The Course I’m Thankful For: Just clowning around in Cape Cod

November 24, 2017

This is the ninth installment in our 11-part “The Course I’m Thankful For” series, in which we asked staffers to wax lovingly about the first course that stole their hearts. Be sure to check back daily to feast on a new essay — or simply binge-read them all when you awake from your turkey coma. Happy Thanksgiving!

The first layout I ever loved wasn’t built by a big-name architect, but it featured many traits that design snobs look for. Set on sandy soil, not far from the water, it was easy to walk but deceptively demanding, with bedeviling hazards and a series of snug doglegs that favored precision over power. It even had a handful of template holes, including the Windmill, the Hippo’s Mouth and — my favorite — the Clown’s Nose.

Though I can’t remember what the course was called, I can tell you how to get there. Drive two hours south of Boston, on Route 6, into the Cape Cod town of Eastham. Look for a red barn of a “pro shop” on the right, across the road from a soft-serve ice cream stand.

I played it for the first time more than 40 years ago, when I was 8 or 9, riding in the way-back of my parents’ station wagon, on a weekend family getaway to the beach. I didn’t play golf then. Silly sport, I figured, for stuffed-shirts and sissies. But whacking a ball through a goofy little landscape of loop-the-loop ramps and scale-model lighthouses? That sounded like more fun than sitting in traffic. Or so my older brother and I argued. Luckily, our parents agreed.

I can still picture the setup by the check-in stand, the putters slung like armaments across the counter, with a plastic bin of golf balls, offered in a Crayola box of colors. Selecting just the right equipment was a task I labored over, just as keeping score, with a dangerously sharp pencil, was a job I treated with great solemnity. When my brother knocked his first shot out of bounds, topping a putt that bounced beyond the Astroturf onto a patch of gravel, no Mulligan was granted, and it wouldn’t have been either, even had I known what a Mulligan was.

A few other details from that round stand out: the impassability of the hippo’s teeth; the mystifying challenge of the windmill blades, which spun barely faster than a sundial but still seemed impossible to time; the errant putt I struck on the clown’s nose 18th, which caromed comically off a sideboard and dropped for an improbable hole-in-one.

What I remember, too, is our laughter at the bad shots, our high-fives at the good ones, and the excited post-round recap over ice cream sodas, each of us talking over the other as we revisited our favorite shots.

Well into my adolescence, that course remained my home-away-from-home track. But nearly half a lifetime has passed since I last played it. My father is long gone. For all I know, the course may be, too. I live in California now, not far from a little layout that my children like to play. Like a lot of folks out West, they call it putt-putt. But I reject that name. It’s called mini-golf because it offers all the pleasures of golf in miniature. The fresh air, the lasting satisfaction of small successes, and, on the best days, cold drinks and conversation after the round.


Sneaky rounds in suburban New York, by Alan Bastable
Shoes-optional on the Maine coast, by Dylan Dethier
Planting roots in Southern California, by Jessica Marksbury
A rumpled links in England, by Michael Bamberger
Meats (and murder?!) in Michigan, by Jeff Ritter
A transition out of tennis in Ohio, by Joe Passov
A short-and-sweet gem on Long Island, by Tim Reilly
An old, reliable NorCal muni, by Alan Shipnuck
Just clowning around in Cape Cod, by Josh Sens
A Hollywood ending in Wisconsin, by Sean Zak
Lying in the weeds in Minnesota, by Josh Berhow