326 Fuller Street,
Massachusetts (MA) 02465,
- +1 617 244 4411
11 miles W of Boston
Members and their guests only
Sean P. McLaughlin
Founded in 1897, Brae Burn Country Club began its golfing life with an elementary 9-hole layout which was quickly expanded to a full 18-hole course six years later. In 1906, the new layout hosted the US Women’s Amateur Championship, the first of a handful of prestigious ladies amateur events to be held at the club down the years.
Donald Ross redesigned the course in 1912, seven years before the club held the US Open, and then he returned in 1928 to make further modifications for the club’s hosting of that year’s US Amateur. The course in play today (which has since held two Curtis Cups and two Women’s Amateur Championships) is largely the one that Bobby Jones played when he won the fourth of his five Amateur titles in 1928.Stand out holes at Brae Burn include a couple of par threes on the front nine at the 159-yard 6th and the 225-yard 8th: the former plays downhill to a small green which is circled by sand and water, the latter plays across a yawning gorge to a distant target. On the back nine, the par three 17th is a real tester so late in the round as it features a demanding 255-yard downhill tee shot to a narrow green.
Upon arriving at the 1st tee you don't see much of the golf course -- in many ways that's a good thing as the sum total of the layout ahead will be exposed gradually.
The opening hole at Brae Burn is fairly benign. A relatively short par-4 with a fronting creek on the approach shot.
When you arrive at the 2nd the intensity meter jumps dramatically. Finding top tier short par-4s is never an easy task. I am not referencing to holes less than 350 yards but those between 351 and 399. So much of modern design has concentrated on the extremes but getting a hole that fits in this category is something to treasure when found. The 2nd at Brae Burn wonderfully uses the terrain to supreme advantage. The hole turns left and ascends uphill. Golfers have to decide just how aggressive - or cautious -- they wish to be. Straight long drivers can reap a major advantage provided they work the ball on a right-to-left flight. Golfers who favor a more conservative approach will be left with a challenging approach to a green that is big enough but hardly gargantuan. The folds of the land when walking from tee to the green is quite impressive as the hole just sits so naturally within the terrain.
The routing for Brae Burn is equally engaging -- constant movements and adjustments are central as one attempts to navigate the property.
The uphill approach at the par-4 3rd is done well -- backed-up with a fine counterpoint with consecutive holes 4 thru 9. The dropshot par-3 6th grabs one's attention when the pin is placed precariously close to any of the edges and the serpentine fronting creek eagerly awaits the hapless play.
The long par-4 7th is first rate and provides for a green that will test one's club selection given its elevated nature. At the par-3 8th one encounters a quality bookend to the earlier 6th. However, this time you face a much longer shot over a deep chasm to a green that permits the bounced-on play. The short par-4 9th that follows is another eyeful -- this time one plays up to a ledge before plummeting downhill and then just as swiftly concluding with a putting surface that's perched just on top.
Amazingly, the outward nine is under 3,100 yards of total length from the championship tees but the sum total of the range of varying shots one has to play is proof that distance need not be the sine qua non for architecture.
The inward half is much longer and some of the momentum is a bit diluted with a series of back-and-forth holes occupying the flatter stretch of the terrain.
The par-4 11th is one of the strongest two-shot holes at Brae Burn. The tee shot is challenged with OB to the left and has a tapered fairway that mandates an even straighter tee shot for those seeking to max out their length.
The par-5 14th is a superb hole. In this case, strong players have to decide how bold an effort they wish to make with the 2nd shot. Ross brilliantly narrows the opening with a series of flanking mounds and pesky bunkers. The green sits marvelously behind all of that and has an array of internal contours. For many golfers, the concept of a par-5 hole is one where birdies can be readily attained. At Brae Burn's 14th -- you earn them.
The final quartet of holes is a mixed bag. The short par-4 15th is simply ordinary and not helped with a putting surface that should have been more riveting. The uphill par-4 16th is impacted by a major side-hill fairway movement to the left. The club has contemplated some sort of effort to mitigate the annoying habit of tee shots all moving to the same location on the left side.
