Feature Interview with Bill Healy, MD

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11. The course opened for play on July 3rd, 1922, well before the advent of the steel shaft. What did the course measure then and what does it measure now?

The Founders of Eastward Ho! intended to build a championship golf course on Cape Cod which would test the best golfers. We can assume that this goal pleased Herbert Fowler, who was chastised by several clubs and golf committees for designing long difficult golf courses which could only be played by elite golfers.

The original length of the golf course at Eastward Ho! was 6337 yards, which represented a stern test in 1922 given the golf equipment available. The length of the golf course from the tips in 2017 is 6437 yards. While 6437 yards may seem like a short pitch and putt golf course for elite golfers, the course plays longer than its measured yardage based on undulations on the playing surface, forced carries, and wind.

12. Armed with hickory clubs, Francis Ouimet was one of four to play an exhibition match on opening day. What length clubs did he hit into some of the holes and what were his comments afterwards?

On Opening Day, July 3, 1922, the club invited Francis Ouimet, a US Amateur and US Open champion to play in a 36 hole fourball match with three members. The Boston Herald covered the opening day festivities and reported on the match and the golf course. I do not know what distances Mr. Ouimet achieved with his hickory shaft golf clubs, but I do know that he was impressed with the difficulty of the golf course. Ouimet shot 84 and 82 on the new Eastward Ho! Golf Links, and he commented after the round, “Take it from me, it’s the hardest I ever tried to play on.” Ouimet also said that when the golf course matures, it will be among “the toughest of the tough in the way of scoring.”

Below is the 8th hole in Ouimet’s day …

… and the 8th as it appears today:

13. You highlight how the logistical issues to get there were markedly different from today. Certain bridges didn’t exist, automobiles were wildly different, etc. To put it in perspective, how long did it take to get to the club from downtown Boston in ~1925?

In 2017, automobile travel time from Boston to Chatham is 90 to 120 minutes depending on traffic. Well maintained roads are available for the entire trip. Cars cross the Cape Cod Canal at the Sagamore Bridge (1935) and the Bourne Bridge (1935), which are fixed arch bridges with suspended decks.

I do not know the automobile travel time from Boston to Chatham in 1922, but it was much more than two hours. The 1920s was the Vintage Era of automobiles, and most cars were assuming front internal combustion engines, closed bodies, hydraulic brakes, and standardized controls. In spite of improved vehicles, automobile travel was not predictably reliable. Cars broke down frequently, road quality was inconsistent, and fuel availability varied by location. Furthermore, crossing the Cape Cod Canal in 1922 required the use of a narrow drawbridge which added time to the trip.

Limited access to Chatham probably played a role in the clubs failure to meet membership goals during the first few decades of existence.

14. You note the course measures 6,437 yards today. What allows it to still test the tiger at that length (and I ask that leading question because Brad Faxon told me that it was true!)?

The Founders of Eastward Ho! intended to build a difficult championship golf course. The golf course was difficult to play in 1922, and it is difficult to play in 2017. At 6337 yards in 1922, Eastward Ho! was a long golf course based on the golf clubs and golf balls available at the time. In fact, the difficult playability of the golf course was a barrier to recruiting members in the 1920s and 1930s.

At 6437 yards in 2017, Eastward Ho! is not long. However, Eastward Ho! remains a challenging golf course to play because of the undulating terrain, forced carries, and omnipresent coastal wind which make the golf course play longer than its measured yardage.

The 460 yard Home hole provides an epic finish.

Eastward Ho! possesses some of the most rambunctious land in world golf. Whether your tee ball hits into the upslopes or downslopes varies day to day with the wind and greatly impacts how holes play. Above is a view across the 8th green and the front nine.

Eastward Ho! is a second shot golf course, and scoring well depends on more than length. Successful golf shots require accuracy and finesse. The relatively small greens (average size 4467 s.f.; range 3552 s.f. to 5523 s.f.) are located on challenging green complexes with difficult bunkers and tricky slopes. Golfers who wish to score well at Eastward Ho! must bring accuracy, finesse, and a strong short game.

