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Boston Twofer – Boston Golf Club & Essex County Club

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.

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HOLE 1 – Par 5 – 485 yards – Three Creek

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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HOLE 1 – Par 4 – 438 yards

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.


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Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Exploring America’s Great Golf Clubs

As the pre-season comes to an end, and the rainy days in Chicago delay the start of the peak season, I find myself reflecting on the year-to-date, which has already been filled with great golf adventures.  My favorite experience thus far was my visit to Calusa Pines.  The course at Calusa Pines, created by the design team of Hurdzan & Fry, is a marvel of architecture, engineering and natural beauty – my photos from the day are below.  The Calusa Pines Golf Club is much more than the course though, and that is what makes it so special.

What makes a golf club great?  Certainly, in order to be great, a club must have an outstanding golf course.  A top-notch course is not enough to make a club truly great though, especially for the discerning golf geek.  Great clubs resonate at a deeper level – they evoke the spirit of the game.

Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of visiting several modern golf clubs in addition to Calusa Pines that have stood out to me for their all-around greatness – The Kingsley Club, Boston Golf Club, and Ballyneal Golf & Hunt Club.  They have common characteristics, which can be linked back to the progenitors of the modern golf club.

Exploring the lineage and elements of greatness begins in the early-1990s at two clubs with the dreams of two men – Dick Youngscap and Mike Keiser.  At Sand Hills Golf Club and The Dunes Club, respectively, each man realized his vision of being able to get away from the demands of the workaday world to play the kind of golf they wanted to play, among kindred spirits.

Architecturally, Sand Hills and The Dunes Club were rejections of the chest-thumping “championship” golf of the Fazio-Nicklaus-Jones era that was prevalent at that time.  The courses were built on sandy land and inspired by the best of the architecture of the British Isles, as well as the American golden age.  These courses were the spark that lit the fire of modern minimalism.

Culturally, the clubs are a reflection of their benevolent dictator founders.  They are exclusive, but not exclusionary.  Those members and guests who “get it” are welcomed and encouraged to get lost on fields of play that delight the senses, challenge the skills, and fill the heart with golf geeky joy.  Days of play are complemented with relaxed times of camaraderie around patio tables and fire pits.  Ego and pretense have no place, and those seeking opulence are happily pointed in other directions.

Sand Hills and The Dunes Club feel both polished and personal at the same time. The love that has been poured into them by their founders, architects, and staff is palpable.  It is that love of the game and fellow players that inspired the follow-on generation of club founders and members.

THE KINGSLEY CLUB

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On my first visit to Kingsley, a long-time member named John joined our group as a fifth for four holes.  He shared stories of the club’s founding by Ed Walker and Art Preston, and its connections to Crystal Downs.  John’s pride in the course and its history enriched my experience that day, and it wasn’t long before I joined.

On my first visit to Kingsley this season, I was reminded of this pride when Mr. Walker took close to an hour to walk me through his plans for our new clubhouse.  He is a busy man, and I am newish member.  He didn’t need to do that, but he did because he has poured his heart and resources into the club and he knows that I share his love for it.

BOSTON GOLF CLUB

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My first time at Boston GC, I was on a buddies trip to Boston, and I fell in love with the course.  On my second visit to BGC, I was hosted by a member, John C.  Walking the fairways with John was like being at Kingsley.  His depth of feeling for his club was infectious.  Knowing the story of founder John Mineck’s labor of love, and his tragic death on site, it is no surprise that members feel a special connection to this place.

As we sat and relaxed in the dining room after sunset, we shared the joy that permeates the memberships of these great clubs.  Part of fitting in to these cultures is realizing how lucky we are to get to spend our hours playing this game, among friends, on such wonderful courses.  That off-putting sense of entitlement is absent, and in its place, gratitude.

BALLYNEAL

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Ballyneal is the golfiest place I have ever been.  The members there love the game and they love their club, which now includes 18 holes by Tom Doak, the Mulligan short course, and The Commons putting course.  It is a golf geek’s fantasyland, a decade’s long dream in the making for founder Jim O’Neal, now come to fruition in the Chop Hills.

My buddies and I arrived the evening before we were scheduled to play with our host, Stephen.  We met another member while hanging out on the driving range and after chatting us up for a bit, he insisted that we go play.  His love of the game and welcoming spirit is the norm at Ballyneal, and I am counting the days until I can head back to enjoy it again.


CALUSA PINES GOLF CLUB

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A view from the highest point on the property

My day at Calusa Pines was generously set up by a member, Eric.  In our correspondence prior to that day, Eric expressed a sentiment that I have experienced at every one of these clubs.  The members love hosting for two reasons: they are proud of their clubs and like to share them with others who can appreciate them, and they prefer not to play anywhere else when they are in town.  Before Eric said it, I had never heard it put that way, but I know exactly how he feels.

I was joined by the General Manager Walt Kozlowsky, Head Professional Mike Balliet, and a member, Rob.  They are good players and people, and tremendously knowledgeable about the club.  As a bonus, I cannot recall ever laughing more during 18 holes of golf.  They embody the culture of Calusa Pines – a love of the game coupled with a commitment to keeping it fun.

