Proust had his madeleine; Tony Soprano, his capicola ham. For recalling long-ago summers on Cape Cod, the foodstuff that triggers instant sense memory is the Wellfleet oyster, its briny liquor sharp yet sweet: It is genius loci in edible form, standing in for a host of other Cape experiences, from the simple act of kicking a rock down a dirt road on a blazing summer day to swimming in the cool freshwater of Long Pond.
At its best, golf, too, can speak to the distinctive spirit of its setting. Cape Cod is loaded with a surprising 50-some-odd courses, but it’s sometimes overlooked by golf travelers, perhaps because it lacks a destination course on the level of a Pebble Beach. But there are plenty of great holes to be played in between beach lolls. In the end, the best layouts, as detailed here, capture the peninsula’s essence—sand and pitch pine, kettle ponds and ocean breezes.
Just at the Cape’s elbow, in Chatham, Eastward Ho! Country Club (eastwardho.org) is a private facility, but gaining entry is well worth calling in a favor from a well-connected friend or asking the pro back home to make a discreet inquiry. The course occupies a small claw of land grasping into Pleasant Bay, and its heaving, hilly terrain is as dramatic as the bay and ocean views it affords from every hole. Given the massive scale of the landforms, it’s a surprisingly pleasant walk—a testament to the impressive skill of its architect, Englishman William Herbert Fowler, who may be best known for his work at Walton Heath, the former Ryder Cup venue near London. Sporting holes on both high ground (as at the short par-four third) and low (like the picture-perfect par-three 15th, down by the beach), the course brims with fun. When the wind is up, which is most of the time, it’s simply one of the Northeast’s great golf adventures.
All of two miles from Eastward Ho! and, depending on who’s giving directions, either in Chatham or East Haa-wich—as pronounced by a local traffic cop—is the Wequassett Resort and Golf Club (rooms, from $250; Green fees, from $115; Pleasant Bay; 800-225-7125; wequassett.com). That it’s hard to find is one of the few complaints to be made about the place, though. The rooms are appointed with both high-tech gizmos and the more standard comforts—sumptuous bedding, walk-in showers, private balconies overlooking the beach.
Staying at the Wequassett gives guests access to the otherwise private Cape Cod National Golf Club (greens fee for Wequassett guests, $170; 174 S. Orleans Rd., Brewster; 508-240-6800; ccngolf.org), a nearby course designed in 1998 by the acclaimed American architect Brian Silva. After Eastward Ho!, playing Cape Cod National can seem a bit vanilla, but it’s a consistently enjoyable and fair course, one that—with the exception of the blind par-four seventh—spells out its demands pretty clearly. The fairways are wide enough to play in windy conditions, and the greens are large and mildly contoured. Expect to sink a couple of 20-footers here, and country club conditioning to prevail.
Twenty-five miles north, on the Outer Cape, North Truro is home to one of the golf world’s quaintest antiques, Highland Links (greens fee, $65; Highland Light Rd.; 508-487-9201; highlandlinkscapecod.com), which dates from 1892 and is among the small handful of true links courses in America. The nine-hole layout sprawls across a romantic bluff high above the ocean and is about as rugged as golf gets. Fairways are full of tricky, tight lies; greens are mostly simple discs placed on a natural rise or just at the end of the fairway, at grade. The primitive conditioning can make Highland Links frustrating for the golfer trying to play to his or her handicap, but those who approach it with that mind-set are missing the point, which is to enjoy the game in a beautiful and natural setting, beneath the watchful eye of the iconic Highland Light.
After an embittering bogey at Highland’s short ninth (beware this wicked two-tiered green), a round of neighboring Wellfleet’s saline-tinged specialties served as consolation. They arrived naked on the half shell, with a sliver of lemon and some mignonette to go unused on the side.
Hotels on the Outer Cape
The Outer Cape is a world of endless beaches and magnificent dunescapes—until Provincetown, at the tip, it’s surprisingly rural. And though P-town certainly has the area’s chicest places to stay, like the boutique 8 Dyer Hotel (rooms, from $165; 8 Dyer St.; 508-487-0880; 8dyer.com) or the 140-year-old Crowne Pointe Inn (rooms, from $130; 82 Bradford St.; 508-487-6767; crownepointe.com), in summer the town itself can be unpleasantly overcrowded.
South of Provincetown there are a few options that, while they may not have the latest in luxe amenities, make a good base camp. One is the Crow’s Nest Resort and Cottages (rooms, from $80; 496 Shore Rd.; 800-499-9799; caperesort.com) in North Truro, which offers modestly furnished suites with full kitchens—there’s no restaurant on-site. It’s conveniently located right on the bayside beach. The other, just off the main drag in Eastham, is the Inn at the Oaks (rooms, from $95; 3085 State Hwy.; 877-255-1886; innattheoaks.com), a classic Victorian B&B—the former home of a sea captain. The rooms run small (and not all of them feature en-suite bathrooms), but the period details give it an authentic charm.