Brad Woodger | "Low-key Friendliness"

Brad Woodger |

To know Brad Woodger is to know The Royal & Ancient Chappaquiddick Links on Martha's Vineyard. The course is the embodiment of Brad's outlook on life and the game. We sat down with Brad to pick his brain and hear in his own words what Royal Chappy means to him.

TLDR: The Royal & Ancient Chappaquiddick Links is an experience in the game unlike any other. It has personality and it doesn't try to pretend it's anything it's not. It's the epitome of accessibility in the game and is a trip we'll treasure for many years to come. 

"The greens were, in the early days, surrounded by fencing to keep unwanted livestock off.  Seems antithetical, but my grandparents swore it true."

Draddy: Can you give us a 1000ft view of the history of the RACL?
Brad: The Royal and Ancient Chappaquiddick Links (RACL) was established 1887-ish. It was built by my great grandfather, Frank Marshall, who lived in Needham MA. The land on Chappy lent itself to the laying out of a course, as it was mostly just an open sand plain, unpopulated by trees.  My guess too is that they had all this land at their disposal (over 200 acres) and he wasn’t one to sit idly without a project! Frank married in early 1900 and brought his growing family of relatives with him to Chappy. Some 40 or so assorted members of the clan would descend upon Chappy in May and stay until October. They’d bring sheep, horses, goats and cattle with them…and obviously really settle in for the summer. The greens were, in the early days, surrounded by fencing to keep unwanted livestock off. Seems antithetical, but my grandparents swore it true. By about 1910 though the “greens” were transitioned to hard packed sand. I believe they were returned to grass in the 1920’s before going completely dormant in the ‘30s (due to war and The Great Depression).

Frank’s son, Bob, had moved to Chappy and began building cottages in the late 40’s. His daughter, Mary, and her husband Ham Kelly settled shortly thereafter.  By the mid-fifties, they were starting to reclaim land that had become tree’d and overgrown during the dormant period. They chose an unpopulated/unhoused 14 acre parcel adjacent to the Big Camp to begin bringing the course back. They renamed the golf course the Inland Ball Watcher’s Society - perhaps to put their own identity on the new incarnation. Their new logo was a cartoon bird, wearing a scarf, that was in distress as a golf ball approached its head (seriously). They did, however, retain the Royal moniker for a boat launch that they dubbed The Royal Chappy Yacht Club (RCYC).  Their flag sported an upside down crown. 

Maintenance during this period was performed by Ham Kelley with a John Deere tractor and a Land Cruiser with gang mowers trailing (by the time I took over in 1987, the Land Cruiser had completely lost its brakes, and I relied on the weight of the gangs to slow my roll. No one died during this time frame, though I certainly pushed the envelope.

Draddy: When did you get involved?
Brad: I took over maintenance and management of the course fully in 1988. My position was gained through attrition, as no other grandkid had either the inclination nor the time to take it on. I had little, to no, experience in turf management…but saw an opportunity to squat on my grandparents Chappy property for as long as I proved useful. With his assistance, I laid poly pipe to all the the greens and tees, and added wire to automate the watering. This was a big project that nearly broke me…but only the first in a list of many challenges to come.

