When Did Golfing Begin on Nantucket?
Note: The Research Library is open year-round, Tuesday-Friday from 10am-4pm. The address is 7 Fair Street and it is attached to the Quaker Meeting House. Learn more on the NHA’s website.
Summer visitors were responsible for the creation of the island’s golf courses as Nantucket catered more and more to the tourist trade at the end of the 19th century.
Two courses lay claim to being the first golf course on the island, but most sources agree that the Nantucket Golf Course on the north shore along Cliff Road was the first.
That course came about because David Noyes, a summer visitor, told David Chase that he no longer planned to summer on the island because there was nowhere to play golf. In the summer of 1897, Chase and two others laid out a course near the waterworks. Almost immediately, one hundred people signed up to join to club. A tent served as their clubhouse until a permanent one was built in 1899.
Sheep and goats maintained the nine-hole links style course which was eventually expanded to eighteen holes. The 1905 the U.S. women’s champion, Pauline Mackay, played the course in the early days of her career. Although the course no longer exists, remnants of it can be seen at the Tupancy Links, a seventy-three-acre property owned by the Nantucket Conservation Foundation. The former clubhouse houses their administrative offices.
Less than a year after the Nantucket Golf Course opened on the Cliff, Siasconset Golf Course was begun, although some sources claim that golf was played there as early as 1894. Whether it predated the Nantucket Golf Course or not, the club was short lived and disappeared by the 1920s.
The oldest golf course still active on Nantucket is the Siasconset Golf Club, laid out in 1899. Called “Skinners” by the locals, it is considered the oldest privately-owned golf course in the country still open to the public, although it is no longer in private hands. It is called Skinner’s by because Robert “Skinner” Coffin was a co-owner and superintendent of the course for many years. For most of its history, Skinners has had nine holes, although for a brief time between the world wars, it was expanded to eighteen holes. In the early days, the course was famous for its square greens. In 2012, to prevent the property from being developed, it was purchased from the Coffin family by the Nantucket Land Bank and the Sconset Trust and it is still open to the public.
The next course in history was Sankaty Head Golf Course. Called “Sankaty,” it is considered a premier links course and has changed little since its opening in the early 1920s. It was built largely through the efforts of multimillionaire David Gray who donated 280 acres and its beautiful clubhouse for the original one hundred members. Sankaty, with its commanding views of Sankaty Head lighthouse, has one of the country’s few remaining caddie camps where about sixty boys have come to train every summer since the Great Depression. The mess hall and one dorm were destroyed by fire in 2011, but money was quickly raised to rebuild them.
It was not until 1963 that year-round Nantucketers had a public golf course to call their own when Ralph Marble turned his dairy farm into a golf course in Miacomet. In the mid-1980s, the Nantucket Land Bank bought the Miacomet course to protect it from development. In 2003, the course was expanded from nine to eighteen holes. The clubhouse is in the process of being rebuilt and is expected to open in 2019. The management of Miacomet also manages Skinner’s course in ‘Sconset.
The most recent golf course to open is the exclusive, members-only, Nantucket Golf Club with membership fees reputed to be amongst the highest in the world. Built in 1997 on Milestone Road, it is considered a world-class course. The Nantucket Golf Club absorbed some of the land that was originally part of Skinner’s. The closest the tourists and most islanders can get to the course is along the bicycle path to ‘Sconset.
The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.