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My Usual Game

The other Royal & Ancient Golf Club—this one in the United States

August 19, 2015

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 130 years. It’s called the Royal & Ancient Chappaquiddick Links.

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


Then, for 10 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:


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.


"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:


"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:


"And here’s the tennis court:


"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."

Here’s what the Chappy R & A looks like today, from the air:


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:


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:


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


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:


The 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:


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:


I'm not sure what this is, or was: