OLD SANDWICH GOLF CLUB – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION
Plymouth, MA – Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw
After a recent round at Old Sandwich at the peak of fall, I thought that the many fans of the work of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and fans of New England golf in general, might like a look at this terrific course. All of the photos in this tour were taken by me on October 20, 2016, with the club’s permission to shoot and share. I hope you enjoy the tour.
OLD SANDWICH GOLF CLUB
Boston is rightly regarded as one of the five best metropolitan areas in the United States for quality golf. Despite the relatively short season, the greater Boston area is blessed with more than a dozen bucket list golf courses, including classic gems like Myopia Hunt Club, The Country Club at Brookline, Essex County Club, Salem Country Club, Eastward Ho Country Club, Charles River Country Club, and Kittansett Club among others.
Any modern architect working in the Boston area faces the challenge of designing a course that will inevitably be measured and compared to these venerable courses, which were built by Golden Age titans with names like Donald Ross, William Flynn, Herbert Fowler and Herbert Leeds. Such is the tall task that faced Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in the early 2000s. Suffice it to say, these two gentleman, as they have so often done, rose to the occasion with gusto.
The result is a masterpiece incorporating the best traditions of the game — huge, undulating fairways; natural hazards affording all manner of heroic recoveries; greens and green complexes that hold interest in round after round; and firm, fast conditioning permitting players to play the type of shots they choose. Soon after completing their work, Coore and Crenshaw said about the course, “Through time, we hope that Old Sandwich will be viewed as a compliment to its beautiful surroundings, to golf in general, and to the long and storied tradition of golf course architecture in Massachusetts.” Twelve years later, it’s clear they succeeded.
THE GOLF COURSE
A round at Old Sandwich begins with a walk out of the gorgeous clubhouse, nicely attired in stone and wood, and along a sandy path across a bridge spanning a serene pond.
From the clubhouse, nearly the entire course is hidden from view, but as one makes his way across the pond, the first tee comes into view.
Notably, there are no water hazards on the course at Old Sandwich. How many architects working today would have routed a course on this site to finish with a “heroic” carry over this pond to a green in the shadow of the clubhouse, perhaps while sacrificing the flow and playability of the golf course? Credit to Coore & Crenshaw for putting quality golf first.
Hole 1 – 531 yards – Par 5
The round begins with a true gentle handshake – on his first shot of the day, the player is greeted with a massive fairway and an uphill par-5 of reasonable length.
Although the fairway is quite large, the player must nevertheless pay attention to positioning, as a tee shot which strays too far left may be bunkered (hidden by shadow in the photo below) or out of position for a layup.
For the player’s second shot, the two fairway bunkers to the right draw the eye and focus, but the cant of the fairway will direct indifferent shots into the less-prominent but no less dangerous bunkers running the left of the fairway.
The green at the first is a true work of art. Open across the entire width of its mouth, running approaches are welcomed at this green, but care must be taken to account for the steep false front on the left…
… as well as the bunkering bordering the left side and left rear. Note the many appealing pin positions on this large green.
This bunker on the right side of the green is hidden from view on most approaches, while the green itself blends wonderfully into its surroundings.
Hole 2 – 403 yards – Par 4
At this par-4, the primary objective off the tee is avoiding the center-fairway bunker complex. The more aggressive right hand side leaves a shorter approach, but forces the player to confront the right-hand fairway bunkers. Left is easier, but leaves a longer approach. Finally, the player may elect to lay up short of the bunkers, but faces a long and difficult approach. Choices like this are ever present at Old Sandwich.
Regardless of the route chosen, execution is key. Anything in the center traps is essentially a one-stroke penalty.
The elevated green, tightly mown surrounds, and firm conditions make this approach particularly interesting. This bunker sits some 20 feet below and to the left of the putting surface, but an approach that comes up just inches short of the green is in real danger of rolling back into it, leaving an extremely tough third.
This view of the second green from the third fairway affords perspective and shows the movement of the landscape.
Putting from beyond the pin at the second is a frightening proposition; chipping from behind the green is even worse. A stout hole.
Hole 3 – 450 yards – Par 4
This long par-4 plays shorter than its yardage on the card due to the fact that it is typically downwind, but it is nevertheless a challenging hole.
As the hole doglegs left, the best line is down the right side, but the right is guarded by several menacing bunkers. Any ball finding these pits will also find it nearly impossible to reach the green.
Once past the bunkers, the fairway opens considerably and falls off into a depression short and right of the green. The green itself is one of the best at Old Sandwich — its many elements include a false front short right followed by a large, slightly-domed area, followed by a swale cutting across the surface horizontally, followed finally by a back right tier on which that day’s pin was placed.
A bunker wraps around behind the green from the left. Given the slope of the green, this bunker is a common destination for approaches when the pin is back.
The hazards protecting the left side of the green make an approach favoring the safer right side attractive, but beware the pot-like bunker long right, as it is a truly brutal hazard. An excellent golf hole where options abound.
