The Essex County Club dates back to 1893 and when the club opened that year, it was the proud owner of the first 9-hole course in New England. The five founding members of the United States Golf Association (1894) – St Andrews, Newport, Shinnecock Hills, Chicago and the Country Club in Brookline – gradually began to invite other clubs to join and so the Essex County Club became the sixth member of the USGA.
Donald Ross, Dornoch’s most famous son, became the professional at the Essex County Club in 1910 and Ross set about expanding the layout to 18 holes and redesigning the original 9 holes during a seven-year tenure as Essex County Club professional.
Darius Oliver, in this short extract from the book Planet Golf USA, writes: “Essex is a wonderful old golf club and in its rugged, natural state perhaps best reflects how the architect himself would have preferred his most famous courses to remain. With the exception of his work at Pinehurst, Ross probably spent more time personally working on these holes than at any other course he designed. Despite its low profile, those who can tolerate the bouncy fairways, wild greens and uneven lies will rejoice at having discovered one of golf’s truly hidden gems.”
The par five 3rd hole at Essex County Club is a monster and it is nearly as long as the sum of the first two par fours that precede it. But there’s much more to this hole than length alone. The hole was routed over a tidal flood plain and the drive must avoid the run off area or channel, which contains sand and pebbles. A stream on the left, and huge bunkers on the right make it challenging to reach the green in regulation. The 3rd green, which dates back to the club’s inauguration in 1893, is considered to be the oldest in the country and is notable not only for its age but also for its deep swale at the front left of the putting surface.
Host to the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1897 and 1912, the Essex County Club has been out of the limelight for almost 100 years. But that changed in June 2010 when the club proudly hosted the Curtis Cup, which is an amateur event that matches the best lady golfers from the USA against Great Britain and Ireland. Team USA won a sixth consecutive Curtis Cup at St Andrews in Scotland in 2008 and team Britain and Ireland was unable to stop the USA’s winning streak at Essex County Club.
Essex County Club – I’ve had the incredible fortune of playing here almost every year since 2002. It is fast becoming not only one of the most sought-after venues in New England, but in the entire country. This Donald Ross layout has transformed itself in the past 5 years with tree removal, rock exposure, new tee-boxes, updated mowing lines and a brilliant greenkeeping team. Being on the property is a huge privilege, and I envision the golf course continuing to climb in the various rankings. I’m not bashful about saying it’s in my Top 5 Ross courses in the US.
I first played Essex County Club a couple of years ago. Both times I played it in the month of October, so I am not sure I have played it at its best. I am also not sure it matters that I did not play it in the summer because it is an outstanding golf course.
Donald Ross is often criticized for designing over 400 different courses, many of which are ho-hum. However, I would be willing to wager that nearly half of his courses are at the very top in their state or are certainly worth playing repeatedly. Many of his courses are in high regard that one wonders “what is the correct ranking of the very best?” It is only in Florida, due to the poor terrain, that he designed many courses that are not among his better efforts. But how many courses in Florida are actually that good?
After playing Essex County the first time I thought it to be good. After playing it the second time, I thought even more highly of it. It is truly deserving of its reputation and the recognition it receives as one of his top five courses as well as a top 100 course in the USA/world.
The course is blessed with very good land for the back nine as the front nine, with a few exceptions, is essentially flat. Yet Mr. Ross was able to craft an excellent routing as he expanded the course from nine holes to eighteen holes while living at the back end of the property. On the front nine, he found the best locations for the green sites and/or the tees – in many cases creating something out of nothing. For example, holes one, two, three and four start with elevated tees. There is a blind tee shot on eight. There is a narrow drive through a tree line on five. There is often a blind third shot into the par five third hole. There is a stream bisecting the fifth and sixth holes. The routing is clever on the front nine. Whereas on the back nine the routing is more obvious as the land is exceptional for several of the holes. Although one still has to decide whether to make the starting hole on the back nine a sharp dogleg par 4 with a semi-blind tee shot, or have it as a par 5 playing to the current eleventh green? Or does one start with a par 3 playing down through the narrow opening, followed by a robust par 4 up the hill? To no one’s surprise, Mr. Ross got it right.
I think about the two Essex County courses I played this year, the one in New Jersey and the one in Massachusetts. Both of them have a back nine that is among the better nine holes one will ever play, but in the case of the course in Massachusetts the front nine is far superior to the one in New Jersey.
The course’s Blue tees play to 6555 yards, rated 73.0/135, while the Gold tees play to 6195 yards, rated 71.0/132. It is a par 70, (73 for the women). The course does play longer than the yardage as it only has two par 5’s and two of the holes are strongly uphill. However, I do suspect that the lack of length is a reason it is not ranked more highly, perhaps in the top 30 in the USA. There is the ability to add as much as 280 yards to the course but it would require removal of a building, taking down trees and removing rocks. All of this would change the character of the five holes where one could do it. (move tee back nearly to clubhouse on one (15 yards), place back tee box on top of hill on five (25 yards), remove trees to the right on seven (100 yards), remove building on ten (15 yards), move tee back on twelve (40 yards), and move green on seventeen (75 yards). Would it be a better course? It would not be a better course for the majority of players, both male and female. Some of these changes might make a hole nearly impossible and certainly less visually appealing.
I have only played the Blue tees.
1. Par 4 – 440/408. From an elevated tee one hits to a broad fairway, with mounds going down the right with two bunkers right and three on the left. There is another very large bunker on the right more in play which is shared with the third hole. Longer hitters likely do not think about any of these bunkers. Instead, for longer hitters their bigger concern is that the fairway narrows to about twenty yards about 100 yards from the green. The green is somewhat hidden behind mounds fronting the green with a long bunker on the right side with a spur coming out from it. I am not sure why the bunker has this long spur. The green is sloped a bit back to front with a lot of inner movement.
2. Par 4 – 335. The second is a fun hole playing again from an elevated tee. There is a cross bunker that should be easily carried set about160 yards out. More problematic is the large bunker on the right about 230 yards off the tee. The green is set off to the right with a front bunker and then two at the corners. The left side of the green is narrow. The green is somewhat crowned with a back to front slope, however it should be easily read as to break.
3. Par 5 – 623/556. This is a demanding hole. A heavy tree line goes down the entirely of the left side. There is a forced carry of about 160 yards followed by a long bunker on the right that begins at about 200 yards and is likely 40 yards long. Mounds go down the right side until near the next bunker. There are two large bunkers on the right that narrow the fairway, the first about 140 yards out and the second about 30 yards from the green. At the first bunker there is a drop in the fairway followed by a rise. If one does not get to the top of the rise it is a blind shot to the green. The green is large with a small bunker front left and two set off to the right. The most interesting part of the green is the large depression on the front left which I was told was caused by a nearby tree falling onto the green a long time ago. Even the longest hitters will struggle on this hole.
4. Par 3 – 233/223. A long par 5 is followed by a long par 3, playing over the corner of a pond. This is another difficult hole as it feels like you have to hit a draw from the tee (as a right handed player). There is a hill filled with fescue on the right and two large bunkers while the left side offers the pond and then a bunker. The green is sharply tilted back to front and right to left (but not as much as it seems). The second bunker on the right is very troublesome as it is both long and wide, beginning about 10 yards short of the green and continuing through half of the right side. For the rare shot that goes long over the back of the green they will be faced with a very speedy downhill chip. I suspect that this hole plays more over par than the third.
5. Par 5 – 503/458. This is one of the holes that people criticize but I think it is fine. From an elevated tee behind the fourth green, you play through a chute of trees across Sawmill Brook. The trees are very heavy down the left side but stop at about 180 yards off the tee down the right side. There are flanking bunkers near the start of the fairway. A tree on the left side pinches in the landing zone although it does not hang over the fairway. For longer hitters this is likely a 6 iron or less to the green while average length players will likely choose to lay up as Causeway Brook cuts diagonally across the fairway about 10 yards short of the green on the left and 25 yards short on the right. Due to the diagonal nature of the brook, there is a bit of landing area on the right side of the green after crossing the brook. The miss for longer hitters is to the right side as there is a chance to catch the sixth fairway. There is a small bunker on the right after the fairway ends but before the brook and then one on the right side of the green. The green is fairly flat but a bit quicker than it looks.
