Mink Meadows, the second oldest golf course on Martha’s Vineyard

c-golf-course1
Photo courtesy of Mink Meadows Golf Club

Bruce Stone leaned against a column on the veranda at Mink Meadows Golf Club (MMGC) Saturday afternoon and considered what he’d just done.

Mr. Stone, West Tisbury’s town accountant, is good at math and knew his 89 left him solidly in the hunt after the first round of the men’s club championship. Golfers being golfers, he also rued a double bogey and a short putt that curled out, but Mr. Stone is a level-headed guy and he knows that 85 percent of the world’s golfers would love to post an 89.

It would not be enough because Richard Stone shot a first-round 83 en route to the Class C club championship.

After the first round last Saturday, several golfers chatted and chuckled while watching club pro Chet Nowak post scores on the large scoreboard attached to the outside wall of the pro shop.

Winning The Club Championship at many, many courses is the raison d’etre for many, many golfers. The club champion often exudes testosterone, or estrogen, occasionally favoring fellow members with tight-lipped nods.

Remarkably, club championships at Island courses are laid-back affairs, particularly at Mink Meadows. “That’s golf on the Vineyard” Mr. Nowak said. “It’s just more relaxed and friendly, more casual.”

Club president Joe Fitzgerald and Mr. Nowak work at setting that tone. Both men took time to sit with a reporter on a busy championship Saturday to talk about the club and its upcoming 75th anniversary celebration on August 13.

“We take pride in providing an ego-free atmosphere and it’s been that way for awhile,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “Chet works very well with people. The membership process is open and easy. We’ve always had a diverse group of members, working people, billionaires, all ages and ethnicities.”

MMGC has about 285 members, up from 225 five years ago. Included are a cadre of older members who don’t play much, opening the door for new members, Mr. Fitzgerald said. Ten new members have been added this year, including five recruited by current members (who receive a $250 pro shop credit). Memberships, which include one’s spouse, cost $10,000, payable over three years.

Like Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs, one of the Island’s other three courses, MMGC welcomes the playing public. In-season MMGC greens fees are $116 for 18 holes with a cart during prime time, though early bird and late day play costs about half that. Off-season rates are even lower, as they are at most other Island courses.

“About 22,000 rounds a year are played here, well below the 30,000-35,000 round average for most courses,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. About one-third of the rounds are played in July and August.

There are 60 homes discreetly sheltered well off the fairways, members of the Mink Meadows Homeowners Association, which is closely allied with the golf club. Mr. Fitzgerald was a board member of the homeowners association and led the new clubhouse construction effort before becoming president of the golf club in 2005.

“Now we have to market the course,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “We’re advertising in the local papers and on the Internet, and we’re going to be doing mailers to tell our story. We’ve also begun working with B & Bs and inns to provide discounted play for their guests.”

On Saturday, Mr. Fitzgerald described the August 13 anniversary celebration that will include cocktails, dinner, and presentations. All par for the course, so to speak.

Then he began to warm to a discussion of a history of the golf course, researched and written by several members, notably by editor Nancy Morris. The history will be presented to the 175 members expected to attend the celebration. Mr. Fitzgerald provided The Times with a look at galleys, now at Tisbury Printers.

The history of the club is a remarkable document. A then-and-now snapshot of Island life, the history chronicles the origin of the course, which was the brainchild of New York banker Robert L. Bigelow. It also focuses on the walk-the-talk Island people who built the course, caddied on it, and then played it.

As I read the list of club champions, I recalled stories told to me by Kenny Mettell, when we patrolled Norton Point Beach together for the Trustees of Reservations a few years ago. He described the right way to make, and remake, bunkers and greens. The booklet has that flavor.

Golf courses today tend to spring up quickly, becoming instant classics, fueled by Trump-ish personalities and dollars. Not so MMGC.

Mr. Bigelow bought 106 acres and began cutting fire lanes in the 1920s. Then he caught the golf bug and the fire lanes became a 27-hole layout, a bit ambitious in light of the Great Depression, which dampened his ardor but not his resolve.

So the course grew at its own pace, providing work for struggling Islanders who removed rocks from the fairways at a penny apiece. By the time World War II began, the course had found its stride, only to be closed for several war years so it could be used as a training ground for Island National Guard troops.

Ms. Morris found the stories of Islanders who caddied back in the 1930s and 1940s, and she included their recollections of life back when Mink Meadows was the new guy on the golf block, arriving 10 years after the Edgartown Golf Club. She combed The Vineyard Gazette files and oral historian Linsey Lee’s work, and she includes funny essays by Ward Just and member Rollie Savage on life and golf on the Island.

There’s some drama as well: a familiar Vineyard scenario — the grasping land developer cut off at the pass by nifty footwork and the formation of the Mink Meadows Homeowners Assoc., which limited the planned saturation-building. The booklet also chronicles a sort of hand-over-hand system of course improvements over the years, leading to installation of a high-tech irrigation system several years ago.

Presidents Clinton and Obama have played Mink Meadows in recent years, but there’s a famous theater connection too. Jimmy Cagney played the course in his day, as did Katharine Cornell, who gave her caddy, Howard “Billy” Anderson, two tickets and a backstage pass to one of her performances, which impressed his date no end. As for President Obama’s game, Mr. Nowak said, “Not bad at all, about a 20 handicap — pretty good for a guy who doesn’t play much.”

We learn also about the “Noonies,” a core group of daily players from which several club champs emerged.

If you do not like golf but still enjoy Island stories told by down-to-earth Islanders, you’ll enjoy the history of Mink Meadows. How do you get a copy? Hmmm. You could sign up for membership, or, just make friends with a member. It’s easy to do.