THE COURSE

Dr. Michael Hurzdan & Dana Fry wrote a Vision piece that is on the club’s website.  This statement stood out for me in summing up the experience of playing the course:

“Calusa Pines will be a golfer’s golf course meaning that you will never tire of playing it, there are an endless variety of golf shots required each time you play it, and every hole will be distinct and memorable.”

Several months later and I am still amazed at the description of the construction process that Walt, who has been at Calusa since ground was broken, shared with me as we walked.  The land started as basically flat.  The top layer of sand was removed from the entire property and stored.  The bedrock beneath was then dynamited.  After blasting through the rock, the system of lakes was excavated and that material along with the rock was used to build hills, rough contours and some features.  Smaller rock was then used for additional form shaping.  The original top layer of sand was then brought back to sandcap the land and do finished shaping.  The result is a course that seems natural, even though it is entirely engineered.

Calusa Pines impresses with its broad strokes, but it is even more impressive at the detail level.  Obviously, great care was taken with the bunkering and greens.  They are both visually striking and a blast to play.  The naturalization of the site is also outstanding.  As we walked along Rob and Walt explained to me that the founder Gary Chensoff insisted that the system of lakes be designed such that a player can never see all shores at once – they disappear around corners and out of view, giving the player a feel of wandering around in a river valley.  Large trees were preserved or planted to create a sense of maturity, and a wide variety of vegetation creates interest in color and texture throughout.

Throw in one of the cooler clubhouses you’ll ever see – beautiful with just the right level of comfort and amenity – and Calusa Pines qualifies as the total package.  On to the course…

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Hole 1 – Par 4 – 389 Yards

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The opening hole is a slight dogleg left that plays to an elevated green.  It introduces the player to Calusa’s stunning bunkering that makes the player feel as though they have been transported to the Melbourne Sandbelt.

Hole 2 – Par 5 – 551 yards

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The first of Calusa’s three-shotters gently bends right and demands precise positioning of the second.  Leave yourself short-sided, and you’re in trouble.

Hole 3 – Par 3 – 135 yards

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A great little three par with an all-or-nothing character to it.  Hit the green and birdie putts are makable.  There is no bailout on this hole though.  Miss the green, and kiss your par goodbye.

Hole 4 – Par 4 – 379 yards

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The fourth is the first hole to encounter the course’s system of lakes.  The cape design allows the player to be as aggressive as the wind and their nerves will allow.

Hole 5 – Par 4 – 378 yards

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The fifth doglegs right with a tee shot up over a rise.  The green is elevated and guarded by deep bunkers right and a steep runoff left.

Hole 6 – Par 5 – 513 yards

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The challenge of the sixth is a function of width.  There isn’t that much to begin with, and the hole feels even narrower as it winds along the lake.  Blocking out the borders and confidently focusing on the target for each shot is a requirement.

Hole 7 – Par 3 – 186 yards

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A terrific and tough par three, the seventh plays through the goal posts created by the trees to a green guarded left by a massive bunker.

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Hole 8 – Par 4 – 280 yards

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The eighth is a wonderfully creative short four with sand along the entire left side and a green benched into a hillside.  Longer hitters can drive the green, but failed attempts can find all manner of nasty fates.

Hole 9 – Par 4 – 421 yards

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The ninth plays from an elevated tee, with an approach over the lake to a green set just below the clubhouse.  A visually stunning hole that provides one last stiff test on the outward nine.

Hole 10 – Par 4 – 376 yards

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The par four tenth features artful bunkering up the right and a sculpted sandy hillside that creates one of the coolest looks on the whole property.

Hole 11 – Par 3 – 171 yards

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Another stellar three par, the eleventh green is set at a slight angle.  With the swirling wind, judging the line and distance is no simple matter.

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Hole 12 – Par 4 – 419 yards

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Climbing the hill to the twelfth tee provides one of Calusa’s best reveals.  This beauty is a beast though that demands two well struck shots to find a subtly contoured green surrounded by runoffs.

Hole 13 – Par 5 – 554 yards

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The thirteenth turns hard right and allows for a daring attempt to carry the large bunkers on the inside of the dogleg.  Success gives the player a chance at reaching the small elevated green in two.

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Hole 14 – Par 4 – 293 yards

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The fourteenth is the second of Calusa’s risk-reward par fours.  The deep fronting bunker and firm elevated green add plenty of challenge to this shortie.

Hole 15 – Par 4 – 374 yards

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Otherworldly bunkers line the right side of the fifteenth, all the way up to the bunkerless green.  A brilliantly imbalanced and contrasting design.

Hole 16 – Par 3 – 161 yards

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The final one-shotter is the most visually intimidating, playing downhill to a peninsula green.  A breathtaking spot on the beautiful property.

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Hole 17 – Par 4 – 390 yards

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The seventeenth works around the lake from left to right with the main challenge on the approach.  The large greens is one of the most creative on the course.

Hole 18 – Par 5 – 487 yards

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The closer turns hard left off the tee, giving the player a chance to cut the corner and get home in two.  The green sits up above one last large bunker, in the shadow of the clubhouse.  A thrilling finish that is perfect for dramatic conclusions to matches.


IN CONCLUSION

Whether it is in golf architecture, or the experience of a golf club, greatness will always be subjective to some degree.  From my personal perspective, there are two final elements of the greatness of Calusa Pines and the other great modern clubs.

