Wild Weather Just One of the Elements of Seagulls Fourball

By: Rob Duca

The first championship final of the Seagulls Fourball was played in less than desirable conditions. What a shocker.

Ski Caps & Layered Clothing
are Normally the Order of the Day

"The semifinal and final matches were played in the rain," the Cape Cod Standard-Times reported on April 28, 1952. Bob Besse remembered that one well. He was in the tournament. "If you like freezing cold, wind and greens that are too fast, this is the tournament to play," he said.

Rain, snow, sleet and hail. The Seagulls has seen it all, with play rarely being halted. "It's got to be almost the end of the world before they stop it," Besse said.

Rick Johnson, now the head professional at Willowbend Country Club in Mashpee, was tournament director and head professional at the host Hyannisport Club for 31 years, and always loved hearing that kind of talk. "It stays playable because of its great drainage, so we say 'Keep going, fellas,' " he laughed when asked once about the infamous conditions.

The 61st edition of the Seagulls, which serves as the unofficial opening of the golf season on Cape Cod, starts April 14 with an opening day of medal play. The field of more than 100 two-person teams is then slotted into seven flights, including the championship division. The format switches to match play on Sunday morning, and survivors return the following weekend for the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.

Brian Secia has been taking the ferry to the mainland from Nantucket since the early 1990s to compete in the tournament. He teamed with Ken Hammond to win the 2005 event.

"It's hard to pack," Secia says. "I can't tell you how many times I've had to buy clothes in the pro shop because the weatherman said it was going to be around 50 degrees, and then with the wind blowing it felt more like 25."

Hammond began an island tradition of playing the Seagulls, initially bringing along a few friends to compete, then a few more. They are builders, carpenters, caretakers, electricians and retirees. First and foremost, they are lovers of golf.

In the early years they would rent hotel rooms, share dinners and tell tales after coming off the golf course. They're more scattered now, with many bringing their families for a weekend getaway. But golf remains the common bond.

The 18th at Hyannisport Decide Many Matches
in the Seagulls Fourball

"There's a great camaraderie because literally everybody has played in truly atrocious conditions and survived it," Secia says. "It's like when people have misery, they tend to bond."

Ah yes, the infamous elements, which result in "fashion statements" of ski hats and winter jackets. "That's the charm," Johnson says. "It's early April and on Cape Cod it's still winterish. If you get any kind of rain or wind, which is almost guaranteed, it becomes an endurance test."

Besse remembered a year when the greens were so fast and the wind was blowing so hard that balls would not stop on the severely sloped 18th green. "I was on the green in two putting uphill and I think I scored 10," he said.

There was another year when it rained so hard that water was gushing out of the cup on the seventh green as players prepared to putt. "Anybody can play golf in great conditions," Secia said. "But when you've got rain and wind and snow and cold, everything Mother Nature can throw at you, it's something."

Still, it has become one of the must-play amateur tournaments on the Cape. It's steeped in tradition - held at a historic venue where President John F. Kennedy was a member, is bolstered by a deep and talented field, and demands stamina, skill and perseverance. It's nearly impossible for newcomers to secure a coveted slot, with a waiting list of teams hoping to play. Entry rules require that one member of the team has a primary residence in Barnstable, Nantucket or Dukes counties, although invitations are extended to select teams by the tournament committee.

For some, the Seagulls is serious business. One competitor reportedly becomes so keyed up leading into the tournament that his wife leaves him for a week.

The enduring appeal of the Seagulls can be traced to a variety of factors, including the fourball format, the depth of the field, the scenic and challenging course and, yes, even the weather.

"But there are other reasons, too," Johnson says. "It's a bare-bones tournament. There isn't a skins game or a hit-the-green prize of any of that jazz. It's just stepping back in time for a tournament at a great facility."

Rob Duca is an award-winning sports columnist who wrote for the Cape Cod Times for 25 years, covering golf, the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Celtics and the Boston Bruins. He is now managing editor of Golf & Leisure Cape Cod magazine and has written for a variety of other publications, including Sports Illustrated, the Boston Globe, Yankee magazine and Cape Cod Life.