Last year’s eastern buddies trip was such a winner that we decided to return to Boston again this year to play Myopia Hunt Club, Essex County Club, Whitinsville, Kittansett Club and Wannamoisett. The trip had a wonderful little wrinkle as we were hosted on our first day by a group of members from Myopia and Essex with whom we had casual and fun four-ball matches. Great guys, great courses, great times.
Before getting to the courses, a side note: My golf adventuring continues to include a social aspect for which I am grateful. These experiences are much more rewarding when shared with other golfers who “get it”. In fact, one of our hosts commented that he found our group to be enjoyable because we weren’t just a bunch of belt-notchers, but rather guys who loved the game and appreciated its special playing fields.
Since our trip had a twist, I am adding a twist to the recap. I picked my favorite 18 holes from the 5 courses we played, by number, and hit Jon Cavalier up for photos. This New England Great 18 is followed with the course photos I took, and some additional commentary. Disagree with my selections? Leave a comment here, or hit me up on social media.
NEW ENGLAND GREAT 18
(click photos to enlarge)
#1 – Whitinsville GC – Par 5 – 526 yards
Hello Mr. Ross! That was the feeling I had stepping onto the tee of the 1st at Whitinsville. It is a grand par-5 that rolls over hills up to a big green beautifully set on a hilltop. It is the perfect opener – it doesn’t punish, but it does require good shots to score.
#2 – Myopia Hunt Club – Par 5 – 463 yards
The first at Myopia gives a preview of the quirk. The second gives a preview of the grandeur and strategy of the rest of the course. High on the hill of this reachable par 5, picking a route through the mounds, the player knows that thoughtful shot-making is the order of the day.
#3 – Wannamoisett CC – Par 3 – 131 yards
This is the spot where the player realizes just how much Ross got out of the Wannamoisett property. The short 3rd embodies the beauty and intimacy of the course, along with the truth that big challenge often comes in a small package.
#4 – Myopia Hunt Club – Par 4 – 380 yards
Slopes and angles are the name of the game at the dog-leg 4th. The safer play right off the tee leaves a much more challenging approach from a fairway sloped high right to low left, into a green sloped even more severely in the same direction. This hole requires shot-making – two thoughtless straight balls in the middle won’t get the job done.
#5 – Kittansett Club – Par 4 – 395 yards
The fifth heads inland to the windless area that the caddies affectionately call “The Oven”. This two-shotter features imposing center bunkers that must be challenged to get a full view of and the best angle into the green.
#6 – Myopia Hunt Club – Par 4 – 244 yards
I missed driving the green by less than ten feet on the short 6th, but found my ball on the closely mown upslope with the green running hard away front to back. After carding a bogey 5, it occurred to me that I might not have mastered the strategy on this hole just yet.
#7 – Kittansett Club – Par 5 – 505 yards
The first and only par-5 on the front nine at Kittansett is a rugged beauty with some of the coolest bunkering on the course. Navigate that bunkering with an aggressive tee shot and second, and a birdie is there for the taking on the canted green.
#8 – Essex County Club – Par 4 – 422 yards
Full disclosure – I have played this hole twice and it kicked my butt both times, and yet I love it anyway. It begins with a blind drive to a wild split-level fairway. It ends with a green that is both canted and contoured. A truly unique hole.
#9 – Myopia Hunt Club – Par 3 – 130 yards
A fair case can be made that this is best short par-3 on the planet. It is at once mesmerizing in its artistic appearance, and terrifying in the narrowness of its green surface.
#10 – Wannamoisett CC – Par 4 – 403 yards
This uphill par 4 features a mine field of artful Ross bunkering. Approaches that crest the hill short tumble down to the beautifully set green.
#11 – Kittansett Club – Par 3 – 220 yards
MacDonald & Raynor, Langford & Moreau, and any other architects who have built crazy-bold greens would stand up and applaud the 11th at Kittansett. Coupled with the length, this one-shotter chucks the concept of “fair” right out the window.
#12 – Wannamoisett CC – Par 3 – 195 yards
The punchbowl green on this long, uphill one-shotter is fronted on the right by an enormous bunker. It demands a confident swing with a longer club. Those shots that are up to the challenge feed into birdie putt territory.
#13 – Essex County Club – Par 4 – 375 yards
The natural beauty of this hole is off the charts. The narrow fairway, flanked by native flowers, grass, and trees opens to a green wonderfully benched into the base of the rocky hill.
#14 – Kittansett Club – Par 3 – 175 yards
Sneaky tough bunkering defends the final one-shotter at Kittansett. A player who judges the effect of the wind properly and finds the green is rewarded. For those who do not, a recovery crap-shoot awaits.
#15 – Essex County Club – Par 4 – 349 yards
The 15th at Essex County is set out on the open field shared with the opening stretch of holes. Wind is a big factor approaching the elevated green fronted by a large bunker. The green is one of the boldest at Essex with a large swale creating multiple plateaus.
#16 – Myopia Hunt Club – Par 3 – 175 yards
The green on the downhill 16th at Myopia looks almost unhittable from the tee. To make matters worse, it is surrounded by nasty bunkers that do not yield sand saves easily. If you manage par here, happily take it and run for the next tee.
#17 – Essex County Club – Par 4 – 328 yards
Higher and higher describes well the penultimate hole at Essex County. The player is asked to play a tee shot straight up the hill that anchors the back nine, and then follow it with a blind second uphill to one of the smallest greens on the course. One of the most thrilling climbs in the game.
#18 – Essex County Club – Par 4 – 414 yards
The climb on the 17th at Essex County is followed by the winding descent of the home hole. The routing of the fairway between fescue covered hills is visually confounding on the tee shot. Finding the fairway affords the player a reasonable approach to a subtly contoured green that will yield birdies.
MYOPIA HUNT CLUB
No other course is quite like Myopia. It has a look and feel of pre-dating the Golden Era architecture, much like The Country Club. It has a rugged, lay-of-the-land natural beauty about it. It has plenty of quirk, of all the right kinds – blind shots, mounds, hummocks, and a variety of bunkering.
None of the above is meant to imply that Myopia is not sophisticated. In its own unique way, it is one of the most strategic, artistic, and challenging courses that I have ever played. It takes deep thought, confident decision-making, and solid execution to score. I suspect that a player could spend several lifetimes joyfully trying to unlock all of its secrets.
In a word, Myopia is evocative, and I loved every minute of walking its fairways and trying to meet its challenges.
ESSEX COUNTY CLUB
There have been times in the past year that I have wondered if I have oversold myself on the greatness of Essex County. This return visit dispelled any doubts – Essex County is brilliant, and the back nine is a masterpiece.
With guidance from Bruce Hepner, Superintendent Eric Richardson continues his pursuit of perfection, including removal of thousands more trees on the rocky hill that is the centerpiece of the property.
It became clear on my second time around Essex that its variety is part of its charm for me. The course wanders through distinct zones – holes 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-13, 14-16, 17-18 – each with their own feel and natural beauty. Add to that variety the obvious love that Donald Ross poured into tinkering with the greens and surrounds, and you have one special golf course.
WHITINSVILLE GOLF CLUB
Whitinsville is thoroughly pleasurable to play. It is the kind of course that doesn’t need to wow, because it produces a sustained sense of happiness, hole after hole. If I lived within an hour drive of Whitinsville, I would have submitted a membership application immediately after walking off the 9th green.
Working off of a Master Plan created by Gil Hanse, with assistance from Forse Design, Superintendent Michael Hughes keeps the course in perfect condition. Nothing is overdone, and yet everything is just so. It is a combination that allows the subtle elegance of Ross’s work to shine through.
A specific note about the trees at Whitinsville – I can’t think of a course that is a better example of ideal tree management. It is right up there with Crystal Downs in that regard for me. There are gorgeous specimen trees throughout the property in stands and singles, every one of which is nicely highlighted. The property feels both intimately wooded and wide open at the same time. Whitinsville strikes the perfect balance and should be studied by course stewards everywhere.
If there is a better flat-site golf course than Kittansett, I would like to see it.
The course plays through two distinct zones – a largely treeless coastal zone open to the stiff wind, and an inland zone among the trees which plays much calmer, but is no less challenging. Gil Hanse’s restoration and Superintendent John Kelly’s care have uncovered the unique character of this New England gem.
Although Kittansett has a wild and rugged beauty, it makes no attempt to impress with visual eye-candy. Instead, it uses ground features and bunkers to make the player think from tee-to-green on every single hole. Impatience, indecision, and lapses of concentration are punished, but the player who plots a course and executes can score and have great fun doing so.
MARION GOLF CLUB
We made a quick stop after Kittansett at Little Marion (as the locals call it), which I had learned about in Anthony Pioppi’s wonderful book, To the Nines. This early work of George Thomas was everything I had hoped it would be. Quirky, raw, and just the kind of community course where I would love to go whack it around with my kids.
When I think of a classic golf course, a place that ought to host national championships, I think of a course like Wannamoisett. At Par 69, tuned up to tournament conditions, I imagine that it can beat you senseless with a steady line-up of tough par-4s, and highly varied par-3s.
Wannamoisett is a prototypical Donald Ross golf course, but with some wonderful twists. Ross’s creativity in the bunkering and ground features throughout is beyond anything that I have seen elsewhere. He made the absolute most of this beautiful, but small, piece of property outside of Providence. The course winds in and out of every nook and cranny, and it is a joy to explore.
With Superintendent Mark Daniels’s steady hand at the helm, this wonderful Ross gem gets the reverent care that it deserves.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that it doesn’t get any better than this. I hope to get back to the area during the fall so that I can experience the natural beauty of these courses during another season. Until that day, the fond memories will be close at hand.