My school of thought and preference for golf course architecture for a young man can be described as old school in the mildest way. I have a fondness for tradition, history and those who place that uphold those great and underlying values that the game of golf possesses. My personal favourites are the fabled beacons of who promote golf in its purest sense, the game, the camaraderie, new friends made and old friends renewed. Therefore when I approach and weigh up the newest generation of courses(1960’s onwards, post golden age) I do so with a glass half empty mentality, giving them a fair chance, but at the same time seeing how they stack up alongside those places who have and will always stand the test of time. If they tick certain boxes and are making efforts not to stray too far away from the game, then for the most part I will give them a fair chance and as always I do try to separate the course itself from the ambience of the club, but in some instances this is impossible. Thankfully at Boston Golf Club I experienced no such issues. I fell in love with the place the moment I set foot on the property.
I had heard of Boston being described as Pine Valley’esque and yes there are certain similarities but I feel pigeon holing it like this is doing a dis-service to the extraordinary vision of Gill Hanse at this breath-taking piece of New England property. Hanse along with a couple of other modern architects are part of posse of New kids on the block so to speak, who have revolutionised golf course architecture mixing modern techniques/knowledge with old school/traditional design elements, a minimalist approach is how it is described, with little earth movement and the focus being on using natural contours to create a playing surface. I am not usually an advocate of solo golf, I feel one of the core elements of the game is the camaraderie and bond formed over the course of 18 holes. Normally I would much sooner spend 3 hours on the practice ground than play alone, but sometimes when on the road sneaking in a late afternoon round I am left with no option, so armed with a great caddy I headed for the first tee.
Upon reflection I feel this enhanced my appreciation for the course, for I was able to take extra time exploring the playing corridors and complexes, really soaking everything in. Interestingly they have two ranges at Boston Golf a small warm up area near the first tee that has limited flight balls, the primary function being to make a few full swings to loosen up, while there is also a magnificent full practice ground located behind the 6th green and 7th tee, a very nice concept if a club can afford the upkeep. The player must have most certainly utilised the aforementioned warm up facilities prior to the opening hole, for once you place the peg in the ground there is very little respite. The opening hole is a less than straightforward par 5. Hanse’e genius is evident from the outset for the player is pushed toward the side he can see best(left side), however this is far from ideal with deep woods, sandy scrub and a hazard lurking just a few paces from the fairway, as at the Second at RCD the optimum line is down the blind side. From here the hole gets no easier, the green sits high above the level of the fairway and a crucial question is already being asked of the player at this very early stage in the round. A shot of 250 yards must carry an expanse of scrub, hazard and waste-land to reach a green that is seemingly perched in the clouds, think 18 at TPC Boston to an elevated green!
The second again forces the player to make a decision from the tee, a huge mound/sand dune pinches the fairway at 260 yards, the smart play is to take a hybrid/fairway wood and keep short in the fat part of the fairway leaving a medium iron to a blind green or else risk the driver threading it into the narrow part of the fairway but leaving a much easier approach. An awesome mix of strategy and risk/reward by Hanse. Two very strong par 4’s follow this, both requiring well thought out tee shots to the correct section of the fairway in order to obtain the best angle of the approach, the 3rd green is almost like a reverse redan, sloping from left to right, with a huge fall of on the right side. My caddy informed me that the developer behind the project told Hanse to go out and find the 18 holes first, that he would worry about the clubhouse and other facilities afterwards. This something I am a huge fan of, for similar to Pat Ruddy at the European Club’s philosophy, he didn’t’/t want the layout to be compromised by peripheral factors as Ruddy said “no-one comes to play a course because of the clubhouse”, other developers take note this is the ONLY way to ensure you get the most of your property.
The next trio of holes were my favourite on the whole course. The 5th is one the great short par 4’s that this author has ever played. The view from the tee makes you scratch your head, for there is no obvious right or wrong way to play the hole. A narrow fairway snakes its way uphill, flanked by sandy wasted areas and dense pine trees left and right. The green is most certainly within reach from the tee, but the margin for error is very small. Should you opt for a more conservative play you are left with a blind approach to a fantastic green, postage stamp in size, which sits parallel to the line of play. The 6th is frequently compared to the 3rd at Pine Valley, in one way this is a compliment but on another hand I feel it is a dis-service to Hanse and his creativity. Yes it is similar but in no way a copy and more an outstanding mid length par 3 in its own right.
7 is the Index one hole on the golf course, a soft dogleg left a well struck tee shot will still leave you 185+ into a green where the best play for the average golfer is to use the bank on the left work the ball back toward the putting surface, for anywhere short and right is all but an automatic bogey at best. The front nine finishes with a long par 3(8th) to a long green, which is a lot narrower than it appears from the teeing area, if I could find fault with any hole on the course this would be it as the angles from the teeing ground just don’t seem to fit the line of play correctly and a short par 4(9th) where the player is afforded a spectacular view from the tee to a right to left sloping fairway below.
As we walked to the 10th tee, I asked my caddy how old the course was, “7 years” he replied, I was completely aghast, I knew it was relatively young, but I imagined it was a mid 90’s creation, the place does really look like it has been there forever and blends into the landscape perfectly, a great piece of land matched with a designer who had the right philosophy. The back nine begins in slightly more straightforward fashion than the front. A fairway wood and a short iron should see you safely to the 11th tee relatively unscathed. The next is a terrific par 3, mid length played to a green built into the hillside, the brave but not so intelligent player will be drawn toward the flag, especially when I is located on the right side of a deep trap, the smart player will use the contours of the putting surface to work the ball toward the target, cocky swings at conservative targets, as they say! From 12 in there is a definite element of give and take from the golf course. Two par 4’s at 12 and 13 which dogleg left to right both possess great greens almost a combination of Eden/road hole design.
From 14 in the golfer can make some birdies if his game is on but also run up some big numbers if he is off. The playing corridors are more open in this last stretch, with great views across a plain, which reminded me of the views seen at the great heathland courses back home. At 14 the aggressive route is still most certainly the most certainly the most treacherous, the best play is the down the left side which leaves a second shot being played straight down a narrow deep green as opposed to a shot that gets caught down the right side having to play diagonally across the green. 15 was my favourite par 5 on the course, for there are numerous ways to play the hole none of them right or wrong. Do you take a 3 wood from the tee making your mind up from the outset to play as a three shotter laying up well back to give yourself a full third shot, or do you take driver and have a lash at the green and take your chances with an up and down , or else do you try and sling a hooky second shot up the right side where the fairway opens out a quite a bit, leaving yourself a great angle playing straight up the green but at the awkward 50-75 yard distance. As said there is no right or wrong answer, but in all instances it is the green which makes this hole most enchanting, three tiered it is almost reverse punchbowl like, posing a challenge this author has rarely witnessed before, could this be a new concept coined by Hanse?
As mentioned above birdies most certainly can be made in the finish, the 16th is a very interesting short par 4, the green being the hole’s main defence, where those sufferers of claustrophobia be warned it is a tiny, back to front pitched surface, which can make the best of players look foolish. The 17th is a par 5, where aging the brave player who hits toward the trouble down the right will be rewarded with a good view of the green, which sits on a crest similar to the 18th at Baltusrol. The home hole is not what I expected, if you have read any of my previous posts I am not a huge fan of courses that close with a par 3 (see my Lough Erne review) but in this instance given the philosophy behind the development of the place, of finding holes and then building a clubhouse, it rests a little easier with me, especially if it has given rise to 18 good holes. The 18th is a good par three, requiring a precise well struck long iron to find a great a far from routine putting surface.
From the moment I drove in the gate at Boston Golf Club I knew I would be happy. Everything about the place has been done in the right fashion, with golf at its epicentre. Gill Hanse is a modern day genius in my book, the restoration at Plainfield he conducted is outstanding, his re-design of TPC Boston has elevated it to the best TPC Course in my book and at Boston Golf Club his work is phenomenal. This may well be the best “new” course that I have played, minimal earth movement, pure golf, a throwback to the Golden Age with some modern day touches mixed in. The layout embodies strategy and risk/reward with a penalty present but not in the sadistic sense. Playable for the high handicap but a stiff test from the tips for the elite player, Boston Golf Club has it all. P.S It might be time to give up on my par 3 finishing hole gripe too!
Date: October 05, 2011