Thorny Lea Golf Club lives up to its name...despite being an unremarkable, prickly area of ground, the sting has been felt by many who compete against members. The club has provided at least six Massachusetts amateur champions, probably due to the stiff competition just winning the club championship (Thorny Lea boasts more single-digit handicappers than any other in the state).
That’s a testament to the kind of skill required to get around this Wayne Stiles and John van Kleek route, despite it measuring just under 6,500 yards. Although most of the course is relatively low on bunkers (three holes have no sand whatsoever), the small putting surfaces still demand the utmost accuracy on approach for those looking to score.
Those greens that do feature additional defenses, however, are certainly armed to the teeth. Nos. 9 and 10 provide back-to-back thorns in the sides of the inaccurate golfer. The former is a 165-yard carry over a pearl necklace of bunkers, and the latter is surrounded by five sizable traps. Whatever Stiles had left in the bag, he dropped at No. 18, a 420-yard par four that will be a tough make for anyone attempting to run it up.
While I have not played there very often or very well Thorny Lea holds a special place in my golf heart. It is located in Brockton, MA, my birthplace and the original home of Foot-Joy. My grandmother worked in the factory putting soles on the shoes. The two founders, William Nute and Herbert Tinkham created a 5 hole layout on Alfred Morse’s cow pasture, which includes the current 16th hole. Not sure what was in it for Alfred, but his cattle also served as the greenkeepers and wire fences were installed around the greens in an effort to keep the cattle out. Nute’s wife suggested the club name and it was originally Thorney Lea. However, the name was changed in 1906 when an engraver misspelled the club name as Thorny on the club champions silver cup. In a testament to Yankee frugality, the members felt it was cheaper to keep the new spelling than get a new cup. Some things you just can’t make up.
In 1924 Donald Ross provided a proposal that was rejected by the membership. Ultimately, Stiles and Van Kleek were hired to add an additional nine holes
Some of the luminaries who have tread here include, Bobby Jones, Francis Ouimet, Walter Hagan, Gene Sarazen and Babe Didrikson to name a few.
As a kid, I would caddy in club versus club matches and Thorny Lea was like playing the Yankees or the Green Bay Packers, they were good. They have had several notable Mass Amateur champions, one Steve Tasho won back to back. Of course, I caddied for him before he won, was I the boat anchor or the catalyst? The most recent amateur champion is Brockton firefighter, Matt Parziale who recently earned an invitation to Augusta.
Speaking of Augusta, the moniker Amen Corner was first coined in 1958, by none other than the legendary writer, Herbert Warren Wind, who learned the game at Thorny Lea. Wind wanted to create a comparable term to the hot corner in baseball or the coffin corner in football. (why don’t punters use the coffin corner anymore?) Wind originally credited Amen Corner to an old jazz record from the 1930s. However, there is no such song; it is believed to have been “Shouting in that Amen Corner.”
Lots of cool things at Thorny Lea, to the course!
It is not long and is a par 70. I would describe it as parkland course with lots of mature trees framing the holes. The first hole bends left. Favor the right off the tee of run the risk of being blocked out. The 2nd is a long difficult par 4. The fairway narrows the further from the tee. Long and tight with no other hazards. The first par three is either 207 or 135 yards. That is the only drawback of Thorny Lea, yardage is approx. 6500 from the tips and 6000 from the ups. There needs to be an intermediate yardage. The 4th is a pretty straight forward par 4 with four bunkers surrounding the green. The 5th is a good birdie oppty. Short hole, the only real trouble is water greenside left and a front right bunker. The 6th, on the other hand is a beast. A long par 4 with a cross hazard starting about 180 yards out. Favor the right off the tee. If you escape here you can exhale the rest of the front nine. The 7th is a short par 4 with two bunkers in front of the green. The 8th is another birdie oppty. Definitely reachable even though it is the longest hole on the course at 488 yards, however, there is this pesky cross bunker about 200 yards out. The 9th is a fun little par three to a green surrounded by 5 bunkers.
The back starts off with a long par 4 with a green surrounded by 5 bunkers. The par 5 11th is a green light birdie oppty. Favor the left off the tee, while it is the easiest hole on the course, very rarely did I par it. It is a penthouse or outhouse hole. The 12th is a long sweeper right. Favor the left off the tee. The 14th is a really tight long dogleg left. What you see is what you get on 15, straight ahead with a couple of greenside bunkers. The 16th, while short, is tricky. A dogleg left, a creek bifurcates the fairway. Decision time, layup and hit it straight and have short iron or go for the hero drive with a draw to set up a flip wedge or pitch? The last par three is mid-length with a green guarded by bunkers left and right. The 18th is a good finishing hole. Slight dogleg left, favor the right off the tee. There are a couple of fairway bunkers left about 125 yards out and then a couple of more closer in on the right.
As a quick aside, I was a young father and was invited to play in the early 1990s. Of course, I had to go. My friend was also just starting out. While I was hoping he would pick up my greens fee I wasn’t expecting it. He did not. When I got home, Beth, my wife, asked how much it cost. I swallowed hard and admitted $40. Gotta laugh!
I will admit that I am not objective, Thorny Lea should be rated higher!