Given the advancement of club and ball technology it behooves the club to have two of the par-5s on the back nine play as long par-4 holes. when testing better players. This would likely apply to the 10th and 13th holes respectively.
Credit Ross in providing such demanding long par-3s into the routing and the penultimate hole really carries the day. Hard to imagine that when the club hosted its lone U.S. Open in 1919 the 17th plays 255 yards! Far too often, the long par-3 has been pushed away as an architectural element of note. Forcing players to play a longer club -- even driver when circumstances warrant -- is fair game and the Scotsman architect was ever mindful in making sure players faced the complete examination during a round.
The final hole is a solid closer. There is a "Jones tee" roughly 440 yards that salutes the U.S. Amateur win by Bobby Jones in 1928. The tee shot is crucial because the green sits above the fairway and possesses a slew of mystifying movements -- especially if one's ball is above the pin position. Walk off the green with a par and the 19th hole libation will be most refreshing.
Overall, as Mark indicated in his comments -- the Bay State is loaded with a deep array of quality clubs -- albeit chiefly on the private side. Is Brae Burn a top 20 candidate? I think there's enough to merit such consideration because the architecture, for the most part, works splendidly with such topography. A few minor refinements could well mean such rightful acclaim.
We shall see.
M. James Ward
Donald Ross is buried in hilly Newton Cemetery about a mile from Brae Burn’s first tee. Brae Burn’s hilly terrain created some challenges for the Scotsman even while he was still alive.
Two large hills, one on the west side of the property and another in the middle, must be negotiated. Three short par 4s go up the hills. The first (#2) is the best of the three, requiring an accurate drive and then a pitch over a bunker to a two tier green. The 16th is the weakest hole on the course as virtually every drive ends up in the left side of the fairway or the left rough and yields a blind second. The 8th is not a great hole either, generally requiring a shot from a downhill lie to a green perched some 40 feet above the fairway. Getting off the hills are two fine par threes, the short 5th and the lengthy 17th, playing as much as 253 yards to a large green, as well as the par five 8th with a potato chip green
The rest of the routing is nicely done with holes running in every direction and few running back and forth. Many of Ross’s greens are, as you’d expect, nicely contoured. In addition to #8, 4, 5, 7,10, 12 are well done. There are strategic choices in most holes as they can be approached with either a running shot or an aerial one.
Hi Steve -
The 8th is a par 3. The comment about hitting up 40 feet is actually the 9th hole. You also refer to the 8th as a par 5 later in the review. Also, you refer to the short par 3 as the 5th hole. That’s actually the 6th. The par 5’s are 5, 10, 13 and 14.
Brae Burn is another historic club in the Boston area designed by Donald Ross. It was founded in 1897 in West Newtown, Massachusetts. Mr. Ross later redesigned the course in 1912 and 1928. It has held numerous important events including: Walter Hagan won the U.S. Open in 1919, Bobby Jones won the U.S. Amateur in 1928, and three women’s U.S. Opens have been held in 1906 won by Harriot Curtis, in 1975 won by Beth Daniel and in 1997 won by Silvia Cavalerri. It has also hosted Curtis Cup matches in 1958 and 1970.
An infamous score was recorded during the 1919 U.S. Open by Willie Chisholm who took 18 strokes to complete the eighth hole after his tee shot found the rocky ravine fronting the green.
I would describe the course as quirkier than most. It is routed through a few stretches of difficult terrain such as on the second and sixteenth holes. As a result, there is a lot of opinions, both positive and negative, about those two holes. It has a flat stretch of holes and a hilly stretch of holes with the flat stretch resulting in the less memorable golf.
The bunkering is excellent both in location, shape and number. On several holes they add significant drama to the hole such as the par four second hole and the par five fourteenth hole. Two holes have no bunkers which is appropriate given the high degree of difficulty of these holes due to the topography.
The greens are well contoured and offer good variety unlike a few other courses by Mr. Ross. There is decent small land movement near many of the greens.
