Maintaining a 36-hole facility must be challenging. Designing one, or expanding on an original cannot be much easier. The Captains golf courses in Brewster (near the northward bend of the cape) consists of the Starboard and Port eighteens. Brian Silva, a Massachusetts native, designed both courses in the 1980s. Silva was charged with carving an original course through the hardwoods of a sandy property. A few years later, he was retained to build additional holes. Today, the original and second course share holes and are recognized by at least one publication’s readers as a top place to play through the entire cape of cod.
During the unique decade in which Silva did his work in Brewster, the architectural idea of harder equals better began to show glimpses of an impending fade. Glimpses, that’s it. Judging by his work at Captains’ Starboard course, Silva did a fine job resisting this temptation. Whether he knew the clientele (public, tourist, amateur) that would play his courses or received training from the region’s iconic figure (Geoffrey Cornish), Silva moved his fairways to greens sighted in accessible locations, with the occasional forced carry over unforgiving terrain.
I suspect that a builder keeps a wooded property wooded for two reasons: an affinity for trees and a dislike of spending money to cut them down and grind the stumps and roots. The Captains property, as a golf venue, was destined to be a tree-lined course. The question was, what other features would Silva and his team incorporate and discard, to maximize potential. The terrain is hilly and features many sloped fairways. Although the spaces beneath the trees are cleared out, there is still lost-ball potential along the edges. Unlike many open-air courses, the Starboard course at Captains would be too penal if the fairways played fast and firm like those at a links course. Shots would careen off shelves and gradients with abandon, finding stasis only when gravity lost interest. Fortunately, the maintenance staff understands this notion and keeps the course appropriately.
There were moments during my round over the Starboard when I ascended a path from green to tee, wondering how a group had sneaked in ahead of me, only to discover that it was a different hole, an adjoining tee. Starboard’s holes are close in proximity, but don’t feel cramped. No doubt that’s due to the separation of corridors by columns of trees.
In retrospect, a number of holes stand out in my memory. The par three holes play downhill for the most part, with the second a classic example of the extreme drop-shot. Moving from high ground to lower parcels has long been both dream and nightmare for architects. The descending shot will leave pitch marks in its wake, while the lower areas will usually play soft, due to collection of water. The large green at number two offers a number of pinnable areas, so the occasional, unrepaired ball mark does not overly impact the roll of the putt.
I’ve written before of my disdain for the term signature hole. It serves to isolate golf holes from the rest, as if to say that the architect cared more about, worked harder on, this particular hole. Brian Silva did a fine job of creating parity among his golf holes at the Starboard course. A number of longer holes (par fours and fives) play through saddles (sometimes blindly) to wide fairways, while others descend to visible oases of short grass. There are infrequent doglegs of an extreme nature, so although a hole may be said to lean left or move right, the actual tendencies usually allow for fades and draws.
I’ll have more to write about the property after I return on Monday to play the Port course. It is billed as the more challenging of the two, if that means much.