With this season’s Noreaster heading back to Long Island, I found myself longing for golf in Boston by mid-summer. Work afforded an opportunity to make it to Beantown, and I was able to line up visits to my two of my favorite courses – Boston Golf Club and Essex County Club – with buddies Peter Korbakes (@sugarloafsocialclub) and John Coffey (@jwjava). The perfect company for a quick-hit golf adventure.
My hole-by-hole photos and commentary are below, and I enlisted Jon Cavalier (@linksgems) for a feature photo for each hole. He captured a wonderful set of autumn shots that contrasts beautifully with my summer photos, illustrating just how much visual range these courses possess.
BOSTON GOLF CLUB
Boston GC is among my favorite modern golf courses. Why? Gil Hanse took a wild piece of land, and instead of attempting to tame it, he embraced the wildness. The course is a thrill ride, but it never goes over the top. There are birdies to be had when shots are played with creativity and confidence. Throw in holes like Shipwreck, which are among the most unique I have ever seen, and you have a truly special golf course.
(click on circle images to enlarge)
HOLE 1 – Par 5 – 485 yards – Three Creek
A blind tee shot is followed by the temptation to have a go at the elevated green fronted by a wetland and bunkers. BGC’s opener tells the player everything they need to know about the strategic adventure ahead. The wild ride begins…
HOLE 2 – Par 4 – 407 yards – Mt. Rushmore
Giving new meaning to the saying, between a rock and a hard place, the second plays between a rocky hill and nasty bunkers. There is room to play from the tee on every hole at BGC, but Gil Hanse did a masterful job throughout of making it appear as if there is no safe line to take. The pronounced undulation of the fairway runs seemlessly into the green.
HOLE 3 – Par 4 – 420 yards – Redan
Most of the landing area on the 3rd is obscured from the tee. Cresting the hill, players find their drives along with a stunning scene. A valley short must be carried to reach the green that has a high slope front left, bunkers behind, and a sharp fall-off right. Bunkers lurk behind, and the green slope feeds toward them. One of BGC’s many wonderfully creative green sites.
HOLE 4 – Par 4 – 413 yards – Wizard’s Cap
A walk through the woods brings the player to this two-shooter named after a distinctive tree behind the green. The drive is semi-blind over a centerline bunker. The approach is no picnic either, requiring the player to hit the right section to avoid a 3 (or even 4) putt. The slopes and shelves on the 4th green are death for wayward approaches, but oh what a beautiful way to die.
HOLE 5 – Par 4 – 313 yards – Shipwreck
This shorty starts with a blind uphill drive that must flirt with disaster right to have any chance at an angle into one of the narrowest greens you’ll ever see. Being even slightly out of position puts the player on the defensive trying to manufacture par. Danger lurks behind the raised green. This hole is among the most original and creative I have ever seen. Kudos to Gil Hanse for his willingness to polarize. Count me among the lovers of this maddening little four par.
HOLE 6 – Par 3 – 157 yards – Wild Turkey
A carry over a wild landscape created by repurposing a quarry confronts players as they walk dumfounded off the 5th green. The hole’s two sections, left and right, play quite differently in terms of angle and distance. When coupled with the oft-swirling wind, those sections provide wonderful day-to-day variety. For players who can do no better than an indifferent tee ball – all manner of nastiness imaginable awaits short of the green.
HOLE 7 – Par 4 – 423 yards – Penniman Hill
A fun two-shotter, the seventh has bunkering galore up the right side that is anything but fun. Steer clear of those bunkers and all that’s left to tackle is the false-fronted, amply sloped green perched on the ridgeline. Easy peezey, right?
HOLE 8 – Par 3 – 210 yards – Bent Pine
From the tee, it appears as though there is no safe place to hit the tee shot on this three par. The sandy waste that must be carried is visual subterfuge however, as it turns out that there is plenty of fairway short, and a receptive green. When the mind plays tricks on the 8th, focus the eyes on the ghost tree behind the green and swing away. A birdie putt awaits.
HOLE 9 – Par 4 – 440 yards – Geronimo
The tee is perched high above the fairway that doglegs left around a wetland, and then drops a step down to a large, undulating green. A wonderfully unique and stout conclusion to the outward half.
HOLE 10 – Par 4 – 390 yards – Mae’s
The inward nine begins with a semi-blind tee shot playing downhill to a fairway that is interrupted by steep drop-off. A safe play out to the left is an option, but brings both bunkers into play and leaves a poor angle into the green, which runs away. Center tee shots give a better look, but it is a look right into the mouth of the nasty little pot bunker front-center. The tenth might be short on yardage, but it is long on challenge. Mae Ovaska owned the house to the right of the tenth hole, and her land extended across what is now the tenth fairway. She was reluctant to sell her land, but John Mineck’s charm won her over. The hole is named in her honor.
