WELLFLEET — Imagine playing a golf course backwards. Or using a putter to drive the ball off the tee. How about using a driver to putt the ball into the cup? Maybe a pool cue?
These off-kilter thoughts have been a reality for years at Van Rensselaer’s Annual Cross-Country Golf Tournament, held at Chequessett Yacht and Country Club in Wellfleet.
Peter Hall, who owns the Wellfleet restaurant familiarly known as VR’s with wife Diane, has been hosting this funky golf tournament for almost 40 years now.
“I’m a believer that golf should be fun,” Hall said. He has been playing the course at Chequessett since 1972.
It wasn’t too long after that when Hall thought of playing the course a little differently. In the early stages of the tournament, Hall would set the first tee behind the pro shop. That was back before the tennis courts were built.
Once he added a beach hole. “The boats and the boathouse were no longer safe down there,” he noted.
He’s had players play in the woods. On three different occasions, Hall said, they have, in fact, played the course backwards.
He’s introduced croquet mallets instead of golf clubs and played with croquet rules (“whatever those are”).
Hall usually gets to the course the night before in order to analyze it and see what new inventions he can formulate while accounting for the encroaching water and mud from the nearby Herring River Estuary.
“We’ll do club elimination on occasion,” Hall said. “You’ll take your full bag. If you hit the driver off the tee and you use that ball, then you can’t use your driver the rest of the game.”
If you want that club back for another hole it costs you $5.
The rules are crazy, right?
“The rules are simple,” Hall said. On the day of the tourney, “It’s my course and my ruling. It’s basically my way of torturing golfers.” Most who play are friends and family. Those who don’t love it don’t come back, he said.
But most do. That’s because Hall’s golf adventure is also for a cause. He charges a flat rate for each player to enter that includes lunch, dinner, and drinks at the restaurant for the day. Businesses can sponsor a cart of players.
“We’ve raised as much as $10,000 some years,” Hall said. The money goes to nonprofits like the Jimmy Fund, the Pan Mass Challenge, or Veterans of Cape Cod.
This is a tournament that’s tough to win. If Hall notices someone is ahead, he’ll make more rules halfway through the game that make it pretty much impossible for that player to hold on to his lead.
The tournament has been held in hurricanes (Hall said they played on the morning of Hurricane Sandy) and even in the middle of the night (car lights offered some help). Though last year, the putt-off, traditionally held at the restaurant, did not happen, for obvious reasons.
For the putt-off, the top four players and bottom two players compete for a chance to win. Hall likes an even game throughout.
“Very rarely does anyone win my tourney twice, because the putt-off is very tough,” he said.
Hall played golf at Nauset Regional High School, as did his younger brother and sister. His siblings put their clubs away after high school. But since playing in Hall’s tournament one year, they have picked them back up, undeterred by the frustrating rules.
“Everyone who plays with me probably thinks I’m crazy,” Hall said. He even scores differently. “I count what I could have done and what I actually did.”
Hall never thought his funky little tournament would last this long, but it’s become a mark-your-calendar event for many of the couple’s friends. Some fly in from around the country each year.
The date for this year’s event has not been set, but it should be sometime in October. Meanwhile, Peter Hall will take advantage of his time on the course this summer to dream up a few new rules.