15. You are right that the greens often times get overlooked as people understandably are drawn first to the tumbling land and long views. Let’s give them their due. What are some of the most vexing ones?

Great question! Green site selection and putting surface construction were very important to Herbert Fowler. In 1907, Fowler wrote, “Layers-out of courses should, I think, strive more to get suitable places for the various greens that to get the holes any particular length. Much can be done by judicious placing of the tees to get the desired length, but if the greens are badly placed the result will be that the holes will never command the respect of the good golfer”, and “It remains for the golf architect to so design the greens that they should be both difficult of access and that the putting shall demand care and skill in judging slopes and undulations.”

In 1922, Boston Herald sportswriter Larry Paton commented on the greens at Eastward Ho!, “Too exacting, I believe, are the greens. There is one way to play a green. Any other way is wrong, which is as it should be.” Fowler would have been proud of this evaluation of his work! The good news for Eastward Ho! is that Fowler and Hardy designed and built great greens and Foster and Hancock restored those great greens.

There are many greens to consider for “most vexing”, and I discussed this question with our golf professional, Brian Hamilton. In my opinion, the most difficult greens to putt at Eastward Ho! are Four and Seven, which are par three holes. Both of these greens are built on top of sand dunes fully exposed to wind and weather, and both greens slope considerably from back to front. They are difficult to hold with the tee shot, and they are difficult to putt based on the slopes, surface irregularities, speed, and wind—the breeze must be considered in planning and stroking all putts. The greens at Six, Eight, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Fourteen, and Sixteen can also be difficult to putt based on pin position and wind.

However, no discussion of greens at Eastward Ho! should omit the green at One. The first green may be the most interesting green on the golf course, and frequently it is not given the respect it deserves—maybe because it is the opening hole. This seemingly natural putting surface sits on top of a sand dune with an open approach, a false front, a back to front tilt, slopes from right to center and left to center, and several surface elevations and depressions. One presents a challenging green to golfers, and it might be considered the “most vexing” putting surface on the golf course if it occurred later in the round.

16. The term ‘Nor’easter’ is well known beyond the confines of New England. Please share with us some notable weather events. What’s the most wind you have played in?

I love the wind at Eastward Ho! because it changes the golf course every day, and it frequently changes the golf course during a round. The prevailing southwest wind in summer is a gentle 5-10 mile an hour breeze which must be considered when planning and executing shots. However, the wind can kick up to a four or five club (30-40 mph) wind, and it can blow from the southwest, the east, the northeast, and the north on different days and during different seasons. The most impressive wind I have played in at Chatham was a five club breeze that blew in from the northeast with a rainstorm in the middle of our round—we should have quit and retired to the bar for a “relaxer”, but…………….

The most notable weather event that I recall at Eastward Ho! was the “No Name Storm” in October 1991. I was not a member of the club at the time. High winds damaged trees, and storm tides brought historic volumes of water into Pleasant Bay over several tide cycles. The water surge overwhelmed rock revetments and protective dunes to flood the golf course and create several memorable scenes. A pond formed at the lower fairway of Six, and it was populated by a slightly off course 22 foot trimaran! Furthermore, at one point during the storm there was a steady current of water from the Crows Pond to Pleasant Bay across Ten and Eighteen complete with a displaced navigation buoy.

17. What led to the hiring of Keith Foster in 2002 to develop a Master Plan for the restoration of the course?

In 1993, the Eastward Ho! Board of Governors assembled the Golf Course Long Range Planning Committee to develop a vision for the future of the golf course. In 2000, when the Golf Course Master Planning Process commenced, the club acknowledged that the golf course designed by Herbert Fowler in 1920 had changed significantly over eighty years. The master planning process culminated in restoration of the golf course in 2004 and subsequent improvements in 2007 and 2016.

