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The Royal & Ancient Chappaquiddick Links

Josh Loring

After having finalized plans to go to Martha's Vineyard this past summer, I immediately embarked on a mission to find a golf course where I could play a round during my stay.  My search turned up a handful of your typical par 72 courses with a country club atmosphere that requires one to wear proper attire at all times.  The types of places where in-season green fees are well into the hundred dollar range and where President Obama might play during his annual summer vacation on the Vineyard.  Then, just as I was about to give up hope, I stumbled across the Royal & Ancient Chappaquiddick Links, a course that has a history dating back over a hundred years on the small island of Chappaquiddick, and despite its name and location on one of Martha's Vineyards exclusive enclaves, it couldn't be further from what you might imagine.

I dialed the number on the website and left a message with a man named Brad.  When he eventually got back to me, I explained how I had plans to visit later in the summer and was interested in playing some golf.  Referring to the course as the "Links," Brad described it as being a fun and tricky round, and mentioned that the only way to get there is to take the Chappaquiddick Ferry from Edgartown, and if I didn't want to take my own car, he would pick me up and drive me to the course. When I asked if I needed to make a tee time for a weekday morning he said no, and even went as far as explaining that I'd probably be the only ones on the course.  When I asked how many holes the advertised cost included he replied "9, 18, 27, 36...whatever you want."  I was sold.

When it finally came time, I arranged for Brad to pick me and a couple people up at the ferry on the Chappaquiddick side.  For those unfamiliar with Martha's Vineyard, Chappaquiddick is an oddly shaped island that, when viewed on a map, looks as if the land simply chipped off the south eastern side of the main island.  Chappaquiddick made headlines back in the summer of 1969 when a car being driven by U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy veered off of a narrow bridge late at night and plunged into the water.  Also in the car was Mary Jo Kopechne, a 28 year old political strategist who previously worked on his brother Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign.  Kennedy escaped the sinking Oldsmobile.  Kopechne did not.  The circumstances surrounding the incident were called into question, specifically Kennedy's recollection of the timeline and events leading up to the accident.  Ultimately, Kennedy plead guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident after causing injury.  In the years that followed many speculated that the incident derailed a potential run for the presidency by Kennedy.

On this particular morning, Brad had taken the Volkswagen bus he uses to shuttle golfers to and from the ferry into Edgartown to get gas, a luxury absent from Chappaquiddick.  After waiting by the ferry landing on the Chappaquiddick side for a few minutes, I saw the Volkswagen bus parked on the ferry, as it slowly made its ways across the channel.  During the summer, from sunrise to midnight, the two ferries that make up the fleet will carry cars and pedestrians back and forth between Edgartown and Chappaquiddick.  The trip spans just 527 feet and only takes about a minute. 

Brad climbed out of the van and introduced himself as he helped place our golf bags in the back.  During the five minute drive to the Links I would hear the occasional "Hey, Brad!" coming from an open driver side window of a car whizzing by in the opposite direction. After some small talk, Brad provided a brief history on the Links in the type of breezy laid-back demeanor you'd expect from a guy who drives a Volkswagen bus and runs a nine hole golf course on Chappaquiddick. The course came to life over a hundred years ago after Brad's great-grandfather, Frank Marshall, discovered the game of golf while on a trip to the British Islands.  Over the years, the state of the course fluctuated, and at one point, it had been so badly neglected, you could barely even tell what was once there.  Brad eventually took over, bringing on partners and assuming all the duties that are required to run a modern day golf course. 

Brad eventually veered off of the paved portion of the trip and onto a dirt road that leads right up to the "clubhouse," a small shack that Brad built a few years back and includes a fridge full of beer and some merchandise made by Vineyard Vines.  It is is aptly referred to as the Crows Nest and has some outdoor seating with views of Cape Poge Bay in the background.  Within just a few minutes of arriving we were standing on the first tee box with no other groups in sight. 

The first hole, a short Par 3 measuring just over 100 yards, kicks off nine holes of Par 3's and 4's that vary widely in distance and difficulty.  The 195 yard Par 4 fourth hole requires a tee shot over the dirt road that you travel in on.  The 100 yard Par 3 seventh, while short, includes a mound that almost entirely obstructs your view of the pin.  And it's not until the 290 yard Par 4 ninth, which provides the best vantage point for ocean views, that you're able to take the head cover off your driver and let your tee shot sail towards the downhill fairway in the direction of the Crows Nest.  In just over two hours we were able to play 18 holes, capping the round off with a Budweiser before being shuttled back to the ferry, where a foursome waited eagerly for Brad to pick them up.

At the end of the day, the Royal & Ancient Chappaquiddick Links probably isn't for everyone.  If you're looking for a course where you can hit a bucket of balls before your round and keep the head cover off of your driver all day, the Links probably isn't for you.  But if you're looking for a brisk pace of place and a course that will put your irons and short game to the test, all while enjoying panoramic ocean views, give Brad a call, jump on the ferry and look for the baby blue Volkswagen Bus when you get off on the Chappaquiddick side.