6. Par 4 – 335/330. The first time I played this hole I hit down the right into the rough, but after crossing Causeway Brook, which cuts diagonally across the fairway. Playing down the right side leads to a bad angle to a green that appears to be thinner than it is. My first time playing this I could not hold the green with my approach shot from 90 yards. This time I decided to try to lay up in the left corner of the fairway before the brook, leaving about 130 yards into the green but a great angle. Alas, a passing motorcyclist revved his engine to jet airplane heights on my backswing and I hit my lay-up more to the right, trickling into the area that begins the brook just enough to have no backswing and requiring a lay-out to the left to my intended line. From there it is a straightforward shot, but in the future I would always try to cross the stream. There are only two bunkers on this hole but they are both long and the one on the right side is wide. The right side begins about 40 yards short of the green going nearly all the way to the back while the left side bunker begins about 35 yards short of the green going to the back. Because the green is raised and two-tiered, the bunkers both sit well below the hole. The green has various plateaus and swales in it with the back left looking like it falls away to a drop-off while the front half is also tilted. It is a genius hole for only 335 yards. Maybe on my third attempt I can make par.
7. Par 3 – 142/142. For me this is the weakest hole on the course. Playing again from a slightly elevated tee, one has to be mindful of Sawmill Brook crossing in front of the green, closer on the right side. There are three bunkers right of the green and two to the left with the bunkers closest on either side the length of that side. The green is sharply sloped back to front which is the only interesting aspect to the hole.
8. Par 4 – 422. This is a blind uphill tee shot and one that favors the bold play down the left side. If one is long enough down the left side they will catch a speed slot and pick up another 50 yards, leaving perhaps as little as a gap wedge to the green. From the tee off to the right are two small bunkers but I do not feel either should be in play. Three more bunkers are placed on the right and shared with the ninth hole; more in play for the ninth. More troublesome are the two apostrophe shaped bunkers that begin about 60 yards short of the green ending about 10 yards short of the green. The second one is somewhat hidden from the right side of the fairway. The green has a small back right on a plateau that is a very nasty location for a pin. The green has a different bowl/two tiers in it with the front half being about 4 feet below the upper half with a 2 ½ feet drop in the middle. Two bunkers on the left await balls that come in from the right but do not come to a rest on the green due to the slope. This hole can be appreciated both for the blind tee shot and a wacky, but wonderful green.
9. Par 4 – 432/389. This is a plain vanilla hole with the driving range to the left. A s ingle bunker is on the left with the three bunkers shared with the eighth on the right. Farther up another 30 yards is another bunker on the left. The green has a valley before it rises and is sloped back to front. It has two small bunkers on the front left corner and two large bunkers off to the right. Because the land drops down after the green, this is a bit of an “infinity” green. Other than seven, I feel this is the second least interesting hole on the course as it lacks visual appeal or an interesting green. The green is quick if one gets above the hole.
10. Par 4 – 363/342. This is an amazing hole. After walking by the putting green, first tee and the entirety of the clubhouse, and finally past the cart barn, one turns a corner and climbs a small rise to the elevated tee playing across a valley and Sawmill Brook between a narrow chute. There is a huge hill on the right side that is part of the eighteenth hole while the left side has thick trees. Bigger hitters will fly the hill although the ideal line is to go right through the middle of the chute. There are two bunkers placed on the right on the side of the hill acting more as a guide/nuisance. Getting to the green is tricky with a cross bunker 25 yards short and another bunker pinching in from the right about 10-5 yards short. There are two bunkers at the rear designed to catch balls hit too hard to ensure one clears that cross bunker. Finally there is a small bunker to the left side. The green is very tilted back to front and a bit right to left. I had a long downhill putt to a front right pin but from the back left. I sent my ball 13 feet to the left but it still needed more break. After my three putt my caddie informed me there are more three and four putts on this green than any other. Indeed, from the next green I watched a player from slightly shorter than my putt but the same angle putt his first putt off the front of the green. This hole is both a visual delight and a delight to play.
