Royal Chappy, officially known as the Royal Chappaquiddick Golf Links, is one of the coolest, quirkiest, most entertaining golf courses in the United States. It features the kind of layouts that help grow the game.
That’s why, in no uncertain terms, Royal Chappy is a must-play for those who love golf and its roots, who enjoy playing the ball as it lies, who take the good bounces with the bad, and who judge a design based on the enjoyment it provides.
However, if you’re looking for a course with “perfect” conditions (whatever that means), then by all means don’t bother.
Located off the coast of Cape Cod, Chappaquiddick Island is officially part of Martha’s Vineyard Island, and it seems like one good tectonic shift might combine them into a single entity. The tiny ferries that run from Edgartown to Chappaquiddick only travel 170 yards each way.
While Martha’s Vineyard is a huge tourist draw due to its beaches, views and restaurants, Chappaquiddick is nothing but homes and a golf course.
The first game was played at Royal Chappy in the mid 1880s, nearly a decade before the first U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open were contested in 1895. Frank Marshall created the course after returning from the British Isles. Chappaquiddick was grasslands at the time; the trees had been harvested long before. According to the club’s website, “It didn’t take him more than a year on Chappy to figure out that he had plenty of the two things he needed to make his own links course: land and sheep.”
For decades, family and friends walked the 24-hole, sand-green layout, enjoying the game while vacationing. Then came the Great Depression and the course suffered.
Royal Chappy was all but lost until the early 1950s, when Frank’s son and daughter, along with their spouses, revived it, creating six holes with sand greens. They dubbed it “the Island Ball Watchers Society.”
It survived that way into the 1980s, when Brad Woodger, great grandson of the founder, took over and brought back the original moniker. He is also the lone course maintenance person, shuttle driver and pro shop employee (the “clubhouse” is so small that three is literally a crowd).
Since taking over, Woodger converted the greens to grass and added three more holes, bringing the par to 27 and the length to 1,325 yards. The putting surfaces average less than 1,000 square feet and the tiny tees are irrigated. The rest of the course is populated with the coarse grasses and scrawny trees that grow naturally on the island.
Woodger’s enthusiasm is evident with visitors, and his actions prove his dedication. The family recently sold the land on which Royal Chappy sits, and the new owner, who wholeheartedly supports the course, took down the on-site buildings, including the one where Woodger used to sleep (he lives on the mainland). Woodger expects to be camping out for the 2017 season.
The only way to get to Royal Chappy is via ferry, but leave the car in Martha’s Vineyard. Woodger picks golfers up at the dock and returns them after – fees are $50 a day, a round takes less than an hour and season passes start at $225. That’s a steal.
Woodger understands that Royal Chappy isn’t for everyone, but he knows why its fans adore the course. “You play withthe environment,” he said.
Woodger honored the crows that populate the property by creating a club mascot, a crow named Sir Reginald, whose crowned head is the club’s logo that adorns the VW bus, belts, hats and shirts.
“They are there every day,” he said of his black-feathered overseers. “They let me know who really runs the place.”
Woodger, though, is concerned about Royal Chappy’s future. The last few years have been tough financially. He needs more players but won’t change the course just to make it more appealing to a larger audience.
“I never want it to lose its great character, but I want it to be a little more well-known,” he said of the balancing act.