Everyone interested in golf knows, or ought to know, that Worcester Country Club hosted the inaugural Ryder Cup match between the USA and Great Britain in 1927. USA captain Walter Hagan shepherded his team to a convincing 9½ points to 2½ points victory over Ted Ray’s beleaguered British team. “One of the chief reasons for our failure was the superior putting of the American team.” Commented Ted Ray. “They holed out much better than we did.”
Worcester Country Club was founded in 1900 and the club moved to its current location in 1914. Donald Ross designed the layout and former US President William Howard Taft, who hit the ceremonial opening drive, formally declared the course open.
With five par threes, Donald Ross’s Worcester Country Club is tougher than the modest 6,650 yards on the scorecard. With par set at 70, and seven par fours which stretch out beyond 400 yards, Worcester is no easy walk in the park. The par three 6th measures 207 yards from the back tees and it was here in 1925 that Walter Hagen bagged his first hole-in-one, which was witnessed by Bobby Jones and Tommy armour. The 6th green is sited on an elevated plateau with only the flag visible from the tee. Hagen used a one iron and it was also the first ace to be recorded on this extremely tough par three.
Apart from the Ryder Cup, Worcester Country Club played host to the 1925 US Open which was won by Scotsman Willie MacFarlane after he beat Bobby Jones in a play-off. In 1960 the club hosted the US Women’s Open which Betsy Rawls won. It’s therefore fair to say that Worcester Country Club is one of a small, select group of worldwide clubs to have hosted premier men’s, women’s and international tournaments.
Worcester somehow seems like a hidden gem, which is weird to call a course that has hosted major championships and the Ryder Cup, but I feel that it is overlooked. The land is amazing and Ross did a phenomenal job routing the holes. The conditions of the course are near perfect.
Much of the front nine works around the hill which the clubhouse sits on, and the par 5 fifth makes nice use of a pond at the center of the property.
The putting surfaces are interesting and challenging, and there are a few spots which you cannot be around the green. The end of the back nine climbs back up the hill towards the railroad tracks that split the property and I found 7-9 to be the most difficult stretch of the course.
After making the turn, #10 is a outstanding short par 3 that plays downhill, to a small green. The middle part of the back nine works through softer terrain, and the holes are shaped by rugged bunkers and fescue grass. The views at this point of the course are extraordinary.
The last two holes of the course are on the clubhouse side of the tracks and provide a good finish place, a long par 4 and short par 4 with a very interesting green complex.
Worcester is natural New England golf at its finest with a exceptional architecture yielding tons of variety.
With a golf course that’s nearly a century old, the club has done well to stretch the length out to over 6700 yards. Two factors can make it feel even longer: Par is 70, so a typical par 72 version would get close to 7000 yards. Moreover, all but four holes (10, 12, 16 and 17) require an uphill approach shot. The tee to green game is the most challenging aspect at Worcester. Once the player reaches the putting surfaces, the challenges are a bit more muted. Only a handful of them (4, 11-13, 15 and 18) have the kind of undulations that are typical of Donald Ross courses.
There's little need for me to repeat the comprehensive overviews provided by Mark and Adam respectively on the merits of Worcester CC. The Donald Ross layout is aided greatly with a land site that captures your attention the second you arrive at the club entrance.
I've always believed the actual site a course occupies is no less than 60% of the equation. Great land clearly has a big-time advantage over lack luster or inferior property.
The second dimension with any course assessment comes with the routing -- how skilled is the architect in maximizing all the physical attributes of the property. Ross excelled to the max as the holes venture in all sorts of directions. Monotony is clearly not on the agenda at Worcester.
The final aspect that I study with any course is the need for players to show the requisite skills in working the ball from side to side as needed and to marry the trajectory of the shots when called upon. The club clearly does that.
Worcester gets less attention because the bar for golf in the Bay State is that high. Being located away from the immediate Boston area contributes to that. In many ways -- Worcester reminds me of other first-rate layout in other golf-rich Northeast States that are not fully appreciated in what they provide. In New York you have Monroe in the Rochester area; in New Jersey you have the Banks Course at Forsgate; In Pennsylvania you have Longue Vue.