11. Par 3 – 178. This hole plays strongly uphill with a huge fall-off on the left side. The hole can require as much as one-two more clubs depending on the wind. There is sand everywhere although it is not as noticeable as on other holes. To the right side are two enormous bunkers that begin about 15 yards short of the green continuing down the right side while the left side has three bunkers all before the green. The ideal line is down the right side given the green tilts strongly back to front and right to left. It also has a definite swale on the front left. Much like the fourth hole, this is a demanding par 3 as it requires good decision-making and execution from the tee shot to the putter.
12. Par 4 – 420/392. This is the second blind tee shot on the course as the hole rises about 175 yards from the tee. One has to hit a drive about 240 yards to catch a speed slot as the hole continues downhill to a corner of the property. Trees are heavy on the right side for the tee shot, while the trees come into play down the left and right for the approach shot. Tall fescue is on both sides. There are no bunkers until one is near the green where a bunker is placed 40 yards short on the left. Three bunkers are on the right side of the green and one on the left. The green seems to be angled front to back and has a lot of subtle movement in it. This should be a “breather” hole on the back nine, but there are a lot of bogies here.
13. Par 4 – 379. Thirteen comes with the thinnest fairway on the course with wetlands and a trees line down the right side and a heavy tree line down the left. The fairway rises gradually until one gets to the green which sits well above you with a significant false front. There are two bunkers placed short of the green on the left but my caddie said players are rarely in them. More troublesome are the bunkers short right and to the right of the green placed well below the playing surface. There is a final bunker at the rear left. The green has definite spines and plateaus in it and is perhaps the trickiest green to read on the golf course. This is a very good golf hole, particularly for one that is less than 400 yards.
14. Par 3 – 172. A fairly straightforward par 3 with a bunker on all sides. The green is raised with a back to front slope and a bit of two-tiers.
15. Par 4 – 347. The wind has been in my face both times I have played it making the hole play longer. The tee is angled to create a dogleg right, playing over sand that is more in play for the sixteenth. This hole is all about the approach shot which has to carry a wide and deep bunker fronting the green. The green is raised with the front wall acting as a barrier, sending balls back into the front bunker. There is a bunker behind and to the left of the green. The green is angled back to front but the safer play is to play long rather than be in that front bunker. For another short par 4, it is genius as the green requires precision for line and carry.
16. Par 4 – 453/406. I go back and forth as to which par 4 I like more….the twelfth at Myopia Hunt or the par 4 sixteenth at Essex. Myopia’s par 4 plays from a more elevated tee and is slightly shorter and definitely straighter. Both offer trees down the left for the tee shot while Myopia’s has taller fescue down the right. Essex has two cross bunkers well before the start of the fairway acting as a guide rather than for defense. Farther down for the longer hitters is a bunker on the left for those trying to ensure a slightly shorter line to the tee. Staying left results in not having to confront a large bunker that cuts the fairway in half and creates the dogleg. If on the right, that large bunker hides the green. There are two small bunkers placed before the green on the left. The green has a lot of interior movement to it. It is one of the better holes one will play.
17. Par 4 – 361/327. The parallel to Myopia Hunt continue on this hole. It is of similar length although more terrifying. Much like Myopia Hunt’s thirteenth hole, this hole climbs substantially but in this case the climb begins with the tee shot which must go uphill. Off to the left side are a lot of rocks which force people to hit right. Much like Myopia, the fairway is wide, although much of the width of the right side is blind from the tee. Bigger hitters can run through the fairway despite the uphill nature of the hole, whereas at Myopia they will try to drive the uphill green on the thirteenth. At Essex, the second shot is as uphill as is the second at Myopia, but much more blind as the rise is more like a wall of some 40 feet, perhaps higher. One merely guesses at what the line is to the green without a caddie or another player climbing the hill to provide a line. The green is relatively narrow with two bunkers left and one on the right. The green has a false front. If one goes long, they are likely to end up in tall grass facing a downhill recovery shot. The green is tilted back to front very steeply with two tiers and a bit of a bowl on the left side. It is a remarkable hole.
18. Par 4 – 418/389. You climb to what seems like the top of the world for the tee shot looking at another hill down the left side and a hill down the right with a narrow opening. If you are not long enough to carry the hill on the left to find the opening to the green, the hole essentially goes right, then left, then right. This hole definitely favors the longer hitters although they have to be careful not to run through the fairway on the right. There is a single bunker built into the side of the hill on the left while another bunker is on the right near a grouping of four-five trees. Failure to clear the channel between the two hills will leave a blind shot of 190-220 yards to a green that sits below on the other side of Sawmill Brook. Most people who cannot see the flag will likely lay up in front of the brook. The green is places in a semi-bowl and is tilted back to front with the brook closer on the right side. This hole is visually appealing from the tee but equally appealing from the approach shot. It is a satisfactory end to a challenging round of golf.
Essex County is a course that one could play every day, much like Myopia Hunt. It is more difficult tee to green than Myopia, and perhaps has two silly greens compared to Myopia’s five. The green complexes are fabulous with an excellent size, slope, and tiers in the greens. The green surrounds, whether due to sand or smaller mounds or nearby grasses are also very well done. There are several holes that are a visual delight. The routing takes prime advantage of the land both for tees and the green locations.
I was asked by several people how I would break down 10 rounds between Essex and Myopia Hunt Club and I answered 5-5. Then they pressed me to answer if I only had 9 rounds. I refused to answer that question. The courses are different but both are excellent.
Massachusetts is a golf-rich state primarily due to the efforts of Mr. Ross. Essex County belongs in the conversation of his finest designs.
I’m a slow player at Essex. The 8th hole—a medium length par 4—generally takes me at least twenty minutes. That’s because I usually stop at the 150 yard marker and walk into the woods. Not for a bathroom break, but rather to visit my parents. Their grave is just 20 yards off the fairway.
There are plenty of other reasons to follow Walter Hagen’s dictum about not forgetting to stop and smell the roses here. Many holes, notably 1, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, and 18 give the player strategic options on the tee shot. And even more (all but 7, 11, 12 13 and 17) provide the option for an aerial approach shot. The four par 3s provide great variety—anything from a fairway metal (# 4) to a wedge (# 7). The latter, with a hogback dissecting the green from front to back, is one of the finest short holes anywhere.
Essex is one of my half dozen favorite of both Donald Ross courses (out of 110 played) and those in Massachusetts (out of 180 played).
When you pull in the driveway to Essex County Club (ECC) it belies what you will quickly see when you arrive at the 1st tee. I have always been a firm believer that the land a course is situated is no less than 60% of the total equation for any assessment that follows. There are exceptions, quite naturally, but they are far more the exception. The likes of The Old Course at St. Andrews and Winged Foot / West, come quickly to mind, as layouts that are not blessed with superior terrain.
ECC is the handiwork of the legendary Donald Ross and while his other more celebrated designs such as Pinehurst #2 and Seminole get plenty of rightful attention it is no less fair to say that ECC is worthy of high praise and clearly among the best Ross ever designed.
Ross was the head professional at ECC from 1909-1913 and lived right off the property near the 15th tee before his design career blossomed. He was able to monitor the course quite closely and you can clearly see the fingerprints of total detail as the round unfolds. ECC was already a golf course that was tweaked substantially through his involvement.
Interestingly, ECC is the sixth club to have joined the United States Golf Association (USGA) and was incorporated in 1893. And the club was the home for Margaret and Harriott Curtis -- the namesakes for the amateur competition played bi-annually between the USA and GB&I and hosted at ECC in 2010.
Much is talked about ECC's famed back nine and I do concur but the opening nine is far more than just filler.
The 1st hole provides a scenic panorama as you see the majestic property from all angles. The opener is the perfect blend of getting the golf muscles stretched but not being overly draconian -- although the hapless play is never sent a life jacket. The 440-yard par-4 features a tapered fairway -- the longer one hits the ball the straighter the tee shot must be. The green is rather generous in overall size but possesses an array of subtle twists and turns and is not pedestrian by any definition.