First, a key difference between these places and others for me is that I walked off the 18th green wanting to go right back to the 1st tee.  There is a depth of strategy and thoughtfulness to the design that makes repeat play exciting and enjoyable.  Beyond wanting a replay, I also wanted to ask for an application.  The combination of course and culture is that appealing.

Second, these clubs are deeply about love of the shared experience of this wonderful game.  It is built into their DNA, but it is not necessarily a love that takes itself too seriously.  There is a heavy dose of fun, and that is why I love the game of golf.  For some it is the challenge or the competition.  For me, it is the fun of experiencing those aspects in the company of my fellow geeks.

What do you think makes a club great?  Feel free to brag on your club or share your personal experiences in the comments here.


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Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Boston Golf Club Tour by Jon Cavalier

BOSTON GOLF CLUB – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Hingham, MA – Gil Hanse

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Boston has long been known as one of America’s best cities for golf.  With classic gems like Myopia Hunt Club, The Country Club at Brookline, Essex County Club, Salem Country Club, Kittansett and Eastward Ho!, as well as modern entries like Old Sandwich by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, the best of Boston-area golf can rival anywhere.

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Enter Boston Golf Club.  I had the privilege of seeing this 2004 Gil Hanse design on a beautiful late-October afternoon, and while I had heard good things about the club previously, to say that Boston Golf Club exceeded my expectations would be a dramatic understatement.

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Every hole at BGC offers something worthwhile.  The golfer is put to strategic decisions constantly.  Despite its location, the playing corridors are wide, encouraging thoughtful placement of one’s ball.  And the setting is gorgeous.  Boston Golf Club is the best work I’ve seen by Gil Hanse, and I would recommend it without reservation to any golfer looking to play in the Boston area.

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I hope you enjoy the tour.

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The first thing a visitor notices upon arriving at Boston Golf Club is the wooded setting.  After turning into the entrance, marked only with a stone post engraved with the number “19”, the visitor winds his way up a curved drive to the gravel lot and walks up to the wooden-shingled clubhouse, built to look like a relic from the revolutionary war.

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The club has a well-appointed golf shop, locker rooms and a second-floor bar and grill with a view overlooking the 18th green.  Such tastefully done facilities that mesh well with their location are always a refreshing sight in today’s game.  Now member-owned, Boston Golf Club clearly puts the focus where it belongs – on the golf course.

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In sticking with the revolutionary war motif, the club’s logo is a simple red and white striped flag.  It’s one of my favorite modern golf logos.

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The golf course itself plays to a championship distance of 7062 yards, par 71, while the members generally play to a more reasonable 6740 yards (the distances used in this tour) or a composite yardage of just over 6300.  The course slopes out to a robust 139 (74.8 rating) at the tips and a 136 (73.4 rating) from the next set of tees.

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As seen in this overhead, the course is divided by a public road – the front nine plays out across the loop to the east of the road, while the back nine plays on the western side where the clubhouse is located.

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Though the road is not visible from any part of the course and is completely unobtrusive during play, the unique routing does present a rather long initial walk from the clubhouse to the first tee, and from the ninth to the tenth tee.  But the course itself is very walkable.

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Superintendent Rodney Hine and his staff expertly tend to BGC with firm, fast greens and fairway and short rough, with an assist from the goats kept on property.

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Need trees removed . . .

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Happy to help!  Any course with goats on the maintenance staff gets extra points in my book.

Now, on to the golf course…

BOSTON GOLF CLUB

Hole 1 – 485 yards – Par 5

The course begins with a short but challenging par-5 that plays up over a blind rise to a fairway hidden largely from view.

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From the very outset, the player gets a sense of what they will encounter at Boston Golf Club – wide, heaving fairways and an abundance of gorgeous scenery – both natural and, in the case of the stone wall seen here, man-made.

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Though this sub-500 yard par-5 is reachable in two for some longer hitters, the challenge in attempting the hero play is stiff.  The elevated green is ringed with bunkers and fronted by a ribbon of gunch that will likely result in a lost ball for those whose attempts at the green come up short.

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Laying up presents its own challenges, and the elevated green is partially hidden from view from the end of the fairway.

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The view from behind the putting surface reveals the substantial undulation in the first green and the ample width of the playing lane, which while often appearing tight, always provides the player with room to maneuver.

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Hole 2 – 407 yards – Par 4

A beautiful two shot hole, the fourth calls for an ideal drive either short of or over the rocky outcropping that cuts into the fairway from the right side.

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Indifferent tee shots will find trouble on both sides of the pinched fairway.

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Once beyond the choke point, the fairway tumbles hard down to the large green, which is open in the front to allow golfers to use the slope and attack the green on the ground.

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As this view from the right rear corner of the green shows, both the putting surface and the surrounding mowed areas are rife with movement.  The deep valley to the left of the green adds considerable challenge to approaches hit to left pins.

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Hole 3 – 420 yards – Par 4

The outstanding third hole begins with another blind tee shot to a fairway that swells up before dropping and bending slightly to the left.

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Care must be taken to choose a line and a shot shape that will both enable the player to hold the fairway and to position himself to approach the angled, sloping green.

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A ravine divides the fairway from the large third green, which is angled from short left to deep right, and which is also sloped hard from left to right, making the angle of approach critical.

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The view from behind the green shows the exceptionally undulated fairway, uncommon elsewhere but frequently seen here.