The course plays to 6806 yards from the Gold tees, par 72, rated 74.4/140. The Blue tees are 6228 yards, rated 71.7/133. There are two sets of lesser tees. We played the Gold tees and I played with three accomplished scratch/single digit players, two of whom are club champions.
All three hit the ball a long way. We played on September 16, 2020 on a good weather day.
The course index and slope are about right.
1. Par 4 – 335/325. Playing from an elevated tee down the hill to a wide fairway, there is a stream that bisects the fairway about 250 yards out. Although the club’s website says people will try to drive the green, there really is no reason to take on that challenge even for the longer hitters. The green complex has a slight false front and a bunker right side and left front. The green is steeply sloped back to front with some interior contours.
2. Par 4 – 362/295. A love-it-or hate-it hole. The Gold tee has been moved back against the side of the hill close to the seventh tee. This has strengthened this hole. You play to a narrow fairway across a valley to a rising fairway with a tall hill the entire left side. Balls hit onto the hill will have a high probability of bouncing to the right down the hill back onto the fairway. The shot to the narrow green is blind with the green completely surrounded by nine bunkers. The green is sloped back to front with multiple tiers in it. Going long will lead to a ball going downhill and possibly lost. Going right of the green will likely lead to a lost ball. A miss into one of the bunkers will lead to a difficult recovery shot due to the tiers in the green and the narrowness. I like the hole but I know others who do not.
3. Par 4 – 365/345. This hole ultimately plays uphill with out-of-bounds down the right and scattered trees down the left. The hole has little valleys and ripples into it before the green which is found on even higher ground with two bunkers placed on the right side. A ball hit short of the green will likely not go onto the green.
4. Par 4 – 440/424. A long hole dogleg right with seemingly a lot of room in the fairway to the left but six fairway bunkers are placed there some of which are shared with the fifth hole. The hole requires a fade for the big hitters to avoid these fairway bunkers placed about 220-280 yards out on the left. Beyond the bunkers are trees on the left that can block a route to the green. There is a bunker placed well right about 75 yards short of the green. Two cross bunkers are placed on the left side about 40 yards short of the green. Finally, there are two other bunkers on the left front and then on the right side. I think this is the second best hole on the golf course and could fit into any golf course.
5. Par 5 – 570/546. The hole is a slight double dogleg ultimately going left with a generous fairway. This is rated the number one index but I think several other holes are more difficult. Those six bunkers from five are on the left with a series of four bunkers down the right side grouped together over a 100 yard stretch with another bunker 75 yards further up. The left side has two additional bunkers 80-70 yards from the green on the left with another one on the right abou 30 yards short. The green has two large fronting bunkers with another on the right and two bunkers placed behind the green. It has an excellent raised green with a slight false front and multiple tiers sloped back to front. This is an excellent par five.
6. Par 3 – 160/149. This hole plays downhill probably forty fee to a somewhat island green with a stream cutting across the front and right. Balls landing in the stream have a good chance of being able to be played due to the shallowness of the stream and the muddy higher ground within it. The green has a higher plateau on its back left with two bunkers left and one at the back right. This is a visually pleasing hole offering good challenge.
7. Par 4 – 457/400. One of the more difficult holes on the golf course. Playing from an elevated tee one has to hit it left and far enough to avoid the pond coming in from the right and the stream that continues up the right side of the fairway. The green sits about 15 above the fairway off to the right and is angled slightly away from the player with a bank behind it. Or one can do what I did and play right of the stream in the rough and hit a wedge shot to a foot. There are no bunkers on this hole nor does it require one such is the strength of the hole that fits perfectly into the land.
8. Par 3 – 225/164. The highest score in a U.S. Open for one hole was recorded on this hole: 18. This hole plays across a substantial deep and long valley to a green that is slightly above the tee. Only the beginning of the green is in view from the tee. There are no bunkers on this hole. The green has different tiers in it and sits slightly below the fairway. Somehow all of us missed the green and made par here, which my member host said is the first time he has seen that done. This concludes an excellent stretch of holes from four to eight.
