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There are ways to play at private golf courses

You could linger for decades on a waiting list before becoming a member at Sankaty Head Golf Club on Nantucket. At Cape Cod National Golf Club in Brewster, the initiation fee reportedly exceeds the annual salary of most Americans. And for many golfers, the eye-catching views at New Seabury’s Ocean Course might as well be a mirage they will never be able to savor.

Walter Hagen, the famously flamboyant Hall of Fame golfer of the early 20th century, once said, “I never wanted to be a millionaire. I just wanted to live like one.” Few public golfers may know it, but Hagen’s philosophy can become their reality — if only for a day.

There are a handful of private golf courses on Cape Cod, the South Shore, and Nantucket normally reserved for affluent members and their well-heeled guests that are available for public play. Golfers regularly resigned to their local municipal course can tee it up at these elite layouts by booking times during shoulder season, at golf websites, or by staying at resorts that have working arrangements with the clubs.

With that, courses that have hosted presidents, film stars and sports legends are at their disposal.

Here are five of the finest private clubs where membership isn’t required in order to feel privileged.

(George Peet

SANKATY HEAD GOLF CLUB, NANTUCKET

  • Located at the tip of Nantucket in Siasconset, Sankaty Head is named after the candy-colored lighthouse that stands guard over the course. It was built by multimillionaire David Gray, a former partner with Henry Ford. When the course was founded in 1923, Gray told the Boston Globe Magazine, “I have traveled a great deal, and I have seen nothing more beautiful, more restful, than this wonder here at ’Sconset.”

  • Patriots coach Bill Belichick has a home on the island and can often be spotted at the course. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, and Bob Wright, former chairman of NBC, are two titans of corporate America who are members.

  • But the golf course is the real star. With its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and fescue-framed fairways that snake through the property, it is one of the country’s oldest links-style courses. Sankaty Head Lighthouse is visible throughout the front nine, looming in the distance as a beacon and, in some cases, as a target line on blind shots. Tree-less and windswept, the course has remained virtually unchanged since its beginnings, yet is as challenging as it was in the days of hickory shafts and feathery golf balls.

  • Par 72, rating 72.9, slope 130; greens fee $135, Columbus Day to Memorial Day; 100 Sankaty Road, Siasconset; 508-257-8520; www.sankatyheadgc.com


Gary Kellner/Dimpled Rock Photography

PLYMOUTH COUNTRY CLUB, PLYMOUTH

  • Opened in 1910, this Donald Ross delight plays to a par 69, yet is one of the state’s stiffest tests of championship golf. With severely sloped, lightning quick greens, rolling fairways, and often windy conditions, it is a shot-maker’s layout that demands precise approaches and an adroit short game.

  • Plymouth has been honored by the Donald Ross Society with the Royal Dornoch Award in recognition of its ongoing commitment to the preservation of classic golf architecture. Host club for the annual Hornblower Memorial Tournament, the list of past champions includes some of the finest golfers the state has ever produced: James Driscoll, Geoff Sisk, Bill Mallon, and Fran Quinn all played on the PGA Tour. A framed photograph in the clubhouse portrays Henry Picard, an original club member and winner of the 1938 Masters.

  • The course opens with three relatively benign holes, which Ross viewed as a warm-up, before the challenge begins at the 399-yard par-4 fourth that features a forced carry over a ravine on the second shot. It concludes with the 386-yard, uphill18th that plays much longer.

  • For years, Plymouth was mainly about golf, with a modest, outdated clubhouse offering few amenities. It now has a sparkling facility that was completed four years ago, with a spacious grill room, a 16-seat wood bar, flat-screen televisions, a function room, and an outdoor deck overlooking the fourth hole.

  • Par 69, rating 70.9, slope 128; greens fee $125, with booking through elitetee.com; 221 Warren Ave., 508-746-7800, www.plymouthcc.net

Brendan Reilly/New Seabury

THE COUNTRY CLUB OF NEW SEABURY, MASHPEE

  • Some courses include “ocean” in their title, yet offer fleeting glimpses of the water. At New Seabury’s Ocean Course, you’ll feel like you’re playing alongside sun worshipers. In fact, drives that stray too far left on the second and third holes could have you playing your next shot off the nearby beach.

  • The first three holes run parallel to Nantucket Sound, providing views on a clear day to Martha’s Vineyard. It’s no surprise that New Seabury was billed as the “Pebble Beach of the East” when it opened in 1964.

  • Not many courses rival the panoramic views of the Ocean Course’s opening holes. The round begins with a straightforward par-5, often into a ferocious wind. When golfers reach the second tee, the sandy beach is only steps away, and the waves can be heard pounding the shore. It takes nerve to play a left-to-right fade off the tee, which brings the beach into play, but it is the best line of attack on the demanding 390-yard hole.

  • The course begins shifting away from the water after the third hole, which doesn’t make it any easier. The par-3 fourth requires a carry over a pond, and hazards lurk on the fifth, seventh, and ninth holes. By comparison, the back nine seems tame. It winds through the woods and lacks ocean views. Still, it is equally challenging.

  • In the end, the Ocean Course is exhilarating and exhausting, especially on a typically windblown Cape Cod day.

  • Ocean Course: par 70, rating 69, slope 120; greens fee $135, with stay at resort; 20 Red Brook Road, 508-539-8322, www.newseabury.com

Michael Walker

CAPE COD NATIONAL, BREWSTER

  • You won’t find a grandiose clubhouse when you pull into Cape Cod National. There isn’t even a roadside sign welcoming visitors. Only a black mailbox with CCN Golf stenciled in white provides any indication of the club’s presence.

  • “It’s a very low-key, casual place,” head professional Jim Campbell says.

  • There are only 225 members, and it’s been said that owner John Pfeffer has never cared if there were any at all; he just wanted to build a golf course.

  • Named by Golf Digest as the fourth-best new course in the country when it opened in 1998, Cape Cod National is an astonishingly dramatic layout, with tree-lined fairways framed by 18-inch-high fescue; steep elevation changes; quick, subtle greens; and deep, penal bunkers. There isn’t a private home to spoil the surroundings; it’s just the golfer and the course.

  • From the championship tees, which stretch to nearly 7,000 yards, there are four par-4 holes of more than 460 yards. Bunkers, hazards, and fescue are ever-present, waiting to swallow loose shots.

  • “You can’t play this golf course from the rough,” Campbell says. “If you miss the fairway, you’re not reaching the green in regulation.”

  • Par 72, rating 74.2, slope 136; greens fee $170-$185, with stay at Wequassett Resort & Golf Club; 174 South Orleans Road, 508-240-6800, www.capecodnational.net

Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club

OCEAN EDGE RESORT & GOLF CLUB, BREWSTER

  • Those who haven’t played Ocean Edge in recent years won’t recognize the course. What was once a quirky, punishing layout winding its way through woods and wetlands underwent an $8.5 million renovation by Jack Nicklaus Design in 2008 and is now one of Cape Cod’s most enjoyable golf experiences.

  • The tight, fearsome fairways have been widened and trees have been cleared away, transforming the course into less of a survival test. Although the basic routing remains the same, many holes were reshaped, with new bunkers and greens complexes giving Ocean Edge that special, private-club feel.

  • With championship tees stretching over 7,000 yards, it is still plenty difficult. The 600-yard 17th hole, which demands a precise downhill tee shot, an uphill fairway wood to a narrow plateau, and a third shot to a well-bunkered green, remains one of Cape Cod’s true knee-knockers.

  • Par 72, rating 71.9, slope 129; greens fee $119-$149, with stay at resort; 832 Villages Drive, 774-323-6200, www.oceanedge.com

Rob Duca, managing editor of Golf & Leisure Cape Cod, The Vineyard and Southern New England magazine, can be reached at robaduca@gmail.com.

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