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After bagging his (hopeful) four, the golfer sets off on this footbridge through a wooded marsh to reach the fourth tee.

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Hole 4 – 413 yards – Par 4

The third of three consecutive two shot holes exceeding 400 yards in length, the fourth hole requires a drive over the large framing bunker to the left over another rise, which hides . . .

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. . . these traps guarding the left side of the fairway, and which should be avoided at all costs.  Beyond this hazard, the fairway drops into a valley before rising again to meet the green.

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A common theme at Boston Golf Club is that many of the areas surrounding the greens are mowed to fairway height, accentuating the use of the ground game, providing recovery options for near-misses and exacting a heavier price for poorly hit shots that will not have the benefit of tall grass to stop the ball near the green.

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Once again, the green is open across the front, allowing a variety of shots to be played.

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Hole 5 – 313 yards – Par 4

One of the best modern short par-4 holes that I’ve seen, the fifth plays out through a chute of trees to an upsloping fairway with troublesome bunkering and mounds encroaching from the right.

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While the tendency of most from the tee will be to play safely out to the left of the open fairway to avoid these bunkers, which will certainly add at least a stroke to most cards . . .

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. . . those who do are confronted with an approach from a difficult angle to an extremely narrow green backed by a deep, tight bunker.

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At the same time, the closer one plays to the trouble up the right side of the fairway, the better the angle into the difficult green. From the right edge of the fairway, the player has the benefit of playing down the long axis of the green.

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The narrowness of this green and the shape of the bunkering to the rear is reminiscent of the ninth green at Myopia Hunt.  Though most will have but a wedge in, this is one of the most difficult approaches on the golf course.

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A brilliantly designed short two-shotter in every respect.

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Hole 6 – 157 yards – Par 3

The first of an exceptional quartet of one-shot holes at Boston Golf Club, the sixth plays from an elevated tee to an elevated green across an ocean of sand and shrub.

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The wide, shallow green is shaped almost like a figure eight and plays more like two small greens than a single large one.

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The left pin placements play easier than those to the smaller but shorter right side.

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As is the case with all of the par-3s at Boston Golf Club, the sixth perfectly balances visual appeal with a demand for quality shotmaking.

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Hole 7 – 423 yards – Par 4

The tee shot at the seventh must carry an expanse of sandy waste area, and a hidden valley on the right side (a smaller version of a similar feature on the second hole at NGLA) should be avoided.

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The wide fairway gives way to a reverse redan-like green that is one of the most severely sloping on the course.

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Serious trouble awaits the weak cut that misses the green short.  Even shots that hit the front right portion of the green risk being repelled into the bunker below.

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One of the more difficult pars at Boston Golf Club – a four here is an excellent outcome.

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Hole 8 – 210 yards – Par 3

The longest one-shot hole at Boston Golf Club, the eighth green is partially hidden from view by chocolate drop-style mounding that fronts the putting surface and makes this tee shot appear much more difficult than it is.

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As seen here, there is ample room between the drops and the green, which allows for the ball to be landed short of the green and bounced on to the putting surface.

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Likewise, there is substantial room to miss the green short or left and still have a good chance at par.

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Missing this green long, however, is quite bad – this nasty little bunker is more than ten feet below the putting surface.

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The green itself is rippled and mounded.  A wonderful par-3 hole.

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Hole 9 – 440 yards – Par 4

From an elevated tee, the golfer gives back the nearly 100 feet of elevation gained over the first eight holes.

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Though the elevation change and the angle of the fairway make this shot look rather tight, the fairway is wider and more accommodating than it appears from the tee.

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From the fairway, the player must first avoid a small area of hazard intruding from the left side as he approaches one of the more scenic and interesting greens on the property.

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The large green is nestled into a cove bordered in the front by the raised fairway and in the rear by a stone wall.  Missing this green long is not an option.

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The green itself contains substantial movement, and hitting it in regulation is no guarantee of a par.

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A tough, fair and pretty hole – a fitting end to the front nine.

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Hole 10 – 390 yards – Par 4

From a tee bordered by the foundation of an old ruin, the tenth plays out to a fairway sloping downhill and to the right.  The raised mound on the right of the fairway complicates this drive.

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As seen here, the ideal tee shot favors the right side of the fairway, as anything left bears a risk of running off or through the fairway.

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From the left edge of the fairway, the green is revealed.  Long is not an option, and the bunkers short of the putting surface make for a challenging recovery.

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The result is one of the more difficult approach shots on the course.

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Despite these challenges and the visual difficulties presented by the setting of the green, as is often the case at Boston Golf Club, there is more room to maneuver than first appears.

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All in all, an outstanding par 4 and one of my favorites of the inward nine.

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Hole 11 – 178 yards – Par 3

The penultimate one-shotter and the last until the eighteenth hole, the eleventh is a gorgeous par-3 playing out over a large wasteland to a green benched into the side of a hill.

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The large putting surface is heavily sloped, and the high mound to the left of the green again provides for redan-like characteristics and the availability of an indirect route.

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Today’s pin, which sits at the base of the elevated left side of the green, is one of the most player-friendly, but . . .

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. . . pins on the back left side of the green are difficult in the extreme.

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This is neither the hardest green to hit nor the easiest green to putt, but one thing is certain . . .

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. . . this is a beautiful golf hole.

