Unlike most of C.B. Macdonald’s template holes which use design characteristics from other great Scottish holes, “the Cape hole” is a C.B.M. original. His first Cape hole was the 14th at National Golf Links of America, which originally played as a 305 yard dogleg right to a green that was surrounded by water on three sides. Fearing technology improvements would make the hole drivable, Macdonald later lengthened the hole, moving the green back and surrounding it with bunkering on three sides instead of water. The word “cape” is defined as a “point of land extending into water.” This aligns with NGLA’s original 14th design as opposed to its current design which is a green surrounded by bunkers.
In today’s modern architectural world, a Cape hole’s defining characteristics have become the diagonal tee shot over water and the bunkering around the green. This is different than Macdonald’s original intention of a second shot to a green jutting out into water. While the diagonal tee shot wasn’t an original concept, the approach to a green jutting into water was.
Off the tee, a player is forced to drive over a diagonal water hazard and determine how much to bite off. Often times, Macdonald and Raynor would have the fairway kick toward the hazard making cutting off a large chunk a riskier proposition. On a player’s approach shot, he will be met with an intimidating shot to a well-protected and undulated green. A Cape hole’s green is surrounded on three sides by water or bunkers. A Cape green often looks as if it is floating over a water hazard. Cape holes are usually par-4s and can range in length from the low 300s to mid 400s, a tough task at any length.
Risk and reward is the theme of a Cape hole. The ideal way to play the hole is by shaping a tee shot to limit the risk and shortening the second shot into the green. If the hole is moving to the left over the hazard, a right-to-left shot is the ideal tee shot. If the hole is moving to the right over the hazard, a left-to-right tee shot is ideal.
On the approach to the green, a player must also decide whether or not to take the risk of attacking the pin and bringing the hazard (water or a bunker) into play. A safe shot is to play to the center of the green and try and make a long putt on a typically undulated green.
National Golf Links of America – 14th – 393 yards
The modified original 14th at NGLA has a tee shot that plays over the Sebonac Creek which runs along the right side of the hole up to the green. Depending on the tee position and player, it is drivable. One of the toughest aspects of the 14th is the tee shot, the ground contours severely from left to right. Architect C.B. Macdonald was a chronic slicer of the golf ball which makes this design interesting. I would guess that Charlie lost quite a few golf balls in the creek right. The approach shot has a green that floats over the Sebonac Creek and has a thin rim of bunkering. Bailing out to the right opens up the possibility of finding one of the nasty pot bunkers.
The tee shot on the Cape hole 14th at National Golf Links of America - Photo Credit: An Ambulent Golfer
The approach into the Cape green, surrounded on three sides by hazards
The bunkering waiting to punish left bailouts
Mid Ocean Club – 5th – 433 yards
Perhaps the most famous Cape hole in the world is at C.B. Macdonald’s Mid Ocean Club in Bermuda. The fifth hole is an absolute brute that plays from right to left over Mangrove Lake. An ideal tee shot is a draw that helps cut down the yardage. If a player lays back or fails to turn their tee shot over, they will be left with a long approach shot to green with trouble surrounding.
A tale of the fifth at Mid Ocean is that Babe Ruth played the course, attempting to drive the green over and over until he had put 20 golf balls into the Mangrove Lake.
Possibly the best cape hole, the 5th at The Mid Ocean Club - Photo Credit: Spencer Waresk
Chicago Golf Club – 14th – 351 yards
The short Cape hole at Chicago Golf exemplifies the principles of the hole’s design. It’s a waterless hole that has a long diagonal cross bunker that guards the aggressive line off the tee. The green is surrounded by sand and makes for difficult half wedge shots after a long drive, particularly if they don’t find the fairway. Chicago Golf’s version of the Cape shows that it’s the second shot, not the tee shot that makes the hole a Cape design.
The 14th at Chicago Golf Club, with its fairway bunkers forcing a choice from the tee
The approach into the Cape green, surrounded by peril
The canted and contoured green, from above
The Course at Yale – 2nd – 374 yards
Without a doubt, Yale possesses the boldest of any Cape hole in North America. Off the tee players are faced with a dramatic fairway landform that marks the ideal approach position for the 2nd. The right portion of the fairway has a hogsback feature that will repel shots too far right down into a valley. If a player can find the top of this ridge they will have the ideal angle to the angled green. Missing left into the some 20′ deep bunkers is a certain bogey and bailing right leaves a devilishly fast shot towards the hole. The 2nd green runs slightly away from players. All of these ingredients make the 2nd at Yale one of the greatest holes in golf.
