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Cedar Bank: Cape Cod’s Lost Links

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Eastham, Massachusetts, surrounded by Cape Cod Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, was home to Cape Cod’s “Lost” Cedar Bank Links. The course was the brainchild of Boston’s Quincy Adams Shaw, a descendant of President John Quincy Adams, whose family accumulated a fortune by digging copper out of the mines of northern Michigan.

Shaw wanted to build a golf course he and his friends could enjoy during spring and summer visits to the Cape, and the course opened for play in 1928. Celebrities, politicians, and legends like Francis Ouimet and Bobby Jones graced Cedar Bank Links, also home to an annual Labor Day weekend clambake.

Researching a course that was all but memory-holed has been tricky, but enough information is available to frame the story. Dates are contradicted in most of the accounts, with some downright implausible. But with additional help from the Wayback machine, I found some sources and articles that were also “lost” to history.

In this post, we’ll piece together the story of Cape Cod’s “Lost Links” and explore its origin and short-lived but colorful history. We’ll review some additional information about golf on Cape Cod, suggest further reading, and link to a must-watch video from Mark McGrath that will help bring the course to life.

cedar bank links jones ouimet

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Quincy Adams Shaw’s family fortune was made in the copper mines of Northern Michigan, making them one of the wealthiest families in Boston. Quincy was born in 1869 and graduated from Harvard, but a nervous breakdown in 1915 saw him hospitalized for the better part of a decade. Qunicy and the Shaw family began purchasing land in Eastham around 1913 and accumulated more through small purchases, eventually building the “Cedar Pines” hunting property.

In 1925, doctors recommended that the recovering Shaw needed a hobby to occupy his time. A member of Myopia, The Country Club at Brookline, and founding member of National Golf Links of America, he decided to build a golf course on the family property, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Salt Pond. Set along Nauset Marsh and its surrounding sand dunes and cedar-dotted land, it was constructed with local laborers and horses over a three-year period and completed in 1928.

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Reception

The course immediately received acclaim from Boston sportswriters and newspapers, calling it one of the finest private golf courses in the world and “a dream, from the sportsman’s point of view.” The mystery of Cedar Bank Links centers around Shaw’s ability to design such a formidable test, given no formal training. His access to great courses like Pine Valley, Myopia, and National Golf Links likely provided inspiration.

Cedar Bank was also known as the site of Shaw’s “rowdy” Labor Day Weekend, season-ending Clambake. An exclusive, invitation-only three days of golf, seafood, and partying drew celebrities, politicians, business leaders, and golfers alike. It’s assumed that Shaw knew fellow Bostonian and 1913 US Open Champion Francis Ouimet through Brookline, where Ouimet used to caddy and won his Open, and Shaw was a member. Ouimet became a regular visitor to Cedar Bank and, on one weekend in 1931, brought Bobby Jones along for a round. Jones shot a 73, besting Ouimet’s 75 and establishing a new course record.

History of Cedar Bank Links

In the late 1930s, Elliot Richardson, who would become Attorney General under Nixon, decided to build a house on property his family owned on the 8th fairway. Shaw agreed to give up some land and re-route the course, reducing it to nine holes. The course eventually closed after WWII, around 1950, and the land was sold to the Cape Cod National Seashore in 1961. Today, Eastham is one of only three towns of the Cape’s fifteen that doesn’t have a golf course, along with Orleans and Provincetown.

Did You Know?

Golf has deep roots on Cape Cod, with its seaside links attracting luminaries back to the early 20th century. The prestigious Hyannisport Club dates back to 1897, carrying a storied legacy intertwined with the Kennedy family, as JFK was known to frequent Hyannisport during his summers on the Cape.

JFK sometimes played quick five or six-hole rounds on holes 1, 2, and 16-18 as he tried to keep his hobby low-key after publicly chastising Eisenhower for his golf obsession. It’s said that Kennedy was relieved after flirting with a hole-in-one, not wanting the ball to go in and attract any attention to his game.

Donald Ross left an indelible mark, having designed at least six Cape classics, including Olde Barnstable Fairgrounds, boasting Ross’s iconic greens. Highland Links, Cape Cod’s oldest and the first “true” links course in the United States was already featured in this series, and Nantucket’s renowned Sankaty Head, another recent addition to Legendary Links, is just a stone’s throw away. Also notable is Cape Cod National Golf Club, with layouts by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

In 1961, JFK signed a bill authorizing the establishment of the Cape Cod National Seashore, which now encompasses nearly 44,000 acres. Amid the vast expanse of ponds, pine barrens, and beaches are faint traces of Cedar Bank Links, with about one-third of Eastham now lying within the protected Cape Cod National Seashore.

highland links course cedar bank links

The Course

The original 18-hole layout played to a par-72 at around 6,500 yards, with the front side playing slightly longer than the back. A large portion of the course stretched across a high bluff with views of Nauset Marsh and the Atlantic Ocean. The course featured rolling terrain with plenty of elevation changes with water, beach grass, bayberry bushes, and an ever-present coastal wind bolstering its defenses. Shaw’s house was centrally located, playing the traditional “clubhouse” role, with the 1st tee and 18th green both adjacent to the residence.