Hole likes the uphill par-4 9th with its turtle back fairway is something to see. The par-3 13th is truly on the short list of the best Ross holes one can play. The par-5 15th is also a gem -- mandating two fine shots in order to see all the of the green.
The downhill long par-4 17th is nothing less than strenuous in accepting only the finest of plays. And, how can anyone forget the tantalizing nature of the home hole -- the vexing green bolstered with an array of different movements and with the clubhouse just beyond.
During my visit I learned the club is interested in hosting a future Solheim Match -- thereby being the first USA club to have hosted both the Men's and Women's Opens and the two major professional team matches.
Architect Gil Hanse has been engaged and will assist the club in likely adding a par-3 course and in enhancing the existing practice facility. The time table for that to happen has not yet been set in stone.
Is Worcester a top ten course in Massachusetts? Good question. That's a high hill to climb because the bar for the State is that competitive. Suffice to say, having played extensively in the USA if Worcester were located in 25 of the States it would easily be a top five layout in my opinion.
Worcester is an incredibly fun course to play. It asks players to have command on the broadest range of clubs and to execute with the highest level of dexterity when called upon. If you don't enjoy the golf provided here then it's time to reconsider your recreational pursuits and head elsewhere because golf is not your game.
M. James Ward
In 42 other states, Worcester would likely be among the top ten golf courses in that state. But because Worcester is in Massachusetts, a golf-rich state, other raters include inside the top twenty. It is difficult to break through when you competition is The Country Club, Old Sandwich, Myopia Hunt, Essex County, Boston Golf Club, Eastward Ho, Kittansett, Taconic, Salem, Hyannisport and several others. Yet I would put it above Taconic and Hyannisport (despite those coastal views – my review to follow later). There are several others that are more highly ranked in the state I have yet to play although I plan to play most of them. I would mention that the Confidential guide series by Tom Doak and his rating colleagues do not hold it in high regard. While sometimes I see the merits of their ratings, on Worcester I disagree with them.
I played Worcester on September 15, 2020 with three very good players, two of whom are members of the club of which one might be the best putter I have ever seen. One had recently joined the club and the other has been at Worcester more than 30 years. The fourth member was a younger long-hitting nearly scratch friend.
There are three possible reasons as to why Worcester is not more highly ranked. First, it is less than 7000 yards, playing only to 6711 yards. However, part of this is due to having five par 3’s. My counter-argument is the many outstanding courses in the USA are also “short” such as Merion East and Myopia Hunt. Secondly, it sits in Worcester, more of a blue-collar city and not on Cape Cod or closer to Boston. Thirdly, and the only reason that might be justified is that you cannot see the surface of the green from the tee and many fairways on many holes even though you can see the flag. Many people value this on a golf course, yet others do not favor it.
As for the first reason, there are some fairly obvious ways to increase the yardage to 7000 yards while keeping the par of the course at 70. I will cover that in the various holes.
It is an historic course with the club beginning in 1900 but relocating in 1913 to its current location. It hosted its “second” opening day on September 29, 1914 with the first tee shot struck by former President Howard Taft, whose first shot traveled 125 yards down to the left. In 1924 it became the first course to host a qualifying round for the U.S. Open. It then hosted the 1925 U.S. Open won by Willie McFarlane (21 tour victories) in a 36 hole playoff against Bobby Jones. The 1960 U.S. Women’s Open was won by Betsey Rawls beating Mickey Wright. Perhaps most importantly it is the site of the first Ryder Cup held in 1927 where the American side defeated Great Britain by a score of 91/2 to 2/1/2 due to superior putting in chilly weather.
Two other notable events occurred here including the first hole-in-won ever for Walter Hagen. For me, the second most important event (behind the first Ryder Cup) occurred here that defined the integrity and honor of the game. During the playing of the 1925 U.S. Open, Bobby Jones, with no one near him, caused his ball to slightly move in the high rough on the eleventh hole. He called a penalty on himself even though only he could see the ball move. When asked by the press after the round who congratulated him for doing so, his response was “you might as well praise me for not robbing a bank. There is only one way to play the game of golf.”
It has a wonderful clubhouse with a view looking down over much of the front nine and two holes of the back nine. There are fabulous photos, newspaper articles, and replicas of trophies inside the clubhouse that showcase the historic golf events. Even the woodwork of the bar has wood carvings dedicated to Mr. Ross, Ryder Cup, the Opens and others significant events that occurred nearby.
