The Championship Course at Blue Hill Country Club is a design from the pen of Eugene “Skip” Wogan, a somewhat obscure architect who built a handful of courses in the Boston region, including Tedesco Country Club. Earlier in his career, "Skip" went to work as an assistant professional under Donald Ross at Essex County Club.
Although Blue Hill may not host a Golf Hall of Famer’s name on its marquee, the membership has certainly acted as if it has, bringing in Ron Prichard for a full restoration at the turn of the century. The result is a very playable course that, while not long — it tips out at just under 6,700 yards — defends against birdies and eagles with conscious bunker placement.
Case-in-point is the club’s collection of par fives. Although two, including the final hole, play well under 500 yards, getting to the putting surface in two will require skillful execution because of a barrage of bunkers placed all the way down the fairway, ensuring that players of almost all distances will have some hazard to avoid on their way home. The same logic applies to a range of short par fours around the course, which would be easy pickings for PGA pros but will force the best players who visit the club to think mightily before they take the driver out of the bag.
As a testament to the club's dedication to Wogan golf, Skip's son Phil Wogan was brought in to do the club's short course, the Challenger.
There's little for me to add that Mark has already stated. Blue Hill's main issue is that the Bay State is a golf rich location. Attaining a higher status will require the club to engage in the key points Mark brought to light.
The invasive nature of the trees existing on property with a number of holes now only serves to minimize shotmaking. The routing is a good one and a number of the greens are located in a number of fine locations. But, Blue Hill's situation is not really different than what many other Northeast USA courses face. The sprouting out of trees and the pesky canopies they create only serves to inhibit a broad range of options. A thought-out plan in this regard could serve the club very well.
The bunker style at Blue Hill is nicely done but I have to wonder if something more inventive could have been done. Mark does mention the inclusion of chipping areas off the greens and I have always been a proponent of having closely mown area off greens in order to strengthen the need for quality approaches. One need not have more bunkers per se, but have them serve a meaningful purpose.
The lack of distance on the par-5 holes is also an issue. A possible solution would be to reduce the par designation on two of them -- bringing overall par down from 72 to 70. The two remaining as par-5s can be lengthened but this again requires a clear vision in tree removal so tees can be added properly.
Blue Hill is blessed with a testing start to the outward and inward nines. As Mark stated -- it's what happens after you get past the first few holes on each side. Ramping up the design does not mean adding difficulty for the sake of difficulty, however, a much more inventive design that showcases design element of interest with engaging details would add to the momentum the early holes provide.
The key final issue is how the club views such matters and if there's interest in taking the steps that are needed.
M. James Ward
Blue Hill Championship designed by Skip Wogan with updates by Ron Prichard, is an under-rated golf course. It hosted the 1956 PGA championship, won by Jack Burke, Jr., as well as the PING/Welch’s Classic on the LPGA tour from 1991-1997. The list of female winners is impressive: Juli Inkster, Dottie Pepper, Missie Berteotti, Helen Alfredsson, Beth Daniel, Emilee Klein, and Liselotte Neumann, all of the them among the top-rated golfers for their time. One has to be a good player to play Blue Hill very well as there are some very challenging holes.
In most of the states in the USA, Blue Hill would be among the top ten golf courses in that state. But in Massachusetts, a state that is “golf-rich,” it gets little recognition among dozens of excellent-very good-good golf courses. The course offers many of the same features one will find in the more highly rated courses in Massachusetts such as rolling terrain, land movement, good soil, little water and tees/green sites typically placed on the higher points. It remains a course where there are a number of holes that are tree-lined.
I believe the course gets unfairly rated due to a horrible looking clubhouse and perhaps people at one time did not like it because it did not have a driving range. The course also ran into financial difficulty for a period of nearly fifteen years before selling itself to Concert Golf Partners in late 2015. As such, there are no committees for this private club as decisions are made by the owners. There are advantages to that ownership structure and disadvantages.
There is an existing extra 9 holes called the Challenger course. To help to finance the acquisition of Blue Hill, the club changed four of the holes on the Challenger course, in three cases selling off land to get a return on their investment. The Challenger course is very tight and now only plays to just below 2700 yards with four par 3’s. The upside to the changes to the Challenger course was the first hole, previously a par 4 dogleg right, was changed to a par 3 to accommodate a driving range that is long enough for most players.