At 565 yards, the longest hole on the course was the par-5 8th, which ran along Salt Pond toward Nauset Light. The 9th hole lies beneath what is now the Cape Cod National Seashore Salt Pond Visitor Center, while the 12th green once occupied land that is now the Eastham Town Hall. The one-shot 14th required a forced carry, playing over the corner of the bay overlooking the ocean.

The Cape 17th played across the inlet and turned right around a large marsh area, one of two holes played across the inlet to Salt Pond, where the golfer and entourage used a small barge to cross after the tee shot. Former caddie Don Sparrow, whose father was integral in construction, told stories of himself and other caddies wading into the marshes to gather thousands of lost balls, “the only way to find the balls was to go in and feel around with your feet on the mucky bottom.”

cedar bank links map

Golf historian Daniel Wexler wrote in “Lost Links” that the course’s original layout “would surely be among the most talked about in New England, not so much for its overall challenge but for its marvelous setting, unique history and conspicuous cache of All-World holes.”

Further Reading

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Lost Links
by Daniel Wexler

Summary: Hundreds of classic courses from golf’s pre-World War II Golden Age have vanished, including nearly 200 designed by legendary architects like Donald Ross, A.W. Tillinghast, and Dr. Alister MacKenzie. In this sister volume to his award-winning book, The Missing Links, historian Daniel Wexler profiles more than 70 of the best courses and holes in America, bringing them back to life with detailed histories, color maps, and period photographs. 

Within Lost Links, the reader can walk William Flynn’s sand-strewn North course at Boca Raton, skirt towering Pacific cliffs at Billy Bell’s mysterious Royal Palms, retrace Seth Raynor’s footsteps at the Greenbrier and revisit George Thomas’s legendary lost holes at La Cumbre.

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The Missing Links: America’s Greatest Lost Golf Courses & Holes
by Daniel Wexler

Summary: While it’s hard to imagine that famed Pebble Beach Golf Links would ever be dug up and turned into a residential community, similar fates have happened to other great courses in the past. Thankfully, due to the exhaustive research of Daniel Wexler, the full details on 27 of these exceptional layouts can be found in The Missing Links: America’s Greatest Lost Golf Courses & Holes

Through the use of period photographs and detailed maps, Wexler takes the reader on a hole-by-hole guided tour of some of the most famous courses—designed by some of America’s most famous architects—that no longer exist.

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A Course Called America
by  Tom Coyne

Summary: In the span of one unforgettable year, Coyne crisscrosses the country in search of its greatest golf experience, playing every course to ever host a US Open, along with more than two hundred hidden gems and heavyweights, visiting all fifty states to find a better understanding of his home country and countrymen.

Coyne’s journey begins where the US Open and US Amateur got their start, historic Newport Country Club in Rhode Island. As he travels from the oldest and most elite of links to the newest and most democratic, Coyne finagles his way onto coveted first tees (Shinnecock, Oakmont, Chicago GC) between rounds at off-the-map revelations, like ranch golf in Eastern Oregon and homemade golf in the Navajo Nation. He marvels at the golf miracle hidden in the sand hills of Nebraska and plays an unforgettable midnight game under bright sunshine on the summer solstice in Fairbanks, Alaska.

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Sand and Golf
by George Waters

Summary: “Sand and Golf” explores how sandy terrain uniquely suits golf, studying similarities and differences between courses worldwide with sandy features. It examines all aspects of the relationship between sand and golf, from the sport’s origins in Scottish coastal dunes to its global spread onto sandy sites. Written by golf architect George Waters with a preface by renowned designer Tom Doak, it details through examples and illustrations why firm, rugged, windy sandy terrain makes creative shot-making integral to the game. The book appeals to knowledgeable golfers interested in course design and architecture, analyzing the art and science behind why golf belongs on sand.

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True Links
by  Malcolm Campbell & George Peper

Summary: True Links by Malcolm Campbell and George Peper profiles over 240 of the world’s top links golf courses across the British Isles and beyond, examining their history, design features, and status as an authentic “true links.” Organized geographically, the book offers photos, maps, scorecards and playing tips for renowned seaside tests like Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Cabot Links, Barnbougle Dunes and others that meet the authors’ criteria.  For links golf aficionados, True Links serves as an illustrated guidebook for experiencing the unique joys and challenges of the game’s most revered coastal courses.

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