Myopia Hunt Club in South Hamilton Massachusetts started out in life way back in 1882. So many of the original "horsey" members were bespectacled that they decided to call the club Myopia.
In the early days, golf was played on a rudimentary nine-hole course. The layout was later extended over a period of five years by one of Myopia’s original members, Herbert Corey Leeds and the 18-hole layout finally opened for play in 1901.
Leeds certainly fashioned an unusual and perhaps quirky course but it’s a layout that is full of character with no two holes the same. An unusual feature of Myopia Hunt is the random almost haphazard use of bunkers which appear in odd places and in numerous shapes and sizes. There is no other course that features such a mixture of bizarre and often cruelly penal bunkering as Myopia Hunt.
In the book Golf’s 100 Toughest Holes by Chris Millard, the par four 12th is described as “the toughest hole on the toughest course in Open history”. The author continues: “A 447-yard par four, it was originally designed as a par five. The tee is set high on the property and offers a magnificent New England view. But even the view can’t soften the hole.
“Guarded on the left by thick woods, the hole features a large rock on the right that blocks the view of the landing area. Given that the fairway slopes from right to left, a fade off the tee is the best way to stay in the fairway. But miss the fairway to the right and you can do is hope. The approach is played to (what else?) a small, crowned green that slopes away from the player.”
Host to four early US Open Championships – the most recent in 1908 – Myopia Hunt Club is one of the most important historical courses in the US. If you are only mildly interested in golf course architecture, this is the one to study. Myopia Hunt Club is yet another private US golf club but if you do manage to secure a game you are guaranteed an exciting treat.
I was amazingly fortunate to play two of America’s gems within a twenty seven hour period. What a way to start a week, Myopia Hunt Club in South Hamilton, Massachusetts on Monday and The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts on Tuesday.
The history of Myopia Hunt Club is a little bit fuzzy and depending upon who you talk to you may get a different historical vignette (especially if they are from The Country Club). Some believe that the club originated in baseball not golf, hunting or equestrian. In 1870, a group of men including four sons of Frederick Prince, who eventually became the mayor of Boston, formed a baseball team. The team was called the Myopia Nine. This was attributed to the four Prince brothers and another teammate who all wore glasses because they were nearsighted. Even though the group was nearsighted they did not lack vision.
The Prince brothers and friends would often host competitions and events with their friends in Winchester at their summer cottage. Eventually, they formed the official Myopia Club with baseball, tennis, water sports, racing, hunting and steeplechase. In 1879 they built a clubhouse on a hill overlooking Mystic Lake in Winchester, Massachusetts. Fittingly, the building was dedicated on in May of 1879, with a baseball game. Of interest, in 1902, the site overlooking Mystic Lake ultimately became the Winchester Country Club. A fine club in its own regard, Winchester initially opened as a nine hole course and in 1916 it became 18 holes and was designed by the one and only Donald Ross.
Frederick Prince introduced the sport of foxhunting to the Myopia club with the support of Hugh Allan, a Canadian. The hunts became quite popular. It quickly became apparent that the Winchester property was unsuitable for these types of hunts. A proposal was floated to move the hunts to either Ipswich or Hamilton. In the fall of 1881 the Myopians were able to reach an agreement with Mr. Gibney in Hamilton to rent his farm. However, several charter Myopia members wanted to move the club closer to Boston. This ultimately led to the founding of The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. More on this later.
In 1882, hunters outnumbered ballplayers and they were renamed the Myopia Foxhounds. At one point, the club passed a bylaw that for every golfer joining the club two equestrian members would be admitted as well. However, one viewed the club, be it hunting, golf or social, it flourished until 1891 when Gibney passed away. This created some uncertainty, but ultimately the club purchased the property from the estate for $20,000. This included the farmhouse, stables, barns and almost 150 acres! Amazingly, $20k in the 1890s would only be worth about $600k today. While this real estate transaction cannot compete with the purchase of Manhattan for $24 worth of trinkets, it still was a heck of a deal for the members. Once the deal closed the remodeling started, the farmhouse’s oldest rooms with the original fireplaces were converted into a library and most importantly a dining room with a bar. Thank goodness for priorities.
