Situated in Blackstone Valley, some 45 miles west of downtown Boston, the 9-hole course at Whitinsville Golf Club is an authentic Donald Ross design from the mid-1920s, built for the Whitins machine works, which was at that time the world’s largest manufacturer of textile machinery.
It’s said the architect was working on another project nearby so he was duly contacted about designing the new course in Whitinsville. When Ross didn’t appear to show much interest in the commission, the offer of an 18-hole fee for a 9-hole layout seemed to quickly change his mind.
The course has been altered little down the years so it still bears many of the hallmark traits of a vintage Ross design, from small, open fronted domed greens to grass-faced bunkers, like the fairway traps found on the 438-yard 5th hole.
Laid out on hilly terrain, the fairways are generally wide and forgiving, with several of the holes routed around water hazards. The 446-yard 9th is a brilliant par four finishing hole, where the tee shot is aimed across the corner of a river basin to a tumbling fairway before an approach is then played across a valley to a plateau home green.
In the book The Finest Nines by Anthony Pioppi, the author has this to say about the course:
“There is good reason why for so long Whitinsville Golf Club has been considered the finest 9-hole course in the country. Whitinsville is virtually flawless, a masterwork of a master designer. Architect Donald Ross brought his best to this project, from the first tee to the ninth green.
”Strategy and options abound. At points, golfers are rewarded for their length off the tee. At other times, putting the driver away and playing for position is the wise move. The long irons as well as the wedges will be called on before the day is done. Not only do those who trod Whitinsville need a deft putting stroke, but they also need green-reading skills, something that could take many years to acquire.
“The course is made up of one par-5, two par-3s, and six par-4s. Four of the two-shotters are played in a row, but because of their variation in length, elevation, look, and shots required, the span is neither tiresome nor mundane, displaying the genius of Ross. The two par-3s are world apart in their appearance, the skills needed to conquer them, and the shots required to recover if the tee shots ends in unintended locations.”
In the past month I’ve managed to play what may well be the two finest nine hole courses in the world. And I’m having a difficult time figuring out whether I like Royal Worlington and Newmarket better than Whitinsville. Worlington’s 4th and 5th (particularly the green complexes) are as good a pair of consecutive holes as you’ll find anywhere. But for consistent hole after hole pleasure, Whitinsville gets my vote. Donald Ross managed to design doglegs on every hole but the par 3s. For balance 3 go left and 4 go right, so there are 14 times when the golfer is challenged to decide how much of the line of charm to attack. And while the par 3s require an aerial shot, 12 of the other 14 approach shots allow a variety of shots. All of Ross’s greens are either nicely contoured or devilishly sloped (or both) keeping the wielder of the flat stick on high alert.
This 9-hole Donald Ross course has a large open feel to it. The tee shots are mostly generous with 7 of the holes playing mostly flat with just gentle movement in the land. The strategic highlights are the constant change in direction and some of Ross’ most treacherous and testing greens. There are jaw-dropping putting surfaces that will not give many birdies, but are a spectacle to behold. Fans of Donald Ross will hopefully get to study these greensites as they are a wonderful marriage of ‘beauty and the beast’. The closing hole requires a dramatic carry over a marsh to a severely sloped dogleg fairway swooping back up to an elevated green. It’s truly the best hole on the course.