EAST SANDWICH, Mass. -- Few regions in the world can compare with Cape Cod's wealth of golf courses, which number more than 40. Best of all, most of them are open to the public.
One of these, however, Sandwich Hollows Golf Club, has been more like a hidden haven just for locals, in-the-know vacationers and winter golfers since 1999 when the town of Sandwich bought it.
When one of the townies learned I was going to write a review, he offered to buy me a beer in exchange for a silent keyboard. Had he thrown in chicken fingers and sweet potato fries from the Clubhouse Sports Bar and Grille, he might have had a deal.
But, no, the story behind Sandwich Hollows and the golf course that evolved is too good not to relate.
Sandwich Hollows G.C.: What to expect
Tee it up today, and you'll play a par-71 championship layout carved among 120 wooded acres of rolling, if not precipitous, terrain. Not one hole runs parallel to another, and each hole is distinctive in its own right.
Lofty tees and greens and fairways offer scenic views of the region and of Cape Cod Bay. Ensconced in 1,800 acres of conservation land, Sandwich Hollows Golf Club has no houses on its grounds and seems more like a venue set in New Hampshire or Vermont.
Director of Golf John Johnson downplayed the idea that his course is the "hidden haven" of Cape Cod.
"Sandwich Hollows is obviously well known to the many regulars and tourists who enjoy playing it," he said. "We have a niche here because we promise two things: a unique layout in excellent shape and affordable golf. Our practice facility is one of the best on the Cape with two putting and chipping greens and a huge, secluded driving range. We also have Jane Frost, among GOLF magazine's top 100 instructors in America, as our director of instruction."
The golf course has narrow, tree-lined fairways that put a premium on accuracy, and its relatively small greens, with their subtle curvatures and Stimpmeter speed of 8-9, reward consistent putting strokes. Sand traps are strategically placed and have that natural grass look around them.
Be/st of all, perhaps, each nine is a singular experience.
Sandwich Hollows Golf Club: A tale of two nines
The two distinctive nines invoke the genesis of the course from the late 1960s. Sam Volpe, who owned a very successful construction business in Boston, constructed his own golf course within the hills of Sandwich and called it Round Hill after the name that the Wampanoag Indians had given to this soaring piece of land. When the architect that Volpe hired had completed the front nine but delayed on the back, Volpe fired him and designed the back nine himself.
The local who wanted to buy me the beer said, "Oh, yes, the result has been that I always walk the front nine and then always take a cart on the back nine -- and make sure that my seat belt is buckled for the upcoming roller-coaster ride!"
The front nine is an excellent par-36 layout that is, indeed, walkable and that sports several memorable holes: the par-5 first that can be reached in two; the short, par-3 third that offers a scenic vista of Cape Cod Bay; the difficult-to-par, lengthy, par-5 sixth; and the uphill, par-4 ninth.
Just off the eighth tee, by the way, is the mausoleum where Sam Volpe and his wife are interred.
Sandwich Hollows has a back nine like no other
Now to the back nine, where the roller-coaster ride begins on the 10th, a 370-yard par 4 that starts with an elevated tee and then goes straight downhill.
Sandwich Hollows' 11th might just be the most difficult hole on the course, where problems exist from the tee to the incredibly sloping fairway to the elevated green. The par-5 14th is described as "up, down and back up again." My description would read more like, "Good luck!"
The final two holes are Sam Volpe's most memorable creations: 17 is a hard dogleg left that starts with an elevated tee to a severely sloping fairway and then ends, usually into the wind, with a celestially elevated green; 18 tee is at the highest point on the course and looks 400 yards directly downhill to a green that is guarded by a huge oak tree planted 25 yards in front of it.
When I saw the townie in the Sports Bar later on and bought him a beer, I told him that every golfer who visits Cape Cod needs to play Sandwich Hollows at least once. He shrugged good naturedly and said, "Yeah, it really is an unusual and fun course. Okay, once."
-- Photos by Vicky MacKay