There are four negatives to the golf course. There first is there are too many trees. However, there is a slow, but steady, process to remove trees. The members hosting me lamented wanting a good ice storm to come through in the winter to hasten the process. There are nine holes in particular where more tree removal would both increase the playability of the golf course, but more importantly, open up the views of the course to showcase the original design intent of the holes. The second negative is the bunkering, most of it done by Mr. Prichard, which has too much of a similar look in shape and location. In addition, many of them are either too long or not placed in an appropriate spot at the green. I would not hold Mr. Prichard at fault for this as the game has changed since his efforts in 2003 and I do not know the timeline nor the budget he was given. The overuse of bunkers near some greens hurts playing experience. A better approach would be more interesting contouring as well as short grass chipping areas. The land near the greens offer these options with minimal investment while likely lowering the annual cost of maintenance. The course superintendent is making some of these changes, all of which will enhance the course.
The third negatives is the lack of yardage for the better players, which is noticeable on the short par 5’s.
Finally, the routing leads to inconsistency in the holes. The beginning is good, then it falls off for four holes, picks up for a hole, falls off, then has a good run of five holes only to end with four average holes. All of the “average” holes can be improved and are being addressed.
The course currently plays to 6646 yards from the Black tees, par 70 or 72, rated 73.0/130. The Gold tees are 6376 yards, rated 71.5/126. There are four sets of lesser tees. Holes 1 and 9 are played as par 5’s for women, but par 4’s for men. We played the Gold tees. I do think the course has the opportunity on a handful of holes to add yardage, although it will likely be able to get over 6800 yards without substantial tree clearing.
The first three holes are three of the most difficult on the course and the course adds a good variety of long and short holes as they work around the various hills.
1. par 4/5 – 434/430. Playing from an elevated tee down below the terrace and starter’s hut, the hole offers a wide fairway with two bunkers left and one very much in play on the right for the average hitter. Near the green there is a bunker about 35 yards short on the left and then flanking bunkers at the front. The three bunkers near the green are of similar shape and need to be re-done. The green has a decent back-to-front tilt. Overall it is a good starting hole as a par 4.
2. par 4 – 431/405. Playing back in the direction of the clubhouse this hole plays slightly longer as it is uphill. There are a bunker to either side of the airway very much in play. Longer hitters will want to avoid the trees on the left that start after the left side bunker. The green is set above you with lower ground front left. There is a bunker 20 yards short of the green on the right and then a center bunker greenside left. Missing left short of the green will leave a semi-blind shot from the rough or bunker as the green is above you. The green has a decent tilt. A short grass chipping area behind the green would be an improvement to the hole. Of the starting three holes, this is rated the number one index on the course and deserves it.
3. Par 4 – 432/411. Playing alongside Pecunit Street to the left, this hole drops down and bends right. There is an inner bunker on the right placed on a hill while a single tree about 245 yards down the left is very much in play. This hole offers a small pond on the right in play for the longer hitters off the tee. 20 yards left in front of the green is a bunker placed on a hill while the right side has a single bunker that is oddly shaped and should be re-done. The green is oval with a left to right tilt and has higher ground left of the green making a recovery shot pretty difficult to stop quickly on the green. It is another good hole.
4. Par 3 – 198/181. This is a flattish par 3 with a large bunker on the left and two bunkers on the right. There is not much going on at this hole other than a very slight false front. It would be a better hole with a green that was raised. The left side of the green has higher ground making that the more difficult recovery. There is nice interior movement in this green.
5. Par 4 – 389/383. This hole offers a broad fairway curving gently right. The real danger is the tree lines on the right side which should be thinned out. There are twice as many trees as are necessary. The green is angled a bit to the left making the front left bunker very much in play from the left side of the fairway. There is a right side bunker that plays more as a rear bunker from the left side of the fairway. It is an average hole.
6. Par 4 – 299/278. This driveable par 4 has a very large bunker about 50 yards short of the green followed by another bunker front right of the green. The fairway is only about seven yards wide after the large bunker. I think the hole would be better by reducing the size of the bunker short of the green and creating two smaller bunkers. The green should have better contouring surrounding it.
7. Par 3 – 132/127. There is a large bunker well off to the right that should be completely removed. Three bunkers are the front of this thin, wide green. There is room to lengthen the hole about 25 yards which I think should be done with tree removal.