Keith Foster, Golf Course Architect, was identified by the Board and the Green Committee for his commitment to designing and restoring classic traditional golf courses such as Colonial CC, Baltimore CC at Five Farms, Southern Hills, and Omaha CC. Keith was assisted in the restoration of the golf course by Frank Hancock, our Golf Course Superintendent.

18. What are three of the most important things that have been accomplished as part of that Master Plan?

As you know, a master planning process starts with the architect’s original design, reviews changes to the golf course over time, assesses the current state of the golf course, and proposes a plan for restoration of the golf course. The proposal includes recommendations from the consultant architect for improvement, and these suggestions range from strict restoration to new reconstruction concepts. Master planning processes are frequently more comprehensive on paper than on the golf course. Elements of master plans, which have been agreed to by consensus by committees and boards, can be tabled or left out of the work plan based on pushback from the club and cost. Some clubs prioritize the master plan work and plan to do the work in stages.

The master planning process at Eastward Ho! was comprehensive, and most of the planned work was completed in 2004. Mr. Foster was asked to restore the golf course at Eastward Ho! to Herbert Fowler’s original design and to create firm fast playing conditions consistent with a links golf course. Tees were to be resurfaced, realigned, reconfigured, and expanded. Playing corridors and fairways were to be reconstructed and widened to restore intended strategic options for play. Aeration of fairways, approaches, and greens with application of sand and topdressing was planned to create firm fast playing surfaces.

The elements of the golf course restoration at Eastward Ho! are listed on page 112 of the book. In my opinion, the most important aspects of the restoration were restoring the width of the fairways and playing corridors, reconstructing the bunkers, expanding and restoring the greens, and adding length. The golf course measured 6215 yards in 2003; it plays up to 6437 today and those 200+ yards are a subtle but important addition. Consistent with Fowler’s belief in the importance of greens to a golf course, the work on the greens was most impressive: approaches were firmed up, green shapes were expanded back to the borders of the original green pads, and the putting surfaces were improved with aeration, topdressing, and development of healthier grass.

19. Here is another shamelessly leading question. True or false: the set of one shotters at Eastward Ho! are now the best in the state.

The none too big fourth green represents an elusive target, especially in any wind and played from the 182 yard tee.

True. In fact, the four par threes have been recognized for their natural brilliance since the beginning, when the golf course was called the Eastward Ho! Golf links. A strong argument for recognition of the four one shotters as the best in Massachusetts was written in 1922 by Larry Paton, a sportswriter for the Boston Herald. “The short holes at Eastward Ho! are ‘wonderful little critters’, to my mind, the fourth hole being the class of the four. It is 166 yards and both tee and green are at the edge of the sharp slope going down to the beach; and there is nothing but tee and green; with a ravine between and with the wind almost always inclined to carry the ball toward the water. Play that shot right or suffer the consequences. It is a spectacular little hole. The seventh hole, 177 yards, is made so much longer by the wind and by the elevated green that Ouimet and Estabrook took wooden clubs. The green of the tenth, 212 yards, looks from the tee like a narrow cut made through a hill by railroad builders. Shoot in the alley or pray. The last short one, the fifteenth, is 151 yards, with a double green, deep traps at the sides, and very bad rough beyond. The contours of the greens are not like anything else we have anywhere in Massachusetts. Most of them have little shallow, grassy depressions at the sides, so making approach putting an art.”

In 2017, the par three golf holes at Eastward Ho! continue to distinguish themselves. Three of them sit on the edge of Pleasant Bay with spectacular water views. They play to three different compass points and wind directions—Four and Seven play to the west, Ten plays to the south, and Fifteen plays to the east. The tee shots require precise shotmaking, the greens are hard to hold, and the putting surfaces are among the most challenging on the golf course.

I will be happy to defend the one shotters at Eastward Ho! against any par three cohort in the Commonwealth.

20. Nearly half of the 300+ page book is devoted to a hole by hole description. Please describe a favorite par 3, par 4 and par 5.

