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.
George Wright has received recognition for being on golfclubatlas.com’s “Custodian” list celebrating currently 148 courses around the world that best represent the game of golf. More recently it was listed by Golf Magazine as one of the top 100 courses you can play in the world. I want to emphasize “the world.” I would note that both of these listings are done by essentially the same people.
I found the course to be a good public municipal golf course, but not worthy of the above recognition simply because the condition is not good. The course currently has only four full-time members on its course staff although it adds 30-40 interns during the summer. The budget for maintenance and for improvements is very low as the city of Boston takes much of the money generated by the golf course back into its general fund.
The weather forecast we had was for thunderstorms. I was scheduled to join three others at 9:50 but when I wandered down to the tee at 9:20 there were only two locals. The sky was very grey giving an appearance of dusk. The tee times behind me had all been canceled or were no-shows. We went off at 9:40 and got two holes in before we saw a lightning strike followed by the siren to bring us back in. The foursome in front of us I believed continued to play or huddled under trees which would not have helped them given the volume of rain. It was a nutty, risky decision on their part. After 90 minutes and three beers apiece the three of us went back out. We started again on one and played the front nine in a mixture of drizzle and no rain. Beginning on the ninth green the rain was steady for the remainder of the round. We did not see any other players on the course save for a twosome following us that never got closer to two holes behind us. We played the blue tees at 6506 yards (the back tees) and with the rain I certainly felt as if we played closer to 6750 yards as most tee shots plugged.
The course is hilly and I was grateful for my trolley (pull cart). My playing partners shared a cart although the carts have no cover for the clubs and on some holes they were confined to the cart paths.
The golf course has a lot of land movement, sometimes very severe due to the numerous hills and valleys. This leads to several blind shots off the tee or if out of position into the green. These blinds shots also come into play on the four sharp doglegs. The course sits on a big piece of property but stone and trees as well as some wetland areas prevented the course from being lengthened. I note that M. James Ward said that Gil Hanse has provided a plan to lengthen the course from the 6506 yards to 7000 yards. I did see several opportunities to do so and hope that the city decides to do this as the course would certainly be worthy of hosting significant golf tournaments. The land and green complexes are that good.
The bunkers have primarily degraded with no meaningful maintenance being put into them. Indeed, on the par 5 fifteenth hole I found a greenside bunker and my ball plugged among a network on vines that were so embedded I could move them aside but not pull them out from the ground. There is a lack of sand and well as ruts in several of the bunkers. Overall, even if the bunkers were in good shape I felt the need for several more bunkers as well as a better strategic placement of the current ones.
The land movement results in several false fronts although the ball generally will not come back more than 20 yards save for perhaps the sixteenth which is one of the highest greens I have ever played. It also leads to having to hit tee shots that can land on the rises rather than have a blind approach shot. Longer hitters can easily carry these rises and can also be rewarded with as much as 75 more yards of roll-out on a dry day.
My two playing partners were terrific in describing the holes. I lamented with them the course condition. And I also questioned them as to why the city of Boston does not simply raise the current guest fees for non-Boston residents but residents of Massachusetts by 25%, and for non-residents of the state they should double, perhaps even triple. The proceeds from these increased dues would then be put back into the course. This is exactly what Chambers Bay and Torrey Pines do in terms of pricing. I am not saying that George Wright could ever be in the same category because both of those courses have stunning water views (although Torrey Pines South is a somewhat mundane course). Yet given the quality of golf in Massachusetts, if George Wright was kept in great condition with improvements, out-of-state residents in town to play some of the better private courses would likely come to play George Wright given the splendid greens and land features.
People criticize the first two holes which are flat. I think in total there are only four flat holes on the course along with the sixth and thirteenth. If money was invested into the course one could easily improve the opening hole by adding additional fairway bunkers and putting in an elevated green with better bunkering. For the short second hole, the raised green complex is already good but the tee could be pushed back another 40 yards. These two changes would make the beginning somewhat equivalent to the quality of the other holes despite the flat land.
The course kicks into gear on the par 5 fifth where one’s ball lands and the uphill begins. The hole is up all the way and despite that, the green is raised even higher with a substantial false front and sharp roll-off to the left and rear. The fronting bunkers have to be carried or one will have a blind shot.
The fourth hole is a par 3 played slightly up and across a valley to a well bunkered green that tilts strongly to the front. It is a beautiful par 3 and is a strong hole, although not the best par 3 on the course given the quality of the par 3’s.
