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Highland Links: True Links Golf on Cape Cod

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Highland Links is a hidden gem in Truro, Massachusetts, that runs along the windswept bluffs of Cape Cod overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Founded in 1892, it is the oldest golf course on the Cape and one of the most scenic. The 9-hole links-style track sits on land that is now part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, making it federally protected property with a lease agreement to operate as a public course.

The location and history give Highland Links a true Scottish Links feel. Its deep natural rough, pot bunkers and rolling terrain aim to replicate the challenge of early seaside courses. The Atlantic Ocean views are unmatched, including the famous panorama from the clifftop 6th tee situated 130 feet above sea level next to the historic Highland Light.

Having traveled to the site a few years ago, I found the course very scenic but unassuming. It was a natural fit, built directly into the landscape. At the time, more people were at the site taking it in, sightseeing, and visiting the lighthouse than playing golf. It’s an ideal place to experience authentic links golf against the backdrop of Cape Cod’s classic New England coastal scenery.

In this post, we’ll travel to Cape Cod to learn the origins and history of Highland Links and its place in its rich golfing history. We’ll do a walkthrough of the course, suggest further reading, and show some videos to bring the course to life. Most of the adjacent images here are simulated as we typically do; however, a few are taken from my visits to Cape Cod.

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Highland Links has a long and storied history as Cape Cod’s oldest golf course, founded circa 1892-1898. It was originally designed by Willard Small, the son of a local hotelier, as part of a golf resort and adjacent to the Highland House Hotel. The course layout took advantage of the natural sandy, hilly terrain along the bluffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, reminiscent of the ancestral links courses of Scotland.

The course operated as part of the resort for many years, hosting famous golfers like Boston native and 1913 U.S. Open Champion Francis Ouimet, who performed an exhibition when the course converted its original sand greens to grass. The course underwent various renovations over the decades before becoming federal property in the 1960s with the establishment of Cape Cod National Seashore. However, Highland Links was grandfathered in and remains the only golf course within the protected seashore lands.

Today, Highland Links is a public 9-hole golf course leased by the Town of Truro. Its location within the Truro Highlands Historic District, next to the historic Highland Light lighthouse, helps maintain its heritage and traditional Scottish links-style character. The course features spectacular ocean views and natural terrain with deep rough, heather, and minimal maintenance just as the earliest links courses did centuries ago in Scotland.

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Cape Cod

Cape Cod is an arm-shaped peninsula extending into the Atlantic Ocean from the southeastern corner of Massachusetts. It encompasses most of Barnstable County and measures approximately 65 miles long by 1 to 20 miles wide. The Cape is bounded by Cape Cod Bay to the north, Buzzards Bay to the west, Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. It is connected to mainland Massachusetts by the Cape Cod Canal, which allows boats to bypass sailing around the entire peninsula. The canal divides the Cape into two sections – the Upper Cape towns of Bourne and Sandwich and the Lower Cape towns extending to Provincetown at the northern tip.

The Cape was named by explorer Bartholomew Gosnold in 1602 due to the abundant codfish offshore. The Wampanoag people inhabited it before the Pilgrims landed there in 1620, before establishing the Plymouth Colony. The first Cape settlements were the towns of Sandwich, Barnstable, and Yarmouth, which were founded in 1639. For centuries, the Cape’s economy revolved around fishing, whaling, and maritime trade, with sea captains introducing goods worldwide. Its exposed coastal location also made it the site of many shipwrecks, with salvaged materials incorporated into early colonial homes.

With its natural sandy terrain, the Cape has developed a thriving golf tourism industry. Many courses take advantage of scenic ocean vistas, including Hyannisport Club (where JFK played), Cape Cod National, Wianno Golf Club, and Highland Links. Golf professionals with Cape Cod ties include Brad Faxon, the 8-time PGA tour winner, and LPGA star Juli Inkster. Local courses aim to preserve the natural beauty and history of the Cape and offer premier golf against the backdrop of New England’s seaside charm.

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Did You Know?

Highland Links is one of only four “true links” golf courses in the United States, according to George Peper in his acclaimed book “True Links.” Its inclusion makes it worthy of tribute in our Legendary Links series.

Peper identifies just 246 true links courses worldwide that meet his criteria of being located on Linksland right along the coast. Links courses originated in Scotland, built on sandy, rugged terrain with few trees, exposed to the wind. Highland Links fits this description perfectly with its seaside location on Cape Cod, sandy soil, rolling landscape, and windblown conditions overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Its designation as an authentic true links puts Highland Links in rare company as one of the few courses in America that provides a genuine Scottish-style links golf experience akin to the game’s origins across the pond. So despite its modest appearance, any golfer playing at Highland Links enjoys the same creative shotmaking challenges and natural beauty found on the most legendary overseas links across the British Isles and Ireland.

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The Course

Highland Links sits next to the Highland Lighthouse, Cape Cod’s oldest lighthouse, built in 1797. Its characteristics are reminiscent of traditional Scottish courses – deep natural rough, thick gorse bushes, uneven lies, firm and fast fairways, and small greens. Alistair Cooke once called the course “the perfect example of British or Scottish links in the United States.”

The course plays to a par of 35 over 2,753 yards from the back tees. Two sets of tees allow golfers to play 18 holes, making a second loop around the course with slightly different angles and challenges the second time through. The total yardage for those that play 18 is around 5,300 yards.

Some unique holes include the short par-4 1st, playing straight away; the par-5 2nd, dips down into a valley with an old granite tower memorializing singer Jenny Lind; and the scenic 170-yard par-3 7th, with Highland Lighthouse as the backdrop. The round finishes with the memorable 136-yard par-3 9th, one of the best par-3s anywhere, with a two-tiered green and the lighthouse looming behind.

The simplicity, beauty, and genuine links feel of Highland Links make it a special golf experience for anyone visiting Cape Cod. It’s an unpretentious 9-hole layout delivers traditional Scottish-style links golf with plenty of character and charm.

Visit Highland Links online at https://www.highlandlinkscapecod.com.

highland links course

Further Reading

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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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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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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.

Videos

Highland Links
Highland Links – Gold Destination
Journey To Scratch – Highland Links
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