In 1922, industrialist Joseph Allen Skinner engaged Donald Ross to lay out a 9-hole course for his daughter Elizabeth, who was a promising golfer in her youth. She went on to become one of the best players in the state, winning the prestigious Endicott Cup twice, and she held the ladies’ course record for forty years until it was finally bettered in 1973.
Ross returned in 1927 to build another nine holes and this is the 18-hole layout that was purchased by Mount Holyoke College in 1941. Arnold Palmer Golf Management took over the running of the course in 1999, investing in a renovation program for both the clubhouse and the grounds. The CBIGG Golf Management Company has since acquired the management rights for the golf facility.
Ron Prichard carried out some restoration work in the late 1990s, fixing drainage problems, reworking the bunkers and rebuilding the green on the 2nd hole. These days, the course extends to 6,575 yards from the championship tees, playing to a par of 71. The club has been honoured to host two national events; the US Girls’ Junior Championship in 1987 and the US Women’s Open in 2004.
In the book The American Private Golf Club Guide, author Daniel Wexler has this to say about the course: “For those curious as to why vintage Ross designs hold such a charm for the connoisseur, The Orchards delivers – both in style and substance – as purely as just about anything in Massachusetts.”
Donald Ross’s excellent design is displayed here….just not on the golf course. Ross’s detailed field sketches adorn a hallway in the clubhouse, but those designs are not always present outside the clubhouse. The best (or worst) examples are on consecutive holes on the back nine.
The 12th is a short dogleg par 4, with a bunker at the corner of the dogleg designed to challenge the golfer who takes it on. The field sketch shows that a drive clearing the bunker will leave a much shorter shot to the green from the fairway. But the course now has deep rough over the bunker, yielding no reward for taking the risk.
The 13th is a long par 4 where Ross designed a large squarish green. About a third of the green surface is now fairway, the result of indiscriminate mowing. What remains is small, round and rather dull.
These are but two of a number of examples of why the Orchards is not at all the course it should be. Though a restoration might be an expensive proposition, careful mowing would restore much of Ross’s genius for little cost.
Conditioning could also be better. There were plenty of unraked bunkers and unfilled divots when I played in October 2018. The redeeming qualities—the parts of the nicely contoured greens that are still mowed—are the only reason my rating is not lower.