Five is a magnificent sharp dogleg right par 4 with a heaving fairway. Bigger hitters who can carry the tree line down the right side might have less than 50 yards on this 426 yard hole as the fairway drops significantly at the turn down to the green. The trees are thick on this hole. The green itself is disappointing with little movement. I found this to be the hardest hole on the front nine although my playing partners felt the ninth had that honor.
Six is a mid-length par 4 with another raised green set off to the right. This green has another smaller false front and features a fair amount of subtle movement. The bunkers fronting the green frame it very nicely.
Seven plays downhill from an elevated tee shot. Bigger hitters can perhaps drive the green given the steepness of the terrain as one heads towards the green on this 384 yard par 4. There is a depression short of the green on the left that can collect balls as well as a mound on the left that one can play off of to kick their ball onto the green. While I was unaware of the mound, I pulled my third shot left and saw the ball kick right. I was rewarded with par saving putt of 14 inches.
Eight is a strong uphll par 3 of 167 yards, rising perhaps as much as 50 feet. We had a back flag (most of our flags were back on nearly every hole), making the hole play closer to 200 yards. My partners were surprised that I pulled a 5 metal but I hit the right side of the green finding another mound that kicked my ball left. Alas, I missed the 8 feet putt for birdie. They hit 5 irons and both were well short. The green has five fronting bunkers and is a visual delight from the tee.
Nine offers a blind tee shot as the hole goes downhill. The fairway tilts to the left so the right side needs to be favored on this 449 yard par 4. The land levels out about 130 yards from the green which is large and angled to the right with a right front bunker. The green is a good one with a noticeable slant that seemed to sometimes break and then not break. I liked the hole.
Ten is a sharp dogleg left playing slightly uphill from the tee. There are two bunkers on the inner corner. The fairway narrows at the turn although longer hitters will likely go over the trees in front of those bunkers. After the turn the fairway drops substantially down to the green with the land finally levelling out about 40 yards short of the green. There are no bunkers at this green which puzzled me. I did not make the corner on my tee shot, laid up but hit a good third to save par as this is another fairly flat green on the front half. I did like the hole despite the sharpness of the turn.
Eleven is a slight dogleg right with another blind tee shot. The land drops sharply to the hole as sharply as it does on the seventh. The hole has a raised false front of perhaps eight feet. The green has good contouring. There is greenside bunker but it is set off slightly to the right which made little sense to me. This green is fairly close to the fairway. I found this to be one of the weaker holes on the back nine.
You climb up to the tee box on twelve to play to the hole with the sharpest falloff on the course. If you hit left you will likely go down the hill and gain 50 yards and perhaps find flat land for the approach. Longer hitters can carry the drop off and even the tall grass on the other side. I did not quite carry the rise and was left with a 210 yard downhill approach shot which I missed to the left. There is an angled creek about 30-40 yards short of the green. This is another green that appears to be flat but is not with quite a bit of movement. The drop off from the high point is perhaps as much as 80 feet.
Thirteen is a flat hole but one of the more picturesque holes on the course. There is an early pond and stream that should not be in play. The fairway weaves its way on this 386 yard par 4 to another raised green with a single bunker on the front left. I would have liked to have seen a bunker at the rear. There are no fairway bunkers. The hole is beautifully framed by trees.
Fourteen is another uphill par 3 playing at 189 yards. With our back pin it was playing 211. There is a deep bunker on the front left to probably the most tilted back to front greens on the course. Miss short and one will likely roll back 20 yards although two of our balls plugged just short of the green due to the rain.
Fifteen is a weak par 5 of 507 yards dogleg right. It is another blind tee shot from an elevated tee. The longer hitters will carry the trees down the right side or at least hit to the top of the mound. The hole flattens out before ending in another elevated green. There are two fronting bunkers at the green where the vines are growing. This hole is definitely calling for more bunkers for the second shot.
Sixteen is a par 4 of only 346 yards playing closer to 400 such is the height of the green to the fairway. It rises as much as 75 feet. Anything hit short on a dry day should come down 40-50 yards. My ball stayed just off the front left, nearly still in its pitch mark. This green has a bank on its left side kicking balls to the right. I loved the hole despite the climb.
Seventeen, a par 3 of 167 yards plays downhill to a green surrounded by 4 bunkers. The rear of the green has a bank that should send a ball back onto the green unless the grass is saturated. You play down yet the green is elevated eight feet. It is the most picturesque and beautiful hole on the course.
Eighteen plays mainly level with a bunker set well off to the right that made little sense. There is a stream about 25 yards from the green that crosses the entirety of the fairway. The green is disappointing as it is flat with no bunkers.
