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.
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.
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.