Donald Ross built an absolute gem here. Ron Prichard did a fair amount of restorative work according to an approved master plan, but work was stopped at about 80% complete, My home course of Aronimink did the same before it moved on to Mr. Hanse.
There is a discussion of Gil Hanse doing restorative/renovation work on the course. Mr. Hanse did an outstanding job at my home course (Aronimink) and has done outstanding renovations at many significant courses across the USA such as Winged Foot, Sleepy Hollow, Los Angeles Country Club, Oakland Hills, Merion East, etc…. yet as I walked the golf course and discussed potential ideas, I did not see the need for many significant changes. Perhaps a bunker or tee could be moved slightly or changed in terms of shape or depth. Maybe a tree could be removed. I do not know if these would improve the course. The changes I thought to be appropriate would be potential areas for short grass and better contouring near a few of the greens. The greens are very good with their shaping and are an appropriate size for the hole.
As he often did, Mr. Ross found the higher ground for his teeing areas and his greens. Unlike some holes on other courses, he did not have to move much land to complete his design. This likely made his routing an easy one given the splendid rolling/hilly topography.
Even though there are very few trees on the golf course after various ice and thunderstorms resulted in hundreds of trees being removed, the front nine seems to play differently than most of the back nine, of which ten holes (1-8, 17-18) are on one side of the road while eight holes are across the road (9-16). The back nine feels more open but I think that is because it sits on the highest ground and is not close to a fairly busy road. The first eight holes are open as well with marvelous views across the course and the only water on the course, yet it feels less open than the back nine.
When I play a course I make various notations as to holes I deem interesting in either challenge, design, or have an interesting green complex, etc. For Worcester, I made a notation on fourteen holes. This notation indicates also indicates the degree to which I think a hole is memorable in the quality of its design. Of the fourteen marks, I marked two holes as particularly memorable. For me, this indicates that Worcester is among the better courses I have played. I would note, however, the other guest who joined me, a far superior player, preferred other holes than I did. That is not surprising because he plays the course differently than I do.
While some say rating a course after one round is unfair, I typically play a course with much better players who hit the ball far and rarely score above 75 from the back tees. This gives me the opportunity to see how others play a course, almost as if I am playing it multiple times.
The bunkering is not overly done and is the right mixture of penal and recovery. The greens are shaped wonderfully. While a first-timer will struggle there, I think it is possible to learn them. That does not mean you will make many putts. However, you will always enjoy trying to figure them out as to why they broke, or didn’t break, and why there were speedy, or not as speedy as they could be.
My only criticism is the absence of short grass surrounding the greens on a few holes for recovery and playability options. While not seeing the greens cost me on one hole (the seventeenth when I thought it was a dogleg left instead of a straight shot), I found them to be sited exactly where they should be to provide a good mix of drama, challenge, and mystery.
This is a course one could play over and over and never tire of it, both for its good exercise up and down the hills, the wonderful views, the pace of play due to the tee being placed right next to the previous green, the mixture of challenging holes and a few easier holes, and the great greens. Finally, all of the par 3’s were very good, there is not a weak par 3 in the group with only the eighth not being visually exciting.
From the Red tees, the course is 6711 yards, par 70, rated 72.8/134. From the Black tees it is 6212 yards, rated 71.2/130. There is a gold/red combination and two lesser tees with its own combination. We played the Red tees, although on a few holes the tees had been moved forward.
1. Par 4 – 387/370. The wind was in our faces making this hole play a bit longer despite the substantial downhill to a stream about 240 yards out. The fairway is wide. Other than pin placement, there is no real advantage to either side of the green. If one makes it to the bottom of the hill nearer the stream, they will see only part of the green. The stream meanders making its effective width about 30 yards. The green sits above you adding an additional club to the approach. There is a deep and large bunker about 35 yards short of the green and then a bunker on either side. The green seems to have two tiers with a substantial back to front slope. It is one of the better opening holes one will play and I thought the best view on the golf course other than the terrace overlooking eighteen.
