Classic Courses: The Kittansett Club

Like any other hearty Yankee, this 99-year-old gem has weathered countless battles with the elements—and remains standing strong

“Kittansett” is Native American for “near the sea” and aptly describes this golf course—celebrating its centennial next year—which sits in Marion, Mass., on the shore of Buzzards Bay. The bay is visible from every hole, as are, on a clear day, the three bridges that cross nearby Cape Cod Canal.

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3rd hole (photo by Jeffrey Bertch)

In the early 1920s, the club founders consulted both Donald Ross and William Flynn but it was Flynn whose drawings for 13 holes were discovered in the early 2000s in his attic. A founding member named Frederic C. Hood deserves the credit for overseeing the difficult construction in 1922: Some 100,000 tons of glacial boulders were moved and covered with dirt, becoming the mounds that are scattered across the course and, along with doglegs, cross-rough, strategically placed bunkers, and fescue, are its most daunting features.

The front nine wends away from the clubhouse before circling back in typical links fashion. The course tips out at 6,934 yards, and most of the fairways are generous, but the prevailing strong winds make each one frightening. The par-four 17th is a prime example: The tee shot is blind and downhill to a brook that crosses the hole, then the fairway turns uphill to a sloping green, calling for an approach shot that can vary from a short iron to a 3-wood depending on the breeze.

The often-photographed par-three 3rd requires a shot of 167 yards—plus or minus whatever the wind is doing—across open water, with the beach lurking as a large sandy hazard encircling the pushed-up green. As one might imagine, the green has washed away over the years, but now is sub-girded with coconut fiber “Coir” logs held together by steel cables and backed by large rocks.

The course also has been vulnerable to hurricanes, and a marker on the 7th tee displays the height of the seawater during various storms. The unnamed hurricane of 1938 blew away the Beverly Yacht Club, which had been located on the point near the clubhouse, and deposited the golf pro’s car on the 18th green. The Great Depression, World War II (when the U.S. Coastal Artillery took over the course and clubhouse), and the hurricane of 1944 all conspired to devastate Kittansett. But a loyal group of members pooled their resources and restored the club, which opened again in 1946.

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10th hole (photo by Jeffrey Bertch)

For some 25 years, architect Gil Hanse has been leading a program of course restoration, including the removal of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of trees—many of which were rogue, freshwater species—and returning the course to its wide-open layout reminiscent of British linksland. The bunkers and subtly contoured greens have been expanded and a two-million-gallon holding pond with a reverse-osmosis system has solved the problem of water that was both in short supply and prone to be brackish.

Kittansett hosted the 1953 Walker Cup, when an American team that featured Ken Venturi, Bill Campbell, Harvie Ward, Dick Chapman, Gene Littler, Charlie Coe, and other notables routed the GB&I team 9–3. This summer, it will host only its second USGA event, the Senior Amateur Championship.

After a round, comfortably ensconced in a deckchair outside Kittansett’s minimalist clubhouse and enjoying the ocean views, you are sure to be mentally exhausted—but exhilarated.

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