An Easy Breezy Nine Holes on Chappy at The Royal and Ancient Golf Club.
If not just the name, or, taking a three-car ferry from one small’ish island to an even smaller island wasn’t suggestion enough that this round of golf was going to be as unique as Martha’s Vineyard itself, one needn’t have looked hard for additional evidence.
After two years of intention, my wife, my father and I finally set out on a Wednesday afternoon from Tisbury to Edgartown, for a 2:30 tee time—and a joyful investigation into what promised to be both a fun and unique afternoon, and in many ways, “so Vineyard like.” Google had (wrongly) predicted that an hour would afford plenty of time but apparently did not account for the 2-blocks worth of queued cars we arrived to, all awaiting passage to Chappaquiddick island ahead of ours. While (needlessly) worrying if being late would be an issue, we leaned into vacation mode and enjoyed the jazz music of a bygone era (“That’s Lionel Hampton!”) in a nod to the cool and composed octogenarian riding shotgun. While taking the last position on Simpsons Lane we marveled at the size of a couple of berry bushes (black?) flanking a resident’s vibrant red front door and then, once turned onto N. Water St, attempted to identify the species of sprawling tree on the front lawn of The Carnegie—A Property of Vineyard Trust. We continued this group contemplation, wondering further if for all our lives we’d been mispronouncing “Carnegie” as curious-Kathy shared from the back seat that on National Public Radio “they pronounce it Car-NAY-ghee.” Hmm. Finally on Dock St., we began calculating the cars ahead and how many more 2-minute ferry rides we were from crossing the 527 feet to “Chappy”, and our round of golf. “We’re next!”
A few minutes-drive from the ferry, the two+ mile approach to the course on N. Neck Rd meandered a typical Vineyard-like one lane, dirt-road route, through pines and scrub oaks. The course soon appeared through the trees to the right, with glimpses of ocean on the left, and one thing became quickly clear—that the course was not heavily sprinkled with neither golfers nor water, as nature had rendered the vast majority in golden hues, reminding me of another links course played many years ago in the Scottish Highlands, where the hazards included grazing sheep in the middle of the fairways!
We arrived to Royal’s pro-shack and stepped inside to check-in but it was empty except for a few displayed seashells and a sign accompanying a photograph of a topless woman with her back to the camera, hanging laundry next to a classic VW bus—that looked very much like the one parked just outside. The sign informed: “No shoes? No problem. No shirt? Could be a problem. No pants? Problem.” Hey now! Let’s get this golf-party started, I thought, as a young man appeared only a minute or two later—looking more like a beach attendant than your typical golf-type, and welcomed us enthusiastically, promising a great time. When I informed Chris Kennedy that we were 10 minutes “late for our two thirty tee time,” our host smiled wisely and responded (without looking at any sort of tee sheet) that he had us “down for 2:45 so you are five minutes early!” “Let’s have some fun” he said while walking with us to the first tee box—our launch location indicated by two conch shells.
For the serious golfers out there, I strongly recommend that you adjust expectations, and see this as a picturesque opportunity to practice pitching and chipping while enjoying a water view on the majority of holes. Only two are Par 4, the longest being the ninth, and at 275 yards, the only hole over 200 yards. At the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, there are no blacks, whites, reds or golds—only those seashells on each tee box, and an arrow helping to guide the direction of your drive—as the fairways are often gently “blended” with the rough—a single cut leading to the small, plush, slow greens, which at times exhibited a “light chop!”. Other than maybe the world’s smallest sand trap on the second hole, and a small tree in the center of the last fairway, the greatest hazard we encountered during our 90-minute round of nine holes was the poison ivy on a couple of occasions that our balls went afoul of the fairway! Our initial concern about making the tee time was quickly discovered to be unfounded, as at times there was no one in front or behind us—and where else can that be said on a New England golf course in midsummer? Royal indeed.
A few more things that might help you experience The Royal and Ancient Golf Club. Don’t bother calling, the voice mail box is full. Trust instead and take the scenic view to the ferry. If you book online for the $50 greens fee, and the website only accepts the booking when you pay for a 4th, tell Chris upon arrival—an apology and a refund was delivered within seconds. There were no golf carts when we were there, and that was a good thing—the 1325-yard course was pleasantly walkable for the three of us and push carts were included in the price. While there, we experienced a steady breeze, osprey, a giant, soaring hawk and the rare sixsome—all part of a tranquil afternoon away from the summer crowds. Our wait for a return ferry was just over a half hour, and we found both immediate parking and an upper deck table at the Seafood Shanty, for the perfect sunset ending to a great day of relaxation and discovery.