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Massachusetts

Golfing by the sea

TIM McKAY, QMI Agency

Highland Links Golf Course boasts "a unique seaside golf course" and it certainly delivers on that promise. Founded in 1892, The nine-hole course offers spectacular scenery, including the historic Cape Cod Highland Light. TIM McKAY/QMI AGENCY

Highland Links Golf Course boasts "a unique seaside golf course" and it certainly delivers on that promise. Founded in 1892, The nine-hole course offers spectacular scenery, including the historic Cape Cod Highland Light. TIM McKAY/QMI AGENCY

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As the ball sailed off my driver and almost immediately out of sight, it became clear I should have sought out some local knowledge.

It seems my plan to get out early and get in 18 holes so I could explore later on was a bit misguided.

At home, that would have been a fine plan, but this was Highland Links, one of only a few true links courses in North America, on Cape Cod.

My drive felt good, but I was literally in a fog. I had no idea where I should have aimed or where the ball ended up, but, like a true tourist -- and the lone greenskeeper out at the hour was very nice not to laugh at me -- I marched on.

Somehow I found the ball and continued to play what essentially was a guessing game for the first few holes.

It wasn't until the fog began to lift that I could see the Cape Cod Light, or Highland Light, site of the oldest lighthouse on Cape Cod, just metres away off the seventh fairway.

The course is Cape Cod's oldest, started in 1892, and although short, its wind-swept terrain provides a challenge. What's more impressive, however, is the setting on the bluffs overlooking the Atlantic, where, just the week before the friendly greenskeeper said, a group of humpback wales was visible from the sixth tee, perched near a cliff 50 metres above the ocean, as they breached.

Luckily, rough wasn't too deep and I was able to find my ball -- most of the time -- and when the fog lifted and the course revealed itself, I was too busy taking in the vistas to be too concerned about my golf game.

The nine-hole course has two sets of tees so you can go around twice and get a different experience and, as you finish on the short par-3 ninth, there is a museum right there so you can take in the local history before even putting the clubs in your trunk.

Cape Cod has different types of golf experiences to offer and my first, at Ballymeade Country Club in North Falmouth, was a more modern layout, redesigned in the 1990s by Chi Chi Rodriguez and Jim Fazio.

It's a semi-private course that offers public play. After checking in at the large, well-equipped clubhouse we hit the course. The hilly terrain gives way to tee boxes at different elevations and tiered greens. Water also comes in to play on several holes but with different sets of tees (6,928 from the back), it's a very playable course for different levels of golfer.

There also are a couple of peninsula-type greens that ate me up, but that's another story.

Willowbend Country Club, in Mashpee, offers an upscale fee with its lush grounds surrounded by beautiful homes. The club opened in 1991 and has hosted pros and celebrities as part of charity fundraisers and it's a first-class faciltiy. The 27-holes -- Bay, Bend and Bog courses -- allow a variety of experiences.

The Bay gives breathtaking water views, especially on the par-3 seventh hole.

The Bog course offers a visually stunning experience, especially in fall, as its nine holes wind their way through working cranberry beds. Several shots on the Bog layout force you to hit over the bogs and if you don't make it, your ball is lost to a muddy grave, perhaps only to be seen again during the cranberry harvest.

Cape Cod has courses to suit all tastes and budgets -- from the rustic and scenic Highland Links, to the playable Ballymeade, to the country club atmosphere of Willowbend.

GOOD TO GO

Contact the following for more information on travel and golf in Cape Cod:

-- Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism: massvacation.com.

-- Willowbend Country Club: willowbendcountryclub.com.

-- Ballymeade Country Club: ballymeade.com.

-- Highland Links Golf Course: truro-ma.gov.


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