2. Par 5 – 563/532. Climbing behind the first green to the elevated second tee, one plays alongside Mountain Street East offering an out-of-bounds down the entire right side of the hole. The tee shot plays slightly downhill to a crest that propels the ball on a steeper downhill slope. There is a single bunker left followed by two trees The ground on the left half of the fairway will propel balls into the rough, perhaps behind the trees. This would be a good spot for a “first cut.” The fairway disappears for about 50 yards as another stream cuts through. There is a crescent bunker left about 35 yards short of the green with another bunker greenside left and two on the right. The green again slopes back to front with a few interior swales. There is a rock wall about twenty yards behind the green that should be moved 5-8 yards closer. My only other suggestion is that the greenside bunkers are of a similar shape and perhaps the left side should be moved a bit farther into the green. I was told that the tee for the hole was once on the other side of the entrance road (Rice Street) making it closer to 600 yards.
3. Par 4 – 388/360. I really like the third hole playing uphill to a substantial plateau that the longer hitters will carry and get a favorable roll. The very poor tee shot might find water from a pond on the right and the stream before the beginning of the fairway. If one does not carry the plateau they will have a blind shot to the green. There is a single fairway bunker left. The right rough of the hill would be improved with a smallish fairway bunker to provide a playing corridor sight-line. There is a V-shaped bunker on the left about fifteen yards short of the green which has a bunker to either side. The green has a good-sized false front with a depth of about four feet. The green has an interior bowl. Behind the green is a slight fall-off but mainly thick grass.
4. Par 3 – 235/214. The challenging start continues with a long par 3 playing across a valley. On our day, the pin measured out to around 250 yards. The hole has flanking bunkers about ten yards from the green placed at the bottom of a substantial false front of about twelve feet. There is a bunker on the back left and one on the right side to a steeply sloped back to front green and left to right. It is a very difficult hole but visually appealing from the tee. One can make par here if they miss the green and keep their nerve as there are options. It is another strong hole.
5. Par 5 – 483/450. Although I was given the correct advice, I did not quite understand this hole from the tee and therefore played it poorly. The tee is elevated with the only view being of the fairway below. This is another hole with the stream and the pond coming into play. For shorter hitters, there is a lay-up area short of the stream crossing the fairway. To the right of that is wetter ground/taller grass. For the bigger hitters they easily hit over the stream but do have to consider the stream continuing down the left side. The right side of the fairway offers taller grass down the left. The bigger hitters can easily reach the green in two while the average/shorter hitters have to either lay up in front of the pond or try to carry it. The green sits above you with a long, gentle false front with bunkers to either side starting about twenty five yards short of the green. The green is tilted to the right and sloped back to front. For a short par five, this hole offers so much due to decisions that have to be made for players of all abilities, ending with another very good green.
6. Par 3 – 207/162. Marching up the hill to the next tee, one sees a long par 3 to an elevated green that runs away from you if you land on the left side or middle of the green. If one’s ball stays on the right side, they will have a speedy putt to a left side/back pin. This hole is the site of Walter Hagan’s first ace and the first ace recorded on the hole on June 1, 1925, witnessed by Bobby Jones, Tommy Armour and Joe Kirkwood. Much like the fifth, there is a long, gentle rise of short grass fronting the green with a bunker placed well short of the green on the left. The more difficult bunker is placed at the back left which one cannot see from the tee. We also walked to the tees on the right. These tees were added by Mr. Prichard and although I was dubious as to whether they might improve a strong hole, I thought the view and play into the hole to be better. There is talk of removing these tees to the right but I would keep them for playing options into the green.
7. Par 4 – 412/390. One of my favorite holes on a good front nine, this hole plays over a pond to a dogleg right, uphill all the way to the green making it play about 25-30 yards longer. I did find it odd that there are no fairway bunkers with the hole’s defense being the thick line of trees down the right. Near the green is a deep center-right bunker about 30 yards short of the green. There are two deep bunkers left and one on the front right. There is also a very “mean” bunker at the back where the green falls-off. There is a shorter and less high false front to a green that is filled with interior contours, one of the better greens on the course.
8. Par 3 – 195/167. This uphill par 3 plays a club longer. Once again you can see the top of the flag but not the green. There is plenty of room to miss short or left to this triangular shaped green. A bunker is placed on the back left after flanking bunkers at the front. The bunkers are deep and the front right hides a view of the green. There is good mounding on the front right of this green and one wishes for more of this on some of the other holes. The green is sloped back to front with an interior thumbprint on the front right. While the hole plays difficult, it is not the visual delight that the other holes are.
