The original 9-hole course at Wellesley Country Club was a Donald Ross design which he laid out on sixty-six acres a year after the club’s formation in 1910. Wayne Stiles and John Van Kleek remodelled this layout in the late 1920s.
Geoff Cornish was called in to add another nine when the club acquired a further thirty-nine acres in 1960 and this 18-hole layout was subsequently modified by Brian Silva in 1993 then Craig Schreiner in 1999.
Mark Mungeam then upgraded the course prior to the club staging the 101st edition of the Massachusetts Open in 2010 which was hosted as part of the club's centennial celebrations.
Many golfing greats have graced the fairways at Wellesley and it’s said Francis Ouimet visited the club a week before becoming the first amateur to win the US Open in 1913 – he’s said to have played all his bad shots here before the big event.
Though Wellesley sometimes touts its Donald Ross heritage, there’s hardly any of the Dornochman’s work left. Only four holes (5, 7, 8 and 10) are where Ross placed them and none has an original green. Ross’s original nine holes were revised by Wayne Stiles, who lived behind what was then the 6th green. Geoffrey Cornish’s changes came in two different iterations, but the course has changed little in the ensuing 55 years.
Twentieth century improvements have largely been new greens, many of the them improvements over Cornish’s dull and contourless efforts. The best of these are the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th (the result of a flood caused by a broken irrigation pipe), 10th, and 12th. My personal favorite is the fifth, where a spine running the length of the green continues to bamboozle members. Many do not like the fact that they have yet to figure it out…..which is why it’s my favorite.
The USGA likes the course, having held a number of championships there. But Wellesley suffers in comparison to its neighbors. I can think of half a dozen within 15 minutes I’d rather play.
While Wellesley is always in great condition and has a good atmosphere, I feel the golf does not match up to these standards. It starts off great as #1 is one of my favorite holes and ends great, but much of the golf in between feels squished and tricked up, especially on the front nine.
Holes such as #3, #5, #10, and #11 are pushed too close to hazards or boundary lines and make the drive awkward and too intimidating. Additionally, towards the end of the back nine there is some sever elevation change making the holes a little tricky.
The long walk from #9 to #10 does not help the flow of the round, too.
Overall, playing Wellesley is fun but there are too many awkward holes to make it compete with other courses in the area.
The original layout was just nine holes by Donald Ross. Years later another nine was added - this time by Geoffrey Cornish. The nines were flipped recently and today the front side constitutues the nine holes created by Cornish. The Ross contribution makes up the inward half.
The round commences from an elevated tee immediately near to the new clubhouse complex. The bunker style is quite straightforward and in the mold that Cornish created at a number of his designs given his roots in the New England area. The 1st descends into a floor area and is well-protected by flanking bunkers.
The first three holes are quite challenging. The par-3 2nd plays over 200 yards and the green features an array of internal movements. The par-4 3rd is a superb mid-length par-4 featuring a bedeviling pond that hugs the right side as the hole turns that way. Those intent on using driver had best realize how the fairway tapers in considerably. The par-4 4th returns to the clubhouse area with an uphill approach to the putting surface.
At this point -- one has to take a fairly lengthy walk / ride to the 5th hole which is on the other side of Wellesley Avenue. Although the club does assist in transporting players the disruption is noticeable.
The final four holes on the front are quite testing. The long par-4 6th has land movement in the landing area and the green provides for gentle fall-offs for the mis-played approach. The par-3 7th at 216 yards is very good -- playing downhill to a small target with frontal bunkers that mandate respect. The closing two holes are both quality two-shot holes -- each going in different directions with the 8th playing from an elevated tee and the closing hole featuring another elevated green.
Once you conclude play at the 9th -- you then encounter another major walk to get to the 10th hole.
The back nine starts with a pedestrian short par-4 but matters ramp up considerably with the par-4 11th. When you stand on the tee -- you see an uphill tee shot that turns right in the drive zone. There are trees on the right side which abuts the small practice area. The rigors of the 11th are reinforced by the pinching in from the left side of additional trees and nearby out-of-bounds. The hole then dips slightly before rising to another elevated green. The hole is utterly breathtaking and suffers no foolish plays gladly.
The par-3 12th that follows is a Ross staple -- the dropshot par-3 over a penalty area to a green that narrows in the rear. The long par-4 13th that follows is also a quality two-shot hole. The drive must favor the left side but wetlands awaits the misplayed shot that is pulled. The green is set on a diagonal and is especially narrow. The approach must be played with total precision.
The 14th is another long par-4 -- this time reversing direction and the hole again moves from right-to-left in the drive zone. The par-3 15th is something you rarely see in modern golf design -- an uphill par-3 that's listed at 211 yards but plays a bit longer. At the par-4 16th you return to the valley floor from an elevated tee -- again turning left in the drive zone.
The concluding two holes are both par-5's but are in reverse direction to one another and each has specific challenges. The 17th is reachable for stronger players but a frontal creek and a difficult putting surface are not easily handled without specific awareness.
The finale is far longer -- at 625 yards and the demands intensify with the 2nd shot. A row of trees enters the picture on both sides and you also encounter sand waste areas -- reminiscent to what one sees at Pinehurst. The tapering of the fairway presents serious issues for players who go too far left or right with their 2nd shots. The green is another elevated target and like a number of others has an array of internal contours that need to be respected.
Overall, Wellesley is a fine test of golf. The styles of Ross and Cornish are not a match but fortunately the nines feature all of one architect and not a mix and match. The longish walks / rides at two different times during the round is unfortunate because the rhythm of the round is clearly impacted.
The Bay State features a deep roster of quality private clubs and Wellesley certainly requires quality shotmaking for the bulk of the round. Wellesley did host a recent Massachusetts Open and has been the site for two different USGA national championships. Kudos to the club in having Mark Mungeam -- who worked with Cornish early on in his career -- be involved in further refinements to the layout.
M. James Ward