The Other Royal & Ancient Golf Club — This One in the United States

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My family and I spend time on Martha’s Vineyard every summer, and, like the President, I usually manage to sneak away a couple of times to play golf. This year, I played a course I’d never heard of, despite the fact that it’s been around, in one form or another, for almost a hundred and thirty years. It’s called the Royal & Ancient Chappaquiddick Links.

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To get to it, you first have to take the tiny car ferry from Edgartown to Chappaquiddick Island:

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Then, for ten minutes or so, you have to do whatever your GPS tells you to do. I made the trip with my friends Luke Morgan and David Peek. Our fourth was Brad Woodger, the manager and superintendent, whose great-grandfather Frank Marshall created (and named) the course in 1887. Marshall got the idea while hiking on Scottish and Irish linksland during a backpacking trip to Europe. Here’s Woodger during our round:

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He told me:

My great-grandfather eventually became a dentist for the Boston Opera, but before settling into his career he visited Chappy every summer to fish and sail and muck about. He and friends and family laid out 24 holes on the island’s North Neck, and by 1905 the course was functional and frequented by a large cast of Boston area characters.

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Sheep grazed everywhere, and the Links required little maintenance until the sheep decided to graze the greens, too. For a brief period, Frank changed the putting surfaces to sand, but the sand turned out to be harder to maintain than native fescue. Here’s an old concrete green roller from the early years:

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“In 1910, Frank added a tennis court, a clubhouse, and a Tea Barn. The Tea Barn was eventually expanded to serve as a year-round home for Frank’s daughter Mary. The clubhouse became storage for my clothes. Here’s the original clubhouse:

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“And here’s the tennis court:

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“The Links went dormant during the Depression and the Second World War, and they became overgrown with Chappy’s newest residents: scrub oak and pitch pine. Frank’s son and his wife reclaimed seven holes in the mid-1950s. In 1986, the least likely or qualified (but most available) candidate, me, took over. In 2008, along with the financial support of George Bennett, and the partnership of Kim Bennett and her father Bob (no relation to George), we renovated and expanded the course to nine holes.”

The course is just 1,325 yards long, but don’t let that fool you, because it’s a gas to play. Here’s what it looks like on the ground:

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And here’s the practice green:

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The most famous people ever to have played the R & A, Woodger told us, are probably the father and son of the musician John Cougar Mellencamp. They weren’t there on the day we visited, but these people were:

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They had roughly the same idea about appropriate footwear that we did:

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After our round, we had a beer and a Diet Coke on the back porch of the current clubhouse. If Luke and David seem eerily familiar to you, it could be because you are one of the vanishingly small number of people who, in 2013, watched the the short-lived ABC Family reality-TV show The Vineyard, in which they appeared as extras. That’s Luke on the left and David in the middle:

beerclubhouseThe beer and Diet Coke, along with a few snacks, were kept in a small refrigerator inside the clubhouse. Hanging above the refrigerator was a list of frequently asked questions about it:

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A memorable day. Here’s the front of the clubhouse. Only so many people can stand inside it at one time. If you have sharp eyes and aren’t reading this on your phone, you may be able to make out the fridge, through the door. It’s over on the right:

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And here are some other photos:

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Those little poles on the tee box in the photo above are lights for night golf.

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I’m not sure what this is, or was:

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Martha’s Vineyard, Golf, Lyme Disease

Penny (left) and deer tick.

My wife and I are on Martha’s Vineyard, where the vacation activities include looking for, finding, and removing deer ticks, which carry Lyme disease.  None of this is easy, because the ticks are extraordinarily small. Here’s an enlarged detail from the photo above, in case you’re having trouble spotting the tick.

Penny and deer tick (detail).

I found the tick above between two of my toes and stuck it to a piece of paper with Scotch tape. It’s one of several dozen I’ve found so far, all of them on my feet and legs. I’ll let you know in a week or two whether I’ve contracted Lyme again.

Luckily, tick-hunting isn’t the only vacation activity around here. There’s also golf, on a course I like a lot, Farm Neck Golf Club, in Oak Bluffs. Here’s one of my favorite holes, the fourth, a par 3, on which you don’t want to be right, long, left, or short, but especially not right or long.

I forgot to mention the wind.

And here are the people I played with today, a roughly my-age guy, whose name was Richard, and his two sons-in-law. In the photo, Richard has just missed a short par putt after making a semi-miraculous chip shot from the edge of the cart path.

That’s Richard, on the right. I hit the green but three-putted.

I didn’t notice any ticks on the golf course, but there were lots of these other things, which are almost as annoying:

Why Rain is a Golfer’s Best Friend

Golf weather. Second fairway and third green, September, 2011. The pond in the foreground is a stream you can usually step across.

There have been showers in the forecast every day this week, and as a consequence my home course has been empty. Hardly any rain has actually fallen, except at night, but an image of raindrops in an icon on a weather website is apparently all it takes to keep most members cowering at home. On a cloudless 100-degree day in August, my friends and I often have to wait on every shot, but if the evening news mentions even a ten percent chance of occasional sprinkles we’ll usually have the place to ourselves. Earlier this week, Tony, Addison, and I played 27 holes in three and a half hours, on foot, and during that whole time we encountered just one other group: a dad and his ten-year-old son, who waved us through. The temperature was perfect—it hovered near the point where you sort of begin to think about maybe putting on a sweater—but we never got truly wet, and although I wore my rain hat for a little while I never had to wipe off my glasses. And no need for sunscreen.

Tony, light rain, empty course, eighteenth fairway, June, 2012.

Later this summer, my wife and I will spend some time on Martha’s Vineyard. There’s a golf course there that I like a lot, called Farm Neck, but it’s so popular that tee times can be hard to come by, especially on short notice. What I usually do is wait for the sky to cloud over and then show up unannounced, confident that the forecast will have created openings in the tee sheet. And if it actually rains, who cares? If you have the right equipment, there are only two kinds of weather you can’t play golf in: lightning and dark. And dark isn’t necessarily an insurmountable problem, as you can tell from the photo below:

Closing hole, Sunday Morning Group, annual end-of-season golf trip to Atlantic City, October, 2007.