Embarking on the crazy adventure of playing all of the best golf courses in America, one's bound to see some unique and crazy things. However, it's hard to imagine a place more unique than Myopia Hunt Club. In most clubs I've visited, the golf course is the highlight of the club and what draws the majority of the members to join. In the case of Myopia, golf might not even be third in order of priorities for its exclusive and well-heeled members.
The Myopia Hunt Club traces its origins all the way back to 1870 in Winchester, Massachusetts, a town about eight miles from downtown Boston. The founders of the original club were four brothers of the Prince family and their teammates from Harvard's baseball team. This Myopia Club, as they initially called it, was founded to enjoy all forms of competition, including baseball, water sports, tennis, and equestrian activities. The group embraced Myopia as its moniker, because the original baseball team was comprised of five players who wore glasses to correct their nearsightedness, or Myopia as optometrists might call it. As the club progressed, fox hunting was added to the mix, and in 1881, the club determined that the Winchester property wasn't functional for the hunts. This created a splinter in the club. Some members wants to move closer to Boston, and hence The Country Club was born. However, the members who enjoyed the hunts knew that Brookline wouldn't work, so they moved them about 20 miles to the Northeast toward the club's current location in South Hamilton. Subsequent to the move, the members raised money to build a clubhouse, kennels, and eventually purchased nearly 150 acres in land at Gibney Farm. The first polo match was played here in 1887, which marked one of the earliest polo fields in America, where matches are still played every Sunday from May until October. Myopia was one of the seven charter members of the Polo Association, which would become the United States Polo Association, and one of only two founders who still exist.
It wasn't until 1894 that a golf course was built. The course was built by Herbert C. Leeds, an amateur to course design. He would work at the club for 30 years continually tweaking it into the masterpiece that still stands today. Leeds, somewhat of a masochist it seems, would continually move and add bunkers into landing areas where players would consistently hit the ball, trying to make the course as challenging a test as possible. It's refreshing that he never looked to add substantial distance to the course. At only 6,555 yards from the back tees, Myopia doesn't need to be long to be hard. The course was so good and tough (coupled by the fact that there weren't many of them at the time) and the USGA chose the Myopia Hunt Club to host four of its first 14 US Opens (1898, 1901, 1905, and 1908). In the 1901 US Open, no player broke 80 in any round. That tournament's winning score of 331 still stands as the highest US Open winning score to this day...a record that will never be broken.
Having played a few of the county's stodgiest and most exclusive clubs, I'm familiar with the typical protocol upon arrival. Oftentimes, that includes a bag drop, sometimes valeting your car, and almost always taking your shoes into the locker room to change, where you're given a guest locker for the day. Upon arrival at Myopia, on a Sunday morning no less, we expected someone to greet us and give us some direction for our first visit to the club. When we arrived, this is what we saw:
#16, "Paddock," Par 3, 192 Yards
The only one-shotter on the side is no easy hole. The shot goes downhill, which makes distance calculations a bit of a guess. The view with the clubhouse in the background is very cool--just screaming New England.
Even on the other side of the clubhouse, where the bar is staffed, the member still signs a chit tallying the damage--there is no bartender going to a computer terminal to punch in your order...what's your member number again? Nope, not at Myopia. In short, this is yet another example of why Myopia is unlike anything else I'd seen. The club has such a sleepy and casual feel and it would be a grand place to be a member and spend your time. Heck, as a golfer, it would be incredible to show up on weekends and have the course nearly to yourself. Myopia is a truly special place in the game of golf that needs to be experienced by everyone. Unfortunately, since they don't take raters or generally other unaccompanied play, it's a tough nut to crack. With that said, I understand there are occasionally charity or corporate outings in the fall, so if you can get on those lists, by all means do it. Thanks so much to the member who make this awesome round happen. It was a blast!
So, after we got our shoes on, we needed to meet up with our host. However, we had no idea where he was?!? Outside of the locker room is a putting green, so we decided to hang out there for a few minutes to see if he arrived. After rolling some putts, I checked my pocket to see that he texted me "I'm up on the range".....ok, but where the heck is that??? After poking around a little, we realized that the pro shop is in a separate building located up the hill from the clubhouse. The range is behind there. So, we headed up that way to loosen up a little. From there, we'd head back to the pro shop to meet our caddies and chat a bit with the assistant pro on staff that morning. He couldn't have been more talkative and welcoming, giving us all kinds of little tidbits about the club. He explained the sleepy nature of the club, and they get only around 12,000 rounds per year, which is admittedly overstated, since he said they count rounds where they take juniors out for a hole or two. Lots of members at Myopia don't even play golf...what a tragedy! It was clear that he was so willing to chat because we might be a few of the only people he'd see all day!
