Adventure Golf Travels – Tedesco Country Club and the Boston Half Marathon
[Special to Golf News Net and Slave to the Traffic Light Adventure Magazine]
By Jay Flemma
BOSTON, Mass. – Run, golf, run, golf, run, golf: lather, rinse, repeat. It’s actually a winning formula for a runner and a golfer.
“Golf is the perfect activity on days when you don’t run,” professes veteran distance running coach Joe Wilczynski, a man who has trained tri-athletes, Boston Marathon alumni, and thousands of other runners from beginner to elite levels. “Walking on grass and getting off the hard pavement helps rest your legs – recovery time is important. Plus you get out in the fresh air and use different muscles you don’t use when you run.”
Several of us got to put “golf as recovery” to the ultimate test on Columbus Day weekend by running the Boston Athletic Association half marathon, then playing a round at Marblehead, Massachusetts’ Tedesco Country Club, a Golden Age golf course recently renovated by golf architect Ron Forse. Over the course of the weekend, we not only got to race one of the nation’s seminal half marathons, we also got to visit one of the New England’s better-kept golf secrets, all while enjoying the glorious setting of one of the greatest and most historic cities on the planet. And the Red Sox beat the Yankees in a playoff game at Fenway! So cue up the Dropkick Murphys, grab an espresso from Pavement, and get ready for one of the most intrepid running and golf weekends you’ll ever enjoy.
BOSTON ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION HALF MARATHON
Mere mortals such as Your Author and his research team will never qualify for the Boston Marathon. The qualifying times are tough enough, and besides, many people’s knees just can’t take the pounding of 26.2 miles. Remember, Phillipides didn’t have to run on pavement.
That being said, Phillipides also didn’t exactly have Nike Lunastellas to run in either…
Anyway, the B.A.A. Half is the closest many of us will get to crossing a finish line in Boston, but it is most certainly no weak sister. Indeed, the B.A.A. Half is the final gem in a 3-jewel medley that includes a 5K and 10K race as well. Perennially perfect running weather, a course that winds through one of the most iconic cities in America, and a cornucopia of diversions to explore make the B.A.A. Half an indispensable destination race. Run it once, and you’ll want to come back time and again, especially if the Red Sox are winning playoff games, as they did on Friday night. The whole city parties!
LENGTH – 13.1
SIZE OF FIELD Field caps at 9,000. There were 6,471 finishers.
DIFFICULTY 4.5 – 5 (out of 7)
It’s not so much the size of the field that is notable, but the narrowness of the race course. There are moments when you have to take care not to try to run three abreast, especially in the hairpin turns. 6,471 runners finished the race, (the field caps at 9,000), so this year it did not feel as crowded as years past. But racers we interviewed noted that with a full field, there’s a little more jostling.
“It’s the narrowest race course I’ve ever run, and you don’t find a lot of open space out there on the course, especially for the first nine miles,” said Kim, a young runner whose last name we couldn’t catch. “But we did have a little more room this year,” she added.
Still, the B.A.A. Half course is bumpy, but not hilly, if you understand the nuance. This is not Pittsburgh. This race course is gettable, especially in the perfect conditions we raced in. Blue skies and warm gentle breezes mean you can get aggressive out there. PRs aren’t guaranteed, but there’s no reason not to ask, “Why not today?” Indeed several running journalists have reported posting PRs in all three events in the medley, although Your Author, sadly, was not one of them…but I will be next year…
NATURAL SETTING – 4.5 – 5 out of 7
Beginning and ending in Franklin Park, the course passes the Arboraetum and Jamaica Pond, before turning around at the Riverway, and hugging the Emerald Necklace, passing Franklin Park Golf Course along the way. The final third of the race traverses Franklin Park, including the Zoo. You can high-five, platypus, porcupines, warthogs, and various primates, and for once you’re doing it somewhere other than Gillette Stadium.
VALUE – 7 out of 7
You can’t put a price on running Boston. You’ll not only remember it the rest of your life, but you become running family, and you’ll want to return for the yearly reunion for many years to come. Also, when it comes to shirts, nobody beats the B.A.A. BONUS!