At the 2nd you have a solid change of pace hole -- 335 yards in length. At first glance it appears rather docile -- but heaven help the wayward driver who attempted to go for the green and pushes the ball near enough to growing fescue mounds that intrude rather emphatically. The putting surface is a high caliber Ross touch -- a crown target with appropriate fall-offs for the less-than-sure approach.
Generally, during the high season months the first two holes play downwind but at the superb par-5 3rd -- playing 623 yards and often into a headwind for its entire length. At the tee the hole doesn't convey much but more than anything else it is essential to find the fairway -- otherwise the wherewithal to reach the green in the regulation stroke will be severely tested. The 2nd shot is where the magical qualities of the 3rd take center stage. There is a slight rise in the terrain and it takes two blows equally 540 yards to ascend the rise in order to see wherever the pin is located. Keep in mind, the fairway, like the 1st, tapers in considerably and a menacing fairway bunker lurks on the right and must be avoided at all costs. The brilliance of the hole is that failure to take on the rise for the 2nd shot will likely result in a blind 3rd. To add to the demands the green is wonderfully contoured with an internal bowl located on the left side. This is one par-5 where walking off the green with a par may truly feel like a birdie. Interestingly, the club states that the 3rd green is the oldest continuous putting surface in usage -- dating back to 1893.
ECC continues to keep the pedal pushed down when one reaches the long par-3 4th at 233 yards. You commence from an elevated tee and the green has a right shoulder area which can be used to propel one's approach onto the green. The surface slopes from right-to-left and heaven help anyone who misses to the right as the options for success become quite limited.
For a course that plays under 6,600 yards -- the first four holes at ECC mandate that players be ready to play as soon as they hit the 1st tee.
The par-5 5th is risk/reward hole which includes a fronting creek that takes two blows equally 460 yards to clear. Often playing downwind the 5th is the final par-5 so getting something back can often put pressure on players to succeed here.
The 6th and 7th also provide scoring opportunities but never allow haphazard execution to benefit the player. At the 6th the short par-4 is smartly influenced by a creek that is well angled. Players can go over the creek but the further left you go the longer the carry -- about 210 yards -- is needed. Not only is the carry greater but the left side is fraught with rough, trees and if one pulls it badly even out-of-bounds can happen. Shorter players can lay-up but the second shot becomes much longer. The fairway also tapers in considerably the longer you attempt to gain from the tee. So much strategy in such a short hole and the green brings no less in terms of contours and subtle movements. The short par-3 7th can be a rather simple hole but when the pin is pushed to the far right a pesky stream can insert itself rather well.
The par-4 8th is, in my mind, one of the real gems that Ross ever created. The hole starts with a blind shot -- automatically causing a sense of "unknown" for any player as you have to display confidence on your line of attack. The 8th possesses three distinct levels of fairway -- one can stay to the far right and be assured of safety but at the expense of a better angle to a green that slopes pronouncedly from right-to-left. The left side is a slightly different level but provides a better angle albeit with a fairly lengthy approach. For the adventurous player capable in marrying length and placement -- it takes roughly a 250-yard carry to carry a drop-off on the same left side and with it the player receives a "turbo boost" which will propel one's tee shot even further down the fairway. The catch? Out-of-bounds hugs the left side like a toddler clutching his Mom on the first day of school. The slightest tug / pull to that side can mean a quick reload from the tee. As I mentioned, the green is simply grand stuff. There are numerous strategies involved and so much can happen for all types of players. Aspiring architects should see what can be done to add elasticity and versatility.
The closing par-4 9th is rather tame than its predecessor but only because the land is fairly straightforward. The slight turn in the fairway left provides for a long fairway bunker on that side. The green is well done -- sitting slightly higher than the fairway with drop-offs to the various sides awaiting the poorly played approach.
As I said, little is mentioned about the outward nine at ECC but the combination of holes and the magnificent routing and varied challenges provided are no doubt top tier for what is provided. However, as much as the first nine holes provide -- the back nine hits an even higher target of greatness.
The inward set of holes at ECC is blessed with wonderful terrain and a stellar routing that maxes out all the inherent components. The short 10th is a good hole. Played to a fairway turning left -- the key decision is how close to the left side can you attain? The best angle to the flag is from that side.
The uphill par-3 11th is a tour de force hole and among the finest par-3 holes Ross ever created. The scorecard distance is 177 yards but the "effective" yardage is a good bit longer. The green presents a modified "Redan" appearance with three step bunkers tugging tight to the left side. Sadly, uphill par-3's have been phased out of much of modern design. Often, modern architecture tries to include a predictable drop-shot par-3 because of the visuals and the relative ease in getting to the target. The 11th at ECC is great contrast to the earlier par-3 holes played. The green is appropriately contoured so leaving the green with a par is something you won't ever forget.
The 12th and 13th are quality two-shot holes. The former starts with a blind tee shot and then sweeps downhill to a solid green complex. The latter is a mid-length par-4 that tightens up considerably as you attempt to go deeper down the fairway. Miss either right or left and the penalties will be severe. The elevated putting surface is especially well done and can easily prompt a three-putt for the indifferent approach.
The par-3 14th has been changed somewhat as the original green was too near a road and missed shots often could reach a private residence located there. The new green was done by architect Tom Doak and is beautifully contoured fitting nicely with the presentation seen from the others played.
After playing holes around a major hillside -- Ross then routes the next two par-4's back into the meadowlands area you played on the front side. The par-4 15th plays usually into the prevailing wind and while the overall yardage is not long -- the demands are enhanced considerably when the wind is blowing hard. The green features an elevated target and is expertly angled so that the approach must be well played to reap any reward. The long par-4 16th has been extended in recent times. At 458 yards the hole commences from an elevated tee and even when the wind is with the player the tee shot must be well-placed to secure the best approach angle. Given that both the 15th and 16th are located on relatively flat land they are designed well and show the genius of Ross.
The par-4 17th plays completely uphill and is longer than the listed 361 yards. Clearly a hole type modern construction would likely eschew in creating. The tee shot take you to a top level followed by an approach completely blind to a green that is well crafted. Truly a captivating hole.
The finishing hole at ECC -- par-4 of 417 yards -- starts from a tee box roughly 100 feet above the fairway. You can see the clubhouse in the distance and the hole features an "S" shape design. Strong players will think seriously in cutting the right hand corner but the tee shot is usually into the prevailing wind and even with the elevation will need to be well struck to avoid clutching fescue grasses on the right for the wayward hit. Even in hitting the fairway the green is protected by a creek which awaits those who fail to hit the appropriate yardage on the approach. The 18th is a top tier closer to a layout that offers so much variety in terms of hole differentiation and shot requirements.
ECC will never be able to host a major championship for a host of logistical reasons so its wherewithal to be noticed will not come from that direction. The layout is clearly one of the very best in the Commonwealth and for those able to secure an invitation the time spent there will be nothing short of exhilaration.
by M. James Ward
The routing takes you through open links like areas to more wooded stretches and it takes full advantage of the topography of the course. The round starts with a tee box from in from of the majestic clubhouse and ends with a thrilling drive off the elevated 18th tee with the clubhouse as the backdrop. The routing has been changed over the years however, and the current 18th was not the original finishing hole. The course is short by modern standards but the par 5 3rd is over 600 yards long and has a long waste area and a tremendous green site which keep it from feeling like a long slog. There are other holes of note such as the long par three 4th over a small pond with a severely banked green to allow for a running draw to get close to a back pin. The par 3 11th is one of the best par threes I have played with a Redan style green and fantastic bunkering surrounding it. Any ball missing the green will be played from at least 10 feet below the green surface and could be as far as 30 feet below it. The 13th is a classic New England hole set beautifully in a wooded area and it has one of the best greens on the course. It is one of the toughest holes on the course even though is it well under 400 yards from the back tees. While it may not be the most challenging course Ross has ever designed, Essex is definitely one of his best and most interesting designs. What else could you expect from a course which serves as the home of this great designer. A must play if you can get a game.