9. Par 4 – 410/400. The best hole on the front nine is located on the other side of the railroad tracks. There is a thought to build a tee near the sixteenth green (or use the back half of the sixteenth’s tee) to add as much as 90 yards to the hole. The issue is that sometimes a train will stop and park here and if a tournament is being conducted, what would one do? This is another uphill hole adding 20 yards to the length of the hole with another green surface that cannot be viewed from the fairway. The hole has thick trees down the entire right side with scattered trees down the left. The fairway tilts gently to the thicker trees on the right. There are no fairway bunkers to consider from the tee as the first bunker is well up the left side about 50 yards from the green. There is a front right bunker and a left side bunker. The green is sloped back to front with tiers in it. It is a terrific hole. If it added the 90 yards and stayed as a par 4 it would be one of the best par 4’s in the state.
10. Par 3 – 18/156. A hole where one can see the green and flag as this hole plays downhill after a 30 feet drop. The visual from the tee for this hole is terrific. There is higher land and taller rough to the right of the green. The hole sports a fronting bunker and two on the right. To the left and back are fall-offs. The green tilts to the left and figuring out the tilt of the green is imperative – does it play flat, slightly up or slightly front to back? Well, I was the only one to hit the green but two others made par from off the green….one made a long putt and the only made about a six feet putt.
11. Par 4 – 408/390. Climbing up the hill to the right of the tenth, this hole plays as a slight dogleg to the left with five bunkers going down the right side of the fairway, some of which are shared with the fifteenth hole. The fairway does not offer a view of the green until one is fairly close at which point you can see the flag. There is a large bunker on the left beginning about ten yards short of the green while a deep bunker is on the right side. The green sits in a bit of a bowl but with a fall-off behind it due to a substantial drop in the land to the next tee. The green location makes this hole really good.
12. Par 4 – 438/420. There are two sets of tees here as well, one set placed on higher ground and the other at the bottom of the hill leading to an uphill tee shot. The upper set is the superior tee as you go through about 70 yards of trees playing a forced carry over the tall grass to a fairway that is strongly sloped to the left. These tees also bring two bunkers placed on the side of the hill into play whereas from the lower tee box they can still be reached but it takes a more wayward shot to do so. The slope in the fairway is fairly strong such that a ball will likely end up on the lower left side. But for those on the right side there is a slightly shorter line into the green and a better view. A cross bunker is placed coming from the right side about 75 yards short of the green. The green has flanking bunkers. I like this hole a lot although my longer hitting friend thought it not quite as good as some on the front nine as he had a nine iron into the green.
13. Par 3 – 197/175. I think this is the best par 3 on the golf course which is saying something given the fourth, sixth and eleventh. The hole plays uphill with a 15 feet tall false front. It has one deep bunker on the right and two smaller, still deep bunkers on the left. If one is short they will have their next shot be about 50 yards away and likely a blind shot. The green is placed at the bottom of a rise behind it even though it is on higher ground and blocks the view of the green’s surface. This might be the best contoured green on the course as it has three shelves/tiers to it with an overall slant to the front.
14. Par 4 – 401/340. This hole feels straight but the play is out to the wider side of the fairway on the right which also means you can avoid a long crescent shaped bunker on the left followed by another one about 50 yards farther on the same side. The right side offers a collection of three bunkers even with the second bunker on the left. There is tall grass on both sides of this fairway. From the tee the second half of the fairway and green are blind. The green has two bunkers on its left with a fall-off right and back. There is the hint of a false front here but overall the miss is to be slightly short of the green. This hole reminded me of some holes at Gullane, Scotland as the land falls away to the right side offering views over the twelfth and countryside. The pin position determines which side one should come into the green as it is another nearly blind green.
