Originally intended as a private development for a group of investors in the early 1930s, the land on which the George Wright Golf Course is sited ended up with the City of Boston when the Great Depression hit and the investors disappeared.
Thanks to the intervention of the US government’s Works Progress Administration, the city decided to develop a municipal facility when around a million dollars was made available to dynamite rock, lay drainage pipes, install irrigation lines and, most importantly, keep around a thousand men actively employed during construction.
Fast forward to the start of the new millennium, when the City of Boston decided to run the daily operations of a sadly dilapidated course that was suffering from twenty years of neglect due to its upkeep having been leased to a succession of outside management companies.
Greens were made the number one priority, applying sand and covering them up during the harsh winter months. The irrigation system was then overhauled, a program of tree removal was carried out and new bunkers were added, all of which dramatically turned the course’s fortunes around, to the extent that George Wright hosted the 110th Massachusetts Amateur in July 2018, won by Patrick Frodigh. In the event's long history this was the first time the tournament had been staged over a municipal course.
Finding quality classic period architecture that includes taxpayer-owned facilities is no small feat. George Wright dates back to 1938 as a WPA project coming out of The Great Depression.
The magic of George Wright comes from the terrain -- eye-catching ups and downs via a series of hills that are scattered throughout the round.
The opening two holes stretch the muscles and when you reach the par-5 3rd the majesty of the property starts its ascent.
After you play the uphill par-3 4th you arrive at the 5th tee. The hole is captivating because it allows the land to be the true star. The fairway has the appearance of a stormy ocean with sufficient movements before turning to the right. Bold players can take on the corner but the tee shot must be played with Robin Hood proficiency. The green is set below the high rise in the fairway and allows players to bounce their approaches into the putting surface.
The par-4 7th is another delicious hole. Sharing the same tee pad area with the 5th you proceed in the opposite direction. Players can opt to hit driver and get as far as possible as the land moves downward. The interesting aspect rests on whether you wish to lay back and see the green or opt for a shorter approach but then deal with a blind shot to the target.
The inward half is a quality mixture of holes. The terrain is the star and the holes flow very well without artifice.
Given the sheer number of rounds the overall conditioning is quite good. The missing ingredient deals with taking care of the minor details which would only add to the experience. Like many other taxpayer-owned layouts -- getting the needed manpower and dollars to do that is no small feat. George Wright has beautiful rock outcroppings -- similar to what you actually see at The Country Club which is just a few miles away. Adding new tee boxes is being contemplated on a few of the holes and interestingly, an earlier master plan was crafted by Gil Hanse which would extend the course to over 7,000 yards but was not implemented. Trimming back the canopy of a number of trees would also help in adding to the overall vistas and for bolstering the strategic calculus.
So much of what George Wright faces is no different than what Bethpage State Park faced before the major infusion of dollars when the Black Course was selected to host the 2002 US Open. Prior to that event the courses at Bethpage were in varying levels of conditioning. The Black also had a number of issues fairly similar to what George Wright has now.
The Ross layout has been helped by the involvement of architect Mark Mungeam who clearly understands how to balance the need for improvements on the architectural side while also realizing the course needs to handle the wide range of players who come to play each day.
George Wright has a number of fine holes and, as mentioned previously, is blessed with a site that fuels one's desire to return and test one's skill level. In 2018 the Massachusetts Amateur was played here -- the first time the event had been played on a public facility.
One of the keys for George Wright is in having a head professional and superintendent who have been present in their respective roles for a number of years. Thereby providing a steady hand and in maintaining much needed continuity. For too many taxpayer-owned courses the lack of continuity can easily derail any effort to improve what's present as one often needs an ever-changing scorecard of new faces on the scene. As someone who grew up on courses that grew grass by accident -- rather than by design -- I can fully appreciate what George Wright means to the Boston golfing community.
With the US Open returning to TCC at Brookline in 2022, I am hopeful more people from outside the immediate Beantown area will plan to see this entertaining layout.
