Picture Bill Clinton smoking one of his big $1,000 Gurkha cigars and playing golf or more recently a convoy of black Chevy Suburbans allowing Barack Obama to escape hot Washington D.C. to play golf in Martha’s Vineyard on a coolish summer morning. Both would be enjoying the Farm Neck Golf Club.
When Clinton claimed to have shot a 79 despite three drives off the first tee and a ball sliced into the woods on the 10th that the Secret Service kicked back into play, eyeballs rolled. The joke surfaced that the best wood in his bag was his pencil – though it was no joke. Farm Neck became home to his do-overs otherwise known as “Billigans.”
Anyway both men’s affection for golf at this semi-private golf course on Martha’s Vineyard has brought much attention to an already beloved place that was quite successful and is open to the public for golf, tennis, and dining from April until December annually.
Other celebrities play Farm Neck too. Comedic writer/actor Larry David plays there regularly as well as the nearby Vineyard Golf Club. Prince Andrew and Bill Murray have played there and reportedly Spike Lee owns a home off the 18th fairway.
As for Presidential visits, security is obviously tight whenever the president comes to town. “There’s a ton of staging for the Secret Service and a long list of requirements,” says Tim Sweet, Farm Neck’s general manager. “But we’ve gotten used to it through the years.” Presidents aren’t required to make tee times in advance and rarely has the Farm Neck pro shop received more than two or three hours notice that the president would like tee it up – a situation the club has learned to prepare for.” Because the president is on vacation he usually makes up his mind on the day of play,” Sweet said. You, on the other hand, should be prepared to have your golf bag and pants pockets searched when he is coming.
Although Farm Neck is normally booked solid in summer, the club always finds an opening for the president. Once he completes his warm-up and is ready to head to the first tee, the group on the tee is offered the choice of playing in front or behind the nation’s CEO. “Most want to go in front because they feel there will be undue delays,” he said.
Contrary to popular belief, no other concessions are made. “Most people think we close the course,” Sweet said. “But we don’t. We slip him in between tee times.” And the good news with the Presidential visits is that your cell phone coverage instantly improves.
President Obama was waiting to hit on the par-3 fourth hole two years ago when Zoll asked if he’d like to play through the slow group ahead. Obama demurred, saying he didn’t want to disturb anyone.
While President Clinton was notorious for dropping a second ball when the first shot wasn’t to his liking and for taking putts without holing out. Reports are that Obama counts everything, and he won’t go into his pocket even if his score reaches double-par.
Farm Neck was designed in 1979 by Geoffrey Cornish and Bill Robinson, as well as Peter Milligan who finished the back nine, Farm Neck is located 4 miles out to sea on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard in Oak Bluffs, and rests on a peninsula (or “neck”) of rolling farmland on the eastern side of the Island, overlooking Nantucket Sound.
Situated adjacent to tidal waters and marsh, this seaside course (not a links) can play soft and docile without the wind or conversely can be a real challenge with it. Visually intimate with salt ponds and wildlife about or expansive with views of Nantucket Sound, you would enjoy the property even if you weren’t grasping a golf club.
Gently rolling fairways meander through salt marshes, wildflower meadows, and woodlands that blaze with color in the fall, offering scenery to match any in the world. Quite simply, Farm Neck is one of the most idyllic, undisturbed golf settings in all of New England golf. Trees, high grasses, or a combination of water and sand are set on wide fairway corridors. The waterfront holes of 3, 4, 8, and 14 offer some of the finest views of this ecologically protected gem as the routing maximizes the view.
Avoid the wind, and the water and sand, and the regular Farm Link temptations to cut distant yardages off doglegs, and you may score well here. The tips measure just a bit over 6,800 yards while most should opt for the 6,300-yard passage.
When you step on the par-four third tee and get your first glimpse of the water and again at the par-four 4th, you can begin to appreciate why two Presidents have so enjoyed their golf there. And from there the walk and the golf just improve. Farm Link may not be Pebble Beach, but in its natural, unassuming way, it is a golf course and experience that is so rich, even a President will want to return!
Bob Fagan features one of the most interesting backgrounds in travel and golf. Not only it is likely that Bob has played more American golf courses than any living person, he has been an accomplished player and instructor, holds a Ph.D. in Counseling, has been an innovative golf and life coach, PGA Section Executive Director, golf company executive, “Expert Golf Witness,” and, of course, a highly acclaimed travel and golf writer.