AFTER PARTY: Hanging around a muddy field eating wraps? We can do that in Baldwinsville. Post race, the park tends to clear out, but there’s a whole city to explore. Over the course of the weekend we drank on Yawkee Way, carbed up with scampi and arrabiata at Benevento’s in the North End, then toured the Old North Church and Paul Revere’s house. Post race it was the Pour House for brunch and football. And then golf the next day…
TEDESCO COUNTRY CLUB, MARBLEHEAD, MASS
Never underestimate the power of photography, because a few good pictures are sometimes enough to elevate the public’s awareness of a golf course in a substantial way. In this case, a few photos of golf architect Ron Forse’s renovation work at Marblehead’s Tedesco Country Club were passed around by architecture aficionados on Facebook, and now everyone wants to come and play a club that, prior to this, was so obscure, even the great Tom Doak neglected to review it in his seminal work, The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses.
Everyone making the trek to scenic Marblehead is going to find something they like at Tedesco. Asymmetric routing that features five par-3s and three par-5s? Check. Pure rolling greens with interesting contours? Check. Fascinating green settngs? That’s a big check! Plus, there’s a lot of variety at Tedesco, you’ll see a little of everything: uphill, downhill, draw, fade, bunkers, woods, and water.
The golf course is divided into two distinct sections the topography of which could not be more radically different. On the clubhouse side of Salem Road laid out over gently rolling terrain that was formerly farmland, you have holes 1-5, 8-10, and 18.
Across the road, however, it becomes a mountain golf course. Holes six and seven climb directly up the mountain, only to tumble right back down again and re-cross the road for the conclusion of the front nine. At holes 11-17 you ascend the mountain a second time then scurry around its forested slopes and verdant glades. There’s definitely an alpine feel to much of the back nine, before you cross the road again for the 18th.
The 34-36=70 routing includes a stretch that goes 3-3-5-5 from holes 7-10. You finish with five par-4s in a row, but none of them feel monotonous, even though in the spring and in the fall, you’ll play much of them into the teeth of a stern prevailing east wind.
Opened in 1903 and named for a famous shipwreck off its shores – the cargo barque Tedesco, which sank after striking a boulder in a blizzard, killing all 12 aboard and consigning a cargo of sherry, wine, and raisins to the deep – the club was originally 36 holes. In what became a common theme for many clubs throughout the middle 1900s, various land swaps, acquisitions, and subdivisions resulted in the 18 hole layout we find today. Present day Tedesco’s front nine is accredited to various members, but also incorporates design work by Wayne Stiles and John Van Kleek, an architectural tandem of regional success mostly in the Northeast. The back nine started as Stiles and Van Kleek, but saw many changes over the years, including the 12th tee box, a contribution of Donald Ross in the late 1920s.
There are two indelible, indeed unforgettable golf holes at Tedesco that every golfer should see: two and 16, both long and interesting par-4s. At the second, we see a rare but creative bit of routing – the course returns to the clubhouse immediately! (Two other excellent examples of this are Rockaway Hunting Club, the great one-half Tillinghast and one-half Devereux Emmet club in the Five Towns area of New York and Ekwanok, a Walter Travis design in Vermont.) It worked well there, and it works especially well at Tedesco. The clubhouse happens to sit atop a rocky outcropping that contains a natural grotto. Naturally, this makes for a unique and fascinating green setting! “The Grotto Hole” as it has now become referred to in the lexicon brings you right to the edge of the cove wall, directly beneath the clubhouse, as Forse extended it so far back, you can snooker yourself with too long an approach.
“It remains the best par-4 at TCC,” beamed an ebullient Ron Forse, recalling the hole with delight. “The green not only has the ledges on 3 sides but a tricky berm guarding the approach, (maybe more ledge!). The putting surface has some very interesting, nearly imperceptible slopes and undulations, disguised by the abrupt vertical rock walls changing ones’ perception.. A large kettle hole in the far landing area can “bank turn” a long careless drive into one of two newly reinstated bunkers.”
The other truly great hole is 16. While, at times, the back nine takes driver out of your hands and feels tightly watery or woodsy in places, the payoff comes at the summit where four holes charmingly meet at a crossover, another wondrous Golden Age routing feature.
16 is the apex, with its dramatic approach from a high plateau across a valley to a green beautifully set at the base of a granite amphitheater along its right side.
“Newly planted with fescue grasses mingling with rocky outcropping, at one time the Atlantic Ocean could be seen from the hilltop lon this spectacular par four,” explained Forse. “An old photo revealed how we would restore the bunkering that now nearly surrounds the expanded green with sand features ranging from tiny to huge. Getting to the proper spot from the tee to use a suitable iron for the second shot to the target requires a solid hit over a grassy rise. Big on classic character and shot-values, sixteen is one of the finest two-shotters on the east coast.”
It was also the photograph that drew everybody in on Facebook. All the golf architecture enthusiasts were drooling over them, gushing “TOTES JELLY!” on Forse’s page, the power of social media indeed.
Forse’s work has been highly praised by the club; he’s worked there since 2010 and it was his 2015 long master plan that was finally finished this spring which brought Tedesco into the 21st century, while emphasizing the work of Stiles and Van Kleek.
“Ron captured the flavor of Stiles and Van Kleek, while also adding strategic elements for high and low handicapper alike, such as diagonal angles of attack off the tee,” noted PGA Head Professional Bob Green. “He also rebuilt bunkers, took out about 150 trees, and improved sight lines.”
Forse also brought greens back to full size and widened fairways where he could, even in tight corridors like 11 and 14, the narrower, more dictatorial part of the golf course. And of course the greens roll absolutely perfectly, a tribute to the excellent stewardship of Head Superintendent Peter Hasak.
Forse is a rising star, a Forse to Be Reckoned With, if you’ll forgive the terrible pun. He’s also doing work at Brae Burn, Hyannisport, and Salem Country Club, along with at least a half dozen more projects throughout New England. That’s a veritable Who’s Who of Massachusetts Golf.
As a final note – and as fair warning for those who take carts – part of the charm and character of the Tedesco experience are 1) the goofy cart paths that cling perilously close to the edge of Salem Road and wind around telephone poles and 2) a practice range seemingly located in Maine.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you, Man,” said my playing partner, who ruthlessly berated Your Author time and again before realizing that I actually was driving the right way: the driving range is located at the summit of the mountain top, across the road, on the furthest side of the golf course, and that the cart paths here are zanier than a TV sitcom.
Also, in effort to brand one of the club’s more infamous bunkers, and attempting to riff on Pine Valley’s famous “Devil’s Asshole” bunker, the deep bunker guarding the sixth green at Tedesco somehow got dubbed “Forse’s Oriface.”
As they say in football, after further review, the call on the field is reversed. “Forse’s Oriface??!!” Hello, Branding Department? Clean up on aisle two! Let’s try this instead: it is Boston after all, so how about “Filene’s Basement?” There it is: bag it, tag it, sell it in the stores. You’re welcome!
Tedesco has a lot gong for it right now. Forse’s work here is sure to attract attention for the club; the Golden Age bones of the course are still strong, there are several iconic holes, and Marblehead is a sparkling little seaside town steeped in both maritime and sports history. (Famous cyclist Tyler Hamilton hailed from Marblehead.) Moreover, Tedesco is another success in a growing list of Boston-area course that Forse has restored or renovated recently.
As a perfect coda to the round, take a short ride to Fisherman’s Beach to see one of the Tedesco’s two anchors, now kept as a memorial to mariners who lost their lives at sea.
ACTUAL VERBATIM INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO GET FROM TEDESCO’S CLUBHOUSE TO THE PRACTICE RANGE
“Okay, jump in that cart and bang a u-eey. Make your first sharp right, cut across that par-3 fairway, and climb to the top of the hill. Once there, make another sharp right and follow the middle cart path. You’re gonna keep goin’ and then you keep goin’ some more. You’ll see the maintenance shed in front of you – you gonna go through that. Right through the open doors, wave to Pete the Super, he knows you’re coming, (or maybe not), and then exit the building. Head to the road, but don’t cross it. Instead make a sharp right and ride the sidewalk, being careful not to get hit by the traffic whizzing by your back. Look for a good place to cut across 55 mile an hour traffic without hitting a telephone pole or tipping the cart. Once you cross the road, make a sharp left and ride the sidewalk again. Look for a hole in a rock wall, and pick up the cart path again. Ride it up and up, taking each fork you see. Pass the cave of the lions and it should be a little further up the road. If you get lost, there’s a flare gun in the basket. Send up a couple, and we’ll come get you.
To return to the clubhouse, just point the cart downhill, and try not to hit any trees.”