My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
#18, Par 4, 460 Yards
Usually playing downwind, this hole can play shorter than the yardage on the scorecard. However, when the wind shifts, as it did when we played, this finishing hole can be a bear. It came off the water, from left-to-right on the day we played, making the 460 yards, just nasty. It was originally a par five when Herbert Fowler built the course, but has been changed to a par four over the years. The second shot is a gorgeous shot over a valley of fairway with water on the left and the clubhouse behind the green. A fabulous finishing hole.
Two more pictures shooting backwards. The first is from the tee box to the beach. The second is from the green looking back at the tee:
#6, Par 4, 421 Yards
The sixth hole, is one of, if not the most photographed hole at Eastward Ho! The hole plays over a beautifully sloping fairway that rolls from left to right and then uphill to a nasty green that sits up on a plateau. The drive goes downhill, and the ideal line is over the left side...if you clear the hill, you have a chance to have it stay in the fairway. Otherwise, a bounce down to the right is likely. The approach is uphill to a steeply two-tiered green. If the pin is in the front and your ball ends up on the top tier, aiming away from the hole might be your best shot to ensure keeping your first putt on the surface rather than rolling it all the way down the hill.
Shot from the front right corner, with a view of the steep drop-off on the right side of the green.
#16, Par 4, 380 Yards
A new tee was built recently which pushes the opening shot on this hole back and to the left into what was formerly a collection of trees. From there, it's a tee ball to a relatively wide landing zone with a rolling fairway that makes a level lie a rare occurrence. The approach shot into the green allows for a run-up shot, but don't miss on either side, for deep bunkers await an errant play either way.
#4, Par 3, 182 Yards
All four par three holes at Eastward Ho! are good tests, and the wind is the primary reason. The green on this hole, the first par three, slopes hard from back to front and also from left to right. A deep fall-off flanks the green on the right side. A play to the left side of the green is the play, but it can be tricky to get all the way there because the hole plays a bit uphill and is often into the wind--at least it was on the day I played it.
#10, Par 3, 208 Yards
Eastward Ho! is similar in a way to Winged Foot West and Pacific Dunes in that the opening hole of the back nine is a par three. Before teeing it up on this long par three, you can take a quick break at the snack bar in the clubhouse, where you sign, on your honor, for the refreshments you take. As I mentioned before, the wind shifted on us at toward the end of the front nine, such that the wind blew off of the water for the rest of the way. That made the tenth hole play straight downwind. Laying up short of the green is the best position to miss on this one.
#2, Par 4, 350 Yards
Every hole at Eastward Ho! plays on the water side of Fox Hill Rd, except for one--this one. After crossing the road, the player faces a blind tee shot. A bomber who wants to get it up near the green that aim over the trees on the right, as the hole is a soft dogleg to the right. Any other player can just hit it straight ahead and leave a comfortable distance into the hole. Ideally, the right half of the fairway is typically the best line. The green goes from right to left and front to back.
#14, Par 4, 371 Yards
After #11-13, which aren't my favorite holes, #14 is a really good hole, most memorable perhaps for a large ditch on the left side of the fairway, called the "Elephant Hole." That hole can be carried with a good drive, and a good drive will land on a right-to-left and downhill slope and roll a good ways closer to the hole.
#3, Par 4, 326 Yards
Another short par four here with another club choice off the tee. If you're hitting driver, your line is basically over the left side fairway bunker or even to the left of it in between the two bunkers that are visible on the left side. A shorter club from the tee can be aimed further right, but nothing should go as far right as the flag. It's just a pitch into the green, but precision is important as trouble is very close to the green on the right side. The green is triangular, with a relatively wide front and a narrow back.
After finishing up the round, we went upstairs in the clubhouse and enjoyed a couple cocktails while reflecting on this perfect day on the Cape. First off, expect wind when playing Eastward Ho! It was blowing around 15-20 mph on this day, which we were told was pretty average. Wind is part of what makes the course challenging, even though it's less than 6,400 yards. My second thought after reflecting on the experience is that the front nine is fabulous--just a world class collection of holes. The back nine is a bit hit-and-miss. It's got some great holes and some holes that just didn't wow me. Put it all together, and I think it's very appropriate to call it a course in the second 50 of American golf courses. The land is so good that it's an awesome experience working your way through it, and watching your ball carom here and there between hills, dales, valleys, and plateaus. I'd be super happy to play Eastward Ho! every day, which is another thing that makes a golf course great to me. Thanks so much to the club in being so flexible to let me out for a "do-over," and for the hosts that took me around and showed me such a great experience!
