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Farm Neck Golf Club

Public. Private. Massachusetts splashed with Bandon Dunes. Farm Neck is a little mixed in identity, but then again, so is Martha's Vineyard.

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The following story is part of a larger feature, Glories of the Island, which attempts to better understand Martha’s Vineyard through its five courses. View the full feature here.

I met my future in-laws at Thanksgiving. And, despite the late-November weather on a frozen rock in the middle of the Atlantic, golf was in order. The round my future father-in-law (FFIL) had scheduled was at Farm Neck, probably the best known of the island’s courses and, to many, the crown jewel. The temperature was 38 degrees, not exactly five-hours-outdoors weather for this Southern California native, but First Golf with FFIL was a test, obviously, and, given the present circumstances (wife, baby, living in his house), I’m guessing that I passed.

I have now seen Farm Neck in all seasons, because although it is technically a private club, it is also open to the public. This is slightly confusing to golfers on both sides. I get the sense that the members think that they’re a private course doing a favor to the public by keeping their doors open, whereas the public, which regards the course as purely theirs, has little sense that the course considers itself to be private and is just maddened by the fact that it’s so hard to get a good tee time.

Farmneck

The course has existed in many iterations—as Oak Bluffs Country Club, Martha’s Vineyard Country Club and The Island Country Club—and since the mid-1970s has been refigured as Farm Neck. Situated on the edge of Oak Bluffs, a historic summer destination for Black vacationers, Farm Neck features a semblance of diversity that’s frankly absent from most of my golf experiences. It is, in this way, a notable and representative cross-section of the island, of private and public, year-round and seasonal, couple-weeks and couple-days visitors, Black and white.

It is also no doubt the course the most visitors hit the most often—a blast to play and arguably the island’s aesthetic standout. It’s the ideal blend of what the five courses have to offer—a strategic routing through the three principal elements of the Martha’s Vineyard landscape: woods, scrubby farmland and ocean. The holes venture down to the waterfront on about a half-dozen holes, offering an eyeful, particularly in those public-permitted twilight hours, of Atlantic blues to match those singularly terrestrial greens and golds.

Farmneck

The elbow of the dogleg on the par-4 13th nudges Nomans, the exuberant gathering spot for beers, burgers, live music and leisurely outdoor hours under festive lights, so named for the uninhabited island off MVY that was used for practice bombing runs during WWII. And the 14th, a short 4, sites the green so close to the water that you can drop in a line from a rear pin placement and join the annual striped bass and bluefish derby each autumn. It is an ideal match-play course, in variety and pacing of pars, with a closing reachable par 5 over water that tees off basically from Spike Lee’s backyard. (His is the Cape Cod with the oversize Yankees flag, Do the Right Thing flag or Pan-African flag, depending on the season. My FIL and I like to play matches for that house. When I win, I feel like we’re allowed to stay a little longer.)

Farm Neck feels one light renovation away from being on the map in a much bigger way, more than just the playground of Larry David and Bill Murray or the host of duels between Barack Obama and Stephen Curry. The club has signed up designer Jim Urbina for a multi-year master plan that will no doubt bring the course into new light. “We want to improve the connection between the course and this incredible property of meadow, scrub oak and pine, and marshland,” says Jonas Akins, the chair of the grounds committee. “Jim’s work at places like Pacific Dunes and Old Macdonald, Pasatiempo and Sankaty Head [on Nantucket Island] convinced us that he’s the perfect partner.”

Martha’s Vineyard, but with more Bandon? A public-ish course with private coffers? A private-ish course taking its cues from the country’s favorite public courses? It’s all a little mixed in identity, but then again, so is Martha’s Vineyard.