8. Par 5 – 517/505. The best par 5 on the course is next playing from a shortish chute of trees to a fairway that opens up. The hole plays slightly up, then down, then back up to the green. There is a single fairway bunker left that is in play off the tee although longer hitters will easily carry it and get a favorable bounce as they catch the downhill slope. About 110 yards from the green are placed four cross bunkers with the middle of them having rough instead of fairway. The green is above you with large bunkers to either side, the right side being twice as large as it should be. The green has a fast back to front tilt and micro-tiering in it. Overall the hole is straight but I find it the most interesting on the front nine and good to play after four relatively average holes.
9. Par 4 – 458/444. This long dogleg right has two fairway bunkers right and one placed a bit farther up on the left for players trying to cut the dogleg. The hole rises to the green with a bunker 40 yards short on the right, one front left and two small ones on the right. As a par 4, this is a good hole, as a par 5 it is a weak hole.
10. Par 4 – 410/389. Playing with Dedham Street to the left, one wants to stay right to avoid the out-of-bounds or hitting a passing car. There are two bunkers placed on the right very much in play off the tee. The green offers two very long bunkers wrapped around both sides of the green and a single small bunker back left. It is a nice hole as the green has good movement to it. From #10 – #14 is a nice stretch of holes.
11. Par 4 – 418/402. This hole has two bunkers on the left fairway and a long, unnecessary bunker on the right beginning about 50 yards short of the green. The green has a long bunker on its left and a smaller one to the right. There is a bit of fall-off behind the green where short grass/contouring would be ideal. The left greenside bunker should be reduced in size. Overall it is a decent hole.
12. Par 5 – 533/517. The longest hole on the course plays longer as it is uphill working its way back towards Dedham Street. There are no bunkers in play off the tee but trees line both sides of the fairway which has some nice ripples to it. The key is to stay left on this hole as the green is placed off to the right on higher ground against the side of a hill. 50 yards short of the green are cross bunkers with one right and three on the left. The green has a single bunker on the left side set below the green level leading to a semi-blind shot. The green has perhaps the best contouring on the course. I think it is the best hole on the golf course.
13. Par 3 – 229/216. Playing downhill about 25 yards, this long hole seems to play only one club less. The green is angled left to right with fronting bunkers. There is an overall tilt to the left with various shelves in the green. Higher ground is off to the left and back of the green. It is a good, downhill hole that is visually very pretty from the tee.
14. Par 4 – 407/394. This hole has a sharp dogleg to the right about 160 yards from the green. There are two inner corner bunkers at the dogleg and one placed farther up on the left. There is a single bunker left of the green with two to the right. The fairway really narrows at those two corner bunkers as it turns. The green has a large bunker right and two to the left. There is a substantial fall-off behind the green with a natural ridge about 15 yards behind the green to stop balls. A collection area of short grass behind the green would benefit the hole. This ends the better holes on the back nine.
15. Par 4 – 357/325. This slight dogleg right an inner fairway bunkers on the inner turn. There are two trees on the inner corner of the turn that should be removed. There is a large bunker fronting the green and a smaller one on the right with another bunker left wrapping itself to the back. The hole plays uphill to a green with good contours. It is a fun, short par 3 but overall a fairly simple par.
16. Par 3 – 182/164. There are two bunkers left and one to the right on this simple hole. There should be more interesting contouring near the green.
17. Par 4 – 338/338. A dogleg left that has two bunkers placed on the inner turn. The green has two bunkers fronting the green and one placed on the back right. The tee shot goes through a bit of a narrow chute but the fairway opens up quickly. The green is slightly raised and has a decent tilt to the left. The hole deserves a more interesting inner contouring to the green.
18. Par 5 – 482/467. This straight hole plays to an uphill green. There is a fairway bunker placed to either side with another fairway bunker 75 yards short of the green on the left. The uphill green has two bunkers to either side of which the right side should be relocated with the left side removed and replaced with short grass. The green tilts to the left and back to front. It would be a stunning par 4 but is too easy as a par 5.
Blue Hill is a very nice course with interesting land features. As mentioned the bunkering should be improved while tree removal continues. There should be additional short grass options surrounding several of the holes with more interesting land contouring adding. The course has adequate land movement in the fairways, it is the green surrounds that should be addressed. The course suffers a bit from inconsistency of the strength of the holes in the routing.
If invited or in the area, one should play the course as it offers a good variety of tough holes and fun holes. This course is below its potential and has the chance to become much better.
Good track. The course seems wide open from the tees, but you still need to hit the balls straight. The rough was high and there is sand protecting the greens and landing zones in the fairway. The porch for beers after is awesome. You always have to love the porch overlooking the course, especially 18. I will be back.