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.
Draddy: Can you give us a 1000ft view of the history of the RACL?
"The greens were, in the early days, surrounded by fencing to keep unwanted livestock off. Seems antithetical, but my grandparents swore it true."
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).
"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 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."