M. James Ward
Thank you for that review. I was scheduled to play George Wright on Oct 13 as a round at a top private club I had not played could not happen due to a club tournament. As it turned out I could not have played either as it rained the entire day; 3 inches that day. I thought to myself, "no big deal" as George Wright is a busy muni course. After reading your review, on my next trip to Boston next year I will try again to play it.
The key for George Wright -- as it is for a number of taxpayer-owned courses is getting the design details sorted out in tandem with upgrades on the conditioning side. George Wright has made great strides but Mother Nature does need constant proactive involvements -- cutting back the tree canopies, the pulling back of vegetation from the rock outcroppings, etc, etc.
On the design side -- adding a few new tee boxes and possibly repositioning or even adding a few strategic fairway bunkers would be a real plus.
Given the urgency of the pandemic -- it's likely that George Wright will need to do with what it has now. The long time service of the head professional and superintendent is a big time plus for the successes they've achieved and the stewardship they provide.
The Gil Hanse master plan did show an increasing of total yardage to 7,000 yards and I did get to see some of the projected new tee extensions. Mark Mungeam is quite adept in dealing with public courses so it will be interesting to see how things progress.
I didn’t get the hype towards George Wright till I drove up to the parking lot. From the start, I could tell that this was going to be a special round. The course features a classic clubhouse, intimidating all from its perch on top of a hill. A timeless clubhouse, I immediately understood that this is a place for serious golf.
The course being a Boston city course, plays much better than the “municipal” label given to many. George Wright is a classic Donald Ross course; the master was given a piece of land that has many natural contours, a harsh piece of land to build a course, yet at the same time the perfect piece of land. Mr. Ross’s genius design even makes the straightaway par 4s bend and wind. With fairways bending and hills to hit into and down, every shot feels like an experience.
George Wright has numerous blind shots off the tee, with minimal aiming points and targets, best play with someone familiar with the course, if this is your first time. A good mix of par 4s that will challenge any golfer. You can have anywhere from pw to 4 iron on the approach, the par 4s certainly offer good variety, and will test any golfers ball striking. Wright is a strategic course; many decisions and risks can be taken during the round. Bombers beware, it may be ill advised to hit driver.
Each of the par 3’s offers a scenic yet demanding, and may I say intimidating tee shot. All three-play downhill If I recall correctly. Bunkering will almost certainly penalize any wayward approach, as the hazards are scruffy and there is no telling what your lie will be.
I walked away a happy man glad to have finally checked George Wright off my list and see for myself what the hype was about. George Wright most certainly lived up to all expectations I had and surpassed many, so much so I put it back on my list to play the next time I come back to Boston, I advise everyone to do the same. A beautiful layout with what I believe to have the strongest bones of any municipal golf course in the New England area.
I am sure some of you are wondering who the heck George Wright was? Well, George would be the Bo Jackson of his era. He was born in Yonkers, New York. His father was the club pro at St. George Cricket, hence George and his older brother, who are both in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY started out as cricket players. Harry Wright was the original manager of the Cincinnati Red Stockings and George, who was 12 years younger, was his shortstop. George is also credited with laying out New England’s first public golf course, Franklin Park, in 1890. While I am sure George’s motives were pure, his company, Wright and Ditson Sporting Goods, imported and sold golf clubs. What a stroke (no pun intended) of luck, genius or both having Francis Ouimet as an employee! This particular site was originally earmarked to be a private golf club, but then the market crashed in 1929. George then donated the 150-plus acres to the city of Boston with the intent of building a public golf course. Donald Ross was consulted and is purported to have said, “You need one of two things to build a suitable golf course on the property. Either a million dollars or an earthquake.”
