For this lifelong golfer, Vineyard courses are the Goldilocks of golf – not too hard, not too easy, just right. Ray Ewing

The links of which I speak are the five courses of Martha’s Vineyard, and the old man, alas, is me. I’ve been around the game so long that I remember spiked shoes, wooden clubs, and Arnold Palmer putting with a cigarette hanging from his mouth. Although I retired from my day job (English professor) two years ago, I had a shadow career in golf — as a writer, course developer, course rater, and long-suffering player aptly described as a “dogged victim of inexorable fate.”

From my perspective, golf on the Vineyard is an ideal place for anyone’s valedictory rounds. The courses have all the charms of the Island — the salt air, the sea breezes, the landscapes of pine and sand, the dazzling views, the relaxed attitude. They’re not at all like the stern, self-important “championship courses” where I used to want to do battle. Island golf is designed to refresh your energy, not deplete it. It’s Goldilocks golf — not too hard, not too easy, just right.

Like the towns on the Vineyard, the five courses differ from one another in obvious, striking ways. Each one has its own proud identity.

Sir Reginald Welcomes You to Royal Chappy

Let’s first consider Royal and Ancient Chappaquiddick Links, or Royal Chappy, the quirkiest layout on the Island. Before you even reach the course, the name tells you that this is an establishment with a sense of humor.

You’ll want to laugh or scratch your head when you step onto the first tee and see a cedar tree in the middle of the fairway. The second hole is a blind par 3, and so it goes on this nine-hole layout, 1,352 yards in total length.

Some might call it gimmick golf. I call it Chappy golf. These shots are fun to play and the whole experience is an adventure, from crossing over on the ferry to depositing your greens fee in the honor box in the 10’ x 12’ pro shop. The merchandise shed is even smaller, offering stylish garments that display the course logo, a crow with a crown, a.k.a. Sir Reginald.

Golf has been played at Royal Chappy since 1887. The first holes were laid out on property owned by the sporting Marshall family and ever since, with short pauses for major global upheavals, the family has kept the game alive on the sandy plains of Chappy’s North Neck. The current operator/manager/factotum is Brad Woodger, a great-grandson of the founder.

Brad is a writer, too, and this iteration of Royal Chappy is his vision and his creation. His take on the future for the course: “We can continue this funky, precious, precocious, funny, challenging nine holes another three decades and beyond. Just keep loving it.”

Longtime Edgartown Golf Club manager Mark Hess. Ray Ewing

Staying the Course at Edgartown Golf Club

Edgartown Golf Club (EGC), founded in 1926, is another home-grown nine-hole layout, and it also avoids pretension and grandiosity. The spirt of the place is no-fuss, no folderol.

Club manager Mark Hess has been at EGC for 35 years; the club is his career, his cause and his calling. With the support of a like-minded membership, he’s cemented the EGC as a local institution. A private club with a hardy core of Island members, EGC hosts three annual charity events that are open to all.

Inside the modest EGC club house, a tribute to past tournament winners Ray Ewing

Mark describes the course in terms of what it’s not: “No bar, no restaurant, no pool, no tennis courts. People come here to play golf and get together with each other. It hasn’t changed much — and there aren’t many clubs like that.”

He’s especially proud of preserving the practice of no tee times. “The club wants to maintain spontaneity. That’s an Island tradition we want to keep.”

Another point of pride: The EGC course is ranked No. 8 in the world on Golf magazine’s list of best nine-holers.

Meet You at Mink

Mink Meadows is a challenging, inviting nine-hole course that can be played as 18 holes from different tees. Ray Ewing

The Mink Meadows sign on Golf Club Road in Vineyard Haven says “Public Welcome.” As a summer visitor in the 1980s and 1990s, I regarded the Mink as my home course. Local, down home, egalitarian in spirt, the Mink hosts a true cross-section of golfers. My experience there has included encounters with doctors, developers, school boys, housepainters, Hollywood types and presidents. (I got shooed off the course by President Clinton’s Secret Service.)

In those days, you could count on getting same-day tee times. Now increased demand from both the public and members — Mink Meadows is semi-private — means that you’d better book well in advance.

The upside of this prosperity: Mink Meadows, always an inviting, challenging nine-hole layout that can be played from different tees as 18 holes, is in better shape than ever, and the greens might be the best on the Island.

Vineyard Golf Club, In Short

The very private and exclusive Vineyard Golf Club in Edgartown got off to a litigious start when community members, fearing pollution to the Island’s aquifer, stipulated that the golf course would have to adopt organic turf management practices. Now, 20 years later, the club has established a reputation as an environmental trail blazer, the only course in the country that is 100 per cent organic.

A few other things to know about the Vineyard Club: former President Obama plays there. The initiation fee is north of $200,000. The present course, designed by an architect renowned for his respect for the natural features of a site, is actually the second course, built when the original course was deemed unsatisfactory and plowed under. Those who dine there rave about the food.

Also, the place is hard to find. Members of the club value their privacy — they’ve paid a lot for it. Let’s respect that. Moving on…

Farm Neck Fan Time

Alasdair Watt is known for his study of the golf swing. Ray Ewing

Many people are smitten with Farm Neck Golf Club, and I’m one of them. With sensational views over Sengekontacket Pond in Oak Bluffs, the front nine of this 18-hole layout is a thing of beauty.

The whole place is charming, classy, intimate. I could go on and on about the welcoming staff, the appeal of the shingled clubhouse, the brick paths, the food — even the shady parking lot deserves praise. Disclosure: I am not a member, nor has the club paid me to gush.

From its inception, Farm Neck was intended to be a private club accessible to the public, and it remains true to this original vision. But if you’re not a member and want to play in prime season, get started early — increased demand has made tee times rare and pricey.

It's hard to beat a view from the third tee at Farm Neck Golf Club. Ray Ewing

The overall excellence of Farm Neck extends to the teaching tee, where you’ll find Scotsman Alasdair Watt. When you see his ruddy face and hear his accent, you’ll think of St. Andrews, bagpipes, standing stones and Outlander.

Introduced to the game as a caddy at Royal Troon Golf Club, one of the host courses of The Open Championship, Alasdair blossomed into a fine player, reaching the finals of the 1987 Scottish Amateur.

Though he continued to compete, his instincts and interests drew him toward teaching. By temperament, he was a student of the golf swing, a subject that combines both Newtonian physics and metaphysics. As an intellectual discipline, it can be compared to alchemy, with its effort to convert something base — clumsy human efforts with crude implements — into something pure and exalted. Sorcery!

A lesson with Alasdair Watt, the teaching pro at Farm Neck, is a coveted thing by serious Vineyard golfers. Ray Ewing

The genius in this field is Ben Hogan; Alasdair’s first mentor, Scotsman Bob Torrance, was a friend of Hogan’s, and the teacher of many of the top European pros.

More recently, Alasdair’s tutor has been Mac O’Grady, the Dr. Strangelove of golf, a brilliantly talented player whose occult inquiries into the mysteries of the golf swing are legendary.

In a lesson with Alasdair, this body of wisdom informs the instruction. He doesn’t preach about it, but listen carefully and you’ll realize that he sees the golf swing as a microcosm of life itself. As he says, those who’ve “succumbed to their suckiness” don’t come to him for lessons.

All his students are serious golfers — not always good players, but serious about learning. “I had a 97-year-old student and people would ask, what’s the point? Why does he need a lesson? It’s obvious — he can still learn. He believes he has a few good strikes left in him, and he wants to enjoy them.”

I’m several years shy of 97, but I can share the old man’s desire not to leave any good shots unplayed.


Keeping Score — or Not: Nine (More) Ways to Enjoy Vineyard Golf

There’s more to golf than birdies and bogeys. Here are nine things to do on Vineyard courses that can’t be quantified on a scorecard.

1. Play a round of night golf at Royal Chappy, with illuminated balls and fairways marked like runways with LED lights.

2. Immerse yourself in stories of Vineyard golf by reading Mark Hess’s book, You Don’t Have a Prayer.

3. Take a lesson from Alasdair Watt at Farm Neck.

4. Play a round of winter golf at Mink Meadows. Helpful hint: warm your golf balls in the car defroster before playing.

5. Have lunch at the Vineyard Golf Club. Don’t ask me how to manage this because I haven’t figured it out myself.

6. Sign up to play in the Edgartown firemen’s association Golf Tournament at the Edgartown Golf Club.

7. Make your way to the third tee at Farm Neck and soak in one of the best golf views in North America.

8. Visit the merchandise shed at Royal Chappy and treat yourself to The Sir Reginald Extra Fancy Needlepoint Hat ($40). Or order online at

9. Especially for other seniors: In the spirit of honoring the golf gods and asking them to grant you many more rounds, turn and face the Atlantic Ocean when you reach the 8th tee at Farm Neck. Tee one up and belt it as far as you can toward the horizon.

Having now spent two winters on the Island, Stephen Goodwin has completed the first probationary period for washashores. He's the author of three novels and four golf books, including Dream Golf and The Nature of the Game.