Masa Nishijima of Japan is our International Consultant and he is the sixth person to have played Golf Magazine’s World Top 100 Golf Courses. Masa has this to say about Old Sandwich Golf Club which opened its tees for play in 2004:
"This lay-of-the-land course from Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore is a very good test, full of classic concepts. The green complexes are very interesting and include great contouring, and the bunker shaping by Jeff Bradley is excellent. I call him Mr. Sand Man. The scale is just right and fairway angles from the tee boxes are well done."
The course lies within an area of pine hills to the south of Plymouth, close to Cape Cod Bay, on a parcel of land that looks like it was always meant for golf. It’s a wooded property that offers a plentiful supply of sandy soil to support a wonderful mix of fescues; ideal ground for links-like golf.
The only earth movement of any note at Old Sandwich was carried out on the opening hole where a sand hill was removed to allow the routing for the par five 1st hole, with spoil used to build up tees and greens around the course.
Each and every one of the par three holes here is stunning, beginning at the 240-yard 4th (played to an enormous, contoured green) and ending with the all-carry 17th (where the offset putting surface slopes back to front with ragged bunkers built into the sides of the raised green complex).
Old Sandwich may not quite reach the dizzy heights of Coore and Crenshaw’s celebrated Sand Hills in Nebraska but it’s not a million miles away either.
Old Sandwich is possibly the second best course designed and built by the team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. It is a close call and would be a good debate between Old Sandwich and Friar’s Head, although neither approach the brilliance of Sand Hills. I think Friar’s Head has several holes that are better and more memorable, but Old Sandwich is more consistent and overall has the more interesting topography beginning with the first tee shot of the day. Possibly the only “weak” hole at Old Sandwich are two of the three short par 4’s at eight and fourteen. The other short par 4, the fifth, is one of the more brilliant short par 4’s I have ever played.
The fifth hole deserves special recognition. From the tee one is faced with a sharp dogleg left over a deep ravine of tall brush and grass while the fairway has a sizeable hill in its middle. On this hole, the long hitters dare to cut off as much as the dogleg left over the ravine to try to drive the green, while slightly shorter players will hit left of the top of the mound. Go too straight off the tee for the longer hitters and they will go through the fairway into trees, brush and tall grass. Shorter hitters will try to carry the rise in the fairway in order to have a view of the green. Yet even if short of the rise, the resulting blind shot allows one to land short of the green and potentially kick well onto it. To the left of the green is a sharp fall-off down into the ravine. The green itself is very undulating with spines, shelves and swales.
This was my second time around Old Sandwich having first played it in October, 2018. I played with three members whose indexes ranged from +1 with the highest at 2.4. The plus index had an eventful summer, qualifying both for the US mid amateur and the U.S. Senior Open held at Omaha Country Club in Nebraska. I loved this as I like to see how players much better (and longer) than me play a golf course, particularly a golf course they know very well as they have all been members for more than five years. Indeed the best player has four aces on the par 3 fifteenth hole with everyone asking him after his rounds whether he got another. On our day his ball was about five feet behind the pin rolling down a slant from right to left. He called it less than halfway there that he had hit it too far.
We played the member tees at 6415 yards given the recent amount of rain. The shorter tees presented a bigger challenge for the best player and the 1 index as they often found themselves between clubs on approach shots or hitting a bit too far off the tee even when clubbing down. For my part, I struggled at the beginning as I finally had my first day of sunshine, warmth, and no rain since Tuesday. I also got caught a bit looking at the course instead of playing it. The course is beautiful as it is, but on a glorious day of weather it is simply breathtaking despite a few instances where one can see the roof lines of some condos/townhomes over the line of the trees. It is one of the prettier inland courses one will play in the USA.
The routing perfectly fits the land resulting in at least one par 3, 4, or 5 playing uphill, downhill or level. There are not many courses that have that attribute. There are shorter and longer holes for the three different pars. There are doglegs both left and right. As such, one gets to play a mixture of shots throughout the round.
The green surfaces look fairly flat from afar, although often one can see a tilt. Yet when one is on them, the humps, spines, and swales all reveal themselves. This is a rare course where walking around the entirety of a pin before one’s putt will definitely help one avoid a three putt or worse. Several times I was surprised to see what I thought was a decent chip or putt find a ridge line on the green and wander off as much as 15 feet away.
For the members, they believe that Old Sandwich is better than The Country Club for one reason. If one misses a green at The Country Club, the recovery shot is limited to a wedge due to the thick rough that surrounds every green. At Old Sandwich, one can use a putter, different wedges, or any club they want to attempt to recover. One finds this attribute on most courses designed by Coore and Crenshaw, Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, David Mcklay Kidd, etc. as they attempt to replicate the courses in the British Isles. It certainly does increase the interest of those greenside recovery shots as it is a bit more fun. But for me, I liked the intimacy of The Country Club’s classic design and landscape as well as the well thought out green complexes. But at Old Sandwich, one has to be precise on many greenside chips or pitches making sure they carry the false fronts and inner swales. It is better to be safe and have an eight feet putt to try to save par rather than a 25 feet putt that needs to navigate the slope that sent one’s ball far away.
All of the holes at Old Sandwich are memorable although the five par 3’s stand out the most. They range from 238-131-244-169 -191 from the back tees although for us they played 214 -116-225–165–153. Each par 3 is unique with the first one playing downhill, while the next two play slightly uphill, then downhill, then up/level/down depending on the tee. All of them have well contoured greens as well as good greenside bunkering. My members favored the seventeenth the most. Indeed from the tee it is the most visually attractive surrounded by six bunkers and back-dropped by trees. Looking back from the green of the seventeenth one sees the various tee boxes on terraced platforms looking like a series of cascading “green” waterfalls. The fourth hole, the first of the par 3’s, has it ridge lines mirror the line of the tops of the trees behind it. Only the long eleventh par 3 is not as visually attractive as the others due to less bunkering yet as stated, the green has a lot of inner movement.