15. Par 5 – 588/515. The best par 5 on the course follows a terrific set of holes. This hole dips and rises with good ripples in the fairway. There are five bunkers right, some shared with the eleventh fairway while the two bunkers on the left side of fourteen can come into play. However, the bigger challenge is finding the fairway as it is narrower and has taller grass on both sides. For shorter hitters their second shot will likely find the about 110-80 yards from the green which sits off to the right. There is a well-placed tree near the bottom of the valley on the right. The green complex has two bunkers right and one left with a slight false front. Bigger hitters have a chance to either get close to the front of the green with their second or at least have a view of it. It is another well sloped green.
16. Par 4 – 413/390. This downhill par 4 has another hidden green from the tee as there are trees on the left side that block the view due to the placement of the tees. There is a central bunker about 50 yards short of the green and one greenside left. The green has another false front but the green also seems to run away from you (I can’t confirm this as I somewhat bladed my approach shot and went over). The green does have a tier in it. I like the hole.
17. Par 4 – 460/450. This hole is too difficult for me due to a lack of length as the wind was in our faces, yet my longer-hitting friend birdied it. After crossing the railroad tracks, you play from an elevated tee. The hole plays straight to a plateau followed by a significant fall-off down the hill. I hit a poor tee shot right down the slope of the hill as the ground slopes towards the eighteenth fairway. This gave me a blind shot and I thought the hole went left. It does not so I ended in tall grass off to the left as the hole tumbles down towards the green. From the tee the shorter hitters have to also consider two bunkers left and a tree line while longer hitters try to hit it to the edge of the plateau. The fairway has two additional bunkers about 60-45 yards short of the green on the left and two placed greenside right with a slight false front. It is a lovely hole.
One suggestion is to use the right side tee box on nine on the other side of the railroad track to add 80 yards to the hole, converting it to a par 5. This will get one close to 7000 yards if that is a factor in determining the value of a golf course. It is not a factor for me.
18. Par 4 – 348/330. Playing up a substantial rise, it one clears the rise they have a view of the green complex. If not, they have a blind shot. However, most should be able to see the pin and its three cross bunkers placed well below the green, two bunkers left and one back right. The green is severely sloped back to front and left to right with various swales. It is one of the better greens located above you placed against the side of the hill upon which the clubhouse is right behind. I suppose one could add another 100 yards here as well for the bigger hitters by building a tee on the other side of the pond but that would require removal of a shed and bring the seventeenth green into play.
As Mr. Tomasiello points out in his review, the most appealing feature of Worcester is the way that Donald Ross put together a routing that fits perfectly with the rises and falls of the land. There are uphill shots, downhill shots, side hill shots, shots from plateaus, and shots from rolling fairways. The taller fescue provides appealing playing corridors. The green complexes are stellar as are the par 3’s, the ninth, twelfth, and fifteenth. It does appear the only land that was moved was to create the greens and bunkers. Much like Meadowbrook in Michigan, I was very impressed with this course. The members have a gem that they will enjoy playing every day. As to whether it fits into the top ten of Massachusetts, it is a high bar. I find it very comparable to Charles River, which I think is also under-rated. For those who sometimes scoff at Donald Ross, after playing here I believe they will come away with a vastly different opinion.
I would want to rate it higher, but according to the criteria it has to be “the best course in the region, worth flying in to play” and it falls just short of that double criteria. It is a golf course very much worth playing and one should try very hard to arrange a game here. While there are a few courses that hosted the U.S. Open or PGA that one should only play if they are trying to play all of them, this course should be played regardless of its history as it is that good.
What a tremendous piece on Worcester Country Club. You did a phenomenal job at capturing the essence of what makes WCC great. I also appreciate the kind words on my own write-up. I look forward to seeing your forthcoming reviews!
Perplexed. Baffled. Confused. These were the emotions that rushed through my body after putting out on the finishing hole at Worcester Country Club. “How could a club with such a perfect course, designed by Donald Ross, seeping in national and international golf history, fly so under the radar,” I pondered? Even on this website, Worcester only has one review! While I can only guess at the answer to this question, one thing is for certain: if you love Golden Age golf…if you love Donald Ross…drop everything, and get yourself to central Massachusetts immediately. Worcester is the real deal!
As discussed in the biography above, Worcester’s contributions to the history of professional golf are simply remarkable. According to its website, Worcester Country Club is only one of three clubs to have hosted such a set of premier national men’s, women’s, and international events. Legendary stories of the game’s heroes are alive and well down Worcester’s fairways.
I can only imagine how excited Donald Ross must have been to route on the Worcester Country Club property. Set on a very large hill (in a city known for its hills), Ross incorporated a breadth of directions into the layout so that some holes play uphill, some downhill, some sidehill, and some with a mix of all three! Not once in the round does the player sense that dirt was moved unnaturally. Instead, you must constantly consider the ball’s interaction with the ground, bouncing and rolling, on every single shot you hit.
The presentation of Worcester Country Club is very appealing. Manicured perfectly, the course conditions are firm, and fescue flanking most holes shines golden in appearance. According to the member who accompanied me, the course had lost thousands of trees in the past few years, and from certain points on the property, one could see up to 6-7 other holes at a time.
With endless variety in the shots required to navigate the course, Worcester was splendid from start to finish. Memorable holes for me include:
• #1: A “deceptive” Ross gentle handshake. The first tee shot of the day at Worcester is wide open, requiring a long iron or metal to a huge fairway that stops short of a meandering brook. While this visual may seem straightforward, the hole is no pushover. Even a well struck tee shot may face a mid-iron, uphill to a tough green. The rough is so thick, that should one miss the fairway, they may need to lay up to the landing area short of the green.
• #2: The par five second hole also incorporates a bisecting stream. From the proper tee, the player will likely need to consider laying up with a metal, or being more aggressive with a driver, possibly putting them past the fairway into dense rough. Reaching this green in two is a possibility, but landing in the cross bunkers short could mean bogey.
• #3: Ross’ routing genius at Worcester really begins to shine at the par four 3rd. With virtually no bunkers in play off the tee, the challenge of this hole is a massive crown in the fairway’s landing area. Stay short, and face a blind shot into this rumpled green; playing over may give you extra yards, but also bring in the possibility of a downhill lie to a putting surface above you. It is amazing to see how Ross assimilated this untouched natural hump in the topography to generate so much strategic interest.
• #4: A quintessential hole on many Ross’ courses, the deep par three 4th demands precision with a long iron or fairway metal to a severely sloped green, also incorporating a brutal false front.
• #6: The famous par three 6th screams ‘old school architecture.’ With the green perched far above the players’ eyesight at the tee, determining the right yardage is beguiling. While Ross offers some relief with a shortgrass collection area, one must also watch out for a tough straight line bunker in the rear, and the possibility of an extremely fast chip should they bail out left.
• #9: Creeping up to the highest point on the course, the fairway at the par four 9th creates interest in two ways. First, in addition to playing uphill, it also is subtlety sloped left-to-right. Extra room on the right is blind from the teeing area, but also provides one of the best angles into the green. One can use the fairway’s natural contours to achieve this angle, but also must be wary to not run out too far to the right and end up blocked by trees.
• #10: In some ways, the par three turning hole feels like a hybrid Raynor-Short and Ross-Volcano. Playing downhill, this hole seems benign from the tee as most players will likely have a wedge in hand. However, hitting the green is no simple prospect as it is one of the smallest putting surfaces on the course, wind impacts the shot, and getting up and down from thick rough on steep flanking slopes or the bunkers is complex. In a way, one might consider this an ‘island green’ since missing essentially incurs a penalty stroke.
• #12: My favorite hole on the entire Worcester property was the long par four 12th. Banked into a side hill, the fairway naturally runs from right-to-left for most of its length. Ending up on the left side of the fairway, as most players do, would offer a view of the green, while any player on the more rare right would have a blind shot but a far superior angle. Cutting out into the fairway roughly 100 yards shy of the green is a cross bunker and a beautiful, natural knoll. Ross’ discovery and incorporation of this feature demonstrates his mastery and artistry as an architect. While not all players may be able to flight the ball aerially to the green in two shots, anyone could use this massive mound to their advantage to roll the ball up easily.
• #13: Among the most beautifully located of any Ross green site I have seen, the par three 13th is banked into a small hill and features both multiple tiers, and a massive false front. Despite its challenge, Ross always thought of the amateur and provided options. After watching my ball trickle down the false front roughly 60 yards short of the green, I was able to use the slope of the tiers to stop a ball right near the cup – a routine par!
• #14: Among the widest fairways on the course, the 14th still provides challenge with a perched, crested fairway that mostly blocks views of the green. Hitting the fairway is not so much of a challenge as strategically placing your shot on the proper side for the best angle.
• #15: While other holes at Worcester challenge the player with strategic angles, water, or sand traps, the long par five 15th gorgeously incorporates the natural golden fescue for challenge. The fairway is narrow on both the tee shot and approach, and anything missed will surely be a punch out.
• #16: An absolute blast to play, the 16th runs straight downhill to a green that also slopes away from you. Though less common in practice today, a wise player may actually land the ball short of the green to keep their shot close to a front pin placement. Expecting this in his time, Ross tests the player’s merits with a short centerline bunker close to the ideal landing area.
• #17: Very similar to the 16th, the downhill par four 17th captures the natural sloping topography expertly, allowing players to run shots close to any flagstick.
• #18: Despite its shorter length, the topsy-turvy finishing hole at Worcester is no simple closer. An even lie in the fairway is a rarity, and with such a small putting surface, keeping the ball on the green is imperative to walk away with a par.
Simply put, I cannot think of many courses which both hug the natural contours of their land, and fit perfectly together like a puzzle than Worcester Country Club. This is the type of place someone could play every day without ever losing interest. Ross’ routing appears to have moved no dirt, yet wildly undulating fairways and the ground game challenges are presented to the player throughout almost every hole. There is a mixture of lengths, hazards, bunker styles, width, wind direction, and virtually any other aspect of an architecturally compelling golf course that you can surmise. Worcester is, in a word, delightful.
Why then does Worcester Country Club not receive the national attention that, in my opinion, it deserves?
Perhaps it is the setting? Truthfully, Worcester as a city simply does not have a strong overall reputation in the northeast, and driving through old neighborhoods to reach the course is not quite as inspiring as say, 17-Mile Drive. Maybe it just falls in the shadow of other great Massachusetts courses near Boston? These geographic challenges are comparable Old Town in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which also flies severely under the radar. Perhaps Worcester is not as heralded because tree removal and restoration work are so recent? Should they be publicized further, I would imagine the club trending up rapidly in rankings. Maybe, though, for a course that has been so spotlighted over the last century, Worcester simply prefers to be an escape for its members, and not seek such attention.
Regardless of the reason, there is no doubt in my mind that Worcester is among America’s finest courses. With seemingly no weaknesses, and such a pure routing, Worcester exceptionally represents the spirit of our pastime in all ways fathomable.
Hello Adam, I want to thank you for your very thoughtful review of WCC. I am a recent member at the club previously at Oak Hill in Fitchburg and could not agree more with you about Worcester. I was supposed to be playing Carnoustie and Panmure today but due to this little virus, I had a lovely round at WCC instead. The only thing missing from WCC to make it a legendary links course is the ocean and the sound of bagpipes at sunset.
Thanks for the thoughtful response. I am sorry to hear about your trip cancellation with the virus - it has certainly taken a toll on all of our summer plans. I could not agree with you more about the fantastic, legendary design at WCC. It left an indelible impression on me last summer, and I now wear my WCC polo with pride down here in North Carolina. It must be such a joy to play day-in and day-out; I cannot imagine it ever getting old. If you ever find yourself in the Raleigh/Durham area feel free to reach out! Thanks again for the comment!
Worcester Country Club is located in Worcester, Massachusetts about 45 mins outside of Boston to the East. The course was founded in 1900 at another location and in 1913 Donald Ross was hired to design a course on the current site. The course was officially opened in 1914 when President William Taft hit the inaugural tee shot. Worcester pronounced "Woosta" is a classic design that hosted theWorceseter Country Club first ever Ryder Cup between the US and Great Britain in 1927 and has also hosted a US Men's and Women's Open. The US Men's Open held at Worcester in 1925 will be remembered most for Bobby Jones famously calling a penalty on himself for the ball moving in the rough and eventually loosing the tournament by a shot to Willie MacFarlane in a 36 hole playoff. The course plays 6500 yds to a par of 70 but it plays longer than the yardage as there are 5 par 3's four of them measuring 200yds at least. The course today has wide corridors on virtually every hole allowing for gallery to follow players and could easily host another major maybe they'll see another Women's Open or US amateur someday soon.