek running along the right side. Perhaps recognizing the danger of club technology before it was trendy, Macdonald later extended the hole by moving the green. This fact is important when considering the qualifications for future Capes: Macdonald intended for the second shot to matter just as much as the first. Granted, this lengthening came at the cost of the cape status, at least geographically. The current version plays about 400 yards, featuring a trio of bunkers defending the left and back of the green (water remains along the right).
Granted, Macdonald was hardly the first to invoke a diagonal tee shot, as examples such as the famous opener at Machrihanish demonstrate. Therefore C.B.’s codified emphasis on the second shot is all the more important for understanding the accepted meaning of “Cape” within golf architecture.
More often than not, the average golfer does not think NGLA when they think “Cape.” For being “Grandfather of American Golf,” Macdonald ended up placing his most famous Cape on the British territory of Bermuda. Mid Ocean Club’s No. 5 emphasizes the popular diagonal approach to the fairway, with a perched teebox inviting players to take more aggressive lines. The risk, of course, is hitting the lake that runs along the length of the hole. Even getting across guarantees nothing; an approach from the left side of the fairway will be tough into a front-right-to-back-left green, which slopes toward the front to deposit shots in a long bunker of significant depth.
Mid Ocean Club 5th hole - image courtesy of Fergal O'Leary
Perhaps the most recognizable Cape—at least to television viewers—is the closing hole at Pebble Beach, where players must reckon with the Pacific Ocean all along the Par 5...as well as trees and bunkers that punish golfers who “chicken out” and stay too far away from that hazard. Another PGA Cape renews Macdonald’s distance concerns every year during the Arnold Palmer Invitational: No. 5 at Bay Hill plays 555 yards from the back tee, and bold players take jaw-dropping lines to get a shorter approach on the crescent-shaped hole. With the green “only” 350 yards from the tee—across a lake, of course—one must wonder how long until someone goes for broke (as Babe Ruth reportedly did at the aforementioned Mid Ocean Cape).
Pebble Beach 18th hole - image courtesy of Pebble Beach
Water is not essential to a Cape. Yale’s eighth hole, dubbed “Cape,” takes the same approach, but around a deep gully instead of water. The second shot lives up to Macdonald’s prescribed hype. Right is the way to aim; the green actually plays to Redan standards, guiding balls to the middle, and the rightward bunker isn’t that bad. Well, at least compared to the 9 metre-deep bunkers on the left.
The Course at Yale 8th hole - image courtesy of John Sabino
We’ll stir the pot and suggest a Par 3 cannot be a Cape. Pete Dye has several great shorts that tempt the player to attack the pin at the risk of a watery grave—such as No. 17 at Kiawah—but Macdonald’s emphasis on the second shot leaves these holes wanting.
While on the topic of iconic holes wrapping around water, No. 13 “Azalea” at Augusta National certainly bears mention, thanks to the Rae’s Creek tributary that flows along the left side. It certainly requires two great shots to get home in two, but it’s questionable whether angle truly figures into the tee shot. Because of the forest along the left, the best tee shot is a question of hitting a longer draw, not taking a more aggressive angle. And, of course, the green is not a “cape” in the sense that it is protected on four sides, not three. We feel Macdonald probably would not have minded this tweak, however.
Augusta National 13th hole - image courtesy of The Masters
No. 18 at Pebble gets all the “Cape” credit, but there may be a case to be made for No. 8 as well. The tee shot is not a diagonal one, but the uphill, relatively blind nature of the shot means players are taking bigger risks the farther they push. Too long or too right means literally driving off a cliff. And the approach, across a cove and between bunkers, arguably requires enough finesse to qualify as an unconventional Cape.
Pebble Beach 8th hole - image courtesy of Pebble Beach
Finally, it is worth noting that there is a “Cape” older than any of the holes mentioned thus far: No. 4 at Royal North Devon is named “Cape,” less for any resemblance to Macdonald’s work, but rather a gigantic railway-sleepered bunker shaped just like Batman’s cape.
Royal North Devon "Cape" bunker – 16th green "Punch Bowl" in the foreground