Cape Cod's best golf courses: A six-pack of favorites

Tethered to the Massachusetts mainland by two bridges, Cape Cod -- a fishhook-shaped peninsula jutting into the Atlantic -- enjoys a more moderate climate than other parts of New England, making it possible to play golf here year-round.

Wetlands, pine-covered hills and drifting dunes have been sculptured into an array of golf holes by famed architects like Donald Ross, Brian Silva and Geoffrey Cornish, giving you a mix of classic historic treasures and more modern layouts with carries over salt marshes, elevations and ponds with magnificent vistas.

The Cape has more than 40 courses, close to 30 accessible to the public. It's a place where golf is as unpretentious as the residents in their well worn boat shoes and sun-faded shorts. Salty sea breezes waft across fairways, gulls cry overhead, and sand and water are all around. Off course you can indulge in fresh lobster, clams and locally caught fish.

Here is a six-pack of the best golf courses on Cape Cod.

Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club

Several million were spent in upgrading the Brian Silva layout at Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club, including adding more bunkers and reshaping older ones, upgrading greens, lengthening the course to 7,011 yards and planting new bentgrass fairways. The Nicklaus Design Group also incorporated some of the original nine holes. Carries over water, like on the pretty par-3 eighth, can be dramatic. The 14th hole is a formidable test, throwing everything at you, including bunkers, wind, wetlands and water. Five sets of tees provide good golf for all levels. Play is open to members and guests at the high-end Ocean Edge Resort.

Highland Links

Listed in "True Links" (by George Peper and Malcolm Campbell) as one of just two courses in the U.S. that can be classified as a links layout, Highland Links in Truro is one of America's most historic courses. Dated from 1892 and perched along the windswept bluffs on the eastern shores of the Atlantic, Highland Links is defined by deep natural rough, Scotch broom, dunes, grasses and craggy rocks. Shots require threading through narrow gauntlets flanked by Rosa Rugosas, a thorny hairy shrub that thrives in diabolical conditions. Wind is always a factor and disaster lurks should you stray off course. A small gray-shingled pro shop next to a tall lighthouse completes the picture -- you almost expect a bagpiper to come striding over the hill.

The Captains Golf Course, Port Course

Of the two Brian Silva-designed courses at The Captains Golf Course in Brewster, the Port Course is more challenging. The Port includes some unique features, including two kettle ponds guarding the eighth and 14th greens. Fairway bunkers are well placed to catch errant shots, and tree-lined fairways demand precision. The Port has one dogleg (no. 16), but for the most part the holes run straight back and forth through woods. You'll encounter some tough par 3s like the 17th -- just its sheer length is intimidating at 246 yards. Add a long narrow green book-ended by trees and bunkers, and you have a very harrowing hole.

The Cape Club by Troon

Speaking to those looking for a classy, designer experience, The Cape Club (formerly Ballymeade Country Club) in Falmouth delivers with its elegant clubhouse, a Jim Fazio/Chi Chi Rodriguez-designed golf course, tennis complex, pool and health facilities. The course made Golf Digest's 2006 list of the "Best Places to Play." Featuring multi-tiered greens, elevations, carries over water and magnificent views of Buzzards Bay, your play finishes with a great test. The par-5 18th requires a target drive and second shot to a tree-lined fairway, and an approach to a green protected by water shored up by boulders.

Dennis Pines Golf Course

Dennis Pines Golf Course, an impeccably groomed muni, is one of two tracks owned by the town of Dennis and one of the longest golf courses on the cape at more than 7,000 yards. Designed by Henry C. Mitchell (1966), it is diabolically tight, cut through a forest of twisting scrub pines and oak. Nothing is slick or contrived. Fairways rise and fall over the natural contour of the terrain, while the medium-sized greens and bunkers are more subtle than dramatic. There are some blind drives along with lake-hugging fairways like the 11th hole, a dogleg right that snakes along a small lake down to the green. Bring your "A" target game for sure.

Olde Barnstable Fairgrounds

Olde Barnstable Fairgrounds, a walker-friendly track in Marston Mills owned by the town of Barnstable, rocks and rolls over some formidable hills just as your ball has to navigate undulations on the putting surface. Designed by Mark Mungeam of Cornish, Mungeam and Silva in 1992, the course remains true to the philosophy of the late Geoffrey Cornish, who believed a golfer should feel better after playing regardless of his or her score. "If it beats you up, it doesn't work for me," he said. Playing 6,479 yards from the tips, it's a pretty course that features some fairly rare plants, including world-class holly trees (one taking center stage in the middle of the 18th fairway). It's no wonder this low-key beauty gets a lot of play from Cape Coders.

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.

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Cape Cod's best golf courses: A six-pack of favorites