In 2004, summer neighbor and friend loaned Kim Bennett (longtime prior girlfriend) $750,000 to renovate the existing 6 holes to 9. We bought 3 more acres at a reduced rate, allowing for conservation, and reclaimed existing land to accommodate a new 1st, 7th, and 8th hole. We worked mainly with the existing design - only rerouting to incorporate the new holes. Proper irrigation was installed with a central control, and all the greens and tees were renovated (or freshly constructed) using a zero-balance process. Very little material was brought in or out, but rather existing earth was excavated, screened, and then laid back down, graded and seeded. Most of the trees cut down were chipped and used to fill an old bottle dump behind the new first tee (Kim and I spent 3 full cold wet April days, attempting to remove all the bottles from the dump until we hit a car chassis and what appeared to be another 10-15 feet deep of solid bottle waste).
By 2010, the course was ready to reopen as the Royal and Ancient Chappaquiddick Links.  I thought it only fitting to return it to its original brand, and borrowed from prior logos and the tongue-in-cheek seriousness of my ancestors to birth Sir Reginald. By 2012, I was mostly on my own, without the help I’d become accustomed to, but even more engaged and dedicated to its perpetuation. George’s ownership allowed me to pay myself and increase play. I was thus able to dedicate even more time and effort to the development of the Royal Chappy. I have been the sole marketer, laborer, manager, merchandiser, designer, social director, CFO, and mechanic for the golf course for the past 10 years. And here we are now.
Draddy: Tell us about the RACL Fleet of vehicles.
Brad: Growing up in the summers on Chappy, I was enamored with the old cars and trucks used primarily for transportation.  The smells, sounds, and appearance of these cars WERE Chappy to me.  Everything about Chappy was so throw-back, unadorned, and simple - particularly it’s transportation.  Spurred by this aesthetic, I had vowed as an 8 year old to one day own my very own VW bus.  So, when the opportunity arose, I purchased a bus from a surfer in Santa Cruz and had it shipped to Boston.  It promptly broke down on the on-ramp from Andover onto Rte 95 after 3 miles of travel. I was blessed with sitting in it, waiting to be towed to Woods Hole, while blocking traffic, and having motorists scream at me. 
"You can’t manufacture the smell of a well-used old car with a new vehicle, nor can you replicate the feel or the ride. Chappy is different - I didn’t want anything ordinary showing up at the ferry to pick people up. For many, the pick-up vehicle was going to be the first tangible experience with the Links…so it had to right.  The cars manage expectations…sort of set up the vibe.  We’re not bringing you to a country club, so we’re not picking you up in a Cadillac Escalade." 
I mean, what else would you expect to arrive at our “clubhouse”.  And ultimately, Royal Chappy is a lot about telling a story and attempting to replicate everything I loved as a kid about Chappy and golf.
Draddy: What's in your headphones when you're ripping around on the mowers?

"I listen to music, switching between playlists everyday, ALL the time I work on the course. I try to temper my indignation and sourness each time someone wants to tell me something while my headphones are on. I try. Music, to me, flavors everything…and is my lone true comfort in life."

Music has informed my life basically from age 1. A song has the unique ability to transport me to a very specific time/day in my life, generating distinct feelings that are otherwise lost. From the eerie attraction to the Door’s Riders on the Storm to the jubilant cheesiness of the Bay City Rollers’ Saturday Night - my youth was spent switching moods dependent on the song…and it’s all carried over to today. While most kids in my neighborhood were painting there faces and spitting out lighter fluid flames, I was daydreaming to The Beach Boys and Steve Miller - pretty certain that I was born to surf the waves of La Jolla rather than ride mini bikes through the puddles of the dirt woods behind my house.
Each year had its own song - most of which reminded me of a particular crush: Seasons in the Sun/Paula Kahn; Mandy/Terry Herrick; December 1963/Debbie Goddeau;  Evil Woman/Robin Bomar; Dyer Maker/Jennifer Ace…you get the picture.  And then there were songs related directly to sports - Genius of Love/Track and Field; Box of Rain/X-Country; Africa/Skiing; Ballroom Blitz/Baseball; Sultans of Swing/Golf.
That association and love of music is no less strong today.  New Wave 80s, Alternative 90’s, Lo-Fi 2000s…I don’t live a decade or a day with listening to music.
Draddy: Any closing thoughts for Draddy Community?
Brad: While Royal Chappy is a highly highly personal experience for me, I think a decent amount of its charm comes from me trying to translate these feelings into the golf experience. I’ve taken the task and the joy of shaping the golf course into what I believe it’s always been as a life’s calling. There is little spectacular about Royal Chappy - it doesn’t have the lights or bunkers of Sweetens Cove, the acreage of other 9 holers, or the prestige of some of the other older course. But it IS authentic. It is the 2 bedroom cabin on the seaside, waves and wind playing through the windows. It is not AC and perfectly performing plumbing! I take pride in its maintenance, but I take equal pride in its low key friendliness. Everything I liked, and fear lost, about being a kid is embodied in Royal Chappy. It exists only through a confluence of fortunate circumstances and hard-won battles.  There have been dozens and dozens of times it could have (SHOULD have) failed, but here it is.  It isn’t like any other course.  Not a one.