My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
I really enjoyed my day at Boston Golf Club. After the round, it was back to the locker room to clean up, and then to the patio overlooking the 18th to enjoy a couple Dark and Stormies. My only comment on the course was that I might consider reversing the nines. When I mentioned that to my caddy, he nodded and said he heard that a lot. I'm ok with a par 3 as a finishing hole, but I thought #8 and #9 were stronger finishing holes than #17 and #18. I also though #10 was a better opening hole than #1, and that #5 would be fun on the back nine. However, I'm clearly splitting hairs with that criticism. The course is plenty fine just how it is, and they found 18 great holes in the woods here. It amazes me how someone could "see" a golf course like this when faced with 100's of acres of nothing but dense forest. You have to be really skilled with a topographical map to see what Gil Hanse was able to see here and uncover such a great routing. Thanks so much for my host and to my friend who put together this great opportunity!
#17, "American Chestnut," Par 5, 500 Yards
A reachable par 5 that can add some drama to your round. The tee shot is straight forward. If you have any hope of getting home in two you must clear the ridge to a blind landing area guarded by bunkers. On the left side of the fairway, we have taken care to preserve one of nature’s finest and rarest trees, an American Chestnut tree.
Keeping it left of the mound is the line off of the tee.
Looking back toward the tee. I thought the small tree on the left of the picture below was odd. I wondered why it was there?
#18, "Stonewall," Par 3, 165 Yards
Our last hole eliminates any question as to the validity of finishing with a par 3. This strong uphill layout is as dramatic to look at as it is to play. The green has plenty of undulations, and pin locations that will dramatically alter the shot to be played.
There aren't many courses that finish with par 3's. East Lake and The Old White TPC at Greenbrier come to mind. It's a large green on this one, so pin placement is important to get the right yardage and get it in the right section of the green. The clubhouse overlooks the green here and makes for an interesting finishing hole.
#14, "Big Sky," Par 4, 390 Yards
This downhill tee shot offers a view of four of the back nine holes. The setup of the green will reward play from the right side of the hole. The dogleg features an amalgamation of pits and trenches to challenge the player cutting the corner.
Probably the narrowest target of a green, because it is rather small, with no real collection areas around it like on many other holes. A run-up is very possible if needed.
#13, "Knuckle Bucket," Par 4, 407 Yards
Another natural hole, that looks big and plays big. The hole doglegs to the right with the corner being guarded by two bunkers and some large white pines. The subtle guard to this hole is that the ground from the center of the fairway falls to the left. A unique bunker behind the green captures shots played too aggressively.
#12, "Gate," Par 4, 398 Yards
Players using the back tee will hit a blind shot through the “gate” in the stone wall. The gently rolling fairway leads up to the green, which is guarded primarily by a “valley of sin” in front of the green which will gather any shots played below the green.
A saddle-shaped green here is very difficult to navigate.
#11, "Petrified," Par 3, 178 yards
A beautifully framed picturesque golf hole with a forced carry over a spectacular wetland. The green sits in a natural bowl with the surrounding land sloping in from the back and left sides. Although the carry is only 130 yards, many players will be intimidated by the consequences of a poor shot.
The name of this hole comes from the extremely unique looking tree behind the green. If you can get the trouble out of your mind, you can make a good score here.
View from the green back to the fairway.
#10, "Mae’s," Par 4, 390 Yards
This hole will require some thought off the tee as to distance control—most of the fairway ends about 290 yards from the back tee. A small sliver of fairway to the left will allow golfers to try and thread the needle if they choose to go for broke with the driver.
I hit 3 wood off the this one, as I was told you could drive through the fairway on the left half at about 230 yards. The approach into the green is downhill with plenty of room around left and right of the green to miss.
#9, "Geronimo," Par 4, 429 yards
After leaving the most level section of the property the largest elevation change on the course appears on the 9th tee. Tee shots will appear to soar as they carry over a fairway that descends nearly 70 feet. The green is fairly large with some of the more dramatic undulations and pin locations on the course.
Keep your drive on the left side of the fairway to have the best angle into the hole and avoid the risk of being blocked out on the second shot. The right side and rear of the green has a rock wall that falls off into a hazard area. Very cool spot.
#8, "Bent Pine," Par 3, 210 Yards
This is the longest par 3 on the course which also traverses the relatively level remains of Penniman Hill. The key features on this hole are a diagonal row of chocolate drop mounds in front of the green, and the large white pine to the rear of the green. The mounds are remnants of the mining operation and serve primarily as a visual hazard off of the tee.
It looks like a tiny landing area with trouble all around from the tee. However, there is a LOT more room around the green than you can see, which makes the hole very fair with a long iron or fairway wood being the required club into the green.
View from the green back
#7, "Penniman Hill," Par 4, 423 Yards
This plateau was originally Penniman Hill. The top of the hill was sheared off by a mining operation some 80 years ago. The wide and level fairway will prove receptive to the tee shot, with length a key consideration on one of the longest par 4’s on the front side. The second shot plays to an elevated green that is set on a peninsula of land with trouble short, right, and long.
On the approach, with trouble short and right, there is plenty of room left of the green, but it's a tough up and down from there to a green that falls away from you.
#6, "Wild Turkey," Par 3, 159 Yards
Next is a downhill par 3, played over a sandy waste area to a wide green that is one club deep. Although the hole will typically play only 140 yards, varying conditions will present a different challenge every round. This may be the most picturesque hole I have ever built.
While some might play #5 like a par 3, #6 is the first time you get to face a real one-shotter. This one felt to me like a cross between #6 and #17 at Tobacco Road.
#5, "Shipwreck," Par 4, 313 Yards
This short par 4 offers a multitude of options off the tee, as the golf course transitions from woodland into a stretch of scrub pine and oak. This is without question a hole that will inspire much spirited debate. The small green is the namesake for this hole.
Best hole on the course, and for my money, it's not even close. Loved this hole. The green is over the scrubby stuff on the right, and a big hitter could probably get home from the tee. The farther right you go, the more trouble you'll face, but the deeper the green will be on your pitch. It's the narrowest green I've ever seen by far...the caddies said some people compare the width of the green to #10 at Riviera. I haven't seen that one yet, so I can't comment, but it feels like you're standing on a bowling alley. Driving to the left will yield a slightly longer pitch into the hole. It might give you a better view of the green, but a much shallower angle where distance control will be key. This is one of the best short par 4's I've played.
#4, "Wizard’s Cap," Par 4, 413 Yards
The fourth hole is actually on a large island of land surrounded by wetland although you would never guess it due to the perfectly rolling terrain and the wide corridor of play. It features a striking 200 year old stone wall near the green.
The name "Wizard's Cap" comes from the odd-shaped top of a tree behind the green that resemble's its namesake. Aiming at the Cap is usually a good line for a blind second shot.
#3, "Redan," Par 4, 420 Yards
This is another hole that benefits from the rolling ground. There is an aggressive route for the tee shot, over a large fairway bunker, or a more conservative avenue to the right. Golfers who can carry the left side fairway bunker will be rewarded with a very helpful kick toward the namesake redan ridge and a short iron to the green.
The conventional wisdom says a Redan hole is a par 3. Not in this case! Moreover, the Redan name on this hole seemingly comes more from the contour of the fairway than the green.
#2, "Mt. Rushmore," Par 4, 387 Yards
The terrain on this hole is amongst my favorite on the golf course. Playing through an undulating valley, this uphill par 4 also wanders through several rock outcroppings, a unique feature of this section of the golf course.
No greenside bunkers on this one. Just the bunkers on the left side of the fairway if you bail on that side rather than risking the rocks on the right. Rocks are omnipresent at BGC. Even though there are no bunkers around the green, this boulder left of the green was enough of a hazard when my buddy had to chip over it. It's 230 yards to the rocks on the right.
#1, "Three Creek," Par 5, 485 Yards
The merits of starting a golf course with a par 5 have been widely debated. I have always been of the belief that if the landscape accommodates a long hole a par 5 is a great way to begin a round. The rolling fairway will provide the main challenge to the tee shot as the slopes will either kill a shot or provide a helpful kick. A good kick may put the player in the “go zone”.
A pretty wide fairway here to accept your opening tee shot. This is especially helpful given the rather spartan practice range. The tallest tree in the distance is your line. As is the case with many holes at BGC, there is tall grass in between the tee boxes and the fairway to catch a topped shot. The main trouble here comes into play on the 2nd or 3rd shots, with a large swath of trouble in front of the green. Avoid it, and the deep bunkers that front the green, and you can start off strong.
While the club has only been open ten years, it's not without it's share of bumps in the road, and drama. The first major bump occurred with the tragic passing of Mr. Mineck, while doing construction work on the golf course in May of 2007 at the age of 54 (Ron Sirak wrote a great piece about Mr. Mincek). While the club struggled to figure out it's direction after the death of its owner (and chief recruiter for members), things got worse when the Great Recession hit. The club didn't own its land, and when the financial crisis hit, many members were struggling to afford the membership, and fixed costs at the club became difficult to cover. In 2011, the proverbial "stuff" hit the fan, and the future of Boston Golf Club was clearly in question. Donald Trump expressed an interest in purchasing the club, and with that threat on the horizon, a small group of members pooled their resources and acquired the club themselves in hopes of saving it (The Boston Globe did a great job telling the story of the course's struggles).
So, after all that drama, the good news is that membership was able to save a world class golf course from extinction. Today, the initiation fee is lower, but much of the original mantra of Boston Golf Club is seemingly still there. BGC was a walking-only club with no rules, new tee times, and common sense prevailing, rather than a list of bylaws. I didn't get the sense that much of that had changed. When we rolled up to the bag drop, the attendant told us "you can get set up with a locker and change in there, or feel free to trunk-slam and change your shoes in the parking lot if you prefer." You sure don't get that message in many Top 100 private clubs. The membership is also still rather small, which means the course gets less play than your typical Top 100 track. Playing in 4 hours didn't seem to be a problem at all.
The club's logo is an interesting part of its feel as well. The logo is a red-and-white vertically striped flag. Nine stripes are present--five of them red and four of them white. If you're not a history buff, this is the flag of the Sons of Liberty, the group that essentially began the American Revolution. The club goes to great lengths to explain their logo and are clearly quite proud of it. That, coupled with the script on the logo, which looks like it came right off of the Declaration of Independence make you feel like you couldn't be anywhere else but New England.
The course itself sits on either side of Cushing Street, with the front nine on the West side and the back nine on the East side. As I mentioned, the club is built to walk, and caddies are present to help you around. Very little dirt was moved to build this golf course, and it's clear in the rolling topography and movement in the fairways and greens. The club winds through a heavily treed area, though the corridors of play are fairly wide in most spots, so there is no feeling of claustrophobia. There are four sets of tees on the course, all playing to a par of 71. The Championship tees extend to 7,062 yards and play to a rating/slope of 74.8/139. The tees identified by the "Member Stake" are a combination of the Back tees (6,740 yards) and the Middle tees (6,279 yards). The Member Stake tees play to 6,462 yards, and a rating/slope of 71.0/131. They were most appropriate for our group, and I'll quote them below. We actually teed off the back nine, but I'll quote the holes below in the way they're intended to be played. In addition, the club's website does a great job explaining each hole in the words of Gil Hanse. Far be it from me to think I could do a better job explaining a hole than the architect, so I'll paste his words in italics for each hole. I'll add some comments of my own if they're useful.
Ten days after getting back from an awesome trip to Philadelphia to play Merion and Aronimink, I was back on a plane again, with golf clubs in tow. This time, the plane was pointed toward Boston's Logan Airport, and the plan was for a four-day jaunt around the greater Boston area to check out four private clubs. On this awesome weekend, set up by one of my close friends, we would play Framingham CC, Brae Burn CC, TPC Boston, and the bucket lister, Boston Golf Club. The chance to see this relatively new Gil Hanse design was clearly worth the trip.
Boston Golf Club sits about 20 miles south of downtown Boston, in the direction of Cape Cod. Even though you're so close to a major metropolitan area, you'd never know it here. The club is in the sleepy town of Hingham, and feels extremely remote. In fact, I'm sure many guests pass the club when trying to find it. That's because there is no sign, guard gate, or any other landmark to announce you're in the right place, aside from a large stone with the number 19 on it. That's it...if you don't know that the stone indicates that's where the club is, maybe that's because you probably don't need to know!
While the name makes it sound like Boston Golf Club was one of the first clubs in the area, in reality, the Club has only been open since 2004. The club was the vision of native New Englander John Mineck. Mineck, engaged Gil Hanse to build his golf course. While Hanse is an extremely well known architect currently, he was not on the "A-List" at the time he was hired to build Boston Golf Club. With that said, he was an appropriate person to build this course in a minimalist and natural style. Gil Hanse has his name on many courses in the Northeast, but only has 11 solo designs to date. With his work recently gaining a higher profile, especially after being named as the architect for the 2016 Olympic course in Rio de Janiero, it was a treat to see what Hanse could do. What he built at Boston Golf Club is fantastic, and it was clearly due in part to a flexible owner who was willing to think outside the box. At Boston, the goal was to find the 18 best golf holes. Where they sat on the site, and in what order, was not relevant. This is clear when one considers that the 1st tee is 300 yards or so from the clubhouse while the 10th tee is right next to it. Not a problem for an owner who thinks outside the box. Plus, by the clubhouse, there is nothing more than a short practice range with mats and restricted flight balls. If you want to hit full shots off grass, it's a 5-10 minute cart ride out to the larger range that allows full shots. Again, the goal wasn't to force a first tee or a range right next to the clubhouse. It was to build the best course possible, given the land, and to work the other amenities around it.
#16, "Principal’s Nose," Par 4, 340 Yards
The center of the fairway bunker “principal’s nose”, was inspired by the famous 16th hole at The Old Course. This bunker will be the key element of this short par 4 hole, protecting the green from aggressive tee shots. The green is small with a deep bunker in front.
Just a short par 4. Mr. Hanse describes it well above. A good chance to start well in a fairly scoreable last three holes. It was about 230 yards from our tees to the "nostrils."
#15, "Coyote Trail," Par 5, 517 Yards
A dramatic hole requiring a well-thought-out strategy for play. Some of the best bunkering on the course gives this hole its fantastic visual presence and inspiration for the name of the transition area over which players hit their second shot— “Hell’s Third of an Acre”.
This hole requires three pretty precise shots to avoid all the trouble that surrounds it. The green is probably the most extreme green on the course. It's extremely deep with large contours that make club selection and a two-putt both quite challenging.