Once we were ready to go, he walked a short way back down the hill to the first tee. As I mentioned before, Myopia Hunt Club is not a long course. There are only three sets of tees--Yellow, White, and Red, with Red being all the way back. The Red tees measure 6,555 yards with a rating and slope of 72.7 and 138 and a par of 72. Playing a box in front of that would have been 6,190 yards, so we decided to take on the tips. I'll quote those below:
#14, "Ridge," Par 4, 393 Yards
This par four is another hole where the fairway continues to tighten as you get further away from the tee. As per usual, there are penal bunkers on either side that will catch a stray tee ball. Keeping it long and straight is the best way to attack the 14th--easier said than done.
The kennels and the dogs (behind the geese!)
#13, "Hill," Par 4, 358 Yards
The 13th is almost a full 100 yards shorter than the 12th, but it doesn't necessarily play that short. Driver is not a good idea off of the tee, as you really only want to hit a shot that gets you in a good position for your approach. All the mounds and bunkers on the right are not a good place to be. The walking path in the distance is the ideal line. The approach goes to the left and up a big hill (the one you hit down on the second--what goes down, must go back up!). It's a steep climb up that hill, so take a moment to catch your breath before your chips and putts around the green.
#6, "Brook," Par 4, 255 Yards
On the third hole, 252 yards added up to a par three. On this one, just three yards more makes it a par four! You can hit almost any club in your bag off the tee. Avoiding the bog on the right and creek that crosses the fairway is critical. Driver is not necessary a smart play as the green is extremely crowned a small. Frankly, there is no club in your bag that makes the approach into this tiny target an easy one. This green is a perfect example of how you can defend a short and otherwise pretty easy hole.
#8, "Prairie," Par 5, 473 Yards
When it comes to hazards, the eighth hole is quite tame. Only one bunker lays on the left side of the landing area, and no bunkers are around the green. However, tall grass still flanks the hole on either side and will punish a wayward shot. Keep it straight and you can make a good number on this one.
We took out clubs out of the trunk and headed up to the beautiful classic wooden clubhouse, not to be bothered by a soul. It truly felt like we were about to play our own private club. Taking our first steps onto the creaky wooden floorboards of the patio was like stepping back in time. These boards have been walked on by the likes of Bobby Jones and President William Howard Taft, among others (more on that later), and we weren't sure we were really worthy of being on them--however, there was nobody there to ask us "gentlemen, do you belong here?" So, we poked around looking for the locker room, figuring that we should introduce ourselves as visitors. We poked our heads into the building on the left and looked for an attendant to point us in the right direction. The first gentleman we saw was secluded behind a door half-open. I introduced myself as a guest, at which point he gave me a puzzled look and said "yeah sure, take whatever locker you feel comfortable at." So, we did!
After our round, we took a bit of a walking tour of the clubhouse, and had a quick drink. Everything at Myopia is about honor, and the clubhouse was no exception. For one, there is a bar area that is completely un-staffed. Walk up behind the bar, pour your own drink, and sign a chit to acknowledge what you had. It's an incredibly cozy room, with a really cool feel to it.
#12, "Valley," Par 4, 451 Yards
I felt like I hit every club in my bag at Myopia, which is a testament to the variety of the course. For a course that doesn't even break 6,600 yards from the tips, you'd think it might be a lot of short irons, but the mix of long and short holes really makes it not play that way. This hole is a good example. The drive goes down into a valley, but it's a really long hole that requires two great shots to get home in two.
#15, "Long," Par 5, 539 Yards
The back nine has only one par five and one par three, and they come back-to-back in the 15th and 16th holes. In fact, an interesting design quirk has all of the course's three par fives being immediately followed by its three par threes. The bunkers on the right side of the hole need to be avoided, and the O.B. on the left too. One coffin-style bunker awaits on the right side off the tee, and another two-bunker complex on the right side in the layup zone. Two bunkers guard the front of the green and will catch another shot trying to get home in two that comes in on the ground. It's all carry to get on the surface with a putt for eagle.
#18, "Home," Par 4, 394 Yards
The finishing hole at Myopia is a good one, and a par here is a good score, especially since it may be in front of a crowd. The patio behind the green is a popular place for lunch, and it's a bit terrifying how close it is to the back of the green. It had a flier lie into the green and after hitting the ball was pretty sure it was going to be long--my only thought was "please don't end up in that lady's soup." Luckily, it didn't quite make it to the patio.
#4, "Miles River," Par 4, 385 Yards
From the tee, this hole looks relatively tame. The fairway bends to the left (the fairway and green on the right is the 7th hole). Get the ball out there onto the fairway, ideally with a draw, and you have a good shot into the green. However, that's just where the fun begins. The green on this hole, while good-sized, is really nasty, with HARD slopes from back to front and right to left. End up on the wrong side of the hole and a big number is very possible. Whatever you do, don't be above the hole!
