DENNIS, Mass – The town of Dennis is a popular vacation spot on Cape Cod with the population jumping from less than 15,000 in the offseason to about 63,000 during the summer.
The town has several beaches overlooking Cape Cod Bay and it’s always fun not only sunbathing and swimming, but also watching the sunset at Corporation Beach and Mayflower Beach.
Golfers also have a couple of reasons for visiting the town – 18-hole municipal golf courses Dennis Highlands and Dennis Pines.
Dennis Highlands is a par 71 with four sets of tees playing from 4,884 to 6,509 yards on 175 acres of hills with pine and oak trees. Jack Kidwell and Mike Hurdzan designed the Highlands, which opened in 1984 on the north side of Dennis.
Dennis Pines is a par 72 with five sets of tees playing from 5,115 to 6,931 yards. It is located on 170 acres of pine forest land in the village of East Dennis.
Memberships cost only $875 for town residents to play both courses and they can rent carts for $15 for 18 holes, $6 less than non-members. That could be the best golf deal on the Cape. Non-residents pay $1,300 for a season pass. That’s still not bad.
“The Dennis select board has this philosophy and I totally agree with it,” said acting director of golf Maryellen Fabiano-Stowe, “to keep it affordable for its residents.”
Fabiano-Stowe said members account for about 60-65 percent of the play. Last year, one member played 262 times for his $875 season pass. That works out to only $3.34 per round.
Last year, the two courses had 1,820 members and so far this year 1,480 have signed up, but Fabiano-Stowe said a lot of the summer residents haven’t returned to the Cape yet.
The winters are relatively mild on the Cape so the Highlands and the Pines are open year-round and they’re busy.
Last year, the Highlands hosted more than 50,000 rounds and the Pines about 40,000, according to Fabiano-Stowe. The previous year, the courses hosted a record 95,000 rounds. So the grounds crews must keep the courses in shape despite the frequent play and they have to work around the golfers for the most part.
“To say it’s extremely challenging is an understatement,” Highlands superintendent George Fairbanks said. “It’s very difficult with the amount of play, especially last winter. I don’t even call it a winter. It was the mildest winter I ever experienced in my life. The play was just unbelievable. So we’re constantly maintaining the course even more because of that.”
Fairbanks said he relies on the hard work, timing and experience of his 10-man crew to keep the course in shape. During the summer, he arrives at work at 4:30 a.m. and his crew is on the course by 5 a.m. in order to get as much done as possible before the golfers begin playing. Fairbanks works six days a week and sometimes Sundays as well.
Dennis Highlands is shorter, hillier and more wide open than the Pines. The only water on the course is a pond on No. 10 that comes into play from the back tees and you must have a single digit handicap and permission from the starter to play from there.
To score well at the Highlands, you must figure out the greens. Most are severely sloped and several have two tiers so chipping close to the hole and sinking putts aren’t easy.
“It’s a short course by today’s standards,” Fairbanks said. “There’s no question that 150 in, 100 yards in is the defense.”
Fairbanks said after he has inspected the course in the morning before play begins, he has sometimes had to send a member of his crew back on the course to change the pin placements because they were unplayable.
Nevertheless, the Highlands can be fun for everyone.
“Dennis Highlands is the golf course I’m going to bring the novice golfer to,” Fabiano-Stowe said, “I’m going to bring the family golfer to, I’m going to bring the kids to after 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I’m going to bring my husband or wife who might not be an avid golfer, but definitely wants to try. This is more wide open. It’s not easier, but a lot friendlier to the person who’s not an avid golfer. The Pines is our championship course. It’s won many awards.”
The Pines has also hosted several Massachusetts Golf Association and USGA events.
Robert McNeil and his golf course design firm, Northeast Golf Company, oversaw a $1.3 million tee and bunker renovation at the Highlands and the Pines from 2015-2018. The Highlands clubhouse was also renovated and the restaurant expanded in 2018. Starting on Mother’s Day, the restaurant holds all-you- can-eat Sunday brunches for $19.99.
PGA Master Professional John Boniface conducts lessons and clinics at Dennis Highlands.
Water comes into play on several holes on the Pines, a 1966 Henry Mitchell design, and the 12th hole is considered one of the most difficult par 5s on the Cape. The 10th, 11th and 12th holes, which the club calls its Amen Corner, play around a large pond. Smaller water hazards come into play on 14, 15 and 16.
After a group of golf writers played the Highlands, we stopped for dinner at Kream ‘N Kone on Route 28 in West Dennis. Kream ‘N Kone owner Angelo Argyriadis has been a member at Dennis Highlands and Dennis Pines for 12 years. He enjoys both courses, but the challenge of the Pines especially appeals to him.
“I love the Pines,” he said. “It kills you. I don’t lose golf balls, but even though they’ve made it easier to play, they’ve widened a lot of stuff, gotten rid of a lot of trees, it’s still tight.”
From May 13 through Sept. 5, non-residents pay $70 to walk 18 holes and $91 to ride before 11 a.m. seven days a week at both courses. The price drops to $55 to walk and $76 to ride from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., but there’s a special rate on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays when it costs $65 to ride 18 holes from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.