Hole 4 – 209 yards – Par 3
The first one-shot hole at Old Sandwich, and a beauty. As is often the case at Old Sandwich, looks here can be deceiving, as the view from the tee leads the golfer to believe that he has less room and more carry than he actually does due to the slight rise in the landscape and the framing bunker left, which prevent a perfect view.
However, as this elevated view shows, there is ample room on this hole to land short of the green and bounce a ball on to the putting surface, as well as room to play left away from the deep greenside bunkers.
In following the natural contour of the landscape, the huge green feeds gently from front to back, while the high left shoulder allows players to use the ground to feed shots into pins on the right side.
Hole 5 – 336 yards – Par 4
Generally considered the signature hole at Old Sandwich, the fifth is a stunner and a unique hole in American golf.
A short, cape-style par-4, the hole presents the golfer with an incredibly rumpled, elevated fairway moving left to right. The sight of this fairway is one that a golfer does not soon forget.
The fairway on this hole will direct well-hit, aggressive tee shots toward the green, with the potential to reach the green in one. However, as is always the case with a well-designed cape, the higher the reward sought, the greater the risk taken. Any shot that fails to carry the chosen line is dead.
As noted above, the fairway mounding can both redirect ideal shots to the green while also presenting a difficult, uneven lie on approach for more conservative tee shots.
Looking back toward the fairway, the elegance of the transition to putting surface is revealed, as the fairway bleeds seamlessly into the green.
The tee-to-green theme of contour is carried through to the green itself, creating putting adventures for those whose approaches are imprecise.
As this elevated view from behind the green reveals, there are plenty of ways to get yourself in trouble on this hole, but also plenty of ways to play the hole which will result in a good score.
The key to scoring well on the fifth is knowing one’s own abilities and limitations, choosing a line that fits within those criteria, and executing one’s chosen strategy. And isn’t that what golf is supposed to be?
A brilliant rendition of a modern risk-reward hole.
Hole 6 – 562 yards – Par 5
The second three-shot hole at Old Sandwich is the longest on the course, and requires an uphill tee shot and carry over gunch to an elevated fairway turning right to left. This corner of the course is one of the prettiest spots on the property.
The fairway is guarded on both sides by deep bunkering. The right bunkers (out of frame) catch tee shots on an overly conservative line, while a pot bunker in the middle of the fairway complicates the second shot.
The green is tiered from front to back, and contains ridges running both vertically and horizontally, which effectively quarter the putting surface.
When looking back at the fairway, the golfer is likely to be surprised at just how much elevation he has scaled while playing the hole.
Hole 7 – 391 yards – Par 4
The seventh is yet another standout hole at Old Sandwich renowned for its uniqueness. From the tee, most of this dogleg left par-4 is visible, including the green and the pin, although much of the interest surrounding the green remains hidden.
From the fairway, the incredible greensite is revealed in full.
Sitting elevated in a lake of sand, the green functions as an island, repelling poorly struck approaches into the surrounding sand.
The green is deeper than it appears from the fairway, offering ample room for shots struck on the appropriate line.
Easily one of the prettiest greensites in golf.
And in full fall color…breathtaking.
Hole 8 – 379 yards – Par 4
The eighth is a transition hole, transporting the golfer from the seventh green to the ninth tee, where a run of spectacular golf begins anew. The canted fairway tilting opposite of the hole’s direction adds an element of difficulty here.
Mounding to the left protects and obscures the left side of this green and makes judging distance difficult.
The bunkerless green appears to have been mowed directly from the fairway, so perfectly does it blend with its surroundings.
Hole 9 – 131 yards – Par 3
This gorgeous little one-shotter plays to a large but multi-tiered green isolated in a sandy basin. Bunkers guard on all sides.
While hitting this green is no easy feat, neither is doing so any guarantee of a two-putt par.
The back portion of this green shunts balls into this nasty bunker, or to a tightly mown area adjacent to the green. Neither is an ideal spot for recovery.
A birdie is a possibility here, but any player should be pleased to escape this little beauty with a par.
Hole 10 – 516 yards – Par 5
The back nine begins with with a Coore & Crenshaw homage to Hell’s Half Acre.
The Hell’s Half Acre bunker divides the fairway in two and requires a second-shot carry. In addition to being an intimidating hazard, the feature also obscures a large portion of the fairway landing area.
Three center-cut bunkers dot the fairway in the landing zone for second shots which, along with the slope of the fairway, add interest to what is often one of the more boring shots in golf — the second on a par 5.
Looking back from the elevated green reveals the gorgeous movement of the landscape.
Hole 11 – 244 yards – Par 3
A monster from the back tees, this par-3 is the longest on the course, the most difficult and perhaps the prettiest.
A sandy ridge cutting in from the left side of the hole adds visual interest and hides the fact that the landing area for shots unable to make the carry is larger than it appears from the tee.
