Alistair Cooke once called Highland Links in North Truro, Mass., “the perfect example of British or Scottish links in the United States.” Built in 1892, it is Cape Cod’s oldest course – and looks every bit its age. You won’t find a fancy clubhouse or oak-lined grille room; just a basic snack bar. There isn’t an elaborate practice facility, either, just a small putting green. And it’s only nine holes that measures out at barely more than 2,500 yards. But if you love golf history, you’ll quickly understand that simplicity is the point.
Tee shots roll forever on the rock-hard fairways. The wind howls and swirls and creates havoc with club selection. Trees? There aren’t any. But there’s heather, fescue, wildflowers, shrubby pine and bunkers deep as craters. There are also stunning views from windswept bluffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Highland Links will force you to play knock-down shots, bump-and-runs and delicate chips to greens that are undulating and difficult to read. Along the way you will play shots toward historic Cape Cod Light, which guards the green at the par-3 seventh hole. You’ll walk along fairways that parallel the Atlantic, staring from a cliff to the water below. Even though you might stumble a bit with a bogey or two, you will find it difficult to become disenchanted while strolling across such a unique course.
The fun begins on the 250-yard, downhill opener. From an elevated tee, you can scan the surroundings all the way to the water and spot the FAA flight-service domes in the distance. A solid tee shot can reach the putting surface, but a slightly off-line ball could find deep fescue or one of the two bunkers flanking the green. The wiser play is a 3- or 5-wood, leaving only a wedge for the approach.
There are more decisions and beauty on the par-5 second. From another heightened tee, with a medieval granite tower standing guard from above the fairway – a memorial to 19th century singer Jenny Lind – you must fit your tee shot into a deep valley. Miss either side and you’ll be dropping a new ball. The 460-yard hole is reachable in two, but you must be precise. Bunkers guard the front of the green and shots that run long will roll into thick fescue.
The third hole defines Highland Links. A par-3 of only 160 yards, the green is perched atop a hill and is blind from the tee. The prevailing wind is in your face, and with the Atlantic only steps away, it’s usually fierce. Balls that land short will catch the hill and roll to the bottom, leaving a long, treacherous chip uphill to a pin you won’t be able to see.
The most memorable hole is the 464-yard sixth, which runs alongside a cliff that drops 130 feet to the ocean. Coastal erosion threatens its continued existence. Though not an especially difficult par-5, it’s a visually stunning walk to the green.
Cape Cod Light serves as the backdrop for the 170-yard seventh, and the course closes with the spectacular ninth, with its tee box just a few feet from the rear door of the Truro Historical Museum. Only 136 yards, this hole has been ranked by national magazines as one of the world’s greatest par-3s. The two-tiered green is severely sloped from right to left, which means that hitting the green from the tee guarantees nothing at all.
Thus ends your journey at Highland Links. Of course, you can go around a second time to complete a regulation 18-hole round. In fact, you’d be crazy not to.