In its current condition, I cannot recommend playing George Wright. The greens and tee boxes are fine although the greens showed an ample amount of unrepaired pitch marks from golfers who show no respect for the game. The fairways show wear, weeds, and different blends of grasses. The bunkers are poor. The course is beautifully routed over the hilly terrain but one feels or “senses” that the course could be so much more than it is. It is not an architectural marvel such as Yale or even Cape Arundel. I suspect it made the custodians list because they were looking for a municipal course “designed” by Donald Ross, or because it is low priced. But it is borderline to say it is good value for the money even if inexpensive.
However, perhaps the best praise I can give the course is that on many holes one has to make decisions as well as one will likely use most of the clubs in their bag at some point, rather than the 7-9 clubs they typically use on a golf course. In the right hands, this could be a top ten course in Massachusetts.
You may have had your hopes set too high, Mark; GOLF ranked George Wright as the No. 59 public-access course in North America...the Boston muni hasn't reached the "world" stage yet. That said, of all the major rating publications, GOLF is the most likely to overrate a course based on its potential versus its reality (in my opinion), so your overall reaction may still be correct.
Ryan, thank you for that correction. I did not remember it correctly and should have looked it up. I agree that it does not change the fact that George Wright is over-rated for what it currently offers. As you point out, raters sometimes over-praise a course. For example, Golf also included Talking Stick O’Odham North in Arizona at #82, although it is not a course I would return to play. The rest of their list is good although can always debate a couple or the ranking of a course (should it be higher or lower).
It’s brilliant that Ran Morrissett gives a platform to courses like this via his 2 aforementioned lists.
It’s not like this will ever impose upon the Cypress Point vs Pine Valley or Sand Hills vs Ballyneal debates at the upper echelons, but for 99.9% of golfers out there, a little ranking inflation & spotlight for tracks like George Wright is crucial for the greater good of the game (i.e. interesting design that’s accessible).
To Mark’s closing point, hopefully this course will find itself in the wright hands and we can see how good it could be.
As someone who cut his golfing teeth at municipally-owned courses -- Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx and then at various similar facilities in North Jersey I am very familiar with courses that have great promise but have financial anchors around their neck and likely have personnel / staffing concerns that hinder what they can ultimately implement.
George Wright has much to enjoy -- but as Mark correctly noted the turf conditions do not propel the design beyond a certain point.
Unfortunately, I believe there are those who pontificate about the possibility of a given site but fail to seriously address the practical reality of that ever coming to fruition. George Wright certainly could benefit from added maintenance budget and the related staffing to carry out such matters. Given the shortage of labor across the board now that seems unlikely to happen.
While I certainly encourage people to see in person what George Wright provides I also emphasize to go there knowing full well that uniform grass growth happens in a haphazard fashion and may prove to be a disappointment from that side of things.
Given next year's U.S. Open at nearby TCC -- I would hope the City of Boston would do its part in trying to spruce things up at GW because the design has a number of elements that can truly shine.
Last comment -- the municipal list that is mentioned should have highlighted a far better example -- instead of GW -- insert the likes of Charleston Municipal.
I like that various golf publications in the USA will publish lists such as “best municipal courses,” “best resort courses,” “best casino courses,” “best university courses,” “best residential courses,” etc. I find them to be fun even if it does not change my golf schedule. I have met a few people trying to play some of these lists or even buying a house based on it. They do increase the attention and for me serve as a back-up to top100golfcourses.com.
I have heard from many people give high praise for Charleston.
As for the maintenance budget at George Wright, those four full-timers are doing a yeoman’s job - they were mowing in the rain while we played although stopped obviously during the lightening delay and heaviest rain so as to not leave tire marks when turning.
As for the US Open, I was told that TCC paid perhaps $2 million for the right to use the adjacent Robert T Lynch municipal course for parking and concessions during the 1999 Ryder Cup. Obviously the fee will be much higher for next year’s US Open. But this course is owned by the town of Brookline and the funds were used by them for that township in various ways.. I was also told it took three years for the Lynch course to recover despite excellent weather.
There is a labor shortage in service industries, one sees it everywhere. It will take leadership and sponsorship to address it at George Wright. I certainly would have paid more to play those excellent par 3’s, the amazing third and a few others. But my higher fee should be retained by the course. I showed people a picture of the vines in the bunker and watched their jaws drop open. All of them had played the course multiple times but had heard of its recent decline. The Massachusetts Open was hosted there a few years back and the course was in excellent condition for that event so it is possible!
Could be a 5 with a little TLC. But otherwise is an excellent muni that is better than most high end public courses. A very challenging par 70 that requires you to use the movement of the terrain to play your best, especially on 5,7, and 10. A number of blind shots, so hit to where you can see it.
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.