The green is open in front to accommodate the longer approaches, but danger lurks to all sides. A hole as tough as it is beautiful.
Hole 12 – 455 yards – Par 4
From the tee on this par-4 running left to right, the golfer is tempted to shun the safer right side and play down the left to shorten the hole.
This cluster of bunkers, largely hidden from view from the tee, play much larger than their actual footprint, and will exact a stiff penalty on any stray shots attempting this more aggressive line.
Yet again, the green sits naturally as an extension of the fairway, open across the full width of its mouth.
As a result, the hole appears as natural as they come.
Hole 13 – 560 yards – Par 5
The last of the four par-5s at Old Sandwich, and this author’s favorite of the bunch, the thirteenth asks for a carry over a sandy waste area to the crest of a fairway rolling downhill and from left to right.
Upon reaching the fairway, the player is confronted with the gorgeous sight of a wide, downhill fairway dotted on both sides with bunkering. The closer one gets to the green, the more the short grass seems to narrow.
The green itself is benched into the side of a sandy ridgeline, creating an amphitheater effect. Once more, the green is open to running shots.
The putting surface is protected on three sides by trench-like bunkers and a sharp fallaway to the front left.
The surrounding bunkers present a difficult recovery, as the green slopes toward the front left fallaway.
An exceptional par-5.
Hole 14 – 369 yards – Par 4
The fourteenth plays back up the hill toward the 6th tee and the highest point on the property. Here, the left-sloping fairway aids the player in positioning his ball on the proper side.
Players taking the more aggressive right-side line may find themselves blocked out (your author has experience with this scenario).
Even from the fairway, the elevated green presents an elusive target, as balls left short (where deep bunkers await), right or long will be repelled.
Accuracy is at a premium on this deceptively difficult par-4.
Hole 15 – 168 yards – Par 3
The artfully sloped and bunkered fifteenth, tucked into a corner of the property, is a favorite par-3 of the group at Old Sandwich.
The bunker to the right cuts deeply into the green, and a high right shelf beyond this bunker can be used to funnel balls down to most pin positions.
The green itself is moderately narrow but very deep, providing a safe landing area for shots struck on the intended line.
An aerial view of the uniquely heart-shaped fifteenth green.
One of a superb quintet of one-shot holes.
Hole 16 – 486 yards – Par 4
The finishing stretch at Old Sandwich is a challenging test and ideally suited for determining matches that reach this point. The sixteenth begins with a tee shot over a crested fairway to a blind landing area and, although the fairway is wide, the shot is one of the toughest on the course.
The fairway tumbles down on the approach to a green running front to back, affording the golfer the opportunity to hit a shot landing some 50 feet short and to watch the ball bound and run on to the putting surface.
Given the slope, a player may choose to hit as many as three or even four clubs less than standard for a given yardage. Care must be taken to avoid the collection area that will gobble shots offline right.
The beautiful sixteenth is one of the most strategic and fun holes (of the many strategic and fun holes) at Old Sandwich.
Hole 17 – 191 yards – Par 3
The final one-shot hole at Old Sandwich is all carry to a slightly elevated green ringed with bunkers.
Golfers must remain focused to avoid being distracted by the stunning natural surrounds.
Balls left short will be shunted back toward the tee, while shots tempting the edges of the putting surface will likely be redirected into bunkers. There is no cheating this hole – a well-struck shot is required.
A look back from behind the green.
And one from above.
Hole 18 – 498 yards – Par 4
The longest par-4 on the course, the eighteenth presents the player with a fairway that is quite wide and quite blind from the tee — he must pick his line and trust that he has chosen wisely.
Cresting the rise in the fairway, the player is afforded a view of the remainder of the hole, which is divided by long grass and bunkers.
The gentle downhill slope, open front of the green and generous short grass surrounding the green all mitigate the length of this hole and provide opportunities for the creative shorter player to match the advantage of his competitor’s distance.
An excellent finishing hole, as befits an exceptional golf course.
BONUS – Hole 19 – Par 3
For those matches (and wagers) left unsettled after 18 holes, Coore & Crenshaw thoughtfully provided an extra hole to ensure everything is settled up properly.
This final green is a hit-it-or-else proposition and contains significant internal undulation, ensuring that matches needing extra holes will be won by the player able to hit this green and lag it close or make his putt.
Like many of Coore & Crenshaw’s other courses, a round at Old Sandwich leaves a golfer with no doubt that they have just been afforded the chance to play a course built in the mold of the great classics. As with other modern gems like Sand Hills, Ballyneal, Stonewall, Kingsley, Friar’s Head and Pacific Dunes, Old Sandwich was built and is maintained with one goal in mind — providing its members with the best and most enjoyable golf possible. And when golf architects and clubs find themselves on the same page in that regard, modern masterpieces which can stand proudly next to their classic sisters can often result. Old Sandwich does her neighbors proud.
I hope you enjoyed the tour.
Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf