A Donald Ross design from 1915, Brian Silva renovated the Mount Washington course at the 27-hole Omni Mount Washington Hotel in 2008 following the master architect’s original plans. The facility has played host to four New Hampshire Opens and the 2010 New England Open Championship won by Jason Parajeckas.
The complementary 9-hole Mount Pleasant layout is set out along the Ammonoosuc River and it extends to 3,215 yards, playing to a par of 35. It too was designed by Brian Silva, who constructed the course on the site of an old 19th century 9-holer, which disappeared sometime before World War II.The new Mount Washington holes are located mainly on the front nine, where holes 3 to 6 were reworked by Silva. On the inward half, three Ross originals stand out; the 537-yard uphill 10th, the 242-yard ravine-dominated 14th and the 201-yard 16th, where Mount Washington provides the backdrop to the green.
In 1909 Donald Ross moved into the house beside the 15th tee at the Essex County Club and began to rework the rudimentary course there. Six years later, Ross designed the course at the Mt. Washington Hotel. Two of my favorite holes at Essex are numbers 6 and 7, the former featuring a brook that crosses the fairway at a sharp angle, daring the player to decide how much to take on from the tee. The latter has a green with a sharp ridge running down the middle of the green from back to front. A shot that finds the wrong side of the ridge makes a three putt far more likely than a birdie.
At Mt. Washington, Ross reprised both holes, though in reverse order. The 7th features a similar ridge and the 8th challenges the tee shot with a diagonal brook challenging the tee shot. (A small portion of the brook is now covered, a change that Ross would, no doubt, disapprove of whole-heartedly.) Ross’s ghost is not the only dead architect’s to haunt the course. The 4th green features a fine Maiden green, a configuration associated more with C.B. MacDonald and Seth Raynor. My favorite hole, the par 3 14th has definite Redan characteristics, though this one swings left to right, the reverse direction of most of those built by MacDonald and/or Raynor.
Ross’s skill (complemented nicely by restoration specialist Brian Silva.) shows in many other ways. Most greens also have the kind of cunning contours found on 4 and 8. The course is routed so the holes run in a variety of directions and though there are parallel holes, few run are consecutive. And the fairway bunkering is also splendid, requiring the player to think carefully about the risk/reward aspects of her/his tee shot.
The course features lovely views of the Presidential Range, the Northeast’s highest, from all but four holes. MacDonald’s famous dictum about courses with scenic views, “Don’t confuse the canvas with the artwork” could easily apply in such a location. Fortunately at Mt. Washington, the artwork is just as spectacular as the canvas.
Resort golf is a specific challenge for any architect -- particularly if a facility has a limited number of holes. The 27-hole facility located nearby to the Presidential Mountain Range in Northern New Hampshire was created to be a multi-faceted facility for the well-to-do to escape the heat and humidity during summer months.
The challenge for resort golf is having a design capable in entertaining a broad range of players -- from novices to those desiring a sufficient challenge for the better player.
The Donald Ross design at Mount Washington is very good for what it accomplishes on all fronts. Fortunately, the facility saw fit to hire Brian Silva, a New England-based architect to restore the many elements of the course that had been suffering from past neglect and general indifference. The Silva involvement was a true game changer in resurrecting what was becoming more of a relic than relevant layout.
The restored layout is a fun course allowing freedom off the tee but only at the expense in having a much more demanding approach to green sites that provide a range of vexing puzzles for the player to figure out.
The starting trio of par-4 holes serves early notice that players had best be prepared from the outset. One of the really well done elements Silva provided was bringing back to life the appearance and positioning of the bunkers Ross originally provided as well as having natural grass areas that provide a color contrast to the closely mown area. As mentioned, there's plenty of width but the key is being in position to attack the greens from the best angle. Many of the putting surfaces at Mount Washington feature fall-offs accentuated by various internal and external contours.
One of the more interesting dimensions of the course is how Ross bottlenecks certain fairways -- the longer the tee shot the greater the demand for accuracy to be included. The par-4 8th is a good example of this type -- the lone bunker on the left side of the fairway needs to be avoided but the closer one plays towards it the greater the opportunity for an easier approach. The split fairway at the 429-yard 9th is also well done. The player must determine which side to hit towards off the tee -- the best approach is gained by being on the side that provides the best angle to the green.
The back-to-back par-5's at the 10th and 11th would seem to provide good opportunities for birdies but only when backed-up by smart thinking and sound execution. The elevated green at the 10th is a tempting target to go for in two but the shot must land with soft feet or otherwise run off the sides or back. The 11th plays back in the opposite direction so no wind pattern will repeat. Here you have to work the ball off the tee carefully as two fairway bunkers lurk -- on the left and right sides.
One of the real standout holes at the course comes with the par-4 13th. The hole moves right off the tee and has two well-positioned fairway bunkers on that side. The more you stay away from these bunkers the greater the demand becomes with the approach to an uphill green -- devilishly designed to repel anything but the surest of plays with the approach. The 13th is a visual masterpiece -- allowing the land to dictate so much of the strategic elements.
At the long downhill par-3 14th you reverse course and the 242-yard par-3 is a classic. Once again Ross used the roll of the land to provide for a run-up shot for those not able to fly the ball the entire way. The green is angled smartly -- the further left you go to avoid the large right greenside bunker the more challenging the 2nd becomes. Once again, the visuals and strategic sides are woven together so well.
Mount Washington concludes in grand fashion -- a 434-yard par-4 dog-leg left. The drive is tested -- the question becomes how close to the left side is the player prepared to take on at the tee? The closer you can play the shorter and more easier the approach becomes. Go too far and you can block oneself out or find pesky rough that can clearly put a serious brake on one's plan to make par. There is a stream that crosses in the drive zone and is more in play from the middle and forward tee markers. The final green is rather large and has tucked pin location on both the left and right sides -- quite demanding to reach and putt.
Mount Washington provides clear views of its namesake when the weather provides. Anyone visiting the area should make plans to go to the top of the peak which provides superlative 360-degree views -- just be prepared for major winds which can gust at anytime at the top of the peak. The colossal hotel is always a presence from just about any hole when playing. In the early years of golf development in America it was places such as Mount Washington which encompassed such an impressive array of activities with golf certainly in the mix. Thankfully, the facility is now in the hands of Omni Hotels & Resorts and the golf side has once again become a key reason why coming to this glorious area of New Hampshire is so meaningful. Hats off to Ross -- and to Silva -- for keeping playability a central focus while including various riddles for players to solve each step when playing. Fun golf is alive and well at Mount Washington.
by M. James Ward