HOLE 11 – Par 3 – 178 yards – Petrified
This picturesque one-shotter plays over a wetland to a heavily contoured green set against a hillside. Getting a great photo is by far the easiest thing about the eleventh. The putting surface is both canted and contoured. A good spot for a playing partner who believes in a wide circle of friendship.
HOLE 12 – Par 4 – 424 yards – Gate
The tee shot is played over a stone wall that pays tribute to the love poured into BGC by its founder, to a landing area that is wider than it looks. The fairway narrows further up with bunkers left and center. The real challenge of the 12th is at the green that sits atop a saddle with closely mown runoffs front and back. Many a hopeful round has gone down in flames at this very spot. Imagine standing greenside, as your playing partners’ chips run back and forth over, and then off, this green. Once you see it, it’s hard to wipe the memory from your mind. Good luck with that next approach of your own!
HOLE 13 – Par 4 – 459 yards – Knuckle Bucket
This elegant four-par bends right over gently rolling terrain to a large green with plenty of slope and contour. The simple holes are often among my favorites, and the thirteenth is no exception. An impulse which I can certainly understand, Mr. Mineck wanted to build one bunker himself. Behind the 13th green, well behind it, is where Gil Hanse let him scratch his itch.
HOLE 14 – Par 4 – 418 yards – Big Sky
The tee shot plays down into a wide valley, but the hole narrows with flanking bunkers as it heads down to the green. The ground level putting surface, set into a cozy nook, allows for all manner of aerial or ground approaches. With tumbling fairway and artful bunkering, I like this hole MUCH more than it likes me.
HOLE 15 – Par 5 – 545 yards – Coyote Trail
The imposing tee shot plays uphill to a landing area that looks much smaller than it is. The second plays over a sandy wash up to the top of roller coaster hill, and then down to a contoured, tiered green set in a hollow. Too many decisions and options to count on this visually stunning and wildly creative hole. Too many putts to count as well, if your approach fails to find the right section of the green.
HOLE 16 – Par 4 – 340 yards – Principal’s Nose
The namesake center fairway bunker gets the attention on this hole, and fairly so. It poses an interesting question of positioning for which there are multiple answers. However, it is really the small green and surrounding bunkers that require the player’s strategic attention. Bad approach distances and angles can result in severe punishment. The artistry of the shaping masks the sharp teeth waiting to bite players in the you-know-what whose approaches are found wanting.
HOLE 17 – Par 5 – 525 yards – American Chestnut
The penultimate hole plays up to a fairway bisected by a pronounced mound. It then drops down and winds around a bunker complex right and past a centerline bunker to an open-fronted green. An overland adventure packed with peril for the final three-shotter. Photos don’t do justice to the magnitude of undulation in the approach and the green as it rises to its high back-right. The ground provides options, and the visual overwhelms the eyes. Far from easy to keep the mind focused on the task at hand with wedge in hand.
HOLE 18 – Par 3 – 180 yards – Stonewall
The tee shot plays uphill to the well-defended green set below the clubhouse. The walk up that same hill is filled with both satisfaction and sorrow. Satisfaction at having met Gil Hanse’s challenges to the best of that day’s ability. Sorrow at the long shadows signaling that the day is too short to allow for a hop back over to the first tee.
ESSEX COUNTY CLUB
Essex County is my favorite classic golf course. Why? Donald Ross’s routing genius is evident as the course takes players on a tour of the brooks, wetlands, and rocky hill. The hazards – bunkers, wastes, mounds, hummocks – are varied in position, look, and difficulty. ECC’s greens are magnificent in their cant and contour. Clearly, while living next door, Mr. Ross poured his heart into every detail of this magnificent course.
HOLE 1 – Par 4 – 438 yards
The opener begins from an elevated tee near the clubhouse. The tee shot plays over Sawmill Brook to a wide open fairway. The canted green, flanked by mounds on one side and a bunker on the other, sets the tone for the course. The richness of texture and color on this property is special. Superintendent Eric Richardson and his crew, backed by a wise and supportive membership, continue to polish this gem.
HOLE 2 – Par 4 – 339 yards
The second turns gently to the right and uphill and is the first indication of Mr. Ross’s routing genius. In and out of nooks and crannies ECC goes, beginning with this two-shotter. And to cap it off, a Ross green that is both canted and crowned. Plenty of challenge packed into this little package.
HOLE 3 – Par 5 – 623 yards
The tee shot plays over wetland to a slightly angled fairway with OB left and all manner of nastiness right. This is a three-shotter in the truest sense, requiring three strong shots to find the green safely. The green features an internal bowl. Local speculation is that the green was built over a large tree stump. Stump decomposes, green sinks. Glorious quirk.
