Established in 1897, Winchester Golf Club was the precursor to Winchester Country Club, which was inaugurated five years later. The original 9-hole course, designed by Willie Campbell near Winter Pond, no longer exists. The current layout at Winchester Country Club was established as a 9-hole course in 1903 and was extended to 18 holes in 1916, nine years before Donald Ross was called in to redesign the layout.
Holes are essentially built on the side of a hill close to Upper Mystic Lake with many of the fairways laid out side by side due to the lie of the land. Nonetheless, the design skills of Donald Ross were such that he still managed to create an interesting and totally engaging course.
The most difficult holes here appear around the turn, where the long par four 8th requires a fairway wood or long iron approach to the green and the slightly doglegged 10th is played to a tricky two-tier putting surface.
The signature hole on the card is the 525-yard 13th, the second of back-to-back par fives, and bunkers separate its split fairway. A tee shot driven to the lower level on the left lessens the risk, but lengthens the hole whilst a drive to the right offers big hitters the chance of going for the green in two mighty blows.
New Yorker Stephen Kay revised the layout in 1991 and in 2012 Ron Forse worked with superintendent Dennis Houle to complete a bunker renovation across all eighty-one sand hazards.
The opening hole is indicative of what you will encounter for much of the round at Winchester. The "short" par-4 plays directly uphill and turns right in the drive zone. Generally, at most courses you don't get such a starting hole. The Ross design works very well on the constantly shifting terrain. The green sites are varied but there's little severe -- more on the subtle side of things. As has been mentioned, the Ross inclusion of false fronts is clearly present.
The routing is quite good -- always changing directions and forcing golfers to adjust. The strength of the course comes in the diversity of the par-4 holes.
The back-to-back par-4s at the 3rd and 4th are solid holes. This is especially so at the latter which climbs uphill to a green perched on top of the hillside. The short par-4 5th that follows is fairly rudimentary and Ross has delivered better on this front elsewhere. The par-3 6th is a good one-shot hole with the green again raised and fiercely protected on the left side by a menacing bunker.
The par-4 7th and 8th holes are neatly crafted. The former has a well-positioned center bunker in the fairway and the long 8th culminates with another green set above the fairway. When leaving the green you can see downtown Boston in the nearby distance. The closing hole on the front side is a devilish par-3 -- surrounded by seven bunkers and each named for one day of the week. Just be sure you don't miss the green left or finish too far right. In either misfire -- the penalty you suffer will be a swift kick in the golfer's boot.
Of the two nines the inward side is the more comprehensive in terms of overall hole quality. The 10th is a tenacious par-4 and has one of the more vexing green to decipher. The counterpoint with the long par-3 11th is another fine example in which Ross is keen to include such a hole in the mixture. What follows at the 12th and 13th are back-to-back par-5's and truthfully, the 12th should be played as a long par-4. The 13th features a split fairway and for those intent in getting to the green in two blows being successful in finding the right split area can provide the best angle into the green.
The short par-3 14th is a fine change of pace hole but it's not at the same level as another Ross stellar similar hole such as the 11th at Plainfield CC in NJ. Winchester concludes with a quartet of par-4 holes. Each move in a different direction and Ross excels in differentiating the requirements each mandate. The par-4 16th has superb topography. A blind landing area which moves downhill and turns right. The fairway landing area runs out at approximately 320 yards. The green is again elevated and sufficient internal movements requiring a deft approach shot. The closing hole at Winchester goes in an opposite direction from the penultimate hole. The challenge of the 18th comes with a green that is one of the finest Ross greens one can play. There is a false front and the tilt is noticeable. Any shot above the hole facing a frontal pin requires a brain surgeon's touch to leave unscathed.
So where does Winchester rightly fall among the elite courses in the Bay State? It's not a top ten layout simply because the newest courses such as Boston, Old Sandwich and Great Horse have all clearly made their respective marks. The old-time clubs such as TCC, Myopia Eastward Ho and Essex are also superior. That leaves only a few spots and the competition for them is a bit too keen for the likes of Winchester. Nonetheless, the totality of what is present at Winchester is clearly impactful. The downside of the course is that roughly one-third of the holes are merely good but hardly exceptional. It's too bad the routing could not have started where the grounds crew building is located. Having a position further upwards in the property could have made a far more sensible start and ending.
Overall, Winchester embodies an entertaining round of golf. Having such rolling terrain means ongoing adjustments when encountering a variety of lies and stances. Place Winchester in a vast number of other States and its overall placement would be considerably higher. Being in Massachusetts means getting an Oscar for best supporting role.
M. James Ward
I would rate as an Eagle Lip Out though most of my playing partners would rate it as an Eagle. Traditional Ross layout with well-positioned bunkers off the tees, false fronts and never ever go long! The grounds are well maintained with greens that are a little flatter than most traditional Ross greens, I guess that's why I rate it a little less, but on dry fall days watch out for the speed. The makeup of the course holds true to many classic Ross features. The opening hole of the front loop is a shortish par four Ross never thought the first should be too difficult. A nice collection of three par fives the longest is13 which gives you two options off the tee featuring a split fairway option. Lastly, the 9th is a traditional volcano style par-three of 172 yards downhill to a mounded green circled by five bunkers. If you can get on it you'll appreciate every hole its a course you could play every day and never get sick of it.