#11, Par 5, 485 Yards
I'll start off here by saying that the next three holes are the weakest holes on the course, in my opinion. #11-13 are fine holes, but they just don't stand out against the rest of the holes on the course, which are generally extremely good. The 11th hole bends to the left, but there is no trouble, outside of trees and uneven lies, until you reach the green, where two small bunkers flank either side of the front of the green. The drive is semi-blind, but there is ample room on either side that anywhere down the middle, or perhaps favoring the left half of the fairway is fine.
Two pictures looking backward at the incredible land:
#9, Par 4, 396 Yards
Continuing on the same line as the eighth hole, the ninth runs parallel to Pleasant Bay and typically plays into the wind. As you can see from the flag at the clubhouse, the wind shifted on us when we arrived at this hole and would play off of the water the rest of the way, which means it crossed from right to left on this one. While the hole is the third hardest hole on the side, by handicap rating, I think it's actually one of the easier holes. A drive can essentially go as far left as you wish, with rough being the only hazard on the left side, and the 1st fairway being to the left of that. The green is also one of the easier putting surfaces on the course. Anything to the right can be in the trouble, but with so much room to the left, there's just no reason to bring any of that trouble into play.
#1, Par 4, 380 Yards
Eastward Ho! is routed in two nine-hole loops to traverse property on opposite sides of the clubhouse. The front nine goes out to the northeast, and frankly, is on more interesting land. It starts out with a beautiful hole that starts right on the clubhouse lawn before bending a bit to the left and finishing uphill to a tricky green. The hole is framed by tall fescue grass, as is much of the golf course. It has a beautiful look when it's burned out...the collection of colors from the green grass to the brown fescue to the blue sky and water is awesome.You could play much of Eastward Ho! without using a driver and this hole is no exception, but I pulled driver anyway.
Well, it was bound to happen. You can't play golf (an outdoor game, I might add) at a bucket list of nearly 200 courses (counting all of the public and private lists) across the United States without running into some road blocks along the way...pun intended, but more on that in a bit. To this point, I have played around 80 courses that were on one list or another, across 25 US States. Almost all of those rounds had gone off without a hitch. Sure, I had faced some weather delays (three of them at Crystal Downs alone), but weather had only stopped me from completing a round once, and that was at Lost Dunes in Southwest Michigan, when an apocalyptic thunderstorm rolled in over Lake Michigan in the late afternoon that ended our day after 12 holes. Forest Dunes had presented some hurdles for me because I cancelled a round due to weather, only to play it the following summer. However, in that case, I could have played the original round if I had wanted to...the course was open and the rain wasn't THAT bad. It was just that since I live in Michigan and knew I'd be back in the area, I decided to wait for a better day.
My round at Eastward Ho! was scheduled to be the anchor leg in a long distance relay of golf. We had already played eight rounds in four days, across four states, and Eastward Ho! was supposed to be the ninth and final round. Earlier in the day, I played The Course at Yale, and the plan was to drive from New Haven, Connecticut to Chatham, Massachusetts to check out Eastward Ho! While that sounds fairly aggressive on the surface, we had already done three days of substantial drives between courses. A couple days before, we traveled from Newport, to Boston, to Westchester. The next day, we played in Westchester, and then drove out to East Hampton and back. So, New Haven to Cape Cod didn't sound like that big of a deal. However, what I'm not saying is that the day this was scheduled to happen was Friday, July 1, and we'd be attempting to make this drive on the afternoon leading into July 4th weekend. Needless to say, this wasn't going to be an easy trip.
The drive from Yale to Eastward Ho! was supposed to be about 3:15, and after a quick stop to get a fast food lunch, we were right on track, though Google Maps was telling us that trouble was up ahead....maybe it will clear out by the time we get to it, we thought. As we got closer to the Cape, things only got worse. However, it wasn't until we hit the first traffic circle in Buzzard's Bay that things started to get really hairy. Our friends at Google Maps had an idea though...they said there was a shorter way, which was to turn left off of the main road and cut through some residential neighborhoods. It seemed brilliant for about a block or two, until we ran into a wall of cars, ironically, on Cranberry Rd. That wall of cars essentially would stay put all afternoon. As time continued to pass, and the time we were supposed to arrive at Eastward Ho! came and went, we started to worry about whether this round would even happen. We didn't have loads of time to spare before the sun set, and the online maps were telling us we still had about 45 minutes to drive, even if every car in front of us disappeared. Eventually, after an agonizing wait in this quaint neighborhood of vacation homes, we waived the white flag and turned around, conceding that getting a round in before dark would not be possible.
Six weeks later, I was set to be back in Massachusetts to play in a member/guest tournament at a friend's club outside of Boston. Being in the area again, I figured it was worth reaching out to the club to see if I could check out the course if I came out a day early. To my delight, they were very willing to accommodate me, and the plans were in motion again. This time, I'd land at Boston's Logan Airport before 8:00 AM, and would have all day to get down to the Cape and play the course. And, this time, it was on a Wednesday, not the Friday of Independence Day weekend. Alas, it all worked out, and after casually working my way down to the Cape and touring around a little, I pulled into the club around 1:00 PM. After warming up on the small practice range, and hitting some chips and putts, I was introduced to a couple members and another guest, and our four ball was off to the first tee.
Before I start reviewing the course, just a bit of history on Eastward Ho! I'll attempt to say a few things about the history of the club, but if you want the full story, the website has an incredible 140-page document that tells it all. The club was founded by golfers and prominent businessmen from Boston in 1922, though it had been about ten years in the making before it got to that point. The men took great time and effort in finding the land for the club, and also getting professional opinions about its suitability for a golf course. Willie Park Jr, notable designer of Maidstone, Olympia Fields, and other fine courses was engaged to offer an opinion on the land's merits. However, even though he gave the land his blessing, it would be Herbert Fowler who would actually build the course. Fowler is well known for work done at the English clubs Walton Heath, and Westward Ho, and also for courses in California like Los Angeles Country Club (North) and Lake Merced. He was not well known in New England at the time. Fowler visited the 132-acre parcel of land in 1920, and rode a horse around the grounds to scope out green sites and other notable topographical features with which to work. What he built is a phenomenal routing around the naturally flowing and undulating land that he was given. While the course was originally called Chatham Country Club, it would change its name to Eastward Ho! as an homage to Fowler, who had grown up and later renovated Westward Ho! across the pond. Eastward Ho! is not a long course, partly due to the small and slightly cramped property, but it has a tremendous about of natural interest, beautiful vistas, and is as difficult a test as you'd want from less than 6,400 yards.
There are about 320 members at Eastward Ho! and the club has always maintained a waiting list...and for good reason, it's a gem! The members have four sets of tees to choose from. The Black Tees are the tips here, but only stretch to 6,372 yards with a par of 71 and a rating and testy rating and slope of 72.2 and 138. Pretty high for such a short course. Playing the course up a tee box, puts you at the Gold Tees, which are only 5,894 yards, so I'll quote the Black Tees below:
#8, Par 4, 348 Yards
Enjoy the view from the tee box on the eighth hole because it's one of the most beautiful views on the course. The tee shot goes downhill to a fairway that ends around 270 yards from the back tees, where three bunkers cross the fairway. From there, it's an uphill shot into a green that slopes hard from right to left, with bunkers surrounding on three sides, with an open front. An approach shot aimed to the right of the pin is typically the play on this one.
#7, Par 3, 181 Yards
Hitting from the edge of the beach to a high point makes for a very difficult par three on the seventh. The hole typically plays into the wind, so a long boring shot is required to hold the line necessary to land on this narrow green. The green pad slopes from back to front and left to right. The slope was once even greater as two feet were added to the front of the green recently. Two bunkers guard the front of the green on either side. Par is a great score on this one.
#13, Par 4, 336 Yards
The back nine is generally void of fairway bunkers, with a few exceptions....#13 isn't one of them. Even the fairway bunkers that exist on #17 and #18, which are the only ones on the side, aren't really in play for well played shots. While driver isn't necessary here, a longer drive is more likely to find a level lie for the second shot.
#17, Par 5, 537 Yards
The last par five at Eastward Ho! bends slightly to the left, narrowing as it gets closer to the green. The fairway bunker on the right side after the driving area is the first fairway bunker on the second nine. The final challenge once you get to the green is in the form of a saddle-shaped green with the high points on either side and the low point in the middle.
Looking from the left side of the green, across the green and toward Pleasant Bay.
#5, Par 5, 525 Yards
While there are a couple bunkers on the extreme right side of the landing area and one bunker on the right side of the green, the primary obstacles on this par five are the naturally flowing land with bumps and ripples throughout. It's unlikely you'll have many level lies on this hole due to the rugged terrain. The second shot, assuming it's a layup, should favor the left side of the fairway to have the best angle into the green.
#15, Par 3, 153 Yards
If the 6th hole isn't the most photogenic hole on the course, it's clearly the 15th. The tee box starts right on the edge of Pleasant Bay . The hole forces a heroic shot that carries fescue, and avoids a large hill with fescue and bunkers on the right, and the Bay on the left. When we played the wind was blowing pretty hard off of the water, so it was necessary to aim out over the water to avoid a ball drifting into the fescue on the right. A tough a gutsy shot, to be sure.
#12, Par 4, 333 Yards
Back-to-back short par fours make their way to the southwest corner of the property in the form of numbers 12 and 13. Both stand at about 330 yards from the back tees, and neither requires a driver off the tee. With that said, distance off the tee can help out on the 12th, as the difficult crowned green is better approached with a shorter club.