In 1932, a protégé of Donald Ross named Walter Irving Johnson was tapped to lead the project. Ultimately, the development was funded by the Works Progress Administration and had over 1000 men working on the project. The magnitude of this project was huge; over 57K linear feet of drainage, over 50K pounds of dynamite was used for blasting, and over 70K cubic yards of fill. A beautiful clubhouse was also built, as well as a six-foot rock wall that surrounded the entire complex. Today, this project would not have been undertaken, but it was the first $1M public golf course
The first hole is a welcoming straightaway par four. Trees left and OB right, there are a few moguls front left of the green. The 2nd is a short par four greenlight special. A decent drive leaves a flip wedge with the only defense a bunker left. The 3rd is a reachable par 5 for big hitters. However, the landing area is pretty tight, my advice is play it as a three shotter. Also, I would not attack a front pin due to the deep front bunkers. The first par three is mid-length, slightly uphill with right and left front bunkers. The 5th is a tough dogleg right. If you cannot get to the top of the hill with your drive you will have a quasi-blind approach. The approach is downhill and bouncing your approach on is a viable play. The 6th is a pretty tight driving hole. The bunkers are not greenside. For 7 a drive to the top of the hill is preferable. If you hot it long and right, there is a significant drop-off and you will have a blind approach. This is one of the more undulating greens. I was playing with a retiree from Southie (South Boston) named Eddie McCarthy. He is a character and he carried two flasks in his golf bag. He said you can never be too careful. As the round progressed he became more vocal about the pace of play. On seven he was about 220 yards out on his approach shot. His long drive of the day may have been 200 yards. He said watch this and he hit his approach shot well, and immediately yelled, “Fore.” The foursome on the green ducked and covered. Eddie started laughing and his shot landed a good fifty yards short of the green. The foursome never saw where it landed, and Eddie said that should get them moving. As we came up to the green Eddie approached the foursome and apologized for hitting into them. One guy said no problem and another said that was pretty close. I wasn’t sure if I was on another planet or all these guys knew each other. The front closes with the number one handicap hole, a 453 yard par four.
After the difficult 9th we had ample time to catch our breath as there were 3 foursomes ahead of us on the 10th tee. The 10th is even longer than 9 although the approach is downhill. A big dogleg left favor right of center off the tee. The 11th is back up the hill dogleg right, favor the left. On the eleventh tee we were waiting and waiting. My playing partner Eddie was getting wound up and started worrying about running out of booze. Eddie started hollering at the group ahead of us. One guy turned around and flipped him off. That was all Eddie needed. Before anyone could stop him, he hit his teed-up ball right into them. Fortunately, it didn’t hit anyone and even if it had, by the time it got to them there was not a lot of inertia behind the shot. The guy who had flipped Eddie off walked over to the ball and calmly hit it into the woods. This set Eddie into the stratosphere and provided the classic quote: “That #$%^&**(&^%$#@, that was a brand new Topflite!” The 12th is a downhill slight dogleg right with a tight landing area. Favor the right side on the 13th. There are two water hazards left. Also, consider an extra club on the approach as this green has a false front. The 14th is an uphill par 3 with bunkers left and right. It also has a false front. The 15th is a reachable par 5. Downhill dogleg right, if your drive makes it to the bottom of the hill, it is green light. Otherwise play it as a 3 shotter. Favor the left as the right is heavily treelined. The finishing holes are good birdie opptys. The 16th is a short straight par 4, the approach is uphill so add an extra club. The 17th is rated the easiest hole on the course. The green is surrounded by four bunkers. The 18th has fairway bunkers right and trees left. There is a deep greenside bunker right.
Good value course.
A fun course with some classic features on an extreme site lead to a higher number of blind and uphill shots than most courses offer. I played it somewhere in the middle of its decade long renaissance, but despite some conditioning challenges, I found it to be an enjoyable collection of golf holes. With a handful of long difficult Par 4's and a difficult set of Par 3's, the course plays tougher than would be expected from the yardage, providing a good challenge. Quality for price, this is definitely a must play for Boston public golf.