Shoreacres – 2nd – 346 yards
A beautiful short cape hole at Seth Raynor’s Chicago gem, the second is one of my favorite holes in golf. The water hazard here is a creek that cuts down the left side and eventually behind the green. The left side of the fairway has a sharp slope that can kick an over-aggressive shot into the creek. I typically play this hole by drawing a 3-iron off the left side of the right fairway bunker leaving a wedge shot to the challenging green. The approach shot is a nervy one when the pin is on the left or back of the green which brings the creek into play. The green is large but undulated making long putts difficult.
A great short Cape hole, the 2nd at Shoreacres
A look from behind the 2nd green at Shoreacres, the creek playing a pivotal role
St Louis C.C. – 8th – 350 yards
A true Cape hole as the green juts out into the hazard leaving players with an intimidating approach shot to this gem of a short par-4. The 8th at Macdonald’s St. Louis C.C. is described by Kyle Traux as “the best hole on a great course.” The tee shot gives a player options – the green can be driven with a strong tee shot but trouble awaits long and right of the green. A safe layup shot will leave a wedge approach that players can’t fall asleep on. Until recently, the fescue down the right side was trees and after their removal the beautiful vista was restored.
An aerial view of St. Louis CC's 8th
The tee shot at the beautiful 8th, challenging players to be as aggressive as they dare - Photo Credit: Kyle Truax
The approach into the 8th, trouble lurking on three sides - Photo Credit: Kyle Truax
Fox Chapel Golf Club – 5th – 342 yards
Another great short Cape hole is at Oakmont’s neighbor, Seth Raynor’s Fox Chapel Golf Club. The fifth hole calls for a right to left shot off the tee. A player would be wise to challenge the water in order to not leave a long shot to a well guarded green. The marsh protects the left side of this elevated green and deep bunkers everywhere else, requiring players to hit a good wedge or pay the price.
The tee shot on Fox Chapel's 5th, over the diagonal hazard
From right of the green, bunkers still left to be avoided from the right angle
The Creek Club – 10th – 313 yards
Macdonald’s short Cape hole at New York’s Creek Club is one of the most unique. Drivable by many, the thin fairway forces players to hit an excellent shot whether they are going for the green or laying up. On the right side is marshland and on the left sand dunes, neither a good place to miss your tee shot. If you find the fairway, the green is wide, receptive and relatively flat, but guarded by deep bunkers.
The drivable 10th hole at the Creek Club - Photo Credit: An Ambulant Golfer
The bunkering makes the short approach to the 10th very challenging - Photo Credit: An Ambulant Golfer
Fishers Island Club – 14th – 425 yards
Perhaps Seth Raynor’s best design is Fishers Island Club, dubbed “Pebble Beach of the East.” The Cape hole is an absolute beauty that doglegs left around a large water hazard. A more aggressive tee shot up the left yields a shorter approach into the green. Playing safe and right off the tee will leave a long-iron approach into the heavily protected green site. Unlike other Capes, this version forces players to play over the water on their second to reach the green that is guarded by the hazard and bunkers, with only a small bailout area short and right.
The tee shot at the par-4 13th at Fishers Island - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier
The approach to the 13th, with a forced carry over water - Photo credit: Jon Cavalier @linksgems
Looking back at the beautifully set Cape green at Fishers Island Club - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier
Camargo Club – 13th – 369 yards
Seth Raynor’s gem in Cincinnati has no water hazards on the course, and its Cape hole thus plays around a tall grass hazard doglegging to the right. A tree marks the turn, forcing players to hit right or left of it to set up a clear approach to the green. The green is seemingly raised above the tall grasses, heavily bunkered, and any shot right will tumble down towards the thick stuff.
The tee shot at Camargo's Cape hole, the 13th, forcing the player to choose a side - Photo Credit: An Ambulant Golfer
The tough second shot at the 13th must be precise - Photo Credit: An Ambulant Golfer
Midland Hills C.C. – 8th – 340 yards
Up until recently, the right side of the 8th was lined with trees. Thankfully, the removal process has begun, and this beauty has been opened up for everyone to see. The 8th at Midland Hills C.C., a Seth Raynor design, features a large lake that cuts along the right side that players need to navigate off the tee. Long hitters will need to really rip a tee shot to clear the water, which is a 270 yard carry from the back tee.
The tee shot at the Cape hole 8th at Midland Hills C.C. - Photo Credit: Mike Manthey
Black Creek Club – 15th – 347 yards
The Brian Silva design in Chattanooga features this short Cape hole on its finishing stretch. A birdie opportunity with a good tee shot, but a wayward one can lead to a big number quick. Here, the marsh runs along the entire left side of the hole, and the bunker deters players from bailing out right.
A look at the Cape hole 15th at Black Creek Club - Photo Credit: Scott Wicker