JUNE 2010

Remembering Osterville’s Seapuit Golf Club

Cape Cod Life  /  June 2010 / , ,

Writer: Rob Duca

Of Splendid Views, Tough Lies, Fresh Oysters on the Half Shell – and Dollar-a-Day Caddies

There isn’t much to see anymore. Nearly all evidence of the Seapuit Golf Club has vanished, or more specifically, been bulldozed and built over. It wasn’t quite like paving paradise to put up a parking lot, but dyed-in-the-wool golfers might make that argument. In its place, tucked away in a wooded section of Osterville, are private homes with manicured lawns, pristine flower beds, tennis courts, and swimming pools.

If you know where to look, you can spot a vestige of the long-lost golf course. Buried in the woods, obscured between tall trees and bushes, and virtually unrecognizable beneath the overgrown grass and weeds, is a rectangular piece of slightly raised land that once served as the tee box for the third hole. In the distance is the fairway that snaked alongside the Marstons Mills River en route to the green. Back in the day, you could enjoy raw oysters on the half-shell and, legend has it, a dry martini, courtesy of P. Barnard Hinckley’s seafood shanty, before continuing to the fourth.

Osterville's Seapuit Golf Club

A large building three stories tall, Osterville’s Seapuit Inn and adjoining Golf Club was one of Cape Cod’s first. The entire property sat on over 200 arcres of land.

“He certainly had a beverage on hand to go with the oysters,” remembers 84-year-old Joel Davis, whose father, E.K. Davis, owned the course from 1930 until 1942. “Whether it was martinis, I can’t say for sure.”

There are few people left with first-hand recollections of Seapuit, because like the private club, its members are also long gone. Even teenagers who served as caddies are now into their mid-80s, and they too are dwindling. More than 50 private homes now sit where 70 years ago there was a golf course, a clubhouse, and a hotel. These days, the former playground of prominent businessmen and politicians is remembered mainly in antique black-and-white photos and yellowed newspaper clippings.

Osterville's Seapuit Golf Club

No stranger to water features, the scenic Seapuit Golf Club was located on Marston Mills river and had views of Dam and Bog ponds, as well as Cat Island.

Back then, there were three private clubs in Osterville. Seapuit, which stood geographically between the Wianno Golf Club and the Oyster Harbors Golf Club, was one of Cape Cod’s earliest golf courses. Dating back to 1894, it had a tumultuous history, changing ownership several times before closing in 1942.

It was originally owned by Francis Parsons, a wealthy Chicago resident who summered in Osterville. Parsons purchased 200 acres of land on Osterville’s west side, naming the property after a local Indian chief. The nine-hole golf course opened in 1896, the Seapuit Inn two years later.

Parsons imported a golf course architect from Scotland to design the layout. It featured rolling, tree-lined fairways, and views of Dam and Bog ponds, Cat Island, and the Marstons Mills River. Those ponds came into play on most of the holes, often swallowing up wayward shots.

Measuring 3,301 yards and playing as a par 36, there was one par-3, one par-5, and seven par-4 holes. None of the par-4s stretched more than 365 yards, and most were between 320 and 330 yards. It was not a well- manicured course, even by the lower standards of the day, and the greens were postage-stamp size.

“It was rough, but beautiful in the sense that it was partly in the woods and partly along the river,” says Holbrook Davis, Joel’s 89-year-old brother who lives on land where the inn once stood. “It was a lovely setting. It was also a rather challenging course.”

Warren Hansen, 85 and still residing in Osterville, caddied at Seapuit in 1937, earning $1 per day just for showing up, whether or not he carried a bag. “That was pretty good, a dollar a day and not even working,” he says. “But Mr. Davis wanted caddies there in case any guests showed up.”

Hansen and his fellow caddies would kill time by climbing to the top of the water tower that stood outside the club’s entrance and tossing water balloons onto the heads of unsuspecting visitors. “Never the members, though,” he says.

Osterville's Seapuit Golf Club

The uneven ground and abundance of tall trees along the course could often make for difficult play, but the waterfront view made up for it.

He remembers a challenging course with small greens. “It was hilly. The fairways were like pastures, not groomed like they are today,” he says. “You got some tough lies.” Among the club’s head golf pros were Roy Brondson and Al Grauer. Brond- son later worked at Wianno, while Grauer’s son, Don, would become the pro at Hyannisport Golf Club.

Holes were given names, some rather obvious—like “The First” for No. 1—others not so much. The opening hole of 325 yards demanded a blind second shot to the green, while the 320-yard second hole was labeled “Waterloo,” perhaps due to the tee shot that required a carry over the edge of Dam Pond.

Osterville's Seapuit Golf Club

The court’s second hole, “Waterloo”, backs up to Dam Pond.

The 325-yard third hole, named “Commandment,” ran parallel to Dam Pond and featured views of Cotuit Bay. The 347-yard fourth was “Yellow Leg Cove,” and the 315-yard seventh, set aside the bay, was “Easy Street.”

“Wigwam Hill” was given to the 165-yard par-3 fifth. The most distinctive hole on the course, the green could not be seen from the tee. “It was a totally blind uphill shot,” Hansen says.

The 332-yard sixth, named “The Turn,” heralded the march back to- ward the clubhouse, while the 500 yard eighth was “Bunker Hill” for an unknown reason and the 362-yard ninth was appropriately labeled “Home.” “You could see water on the first, second, third, and fourth holes,” says Joel Davis, who now lives in Brooksfield, Maine. “The golf course was quite rough. But people liked it. It was heavily used.”

Players completing their rounds were often greeted by spectators lounging on the porch of the club- house that was located behind the ninth green. There were 20 bedrooms, five bathrooms, a glass-walled dining room, and a wood-burning fireplace in the inn that sat at the water’s edge, overlooking Osterville Bay.

Despite its amenities, the club sank into bankruptcy after Parsons’ death in 1925, closing down until Da- vis purchased the hotel and the golf course in 1930. Davis, president of Aluminum Limited of Montreal, was more a businessman than a golfer, and his interest was mainly in the value of the land. “He played a little golf, but not much,” Holbrook Davis says.

Davis leveled the hotel in 1930— for the sum of $400—but reopened the golf course in 1932. However, membership in private clubs thinned throughout the Depression. By World War II, his only reason for operating the club was to contribute to the war effort. In its final two years of existence, Davis donated the club’s profits to the American Field Service, an organization providing ambulance service in North Africa. His son, Holbrook, was driving an AFS ambulance there at the time. “But the profits were pretty thin,” Holbrook recalls.

By mid-1942, Davis closed the club and began subdividing and selling the land. And with that, one of Cape Cod’s first golf courses quickly passed into history.

Rob Duca

Rob Duca was a sports columnist for the Cape Cod Times for 25 years and is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America.