As you acknowledge, the par threes at Eastward Ho! are all terrific, but my favorite short hole is Fifteen. I like everything about this golf hole. I like selecting my club and thinking about the distance to the pin, the placement of the pin on the green, the slight uphill nature of the shot, the four bunkers surrounding the green, and the hazard of Pleasant bay along the entire left side of the green. Assessment of the the intensity and the direction wind is essential—the direction of the boats moored in the bay tell us the direction of the wind. I like the way the hole sets up for my right to left ball flight. I like the challenge of hitting the green, which is the only green on the golf course which requires a forced carry to reach the putting surface. I do not like playing out of the six bunkers on the hole, but I like the positioning and design of the bunkers. I do not like yanking my tee shot into Pleasant Bay, but the water sure is beautiful. Finally, I like putting on the three tier putting surface which slopes from back to front. Each tier has high and low spots which affect the roll of the ball, and as usual at Eastward Ho! the best and easiest putts are from below the hole.

Looking across the 15th green at Eastward Ho! at Pleasant Bay.

It is difficult for me to pick a favorite par four among One, Three, Six, Eight, Twelve, Sixteen, and Eighteen, but I will choose the first hole for this exercise. One is a terrific golf hole which would garner more respect if it were not the opening hole on the golf course. I like the location of the teeing ground in front of the clubhouse and adjacent to the putting green which renders the first drive of the day wide open to public scrutiny. I like the tee shot which requires length and accuracy to reach a favorable landing spot which sets up the approach shot. I like the uphill approach shot over the central crater bunker and the right side approach bunker. I like the option of flying the approach shot all the way to the green or running the approach shot up the hill to the green. I like the open approach to the green, the false front, and the many irregularities of the putting surface which make putting at One fun. I like the looking back at One down towards the clubhouse, and I love the fact that after I play One, I have seventeen more great golf holes to play.

The three par five golf holes are among the less distinguished holes on the golf course, and each has features which I could extoll or criticize. So…….let’s pick Seventeen as my favorite. Seventeen may not be as strong a golf hole as Five or Eleven, but I enjoy playing Seventeen. I like the forgiving tee shot, which is a grip it and rip it moment—length can be helpful. The fairway is wide, Cahoon’s Hollow on the right will allow birdie or par, and the trees/fescue area on the left generally allows finding the ball and a recovery shot. I like the planning and execution of the second shot which can be a heroic whack towards the green or a strategic play to set up the approach shot. I like the Fowler fairway bunker on the right side at about 150 yards from the green. I like the relatively flat lies in the deep hollow on the left side of the fairway about 100 yards from the green. I like the option of flying the approach shot to the putting surface or running the ball down the right side to roll onto the green—I have been known to putt onto the green from fifty yards! I like the irregular circular shape of the green and the shallow bowl configuration of the putting surface which looks like a catcher’s mitt. I like the subtle breaks on this green which are not obvious. I like Seventeen because it is a fun hole to play.

21. How/where did you gather the neatest bits of information and/or any unexpected sources that provided vital information. After all, the book represents incredible research.

From 2009 through 2015, I tried to read every document that the club has in its possession. I opened every box I could find in the office, the storerooms, and the basement. I asked Brian Hamilton, the Golf Professional, Frank Hancock, the Golf Course Superintendent, and John Dufault, the Clubhouse Manager to give me everything they had regarding the golf course past or present. I read every newsletter I could find from 1922 to the present. I read the minutes of every meeting of the Board of Governors and the Executive Committee from the 1920s to the present. I learned a lot from Luis Fernandez-Herlihy MD who wrote a book on the history of Nickerson’s Neck. I read as much as I could find on the life and golf course design work of W. Herbert Fowler. I wrote a rough draft or first edition of this book in 2012, and I distributed it to many friends and colleagues who gave me important and insightful constructive comments which improved my original work.

Well, it all worked as the book does a phenomenal job of capturing a spectacular course – Congratulations!

To reiterate, The Golf Course at Eastward Ho! is available to non-members by calling Brian Hamilton, PGA, at the Eastward Ho! golf shop on 508.945.0620.