Charles River - Massachusetts - USA

Charles River Country Club,
483 Dedham Street,
Massachusetts (MA) 02459,

  • +1 617 332 1320

The course at Charles River Country Club is a Donald Ross design that dates back to 1921. Playing to a par of 72 for regular member play over its modest length of 6,683 yards, the layout reverts to a par of 70 for competitive events, with par fives at the 7th and 10th holes becoming par fours.

Hosting stroke play qualifying rounds for the 2013 US Amateur Championship at nearby Brookline, Charles River was Francis Ouimet’s home club for a number of years and the former US Open champion eventually became the first honorary member of the club, a position he held until he died at the age of 74 in 1967.

The 399-yard 5th is a potential card wrecker on the front nine. Routed uphill to the highest point on the property, the hole plays to a green that tilts right to left, with over a four-foot drop in elevation from back to front. Another fine hole is encountered at the 409-yard 8th, where the fairway crosses some seriously mounded terrain on its way to a steeply raised green.

On the inward half, the short par four 12th is the first of only three two-shot holes to be found on the back nine. Here, a blind drive is followed by a short iron from a tricky side hill position towards a green that’s severely canted from back to front. The final par four at the 18th is a beauty – all of 445-yards from the back tee – and it sweeps majestically left to a home green that’s protected by sand on either side of the putting surface.

Ron Pritchard is the person largely responsible for the current condition of the course. Called in by the club in the mid-1990s to restore its original playing characteristics, he removed a significant number of trees, enlarged the greens to their intended sizes and reworked all the bunkers to adhere to the specifications found in old photographs.

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Description: Host for the stroke-play qualifying rounds for the US Amateur Championship in 2013, the course at Charles River Country Club dates back to 1921 and it’s one of the most authentic Donald Ross layouts to be found in New England. Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Reviews: 2
M. James Ward

The attributes of the course have been spelled out quite well by Colin.

The most engaging aspect of the course is how Donald Ross used the terrain. The opening hole starts the round in fine fashion. Just enough length to stretch the muscles and having a green that commands your attention with the approach.

Holes 2-4 are good but not especially noteworthy.

The uphill 5th is a superb hole. You have to hit sufficient club and keep your approach in a safe position -- otherwise a 3-putt is a certainty.

In big time events - the 7th and 10th play as par-4 holes and that's a wise decision given the gains made in club and ball technology.

The par-4 8th is simply a stunner -- it looks like a golf hole was always present.

I am glad the trees behind the green at the par-3 9th were removed. It really opens up the overall character of the hole.

The 10th, as mentioned, should be a long par-4. The par-3 11th is a real test of skill. Credit Ross in believing the necessity in having a long par-3 in the routing. The wherewithal to hit a long-controlled approach is a skill of the highest order and the 11th mandates one for sure.

The par-4 12th has a devilish green -- be sure to keep your ball in front of the pin. The 13th is a spellbinding hole. One needs to get into the proper position off the tee on the 365-yard hole. The approach is then played to a challenging uphill green. Many people may see such a short par-4 as ripe for the picking -- this is one hole that is quick to pick the golfer's pocket.

The claim that the par-3 14th that follows is the 18th handicap hole is hard to grasp. Golfers must play a longish shot to a green that is riddled with hard to decipher movements.

The final four holes are a quality mixture. Back-to-back par-5 holes are sufficiently differentiated The 15th has a ledge before descending to the green. The 16th is done well -- hitting into a contoured fairway and then rising in a pronounced fashion to the elevated green with OB lurking just to the left.

The penultimate hole is another solid par-3 hole that play 190 yards from the tips. Like so many of the greens at Charles River one has to be ever mindful with where the approach shot finishes.

The 18th concludes the round with style. I especially liked the lower tee area and the way the hole turns left in the driving area. The green is wonderfully located, and like the others faced, requires a deft touch to conclude the round.

Where does Charles River rank among all the Ross courses I've played? Clearly, it deserves rightful accolades and would be near the top of the pecking order. Keep in mind, Essex County would be rated above it. Winchester is also quite special. I do like Salem but would have Charles River ahead of it. You also have places like Brae Burn and Oyster Harbors. Massachusetts is home to a number of stellar clubs and when you expand the circle of Ross courses beyond New England alone to the Northeast section the bar clearly raises itself a good deal.

Charles River has special terrain and the club wisely put into place a plan to maximize the Ross fingerprints. When played as a par-70 the rigors are apparent and unless one can demonstrate a high level of dexterity you will not reap the fullest reward.

Those getting the opportunity to play the layout will leave with a smile on your face -- unless you three-jack the final hole !

July 22, 2022
7 / 10
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Colin Braithwaite

Charles River Country Club is an old throwback club. Almost 100 years old it is a fantastic Donald Ross design that has passed the test of time. There is a lot of history herse as well. Francis Ouimet was a bond holding member in the 1920s and an honorary member up until his death. Not to be outdone, Eddie Lowery, Ouimet’s caddy in the iconic photo also became a member. Eddie won the Massachusetts State Amateur and was also a two time club champion. Ross was also a member.

My perspective is a little bit unique in that I caddied there as a kid in several tournaments. Playing it as an adult almost 40 years later was enlightening. Not a long course, it is a par 72 for members but when there is a high caliber tournament par is adjusted to 70. Also, Ross did what many architects talk about, but so few do. If holes designed themselves, why is the modern golf course formula, par 72, 10 par 4s, 4 par 5s and 4 par 3s?

The first hole is not welcoming. A long par with from an elevated green with a water hazard right and a massive green. When I say massive to put this in context, one of my earlier reviews of Kittansett referenced a green less than 3k SF. The first hole at Charles River is 8k SF. The 2nd is a good birdie oppty. It is also one of the flattest holes on the course. I am not sure why this is rated the #7 handicap hole, three average shots will have you putting for birdie. Big hitters can get home in two, however there are deep bunkers on either side of the fairway that are punitive. The 4th is the first par 3 with a carry over water. The 5th is the number one handicap hole a long uphill par 4. When I say long from the tips, it is just under 400 yards. When I caddied there in the early 1970s, I only saw one player get home in two. As a player I was motivated to get home in two and in my excitement, I overcooked it left. It did not have to be said when I was caddying, this is not a green to be long on. The 6th is a dogleg right and a good birdie oppty. You can cut the corner but Ross strategically placed a string of bunkers on the inside elbow. I can only recall one or two rounds where I did not have to rake a bunker on this hole. I guess it was only fair that I ended up in one as well. The green is well protected with a bunker short left and a deep grass faced bunker right. The shortest par 5 is a big swinger right and definitely reachable in two. The 8th is the longest par 4 and uphill. While it is relatively straight it follows a serpentine path tee to green as rock mounds have been grassed over and the natural depressions became logical bunkers. On your approach I would suggest taking an extra club due to the false front. The 9th is an uphill par 3 with bunkers front left and right. If you miss this green par is an accomplishment. As a caddy, there were too many times players would miss the green and end up in the bunkers. More often than not the sand shot would end up rolling back down to them in the bunker. The good news is the green is pretty big, my advice, hit it.

The back starts off with a short par five, definitely reachable, favor the right. Tough green. The 11th is a paradox. A par 3 that is more than half the distance of the proceeding par 5! A 246 yard par 3, what I would call a slight dogleg right. When I was caddying, I would hope my player would birdie the par 5 and bogey the par 3. The11th leans right and is protected by willow trees on the right. Best to land about 20 yards short left of the green and the ball should scoot right on. Francis Ouimet was quoted as saying, “the hardest approach at Charles River is the second on 11”. There are only 3 par 4s on the back at Charles River. The 12th is a dogleg right and a birdie oppty. Blind tee shot but a decent drive will leave you with a downhill wedge in. Pay attention to the pin location, long is not good on this back to front green. The key to the 13th is a decent drive, not long but the green is perched on a ledge. Take an extra club. The par 3 14th is allegedly the easiest hole on the course. The 15th and 16th are back to back par 5s. The 15th is shorter and easier. Big hitters can get home in two, however, the fairway does abruptly end about 100 yards out. The 16th is the longest par five. Pretty darn straight, I would still play it as a 3 shotter. The last par 3 is one of the more protected greens with bunkers. Frankly, the terrain offers enough protection throughout the course. The 18th is a super finishing hole. The longest par 4 is a dogleg left with the approach downhill. This gives us shorter knockers the false hope that we can get home in two. If you start with a par and finish with a par that is awesome.

Sadly, as a kid, I could not appreciate Charles River. Having said that, the course today has changed significantly. In the mid-1990s Ron Prichard was brought in to bring back the original design. He certainly appears to have done so. The greens and bunkers are much tougher than they were in the 1970s. I also noticed a huge difference in distance technology. What was huge drive when I caddied is now a miss. Additionally, the greens are much faster. Lastly, the fairways are much tighter, trees are bigger, but there fewer of them. Charles River is an unheralded treasure.

April 12, 2020
8 / 10
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