As I mentioned in my previous post on golf on Long Island, my buddies and I take an annual golf trip to the Northeast. This year, we headed to Boston, where there is no shortage of world class golf.
We had the privilege of playing 4 outstanding courses – The Country Club, Boston Golf Club, Old Sandwich, Essex County – and I took enough photos to negatively impact my golf, so it makes sense to share them and offset the damage.
The mix of courses provided a nice contrast for us, and grounds for debates on questions such as:
- If you could only play the top classic courses OR the top modern courses for the rest of your life, which would you pick? (we came down 3 out of 4 classic)
- Which course of those we’ve played on our annual trips is your favorite? (consensus is still Friar’s Head, although Essex is right there for me)
- Which of the courses make your Top 5? (For me, Essex County bumped Old Elm off my list to join Kingsley, NGLA, Friar’s Head, and Lawsonia Links)
I provided a little commentary with the photos, although it is by no means comprehensive. Allow me to admit my biases so that you can put my comments into context:
- When playing courses of this caliber, it strikes me as silly to spend time looking for things I don’t like. Instead, I tend to focus on what is great about the features, holes and course, and shrug off any shortcomings I notice. There was an exception to that rule on this trip. The Superintendent at The Country Club asked my buddy Brian Bossert to take notes on any blemishes we found. We obliged. I won’t mention those things here, but I was struck by how incredibly humble a request that was.
- Although I enjoy tough tests of golf, I tend to favor courses that meet the everyday play standard more highly. The game is tough enough and I want to enjoy it, therefore any course that provides a healthy dose of hard-for-hard’s-sake is not going to make my list of favorites.
- I am a U.S. Open geek, and am working on studying and playing all of the U.S. Open venues (more about that here). Therefore, being at TCC had special significance, which certainly influenced my love of the place.
- Boston Golf Club, which was a huge positive surprise to me even though I have read the praise of its supporters on GolfClubAtlas.com, had a Kingsley feel for me. Being the homer that I am (more about that here), any course that sniffs of Kingsley is going to be a winner in my book.
- Coore & Crenshaw’s work always looks right to my eye. Old Sandwich was the 7th one of their courses that I have played. That being said, it was the second course we played on a long day, and we got beat up a little, so I didn’t like it as much as the others. I suspect that I would have a higher opinion if I went back on a more relaxed day.
- Having grown up playing on Donald Ross’s work, I was predisposed to love Essex County. I played my worst round of golf in 3 years and still came away adoring it. If I went back and played well, my head and heart would probably explode – it was that good.
Now that you know the score, enjoy the tour…
THE COUNTRY CLUB
Obviously, the place oozes golf history, which is a treat to soak in. As for the course, the routing was interesting and pleasant. The holes wind around the property gently, with changes of direction and elevation. The features don’t necessarily wow, but everything feels like it is in its right place. It also has just the right amount of classic quirk.
I was particularly taken with how consistently small the greens were, and with the rough treatment around them. In this age of big greens with dramatic internal contours flanked by run-offs and chipping areas, The Country Club has almost none of that. You hit the small green and you are typically rewarded with a makable putt. You miss, and it’s trouble in the thick rough.
Learning to play this course day in and day and out would set you up to play well almost anywhere else, and it would be a joy to do.
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BOSTON GOLF CLUB
The course is jaw-dropping beautiful without sacrificing its natural feel. The use of the land forms on the property was awesome. If Gil hanse engaged in major earth moving in building the course, it didn’t look that way. Every hole is memorable – not a dud in the bunch – although that hole-by-hole greatness does seem to have produced more lengthy green-to-tee walks than I would normally like.
The course has enough quirk and challenge to be really fun without feeling like it was a chore. It had blind shots and shots that were right in front of you in just the right proportion. There are holes that can be played through the air or on the ground, which I like because I enjoy mixing it up and trying things. I haven’t been many places that have had as many cool and creative bunkers sprinkled throughout.
Given the at-home feel for me, I could easily see myself playing BGC every day and having a blast doing it. For those who care about score, you could shoot low numbers there, or really high ones. For those who like hitting a wide variety of shots, it would never get old.
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Unfortunately, my phone died, so I did not get as many photos of Old Sandwich as I would have liked. The course lays softly on the big, beautiful piece of land. This might be the most masterfully routed course I have ever played. It feels expansive, there are directional changes to the point of disorientation, and the course makes use of numerous outstanding land forms. All that being said, I cannot remember a long walk from any green to tee.
The par 3s, short 4s, and par 5s are all stellar. Great mix of holes with opportunities to make birdies and big numbers. There are plenty of those fun centerline bunkers that make you think, including some cool little pot bunkers. The greens are big and undulating, and all have false fronts and/or runoffs around the edges. Fairways are wide, but there is a super-premium placed on accuracy of approaches, whether through the air or along the ground. Hit it to the wrong part of the green, and you are almost guaranteed a 3-putt.
I would love to go back, but OS would not be a good every day course for me. It felt as hard or harder than Streamsong Red, and that is too hard for everyday golf tastes. That being said, if you can go, go have the experience once.
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ESSEX COUNTY CLUB
From the drive into the club past the grass tennis courts, to the gravel parking lot, to the low-key, but warm welcome we received, I was deeply in love with Essex County by the time we stepped on to the first tee…and then it got better.
The course felt like it had been tinkered with by someone who loved it, which is no surprise given that Donald Ross’s house was behind the 15th tee. For you tree-clearing fans (more on that here), the Superintendent, Eric Richardson who is a great guy, told us that they have removed 15,000 trees in the past 7 years. I find it difficult to imagine how much the visual impact of the property would have been degraded with those trees still there, especially with the giant rock formation at the center of the back nine.
Essex County winds around and looks like a work of art painted on to the property. It includes some of the boldest classic holes I have ever played – 8, 11, 17, and 18 are all holes that it takes true vision to see, and guts to build. There is a wonderful variety of bunker shapes, sizes, placement and treatment. The fine fescue areas are among the best kept I have seen anywhere. The greens are fun and challenging without being tricked up. You can see the lines, and confident strokes are rewarded with holed putts.
As I mentioned above, it made my Top 5 list, and it did because I could see myself playing there every day for the rest of my life with friends and having a ball doing it. Good play is largely rewarded with good scores, but there is just enough devilish subtlety to keep it much more interesting than some boring standard like “fair”. I will make a point of going back.
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