Likely the second most memorable on the course is the par 4 seventh playing as a dogleg left to an “island” green surrounded by sand as well as a sizeable boulder placed off the left middle. From the fairway one knows they have to hit a very precise shot given the slope along the edges of the somewhat smaller green that funnels balls into the sand. The second hole has two central fairway bunkers, bunkers on the inner corner and right side heading to an elevated tee of perhaps twenty five feet on this sharp dogleg right. The second is a fine hole.
The par 4’s on the back nine do not offer as much visual appeal as the ones on the front nine save for the finishing hole. The eighteenth is a dogleg right with the fairway dropping off resulting in the longer hitters having to consider hitting a shorter club or risk their ball dropping into one of the four bunkers on the right or even into the taller grass. From the end of the fairway you look downhill playing over the forced carry of about 130-150 yards depending on the angle. For the shorter hitters they have to carry the rise in the fairway and will likely face an approach shot of 185-210 yards, yet their reward is a view of a green sited well below them. Much like the very first hole, the par 5 with a false front on the front left, the green must be hit or one will be left with a delicate chip or putt having to navigate various levels and swales in this green.
As to the par 5’s, the opener plays slightly up as a dogleg left. One should go as far right as they can off the tee. Longer hitters can reach the green in two as long as their tee shot stays to the right as there is a thick tree line that juts into the fairway if they are too far left off the tee. The green is special with the substantial false front on the front left. The sixth, the longest par 5 at 562 yards, meanders back and forth following an uphill tee shot finishing with a green placed off to the right. There is a small central bunker about 40 yards short of the green. If one is coming into this green with a chip from the right side, the green will run away from you. It is a very well thought out hole that lays perfectly on the land. The tenth plays level off the tee but then downhill after a waste area of perhaps 20 yards in width crosses the fairway. The green is then back to the left with various small “slit-like” bunkers fronting it. This green is tilted with fall-offs to all sides and wonderfully placed into the side of higher ground. My member hosts favored the thirteenth as their favorite par 5 on the course due to the placement of bunkers along the fairway and another green nestled into the hillside.
Old Sandwich really has everything one would want in a modern-style golf course. It is routed wonderfully, even if a newcomer might get slightly confused and play the seventeenth instead of the eighth. As stated, there are not many courses where one plays each of the various par’s in all three ways – up, level, or down and the par 4’s/5’s also move left or right or straight. The fairway and greenside bunkering is very good due to both placement, size and shape. There are at least three very memorable holes on the course – the fifth, seventh, and seventeenth. The conditioning is excellent. The likely best attribute of the course are the surfaces of the greens.
If one has an invitation to play here, they definitely should do so.
Since opening in 2004, this venue in Plymouth, MA has been contending as the best course in New England, and it’s hard to argue. It’s just a class act and a magnificent demonstration of pure golf on superb rolling terrain. Coore/Crenshaw hit the jackpot discovering holes that sit so naturally on the land, and the sand-based turf is firm and fast year-round. The club has outstanding facilities and a wonderful professional staff dedicated to a world class experience as soon as you enter the gates. I've always considered it such an honour to visit the club. Old Sandwich GC belongs comfortably inside the World’s Top 100 courses, period. When I’m asked about the best, and most impressive, course in the Coore/Crenshaw portfolio, my mind always gravitates to the south-shore of Massachusetts.
OS is a class act. All-time experience and amazing layout/routing by C&C. The green complexes & bunkering in their wooded setting I feel is what sets it apart as being totally different from other New England courses. Most holes feel different yet similar at the same time. Totally worth the trip out to Plymouth to give it a spin.
There is certainly not a weak hole at Old Sandwich and all holes are very distinctive. The sand based turf is ideal, firm and fast. A bold choice perhaps but it's my favorite Coore & Crenshaw ahead of Sand Hills, Bandon Trails, Friar's Head and Colorado Golf Club. It's most certainly worth a trip to the Boston area just to play it.
On the front side, the holes that stand out are the 4th, 5th and 7th. The 4th is long downhill par-3, although the architects have offered the played multiple tee boxes, which keeps the playability very respectful. The 5th is extraordinary in that you cross a huge ravine to a diagonal slither of a fairway populated with enormous mounds. The hole is merely 320 yards or so, but it’s all about the tee shot and the subsequent bounces. The par 5 6th hole makes you hit a blind tee shot on a raised plateau before presenting the golfer with a decision on how long the 3rd shot should be into this razor edged green. The 7th is a par 4 with a green completely surrounded by sand. It’s a treacherous approach shot and makes you feel like you’re playing at Pine Valley for a few minutes.
I commend the architect’s design of the bunkers. Firstly, with the various tee boxes, the hazard placements make them just that, hazards! Have you ever heard of “the principals nose”? If you see photos of the aforementioned courses, they all look very similar – large waste area type traps with unkept edges, often in groups of 3 and 4. The momentum continues on the back nine, but it will test your length. The 16th is a long narrow par 4 with a blind tee shot, the 17th is a 210+ yard par 3 to a well protected 2-tier green and the par 4 18th sends you galloping back down-hill towards the end of the gauntlet.
Old Sandwich stands out as a modern day masterpiece with outstanding design variety and resistance to scoring. This course does not get much attention nor does it seek it, and not many people have even heard of it. In 100 years, golfers will reflect on this track as one of Coore/Crenshaws hidden gems amongst a portfolio of giants.