9. Par 4 – 310/289. The fairway runs out on this short par 4 into a valley before a green perched high above. The options are to either to hit a ball all the way to the bottom leaving a blind shot to a green 40 feet above you or to play short of the drop from the plateau. I tumbled down most of the hill nearly to the bottom but hit the shot of my life to 4 feet for birdie as I thankfully had a back pin location. This is another quirky hole that is fun to play but not one that I rate highly.
10. Par 5 – 494/480. Playing from an elevated tee down to the lower ground, the course stays on flat and lower ground until the sixteenth hole. While there are good holes here, the course is less interesting. The hole has three bunkers on the left in play for the average hitter but not the longer player. As you get close to the green there are scattered bunkers on both sides. I did not find this hole to be interesting.
11. Par 4 – 466/418. The hole has the tee on slightly higher ground to a hole that is the second best on the back nine. This dogleg right has out-of-bounds down the left side and scattered trees down the right side. There is an inner bunker on the left about 50 yards short of the green with three more bunkers on the right side. This is a good golf hole.
12. Par 3 – 163/151. This is a beautiful par 3 which I think is the best par 3 on the golf course. The green is raised with multiple tiers and four surrounding bunkers. I played it very poorly but adored the hole.
13. Par 5 – 486/467. There is not much going on with this hole which has two cross bunkers short off of the tee not in play. Bunkers are in play on the right for the shorter hitter. The next bunker is 75 yards from the green on the left with the fairway narrowing as you approach the green. The green has four bunkers on the left and two on the right. For longer players, much like the tenth, this hole is an eagle or birdie opportunity.
14. Par 5 – 555/535. This is a fine, longer par 5 that doglegs to the right. There are scattered trees and bunkers as you approach he green beginning about 160 yards out: four on the left and four on the right. The green is tucked between two mounds with the right side blocking a view of the green. Bunkers are placed near or on these hills – seven in total and then two bunkers behind the green where there is a fall-off. The hole is average until you arrive at the green and suddenly it is a very nice golf hole because one has to come in from the right side of the fairway.
15. Par 4 – 315/295. This short par 4 offers the chance to longer players to drive the green. There are a few large scattered trees that have to be avoided. Four bunkers are placed down the left side with the final two placed inside the fairway. The green five small bunkers surrounding it with the most troublesome being the bunker right in front of the green. It has one of the lesser contoured greens on the course. It is a fun hole.
16. Par 4 – 408/351. This hole plays uphill with a fairway that is cantered to the left unless one is a longer hitter. Due to the severity of the slope, shorter hitters will likely have a blind shot to the green set before a woods. There are flanking bunkers about 15 yards short of the green followed by flanking bunkers at the front of the green and two small bunkers behind the green. Somehow I hit a blind shot to 6 feet (I missed) to a green that is large with a substantial slope to the right and back. Most people do not like this hole due to the severity of the slope of the fairway.
17. Par 3 – 225/226. A lovely downhill par 3 to a green that has various tiers in it and five bunkers surrounding the green. This is a nice hole.
18. Par 4 – 440/368. The “Jones Tee” hole as the elevated back tee was built for the 1928 Amateur won by Bobby Jones. This hole plays from a narrow chute across a stream and then climbs to the fairway. The green is a good one, sharply sloped back to front and to the right with multiple tiers. All of the four bunkers are short of the green and trying to recover from them to the steep green is a real challenge. It is a lovely way to finish the round of golf.
I like Brae Burn. While it is generally not listed in the top 25 golf courses in the state of Massachusetts, I would not use that as a reason not to play here. The reason it is not ranked higher is that Massachusetts is a golf-rich state due mainly to the exploits of Donald Ross and several other very well-known architects. Massachusetts is blessed with excellent topography perfect for placing tees and green sites on higher ground playing across valleys and rises. Brae Burn has that same characteristic for many of its holes but is let down a bit by the four holes in the flat part of the course and the sixteenth.
It is an excellent club for members and a course that one will enjoy playing every day with the exception of the sixteenth.