Foxhunting still takes place today at Myopia August through November. They do not utilize live foxes as a live fox hunt can take up to six hours and is illegal in Massachusetts. Instead of a fox they use something called the drag, which is a laid scent over an 8-10 mile course. I did not know squat about foxhunting prior to this, but my favorite quote on the topic comes courtesy of Oscar Wilde,
“The unspeakable chasing the uneatable”
With a golf course that has the distinction of being the only course in America to have two of the top 100 signature holes in the United States, and a Master of the Hounds who mans the hounds for hunts three seasons of each year, and the oldest continually running polo field in the country, there is a lot to be seen and said about Myopia. In season, polo is still played on Sunday afternoons and is open to the public for a small fee.
Myopia has hosted the U.S. Open four times 1898, 1901, 1905 and 1908. As the 1898 host, Myopia is one of only five courses that have hosted the U.S. Open in the nineteenth century. The first Open at Myopia in 1898 was the first US Open to be played over 72 holes. The previous three were only 36 holes. At the time, Myopia was only a nine hole course, hence the field had to play the same nine holes eight times. The winner was Fred Herd, a native of St. Andrews, Scotland, who shot a smooth 328! It was Fred’s only tour victory and he grossed a cool $150. However, Fred had a reputation as a hard core drinker. The USGA was concerned that Herd may hock the trophy to buy booze. Hence, they required him to make a deposit before he was allowed to have the championship trophy! How about them apples, John Daly?! As a side note, Fred Herd’s brother, Sandy, won the 1902 British Open.
The 1901 US Open saw a record established that in all probability will never be broken. They say records are meant to be broken, and they are. I try to avoid absolutes, but, I feel pretty confident about this one. The 1901 champion was Willie Anderson who shot a 331 to claim the $200 prize money! Even that was not enough. He needed to defeat Alex Smith in a playoff, 85 to 86 to secure the victory. Patience is a virtue as Willie had to wait as the playoff was delayed until Monday because Myopia was reserved for member play on Sundays. Willie’s caddy was none other than Myopia’s club pro John Jones
Willie Anderson was a tragic hero. He was born in North Berwick, (more on this later) Scotland and immigrated to the United States in 1896. He dominated US golfing circles for several years, being the first back-to-back winner, the first 3-time winner, and the first 4-time winner. He is still the only golfer to win the U.S. Open three straight years, 1903-1905 (1905 at Myopia); and he still shares, along with Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus the tournament record for wins with four. Sadly, he died at the age of 31 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While the official cause of death was epilepsy, many people felt he drank himself to death.
Other tasty tidbits from the 1901 US Open, coming in 21st place was another Scotsman named Donald Ross, yes that Donald Ross. Willie Anderson’s caddy, the Myopia club pro John Jones, finished twelfth. Yes, that is, correct, Jones caddied for Anderson AND PLAYED at the same time! I hope John didn’t give Anderson any bad reads or misclub him. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Steve Williams. The second nine at Myopia was completed in time for the 1901 Open and Herbert Corey Leeds was the designer. Leeds had little to no prior golf course design experience.
The last US Open championship at Myopia also went to a playoff. Ultimately, Fred McLeod prevailed over Willie Smith 77 to 83. Fred was the antithesis of the other Scottish US Open champions. While he was also from North Berwick, his father was involved in the temperance movement. McLeod immigrated to the US in 1903 and became the club pro at Rockford Country Club in Illinois. McLeod was a small man, 5’ 4” and when he won the Open he weighed less than 110 pounds. To put this in context, according to his biography Corey Pavin is 5’9” and weighs 155 pounds. I am not sure if there is any significance to this or not, but McLeod did live to 94, but I am not sure about the quality of those last few years……
Now to the course, while “only” 6500 yards, it is not for the faint of heart. Additionally, even the longest hitters must play from the red tees. The red tees are the tips. Unlike, most modern courses, Myopia has three sets of tees, yellow (ladies) 5500 yards, white, 6100 yards and red. The first hole is relatively benign. It is a short uphill 274 yard par 4 with a slight dogleg left. The second hole, while it is a relatively short par 5, 487 yards, the fairway is completely dissected twice. You must focus on the yardage and your distances or you may end up in the gunch.