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Hole 12 – 424 yards – Par 4

The tee shot here is over a long stone wall to a fairway angled from left to right away from the tee.

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The fairway itself is one of the most undulating on the entire course, and level lies are seldom found here.

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Bunkers guard the left side of the fairway, and a principal’s nose feature sits some 50 yards short of the green in the middle of the fairway.

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Beyond these hazards, the fairway dips into a wide gully before rising steeply to meet the green.

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The resulting false front can repel even marginally indifferent shots well back into the fairway.

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After negotiating these many difficulties, the golfer is rewarded with one of the most difficult putting surfaces on the course.  Putting from the rear of this green to a front pin can easily result in one facing a 30 yard chip on the following shot.

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A very difficult hole, and the first in a string of three.

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Hole 13 – 415 yards – Par 4

Playing over a framing bunker to a wide fairway, the ideal tee shot here is to the left of the fairway so as to provide room to clear the dogleg.

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Cut shots will often have to contend with the trees down the right side, but the green is sloped from left to right to aid such shots.

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In a vision of dark comedy, Hanse turned this old ruin located on the inside corner of the dogleg into a bunker.  While few find this diabolical hazard, even fewer of those who do escape.

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A welcome sight – yet another green open across its full width to the fairway.

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As this view from the left side of the green shows, the thirteenth is no pushover when it comes to putting.  A hard left to right slant and internal undulations provide a stiff test.

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In return for providing a green open to the fairway, the thirteenth severely punishes the overly aggressive golfer who ends up long.  As is the case with so many holes at BGC, the thirteenth strikes an ideal balance in strategic concerns.

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Hole 14 – 418 yards – Par 4

The last in a difficult three hole stretch, the fourteenth plays gently downhill and slightly to the right along the eastern edge of the property.

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This alternate tee to the left of the primary teeing ground provides the members with a different look at this hole.

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Once more, the ideal line off this tee is to the left side of the fairway, avoiding the bunkering . . .

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. . . and providing a straight-on approach to this green, which slopes away from the player.

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Again, the green is hospitable to a ground attack which, given the slope of the green, is often preferable here.

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An excellent two-shot hole.

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Hole 15 – 545 yards – Par 5

The longest hole on the course and the first par-5 since the opening hole, the fifteenth is also one of the more dramatic holes at BGC.  From the tee, the it plays out to a largely blind fairway that bends slightly right.

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The second shot must carry Hanse’s rendition of a Hell’s Half Acre bunker complex, which divides the fairway.

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Once clear of the cross hazard, the player confronts a gorgeously sloped fairway that pares down to a mere ribbon of short grass that bends left and dives down to the green.

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The beauty of the landscaping done on this hole cannot be overstated.

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Arriving at the green, the golfer confronts a putting surface that slopes up from front to back and which is riddled with small mounds and internal slopes.  The intricate green is a fitting culmination to this wonderful three-shotter.

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One of my favorite par-5s in New England.

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Hole 16 – 340 yards – Par 4

The final par-4 at BGC, and one of the shortest, the sixteenth doglegs left through a fairway punched full of rough bunkers, including a proper principal’s nose.

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The elevated green is fronted by several bunkers, including one of the largest and deepest on the course.

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Hazards surround the putting surface, and a raised ridge running around the green from the front right to back left provides a half-punchbowl effect, and makes reading this green difficult.

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Though a short par-4, the sixteenth is by no means without its teeth.

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Hole 17 – 538 yards – Par 5

The final full tee shot at BGC plays out to a wide, mounded fairway with a large, rocky mound down the center line.

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Once this initial hill is crested, the remainder of this downhill par-5 is revealed.

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One of the more straightforward holes at BGC, the sixteenth is a rather simple proposition – keep the ball in the middle of the fairway and avoid the many hazards dotting its edges.

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Yet again, this green will accommodate a shot played along the ground.  The putting surface is cut by a valley that bisects nearly the entire green and provides for some interesting and challenging pin locations.

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As this view back up the seventeenth shows, the fairways at BGC are some of the wildest this side of Eastward Ho!

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The view from the seventeenth green across the 14th fairway is one of the best on the course.

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Hole 18 – 180 yards – Par 3

Often, courses that finish with a par-3 are referred to as “controversial.”  But if a one-shot hole best fits the land and the location, as it does here, an architect does the course a disservice if he forces a hole that doesn’t fit.  The final hole at BGC plays uphill to a green located in the shadow of the clubhouse.  It is a difficult par-3 and a fitting test to conclude a medal round or a match.

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The green is fronted by a stone wall and deep bunkers – short is not an optimal miss here.

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As evidenced by today’s pin location . . .

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. . . and the mounding within the green, the final hole is no pushover, and provides a fitting finish to this brilliant golf course.

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Few courses that I played exceeded my expectations more than Boston Golf Club, and I had high expectations going in.  What I found here was an expertly designed golf course that was extraordinarily interesting in its strategic demands and, most importantly, extremely enjoyable to play.  Every hole, and every shot, at BCG offered a strategic challenge that required an evaluation of the various options available and the risks and potential rewards of each possible play.  As soon as I finished my round, I wanted to head right back out for another loop – only darkness prevented me from doing so.

Boston Golf Club has my highest recommendation and is a must see for any devout golfer in the Boston area.  Simply put, it is one of the finest modern golf courses that I have yet to play.

I hope you enjoyed the tour.

– Jon Cavalier / @linksgems


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Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Jon Cavalier’s Top 10 New Courses in 2015

The end of the year is a time for reflection on days past, anticipation of days to come, and most of all, a time for … LISTS!  Top 10 lists seem to be everywhere this week, and far be it for me to resist this trend. So, in that vein, here are the Top 10 Courses that I played for the first time in 2015 (along with some honorable mentions).

2015 was a great year for me in golf.  I was most fortunate in that I was able to play a lot of rounds in quite a few different areas of the U.S.  I was able to play and photograph several courses that I had been eager to visit for quite some time.  I started Twitter (@linksgems) and Instagram (@linksgems) accounts as a means of sharing some of these photos, and the response has been wonderful.  Best of all, I was able to play golf or talk golf with many different people over this past year, who I know I will call dear friends for years to come (including the creator of this very blog – thanks Jason).

But since this is a golf architecture blog, and you’re undoubtedly here for some golfporn, without further ado I present the Top 10 courses I played for the first time in 2015.


HONOURABLE MENTIONS

These are courses that deserve special mention, as they are all fantastic places to enjoy a round of golf, and in any normal year, would certainly have made my Top 10.  In no particular order:

Hollywood Golf Club (Deal, NJ)

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This Walter Travis-designed, Tom Doak-restored gem has a brilliant routing, gorgeous bunkering, wildly rolling greens and a top-notch staff that keeps the course in perfect condition.  What more can you ask for?

Ekwanok Country Club (Manchester, VT)

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Another Walter Travis masterpiece, Ekwanok is nestled in the Green Mountains and is one of the most scenic courses in New England, particularly in fall.  The par-5 7th hole is one of the best in the US.  Francis Ouimet won the US Amateur here in 1914.

Old Elm Club (Highland Park, IL)

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The under-the-radar, men only club (one of four in the Chicago area) is golf at its purest – having recently undergone a comprehensive restoration led by Drew Rogers, David Zinkand and Superintendent Curtis James, Old Elm is one of Chicago’s best.

Chambers Bay (University Place, WA)

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Embattled host of the 2015 U.S. Open, Chambers Bay was lambasted for its seemingly bumpy greens and other issues.  But for normal, everyday play, Chambers Bay provides a fabulous experience, including firm, links-like conditions and incredible views that go forever.

Newport Country Club (Newport, RI)

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One of the very few remaining true links experiences available in the U.S., the journey at Newport begins and ends with its magnificent clubhouse. The 18 holes one traverses in between aren’t too shabby either.

Old Sandwich Golf Club (Plymouth, MA)

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One of several things I share in common with Jason – I have never played a course by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw that I didn’t love.  Old Sandwich is no exception, and is one of Boston’s best offerings.

Old Macdonald (Bandon, OR)

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At most resorts, Old Mac would be the flagship course.  At Bandon, it’s one of four outstanding courses.  Ask 10 people to list their order of preference for the Bandon courses, and you’ll get 10 different lists.  You’ll also get 10 people who love Bandon Dunes.

Kingsley Club (Kingsley, MI)

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Kingsley Club, designed by Mike DeVries, gives life to its motto, “In the spirit of the game…”, by providing golfers with firm and fast playing conditions on true fescue fairways, greens that will boggle the mind of the best lag putter, and a gorgeous, secluded setting.


TOP 10 for 2015

Number 10 – Boston Golf Club (Hingham, MA)

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No course I played in 2015 exceeded my expectations by as much as Boston Golf Club did.  Going in, I expected to see a very good Gil Hanse-designed golf course.  What I found was an absolute masterpiece of modern golf design.

Playing through wooded terrain and rolling, often dramatic elevation changes, the course presents 18 different strategically challenging golf holes that present the golfer with options to be weighed and obstacles to be overcome or avoided.  Seemingly every shot requires the player to choose between a risky, high-reward play and a safer route that might take par out of play.  The par-4 5th hole is a clinic in how to build a challenging and fun short two-shot hole, and the par-3s are universally excellent.  A wonderful course.

Number 9 – Yeamans Hall Club (Hanahan, SC)

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Everything I love about golf, Yeamans Hall has in abundance. This Seth Raynor design is another extremely successful restoration projects by the Renaissance Golf team, and the care and talent that were brought to bear on Yeamans’s greens and bunkering is evident throughout the course.

Set on nearly a thousand acres of gorgeous lowcountry, the course has ample room to meander through hills and forests, down to the water’s edge and back.  Each hole culminates at a massive green complex, most of which contain deep bunkering and substantial undulations within the putting surface.  But best of all, the course is a true throwback, and all the cliches about “stepping back in time” upon passing through the magnificent gates are entirely true.

Number 8 – Shoreacres (Lake Bluff, IL)

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Another brilliant Raynor design, another excellent restoration led by Superintendent Brian Palmer with Tom Doak consulting, Shoreacres is arguably the best course in the Chicago area, and certainly one of Raynor’s finest.

One of Raynor’s earliest solo designs, Shoreacres contains some of his best MacRaynor templates, including the Road Hole 10th, which is one of the most difficult pars in the Midwest.  But the Raynor originals, like the 11th, which requires a carry over a deep ravine from the tee and another into the green, and the par-5 15th, which plays over some of the most interesting and unique terrain on the property.  Lovely in all respects.

Number 7 – Friars Head (Riverhead, NY)

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One of the best modern golf courses that I’ve ever played, Friar’s Head is unique in that the course begins in massive sand dunes (Hole 1), proceeds immediately to open farmland (Holes 2-8), returns to the dunes at the turn (Holes 9-10), takes one last turn through open terrain (Holes 11-14) and finishes with a dramatic run back through the dunes (Holes 15-18).

The ability of Coore & Crenshaw to route a golf course hasn’t been in doubt since they built Sand Hills, but Friar’s Head is perhaps the prototypical example of how to route a course over two starkly different kinds of ground. The transition holes (2, 8, 11 and 14) are some of the best on the course, and the finishing stretch from 14-18 is as good as any in the U.S.

Number 6 – Pacific Dunes (Bandon, OR)

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Tom Doak’s American masterpiece, Pacific Dunes is an incredible experience from start to finish. From the very first hole, with its large sand blowout to the left of the fairway and the hint of an ocean in the background, the golfer knows something special awaits. Fortunately, the wait is not long, as the course gallops straight for the ocean cliffs, which come into view on the otherworldly par-5 3rd hole and become part of the course on the signature-worthy par-4 4th hole.

The number of top notch holes at Pacific Dunes is too great to recount them all here, but the back-to-back par-3s at 10 and 11 and the par-4 13th are truly spectacular.

Number 5 – The Country Club at Brookline (Brookline, MA)

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That The Country Club is the third course from the Boston area to appear on this list speaks to the quality of golf in Beantown.  Admittedly, I am a sucker for the Francis Ouimet story, and the experience of playing the course on which he beat Harry Vardon and Ted Ray to win the 1913 U.S. Open was enthralling. The par-4 3rd hole, a stiff two-shot hole playing down, around and between rocky outcroppings, and the par-5 11th hole (pictured), are among the best in the US.

Number 4 – Crystal Downs Country Club (Frankfort, MI)

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Somehow, I had never played a course designed by Dr. Alister MacKenzie before playing Crystal Downs.  Quite the introduction!  The course begins from an elevated tee overlooking most of the open front nine, before proceeding to the more isolated out-and-back routing of the final nine.

Crystal Downs might have the most treacherous greens in the country, and “degreening” after one’s first putt is quite common.  In fact, the par-3 11th green is so steeply sloped from back to front that hitting an approach past the pin is essentially dead. On the 17th hole, it is possible to hit a reasonably good putt from the back of the green to a front pin and end up 50 yards or more back down the fairway.

While the greens are the focus at Crystal Downs, every hole on the golf course has considerable merit.  On the front nine, the three par-4s at the 5th (with landforms that must be seen to be believed), 6th (with “scabs” bunkering guarding the inside of the fairway) and 7th (with an amazing “boomerang” shaped green) are each world class.  Not to be outdone the par-5 8th hole, with a fairway like an angry sea, is easily one of the best in the US.

Number 3 – Chicago Golf Club (Wheaton, IL)

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Originally designed by Charles Blair Macdonald in 1894 and redesigned by Seth Raynor in 1923, Chicago Golf Club is one of the oldest and most historic courses in the US.  Raynor was unrestrained in his implementation of the Macdonald templates, and as a result, Chicago has some of the biggest, baddest and boldest templates that either man ever built.

Combined with the extraordinarily firm and fast conditions, the difficult greens and the deep and ubiquitous bunkering (including at the rear of most greens), Chicago provides a serious test, but the lack of water hazards, deep rough and dense trees makes the course reasonably playable for all golfers.  Chicago is truly a course that harkens back to the golden era of golf course design, and golf is richer for its existence and preservation.

Number 2 – Shinnecock Hills Golf Club (Southampton, NY)

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There’s not much I can say about Shinnecock that hasn’t already been said by those who can say it far better than I can.  Suffice it to say that it’s a near perfect, breathtakingly beautiful “championship” golf course that is kept in such immaculate condition by Jon Jennings and his staff allowing that it could host the U.S. Open for 200 days a year.

It’s among the best handful of golf courses in the world, and one I would happily play every day for the rest of my life.  In every other year, it would be number one on this list.  But not this year.

Number 1 – National Golf Links of America (Southampton, NY)

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Those of you who know me or follow me on Twitter/Instagram know that I am an avid fan and ardent disciple of the work of Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor.  The pair have long been my favorite of the golden age designers, and I never pass up a chance to play a Macdonald or a Raynor course.  As a result, National Golf Links sat at the top of my wish list for some time.  When I finally got to play it this year, I went in with such anticipation that I was worried that the course would fail to live up to my impossibly high expectations.  It didn’t – it exceeded them, by a wide margin.

National Golf Links is everything I love about the game of golf and golf course architecture.  It’s an impeccably well-preserved example of one of the crowning achievements in golf course design and a virtually unaltered example of the principles and beliefs of one of the game’s most important historical figures.  It’s a course with ample fairways, almost no overly penal hazards and tame rough, allowing for a full panoply of shots that are rewarded when successful and which allow an opportunity for recovery when not.

The course has 18 holes that vary in quality between excellent and best-in-the-world, the latter category including what is perhaps the finest opening hole in golf, a short par-4 “Sahara,” a long par-4 “Alps” (my favorite par-4 in golf) and the finest Redan par-3 in the game.  And that’s just the first four holes.  Somehow, the remaining 14 holes manage to sustain this level of quality, which culminates with the uphill par-4 16th, its punchbowl green resting in the shadow of the Club’s iconic windmill, the downhill par-4 17th, dubbed Peconic for its picturesque views of Peconic Bay, and the par-5 18th, a roller coaster of a three-shot hole playing hard against bluffs bordering the bay and which some consider the best closing hole in the world.

From the moment one passes through the Macdonald gates, a day at National Golf Links is an experience any golfer would cherish for a lifetime.


And there you have it – the 10 best courses I played for the first time in 2015 (plus honorable mentions).  Note that if you disagree with anything above or think I’m nuts (National over Shinnecock?), let me know in the comments and we’ll have a discussion.  After all, what’s the point of these lists if not to stir debate.

Lastly, to those of you I had the great fortune of meeting or playing with over the past year, you have my deepest appreciation for sharing your time with me, and I am honored to count you among my friends (you know who you are).  Sincere thanks to Jason Way, not only for hosting this list on his blog, but for being so generous with his knowledge and for introducing me to some great golf courses in his neck of the woods.  Thanks to all of you for reading, and here’s to a 2016 filled with good golf on great courses with the best of friends, old and new.

Jon Cavalier
Philadelphia, PA


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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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2015 Geeked on Golf Tour

What a year.

I took the madness to another level this year, playing 49 different golf courses in 11 different states.  34 of those golf courses were first time plays.  As an indication of the quality of the 2015 golf adventure, I would make a point and an effort to go back to 33 of the courses.

Effort was a key word in this year’s golf tour, and by the end of the season, I was feeling the effect of the miles, the hours, and the lost sleep.  Reflecting on the experience prompted starting a thread on GolfClubAtlas.com re: running around vs. staying home.  I must admit, with a little more time off the road, I can feel the itch already.  Dreams and plans are percolating for 2016, but first a few highlights from this season.


Four courses entered my list of Top 10 favorites, which is getting increasingly tough to crack.

Essex County Club

Courses that meet the “one course for the rest of my life” criteria are always my favorites, and Essex now leads that pack for me.  The property on which the course sits is singular, and Donald Ross’s routing around it is magnificent.  Ross lived on the course for years, and it clearly received his loving attention.  Cool features and details abound – it is brilliant in its subtlety.  Consulting work by Tom Doak and the care of Superintendent Eric Richardson have uncovered the beauty and challenge of Essex County.  It is as close to perfect as any course I have ever played.

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The Links at Lawsonia

The drive on the first hole at Lawsonia is blind.  As I crested the first hill to see the massive fairway bunkers, and even bigger green built into the hillside, my mind exploded.  That explosion continued hole after hole all morning.  The boldness and scale of the architecture that Langford & Moreau achieved in central Wisconsin is like nothing I have ever seen.  They just don’t build ’em like that anymore.

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Photo by Dan Moore (DanMooreGolf.com)

Boston Golf Club

On a buddies trip that included The Country Club, Essex County, and Old Sandwich, my expectations for Boston Golf Club were not that high – relatively speaking.  BGC simply blew me away.  It was like a work of art that Gil Hanse painted onto the rolling terrain with one stunning view after another.  The course was also packed full with variety and shots that were alternately fun and tough to play.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier (on Instagram at @linksgems)

Shoreacres

Toward the end of the season, I knocked out quite a few rounds in Chicagoland on our wonderful courses.  The season culminated with a post-renovation return trip to Shoreacres.  Seth Raynor’s special golf course has been upgraded to world-class status through the efforts of Superintendent Brian Palmer, with consultation by Tom Doak and Renaissance Golf.  For me now, there is a three-horse race for best course in Chicago among Old Elm, Chicago GC, and Shoreacres.  They are all that good.

 

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Photo by Jon Cavalier (on Twitter @linksgems)


In addition to these new Faves, I also knocked 3 more U.S. Open venues off of my bucket list – The Country Club at Brookline, Chicago Golf Club and North Shore Country Club.


For the first time in my life, I played dirt golf on an unfinished golf course.  Not only did I get to play dirt golf, but I did it twice under special circumstances on courses that are sure to be beyond special.

This summer, I was fortunate enough to have a tour of The Loop at Forest Dunes with Tom Doak, during which we played several holes in both directions.  I thought that the reversible course was a cool concept, but until I saw it and heard Tom’s commentary, I didn’t understand just how amazing it is going to be.  Cannot wait for the opening.

In the fall, my buddy Chuck let me tag along on his visit to Sand Valley where we spent the day touring the course with Michael and Chris Keiser, and playing some of the holes that were in the grow-in stage.  This was the first Coore & Crenshaw course which I thought might challenge Friar’s Head for top Fave spot for me.  Here is a link to my recap of the visit with photos of the course.


Through all of these amazing experiences on fantastic courses, this year I got a much deeper understanding of what makes this game so great.  Time spent with good people, outside, taking on the challenge of a collaboration between an architect and Mother Nature.

I made new friends at my club, in my community, and across the country.  In my experience, golf geekery brings together the best people, and brings out the best in them.

Without further ado, the rest of the 2015 tour.  Here’s to a great 2016!

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