#10, "Alps," Par 4, 404 Yards
Making your way to the inward nine, you first face another blind tee shot. The longer your tee ball, the narrower the landing area gets, with a fairway bunker on the right side. On your approach into the green, you need to carry the Taft bunker, given that name because of its connection with President William Howard Taft. The story goes that the bunker was so deep that Taft literally couldn't get out of it. He need to have a rope tied around his waste and get pulled out of the bunker...stories conflict on whether he was pulled out by a caddie or a horse. Regardless, a noteworthy bunker! Today, there are stairs on the face of the bunker to prevent such an incident.
#11, "Road," Par 4, 349 Yards
I really enjoyed the 11th hole. The tee ball goes out to a fairway that slants from left to right, so a draw would be the ideal shape. From there, there is a super cool cross bunker that crosses the fairway diagonally en route to a green that lays on the other side. While many modern bunkers are artistically shaped, this one is simply a crude slit cut into the land, where you can imagine men with shovels digging it out. Such a cool feature.
The locker room was an awesome part of the experience, with an open door and New England breezes blowing through. The walls were filled with wonderful artifacts, photographs, and maps of the course. It was hard to leave!
#7, "Myopia," Par 4, 401 Yards
Similar to the drive on the first tee, you're going uphill to a blind target. However, where the first hole left you with an easy pitch into the green, this one leaves you with potentially another blind shot into a green that lays down a hill. Shots on the left side of the fairway have a change to be able to see the green. Bunkers straddle the hole on both sides--pretty common at Myopia.
#9, "Pond," Par 3, 138 Yards
The culture at Myopia is not one where you get a six pack of beers in a bag of ice and head out onto the course. In fact, there isn't even a half-way house or any method of getting a drink on the course. This place is all about class. Your chance for refreshments comes at the ninth tee, where coolers of iced tea and lemonade await, along with fresh apples and pears. It's a tasty and healthy way to kick-start the last ten holes. After your snack, you face one of the best par threes around. It's a short shot, but the target is extremely small and protected in all direction by bunkers and mounds that make recovery difficult.
#17, "West," Par 4, 394 Yards
There are a lot of fun and quirky holes at Myopia Hunt Club--the 17th isn't really one of them. The driving range is on the left side with a rock wall acting as a divider. Beyond the rock wall, I didn't find much to be terribly interesting about this hole. I thought it was kind of straight and bland
#3, "Brae," Par 3, 252 Yards
After playing Myopia's first two holes, it would be only natural to feel like "this place is easy." Only 6,500 yards from the tips, and I just faced two possible birdie holes in a row...what's the big deal? Well, at the third hole, Myopia begins to fight back. At 252 yards, expect to grab a club with a head cover to get into this par three. There is ample room to spray a tee ball a little, so the hole is plenty fair, but given it's length, it's also plenty tough. To the left of the hole are the kennels that house the club's fox hounds. Barking, woofing, and howling are unusual distractions on a par three, but in this case, they add to the quirky experience.
The Golf Bucket List
Adding to the understated elegance of Myopia, is an amazing golf artifact that you wouldn't even know was there unless you knew to look for it or happened to just stumble across it. In the photo above, look at the small glass case immediately above the lamp on the left side. That's the golf ball that Bobby Jones used to complete the Grand Slam. This just amazed me, as why would the ball be at Myopia, not to mention in such a nondescript location? Since Jones won that US Amateur title at Merion, shouldn't it be there, or at East Lake with the rest of his memorabilia, or at Augusta National? Jones played Myopia a lot when he was in Law School at Harvard, and apparently, he thought it was a proper place to donate the item.
#1, "First," Par 4, 276 Yards
The opening drive at Myopia is blind and puzzling. At only 276 yards, you can hit almost any club from the tee. I hit driver because I'm not that long of a hitter and I'm more confident with a driver than an iron or fairway wood. I didn't hit a great one, but it was on a good line (down the right side) and only had about 60 yards into the green. I was told to hit it short and to the right, from which it would funnel toward the back of the green where the pin was. Good advice, as missing to the left would have been serious trouble. I followed instructions well and ended up with only like 10 feet for birdie. I'd walk off with a par. The first two of MANY putts I'd take this day.
#5, "Lone Tree," Par 4, 417 Yards
Not necessarily the most interesting hole on the side, but by handicap strokes, it's the most difficult. Length is the primary challenge, requiring two long and straight shots to take advantage. A small creek crosses the hole between the first and second shots, but shouldn't come into play, but for a topped shot or recovery shot after a bad drive.
My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
#2, "Lookout," Par 5, 488 Yards
After the soft opener, on somewhat uninspiring ground, the land opens up with a gorgeous view as you take a left-hand turn and head down the hill. The second hole is a short par five that plays straight ahead. The best look into the hole will be from the left side of the fairway. If you put your drive in play, you will face a potentially blind shot into the green to possibly get home in two. Standing in the way of that pursuit are two hummocks, connected by a bunker, that need to be carried. Make it past them and you have a good change to get another good score, and continue a good start.
Looking back up the hill from behind the green.