For those of you who are scoffing at the distance of the course, the third hole, a 253 yard par three is a real gut check. Not only is it long, it is well protected with 3 small greenside bunkers and one large one at about 200 yards off the tee. The fourth hole is a dog leg left with a soufflé green. While the green can be difficult, it is a feat to have the opportunity to three putt for a bogey. On the tee, one must be careful not to drive through the fairway as well as being too aggressive and failing to cut the corner. Either can be cataclysmic. Perhaps that is why it has consistently been rated one of the toughest 100 holes in the United States.
The sixth hole is one of my personal favorites, a short par 4 that is only 260 yards. One must decide whether to try to carry the stream and the corresponding muck and mire and be about twenty yards short of the green or layup at 80 yards. That is not why it is one of my favorites, but rather this is the hole where golf aficionados will park their cars and sneak onto the course. Believe it or not, Myopia typically has less than 12,000 sanctioned rounds per year.
The 9th hole is a brilliantly deceiving par three at 136 yards. Traditionalists would call it a postage stamp green, but I do not think it qualifies. This green is only nine yards wide and thirty yards long, hence I think an appropriate moniker would be a “bar code green”. The ninth is named Pond, where on the tee shot one must carry a pond to have a shot at par. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the seven bunkers that surround the green. Myopia is quite proud of its Scotlandesque deep bunkers (although they are but dimples compared to Bethpage Black). The ninth hole has also been cited as one of the toughest 100 holes in the country.
As tough as the fourth and ninth hole are my money is on the twelfth as the toughest hole. It is the number one handicap hole and plays 446 yards off an elevated tee with a panoramic view. Do not get too comfortable, as it has a tight winding fairway surrounded by rough gone to fields and a wicked crowned green.
After the daunting challenge of the twelfth hole, the thirteenth hole seems almost playful. It is a 349 yard slight dog left. Big hitters can hit it through the fairway. The approach shot is uphill and plays at least two and perhaps as much as three clubs more.
The 16th hole is a downhill 192 yard par three that plays back toward the clubhouse. The pro shop is approximately 50 yards to the left of the green. One of my player partners had caddied at Myopia in the 1960’s. Caddies were paid $2 a bag at the time. He shared the following story with me. When he caddied there was no bunker to the left of the green. However, sometime in the 1970’s, a golfer hooked his tee shot (or sliced if they were left handed) and the ball hit the pro shop. The errant shot took a fortuitous bounce back towards the green, rolled onto the green and into the hole for a hole in one! I suspect that this particular member was not all that well liked because shortly thereafter a bunker was added between the green and the pro shop.
When you play Myopia you will occasionally see or even end up on bridle paths (I know I did) crossing or paralleling various holes. One of the local rules is that you can take a free drop. This is just another attribute that contributes to the uniqueness of Myopia.
Colin Braithwaite is the author of “A Good Walk Unspoiled”
Myopia brings together a lot of what I like about old-style golf courses and reveals many verities that I have found as I play great golf courses. Among the truths: 1) Length doesn't matter. Myopia is 6,539 yards from the tips but is still a challenging course. 2) Low-key, understated and intimate are better than big and flashy. In this regard I like courses like Myopia and Sunningdale as opposed to big clubs like Wentworth, Riviera or Medinah. 3) Old and quirky are under-appreciated. The bar at Myopia has no barman, the members sign chits for themselves. The rooms in the clubhouse have low ceilings and a feel of antiquity. There are private lockers near the bar for member’s liquor. The old, original creaking floors will probably never be replaced. The locker room, housed in a separate building, is original and reminded me of another old original, Garden City on Long Island. 4) A variety of holes and shots make a better course. Nothing fells forced at Myopia, the course fits naturally into the terrain; there are a couple of short par fours, a 200+ yard par three and a 130-yard par three. Some uphill holes, some downhill holes and plenty of change in direction. A visit to Myopia is a truly distinctive day. The club is intensely private and there are less than 12,000 rounds played a year, which is about 50% less than at most clubs. If you can wangle an invitation, I suggest going at once.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs