Review for Myopia Hunt

Reviewer Score:
TaylorMade

Review:

At the turn of the 1900’s there were three golf courses in the USA felt to be architecturally significant: Oakmont, Garden City Men’s, and Myopia Hunt Club. Newport CC was not included on this list.

If there is a single “classic” course in the USA, then Myopia Hunt Club is it. Since the eighteen holes were completed, it has barely changed through the years. Every now and then the greens get slightly smaller, then they are enlarged back to the original size. The bunkers might shrink a bit or get less deep, then they are re-shaped. Trees might grow, but later they are taken away. The course is presented very much as it played during the early U.S. Opens that were held there.

What has changed is technology regarding clubs and balls that have made many of the par 5’s become par 4’s and several of the par 4’s become a definite birdie opportunity. For the longer players whose swings take advantage of the improvement in technology, the course becomes more like a par 67-69 instead of par 72. This is not to imply that a good player will go out and shoot those scores because they rarely will due to the strength of the contouring of the greens as well as the tall fescue. When it was finally completed as an 18 hole course, the yardage of 6555 was one of the longer golf courses. Now, of course, it is considered very short.

I will not go through the history of the course as Colin Braithwaite’s has posted a thorough review. I will add only two comments. The farmhouse (now the clubhouse) was used during the Revolutionary War. Secondly, it is only until recently that golf has become as important as horses and polo for the club.

This was my second time playing Myopia Hunt. This time I got to play it with a very good amateur who has played in many to the top amateur events, including the US amateur and mid-amateur, and many of the top amateur events in the New England area. He still hits a pretty long ball and has a chipping/bunker game to be envied. I liked having him as my partner as I got to see firsthand the clubs he hit and what he thought of the holes (the same happened the next day at Essex County). The area had been hit with three issues of rain the previous day, but other than a few wet areas in the rough, the course was relatively dry. However, my amateur partner did say that several of his tee shots would have gone another 30 yards had it not rained.

The course is beautifully routed to take advantage of the hilly terrain. The course goes up, down, flat for a bit, then over rises before climbing again, then falling before a dramatic uphill, followed by one final downhill. I do not think this course could have been routed any better. It takes perfect advantage of the wetlands, ponds and streams on the course.

One could quibble today about the lack of length on holes, or some holes where the only defense is an overly tilted green, but one will always have fun and enjoy the walk on this golf course. Having played in on October 14, the colors of the trees were near a peak, so the beauty of the course was at times a distraction. Regarding the lack of length, unless one wanted to move tee boxes to the other side of a different fairway or close to it, there is no land available on the boundaries of much of the course due to the Miles River/wetlands, Miles River Road, and Essex Street. One would have to purchase houses between Walnut Road, Overhead Drive, and the eleventh/fifteenth/seventeenth in order to find land, but this would mean abandoning many of those holes. It would also be very expensive.

Simply put, there is no reason to change a classic course. Who cares if a few gifted players can score under par here? They still enjoy it much like the rest of us average index players. A simple solution is to change the pars of the second and eighth from par 5’s to par 4’s given their yardages of 488 (and very downhill) and 473 yards. You flip a hole from an easy birdie/par to a demanding hole. And you continue to play the same course.

From the Red tees the course is a par 72, 6555 yards rated 72.7/138. The White tees are 6190 yards rated 71.1/134. I have played both sets of tees.

1. Par 4 – 276/263. Many people criticize the first hole at Myopia due to the blind nature of this very uphill tee shot, the width of the fairway as well as the length. Some say it is “the worst first hole on a great golf course” in all of golf. Certainly, if one plays it conservatively taking a line just inside the large tree to the right of the green, one should have no worse than a short pitch with a chance at birdie or a routine par given this green is not as complicated as some others. However, this hole tempts the longer hitters and if they end up on the wrong side of the green to the right, they will likely make bogey or worse. Indeed, I know several long, good players who have taken a triple on this hole. In my mind, this is a hole that favors the average length player who doesn’t try for the green, and in that regard, it has its merits. The fairway goes sharply uphill but also tilts sharply to the left as you need the left side. This is where high fescue awaits. Halfway up the hole is a bunker on the right that should never be in play unless the wind is howling in one’s face. More troublesome are the two bunkers on the back left and the two bunkers on the front right that are placed on a knob that block a bit of the green if coming in from the right side. The green is small and balls hit short will not release onto the green. While I do not think it is a good hole, it does ease one into the round.

2. Par 5 – 488/460. The view from this elevated tee is wonderful as you see as much as parts of eleven holes. This hole plays sharply downhill for the tee shot with two bunkers on the right as well as mounds to be avoided. The left side has trees that come into play. Bigger hitters have to avoid going so far as to run into a ditch that bisects the fairway and stops it for about twelve yards. Longer hitters will likely reach the green with a seven iron to wedge. The green sits in a punchbowl with two fronting bunkers before a rise that blocks the view of the flag unless it is placed in a small opening. Shots hit over this rise will find a green placed below you so the better shot is to land slightly short of the green and have it release. The green does have a back to front and right to left tilt with some good swales in it. My longer hitter amateur partner feels he should have a putt for eagle on this hole and was somewhat dissatisfied with his birdie.

3. Par 3 – 252/242. This hole is simply long, playing from an elevated tee across a valley. Both times I have played Myopia the wind has been in my face making this hole feel like it is 280 yards long. There is a sizeable bunker that begins about 80 yards short of the green set diagonally to the right. Behind that large bunker are two small bunkers placed short of the green. Off to the left is a single bunker short of the green and one placed at the back left with a 4 yard separation from the green. The green is small for the length of the hole and has a horizontal spine running through it. This is a difficult hole for anyone.

4. Par 4 – 385/364. This sharp dogleg left gets criticized for its green. There are two bunkers on the turn in the fairway about 180 yards from the green. At the green there is a bunker right ten yards short of the green but it should not be in play. The real trouble are the collection of bunkers on the lower left side of the green, the first one beginning about twenty yards short and snaking its way to cut the access to the green in half. There are three other bunkers on lower ground off the left side. Finally, there is a small hidden bunker in the back middle. The green is sharply tilted to the left and back to front. The long hitting amateur nearly drove the green, finding his ball between the bunkers on the left. His chip landed slightly above the pin but slowly worked its way down into the bunker. Another player who was short middle at the front of the green putted 15 feet to the right of the flag but not high enough and it also ended up in the same bunker. The issue with the green is whether it is fair and whether there are an adequate number of pin positions. I do not quibble much with this green if one knows it, for me the bigger issue is that there are five greens on the course like this. From the tee and playing into the green this is a beautiful golf hole.

5. Par 4 – 417/387. The fourth hole plays straight and gently downhill. The trees are very thick on the right side and can possibly block a line at the green. There is a cross-bunker on the left side but it should be cleared and a tiny bunker on the right a bit farther up. A stream interrupts the fairway with a rough area of taller grass being able about 25 yards wide in total. There is a small bunker left while the green has three bunkers encircling it. The green tilts to the right consistent with the fall of the land and has a back right plateau.

6. Par 4 – 255/246. This is one of the more fun holes on the course. There is a pond on the right that formed by the stream from the fifth. The pond then exits to another stream that cuts diagonally across the fairway. Bigger hitters will definitely have a go at the green, perhaps with as little as a 5 metal or hybrid. Two of our players drove the green but none of them stayed on, one going over and the other ball releasing back down the front of the green. The green is surrounded by five bunkers, including a V-shaped bunker at the rear middle. This green is crowned a lot. I laid up short of the stream and hit an 80 yard shot onto the green with a reasonable birdie putt which I missed. None of us birdied the hole and one of our group made a 5 as his tee shot went down the left side. Coming out of the taller grass it takes a deft touch to stop a ball on the crowned green. The front slope is especially steep nearly all the way back to the stream. Is the hole fair due to the green? Absolutely

7. Par 4 – 401/395. This is a nice hole that plays plenty tough for average length players. The fairway rises before dropping to the green. If one does not have the length to make it to the top of the fairway it will be a blind shot to a green set slightly to the left side. There is tall fescue down both sides of this fairway as well as a tree line to the right. This is the heaviest bunkered hole on the front nine with three down the right side, including the second placed inside the fairway. There are seven placed down the left side. The final two bunkers on the right and left are placed at the front of the green which seems to be sloped away from the approach shot with a fair amount of interior contours.

8. Par 5 – 473/466. This hole plays essentially straight. For bigger hitters it is a driver and 8-iron or less due to the run-out on the ball as the land goes downhill towards a raised green with a significant false front. There are three bunkers on the right but the final one is the only one that should be in play for average length players. There is a large bunker on the left that is in play for the longer hitters trying to catch the speed slot. The green is very tilted to the front and to the left. We had a center right pin and with a 52 degree wedge I landed 5 feet right of the flag on higher ground. The members of my foursome congratulated me for my shot. It was only as I started to walk towards my ball that I saw in had gone all the way down the hill to the left nestled against the collar of the rough. Is this green fair? Probably not but it is interesting.

9. Par 3 – 138/132. One of the classy holes in all of golf. This par 3 plays over a pond to a green slightly above you. The pond runs out about 25-15 yards from the front of the green as it is diagonal. The green is only 10 paces wide with seven bunkers surrounding all but the back left. Each bunker is shaped differently and very non-standard with the exception of the one running from the back right to the entirety of the back. This is a tremendous golf hole that requires absolute precision. Being long on the green will lead to a speedy putt based on location of the flag.

10. Par 4 – 404/363. This hole has the skinniest fairway on the course with a tree line down the entire left. There is a forced carry of about 150 yards over fescue with three bunkers right at the beginning of the fairway. It is a blind tee shot due to a shorter rise in the fairway. There is a larger bunker on the right about 225 yards off the tee that is a danger area. About 15 yards from the green is a “sock” shaped bunker that angles towards the green. It is very deep. I was told this is the bunker that former President William Taft got into and he could not get out even with caddies pulling and pushing, so they had to get a harness and a horse to get him out. This bunker now has stairs in it. To the right of the sock-shaped bunker is a large bunker placed in the fescue. Following the deep bunker is another bunker short of the green on the right and finally one bunker down the right side. It is brilliant bunker placement given one does not want to miss to the left in the tree line. The green will not hold a shot struck with any pace and a ball will go through it leaving a tricky downhill chip onto the green. It might be my favorite hole on the course.

11. Par 4 – 349/321. This hole, much like the sixth, is all about the green. The hole plays uphill. Bigger hitters can almost drive the green despite the uphill slope as the ground is firm. There are two small bunkers placed to the right as the fairway tilts left to right. These bunkers are spaced 30 yards apart and begin at 200 yards. A deep diagonal bunker goes left to right across the entirety of the fairway about 30 yards from the green on the left ending 15 yards short of the green on the right. There is a bunker middle left and front right. The green is very sloped back to front and a bit to the right. Balls struck into the left side bunker will led to a very tricky shot while the front right bunker can receive balls putted too hard from above the green. The play on this hole is to always be below the pin. I think this hole is great fun, even if it can be maddening.

12. Par 4 – 451/444. The third is a famous hole for its difficulty, the fourth is a famous hole for its difficulty due to the green, and the ninth is a famous hole due to the narrow green. Yet, the twelfth stands above all of this. From a very elevated tee, one sees exactly what they need to do. Trees line the left side with a small width of fescue and rough ground. The right side has taller fescue. There is a large rock on the right that one needs to clear. The hole weaves its way relatively flat to the green. The first bunker is about 100 yards from the green on the right, very much in play for shorter hitters or those finding the fescue on the right. A bunker is then placed short of the green on either side. The green is somewhat flat but with definite depressions and mounds in it. Going long leads to a fall-off at the rear. Going left is another fall-off. This is one of the better visually exciting and breathtaking holes one will play on an inland course.

13. Par 4 – 358/326. This hole is the final big climb on the course, dramatically uphill. My long hitting partner had a go at the green and had he hit it straight he likely would have come close. There is a forced carry of about 180 yards to a fairway tilted uphill with a single bunker on the right. The green is about 60 feet above you, after you have already climbed at least 25 feet. There are flanking bunkers at the front of the green which get a lot of activity as the green is sloped significantly back to front with a substantial false front. Anything hit short of the front half will come back off the green. This is another hole that some will decry the green for being unfair, while others give praise for the precision required of one’s short game. It is the last of the five greens on the course that are steeply sloped.

14. Par 4 – 393/351. This hole plays basically level now that you are on higher ground. There are twelve bunkers on this hole as well as tall fescue down both sides. In sum, there are four bunkers on the left and seven on the right, with a final bunker at the rear of the green. From 30 yards in, there are six of the bunkers, with three encircling the green. The green is large with subtle undulations in it and it allows a shot to be run-onto to it. The fairway narrows about 100 yards from the green so the longer hitters have to be very precise.

15. Par 5 – 529/492. The weakest hole on the course is the fifteenth as it lacks length and has a relatively benign green. There are plenty of bunkers on the hole, but are they in the right place? The fairway is wide. About 200 yards out there is a small bunker left and four small bunkers on the right. About 275 yards out there are two large bunkers on the right, one coming into the fairway. This is followed by two small bunkers about 100 yards from the green. The green has two fronting bunkers and one on the right. This is another green that feels flattish but has a fair amount of movement. Perhaps this hole needs more bunkering down the left side.

16. Par 3 – 192/181. Set downhill with the pro shop to the left and the clubhouse behind it, this charming par 3 is well defended with three bunkers built into the side of the hill fronting the green, nearly invisible from the tee. The right side has a deep bunker at its front, there is a rear bunker, and a bunker on the left goes the entire length with a spur coming out to increase the size of it. Balls that carry the front bunker but land short of the green will propel onto the green. This is a good par 3.

17. Par 4 – 394/388. The final two holes are separated from the rest of the course with the seventeenth having the driving range to the left. There is a wonderful bench behind the tee to relax as others take their tee shots. The fairway tilts to the right where a tree and a bunker about 220 yards out is placed on the right. The left side has scattered trees. Three bunkers are set on the left front and side of the green with a single one on the right front. The green runs flat but feels like it is front to back. Because the hole is back-dropped by trees and you see only one other hole, it feels very different.

18. Par 4 – 400/369. The home hole is classy with a balloon in the width of the fairway at the beginning with two small bunkers. These should not be in play. Farther up the skinny fairway is a cross bunker about 50 yards short of the hole. The green has a bunker off to the left front but the more troublesome ones are the two deep bunkers placed right at the front of the green. If someone hits a wayward shot out to the right into the fescue, their line to the green is likely blocked by a large tree that is on the right side of the green. It is a fun finishing hole.

In the end, how would people criticize Myopia Hunt? Due to changes in technology, it lacks length for the better player. For the average length player, it has more than enough length. The par 5’s are too short. There is likely merit to that argument. Five of the greens are too slanted. Yet, these greens are on the shorter holes which provide a good balance in the protection of par as well as requiring a precise short game. Many of the bunkers are placed on the right when the course should have more bunkering on the left. I am sure that is due to many of the holes have trees as the danger off of their left side as well as we know that more right handed players will fade/slice a ball rather than draw/hook a ball.

Myopia Hunt is a gem of a golf course. Much like Yale, it is a living history to golf in the USA. The most amazing thing to me is that the course likely plays second fiddle to horses/polo as well as on the two days I was there the paddle courts were heavily utilized by members. This is a fully utilized club, likely an oasis, particularly in these “covid” times. One could play this golf course every day, a hundred rounds a year, and always be excited about the round of golf. It really does have it all – views, a good walk, long and short holes, three distinctly different par 3’s, uphill and downhill holes, blind shots, exacting green surfaces, wide and narrow fairways, ponds and streams, fescue, and a good use of bunkers.

Date: October 18, 2020


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