Think You Know Which Is The Cape’s Oldest Golf Course? Find Out.

A round of golf on a sunny day is something that countless locals and visitors to Cape Cod put on their To-Do List. Though it brings to mind a warm spring or summer morning many hearty souls play even after the leaves have fallen. It is a chance to enjoy the serenity of nature while getting some exercise in a group or solo. In total Cape Cod is home to forty-two golf courses, twenty-seven public, and fifteen private. Several of these courses have won awards for their play, design, and even appeal as wedding destinations. Though the modern game of golf has been played since the 15th century in Scotland it only made its way to the Cape near the end of the 19th century.

The very first traditional golf course in the United States was established in 1888 in Westchester County, New York. Saint Andrew’s Golf Club may have been the first however only four years later Cape Cod would welcome its first course as well. One of the first one hundred courses in America sits a short drive off of Route 6 in Truro. It is the nine-hole Highland Links and it houses a storied history and a plethora of breathtaking views.

Established in 1882 Highland Links is fittingly surrounded by history as well. Cape Cod’s oldest lighthouse, Highland Light, stands stoically along the 8th Hole fairway. The station was established in 1797 with the current structure having been built in 1857. Only 500-feet away the historic summer resort, Highland House, is open as a museum adjacent to the parking lot. Built in 1907 it was once a haven for the rich of Boston who came by boat and carriage to stay there and play the links. With the creation of the Cape Cod National Seashore in 1961 the golf course became property of the Federal government and leased to the Town of Truro.

Highland Links’ roots begin with the Small family. The land on which the golf course stands was originally owned by Isaac Small in the late 18th century as a family farm. He was also first keeper of Highland Lighthouse upon its construction as he had sold ten acres of land to the government for its implementation. In 1835 Isaac’s son, James, built a two-story home on the property. This would be the original Highland House, serving visitors as an inn for decades including Henry David Thoreau in 1855. Upon his death in 1874, James’s son Isaac had an addition put on the farmhouse firmly establishing the location as a summer resort.

Highland Links would be the pet project of Isaac’s son Willard fresh out of college. Under the watchful eye of Highland Lighthouse the course would be nine holes and originally had sand greens rather than grass. Despite the sand greens Willard Small would do his best to create a course as close to the traditions of the game’s home in Scotland. Upon construction of the second Highland House by Isaac Small in 1907 the family farm turned inn which had served guests for more than half a century would be renamed Highland Lodge to avoid confusion. Willard Small would manage Highland House until his untimely death in 1911 at age thirty-eight.

The Highland Links golf course would be redesigned in 1913 by J. Henry McKinley. Combining the traditions of the game of golf with the beautiful tranquil scenery of the New England coast allowed Highland Links to attract some high profile people. Legends such as the 1913 U.S. Amateur Champion Francis Ouimet, referred to as the ‘father of amateur golf,’ loved playing at the nine-hole coastal course.

Isaac would retain ownership of all of the properties until his death in 1934 after which the property would be passed down to his only remaining child Lillian. The eighty-eight acre property stayed in the Small Family until 1947 when the property was sold after her death to New Jersey resident Harold Conklin. Conklin would sell the Highland Lodge in 1950 and it would be moved to its current location on Old County Road in Truro in 1962.

Conklin would redesign Highland Links in 1955. The biggest change was the rerouting of the eighth and ninth holes due to the changing landscape of coastal Cape Cod. The unique layout of the course on the bluffs is enhanced by the views of the Jenny Lind Tower and the radar station from the defunct North Truro Air Force Station. The rapidly eroding bluffs of Truro would cause another change in the course in 1996 when Highland Lighthouse, less than one hundred feet from the cliffs, was moved 450-feet back bringing it closer to the golf course.

Today Highland Links is a mix of history and recreation. The course became federal property in 1961 when the Cape Cod National Seashore was created by President Kennedy. Despite being the oldest golf course on Cape Cod and one of the oldest in the country Highland Links still holds its own among the award-winning courses the Cape has to offer. The course and views make playing there worth it even on cool November days. It is a truly interactive piece of living Cape Cod history.

By Christopher Setterlund

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