HOLE 4 – Par 3 – 233 yards
The first three par is a stern test. Long, over water to a big, contoured green flanked by deep bunkers. Mr. Ross’s examination of all aspects of a player’s game in full effect.
HOLE 5 – Par 5 – 457 yards
The 5th begins a stretch of three holes intimately routed in and out of the south portion of the property and marked by two brooks – Sawmill and Causeway. The tee shot on the 5th plays over Sawmill and must find the fairway to have a go at the green, which is set beyond Causeway. The putting surface is low profile and features subtle but tricky internal contours. A wonderful theme of ECC’s greens.
HOLE 6 – Par 4 – 330 yards
Heading back over the brook, which runs diagonally across the fairway, the player is invited to choose as aggressive a line as they can stomach. Leaving a short approach into the elevated green, tucked hard against the property boundary, is critical to scoring.
HOLE 7 – Par 3 – 130 yards
The green, set in a hollow just beyond the brook and surrounded by bunkers, is canted and subtly contoured. The hole is short, but demands a precise approach. Tee shots left above the hole are often followed by a slow, trickle-torture as the player watches their first putt roll and roll and roll.
HOLE 8 – Par 4 – 422 yards
The tee shot is blind, playing over a hill with OB left, bunkers and fescue right, and this insane tiered fairway in the middle. Perhaps the coolest fairway I have ever seen at a place not called Pasatiempo. With another canted Ross green making demands on the player who is likely still trying to process what they have just seen in the landing area, the approach can play level or uphill depending on where the drive comes to rest.
HOLE 9 – Par 4 – 429 yards
The tee shot plays to a narrow fairway, and the approach down to an infinity green guarded by stair-step bunkers right, and a combination of mounds and bunkering left. Rossiness levels set to max at this green complex.
HOLE 10 – Par 4 – 363 yards
The all-world back nine begins with a drive over the wetland to a fairway partially obscured by a hill. The approach plays into a heavily canted green, demanding cheating to the right for any hope of holding the green for a birdie putt. The uphill 11th sits beyond, ominously waiting. Mr. Ross’s genius routing uses the slopes of the property’s central hill to confuse the eye on 10, 12, 17, and 18.
HOLE 11 – Par 3 – 175 yards
This stout uphill one-shotter plays to an elevated green surrounded by tiered, flat-bottom bunkers. It looks like an all or nothing proposition from the tee, and this case, looks are not deceiving.
HOLE 12 – Par 4 – 415 yards
Beginning with a blind drive over the hill, and ending with a downhill approach to a Rossy green surrounded by bunkers and mounds, this is a classic. A field goal between the caddies will do just fine. The 12th green, set in a serene corner of the property, afternoon light filtering across the bunkers flared right. Marvelous.
HOLE 13 – Par 4 – 375 yards
This straightaway hole plays along the far side of the central hill with wildflower littered wetland down the left side. The elevated green sits in the shadow of the stone covered hillside. Mounds and boulders punctuate what might be my favorite hole on the course.
HOLE 14 – Par 3 – 162 yards
This green had to be moved, and the recreation is wonderfully devilish. Internal contours and fallaway edges conspire to make recovering from an errant tee shot more than a little pulse quickening. The new setting for the green makes use of the hillside which confuses the eye and shields the player from the wind, making club selection difficult.
HOLE 15 – Par 4 – 349 yards
The 15th tees off from out front of Donald Ross’s old yellow house and plays uphill to a large, challenging green that is fronted by an even larger, and more challenging bunker. A solid drive and a gutsy approach are required just to avoid a big number.
HOLE 16 – Par 4 – 409 yards
From the new elevated tee built into the hillside, it plays down to a winding fairway. The final flat hole before the rollercoaster finish. The 16th green, features subtle internal contours, and artful depressions off the green edges. The surrounds create wicked little recoveries.
HOLE 17 – Par 4 – 328 yards
The penultimate hole heads straight uphill to a terrific green set amidst bunkers and stone. Tree removal by Superintendent Eric Richardson and his crew has opened up breathtaking vistas. Magic.
HOLE 18 – Par 4 – 414 yards
One of the most exciting tee shots in Golden Age golf plays down to a fairway snaking between fescue covered stone hills. The angles and elevation make this shot as disorienting as it is memorable. The approach on Essex County’s home hole plays over the brook one last time to a crowned green set in a hollow below the clubhouse. From behind the green, the final look back up the hill, reflecting on the adventure just completed, never fails to fill me with a combination of gratitude and sadness.
Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf