HINGHAM, MA – “Boston Golf Club?” my friend asked, confused. “That’s not helpful. Which club in Boston do you mean?”
“No, that’s the name of it,” I replied. “Boston Golf Club…THE Boston Golf Club. The definitive article, so to speak.”
My buddy gave a knowing, “Ahhhh!” and then turned to pack his clubs and shoes.
That was all I had to say. He knows the mantra – when Jay invites you anywhere, drop what you’re doing and go. Of course he became the envy of all his pals the next day. When word got out that he’d played the private Gil Hanse design in Hingham that was skyrocketing up everyone’s rankings lists like a new Jay Z CD racing up the charts, he drank for free that day in exchange for pictures and stories. And the look on his face during the round? He was grinning like a butcher’s dog who just saw his master slicing a bit off the bone.
Boston Golf Club is indeed a “run, don’t walk” sort of club where the altruistic ethos of the game is every bit as enchanting as the pastoral charm of the golf course. The moment you step on the property, you also step back in time 100 years. It’s more akin to an English heathland course of the early 1900s designed by Harry Colt than an American course built in 2008 by Gil Hanse, but that’s as high a compliment as you can pay an architect. Here’s seven reasons to go play it right now:
1. IT’S THIS CENTURY’S PROPER REJOINDER TO PINE VALLEY.
Yes, Boston Golf Club is that good. It can certainly be spoken of in the same holy whispers as a course perennially listed number one in America by every major golf magazine. Castle Stuart may have put Hanse on the map and the Rio Olympics course may have been his 15 minutes of worldwide fame, but Boston Golf Club is his magnum opus to date.
One similarity to Pine Valley is its “scrub and pinelands” look and feel, as well as its remarkably wide fairways with almost no rough at all. Across the country, other courses are embracing this trend. Like the old Pontiac car commercial said, “Wider is better.” Moreover, substituting shaved chipping areas for a collar of rough means more options around the greens.
2. SOLACE AMIDST THE TRAFFIC OF THE WORLD
Another similarity to Pine Valley is the overwhelming sense of seclusion. Deep in the Massachusetts forest southwest of Boston the course is especially enthralling in late September, when the dryad loveliness of fall has cloaked the trees in all nature’s autumn luminescence: vermillion, crimson, burnt orange, and burnished gold. The bucolic splendor is downright restorative, an elixir. There’s a certain weight that lifts even upon merely pulling into the car park.
3. GIL HANSE
Hanse is the hottest architect in the world right now. Trump tapped him for Doral and the Olympics selected his design for Rio. There were no higher profile employers this decade. Gil runs his operation like a microbrewery – one excellent course at a time and personal attention to every detail.
“Hanse is one of my favorite architects period,” said former Tour player and renowned golf design expert Brad Faxon in an earlier interview. “Gil’s taught me a lot about architecture. The best designers don’t spell everything out for you; they make you puzzle things out. Someone tell Tiger Woods to stop saying, ‘It’s all there in front of you,’ because great classic architecture is not all there in front of you. Gil’s one of the best at that.”
4. MINIMALISM WITH FLAIR
Hanse moves as little earth as possible, letting the land dictate the holes, not vice-versa, but he’s also colorful and puckish when designing. Where Coore and Crenshaw can, at times, be too restrained in their original work – “an excellent French Vanilla” as one pundit put it – Hanse as an artistic streak that melds well with his complex design strategies. Rocky Road, so to speak…
One example is his asymmetric routings. At BGC the par-5s appear at 1, 15 and 17. The par-3s are bunched up at 6, 8, and 11, but then the course closes with a remarkable par-3 finisher that plays along the side of the clubhouse, so golfers get a bird’s eye view of the groups behind them as they finish. Few courses end on par-3s and fewer still make it work, but Boston Golf Club pulls it off with style.
5. THE FIFTH HOLE!
It’s the most controversial hole in Massachusetts. For the record, this author loves it. A mere 300 yards depending on what tees you play, the drive is over a gully to a crowned fairway sloped significantly back towards the tee box. The green sits atop a knoll and is guarded all along the right by the scrublands and bunkers. It’s also guarded by a false side that sheds balls into a closely-mowed chipping area. A true “half-par” hole where anything from eagle to double bogey awaits, the only people that don’t like it are long bombers who try to overpower it instead of out-think it.
Apparently modeled after the 15th hole at Fenway, the fifth hole was used by pre-eminent golf course critic and rankings editor Ron Whitten and designer Bob Cupp as an example of great architecture in their book “Golf’s Grand Design,” a companion to a PBS documentary.
6. THE STERLING RECOMMENDATIONS
He’s no less a personage than a founding member of an important USGA committee, a man whose perspicacity and historical recall when it comes to golf design are nigh unparalleled, and suddenly he was wide eyed with wonder, his voice lowered to a hushed, reverent tone.
“You’re going to love Boston Golf Club?! I think it’s the best course built in this millennium.”
That’s high praise indeed from a man who’s seen 1,000 golf courses around the world in his lifetime.
Additionally, the aforementioned Whitten, by far the most important golf critic in America (possibly the World) praised it as well, saying he was hard-pressed to think of a better original design by Hanse, and pointing to its meteoric rise up the rankings lists. With accolades like that piling up from every magazine and player, it’s impossible to overstate Hanse’s achievement in designing BGC.
Greater Boston and, indeed, the entire state of Massachusetts are vastly underrated as a golf town and region, both for private clubs and public facilities. Yes, New York City has a plethora of major championship venues and Monterey Peninsula has its oceanside wonders, but Boston ha a wide variety of Golden Age masterpieces as well as modern instant classics. The Country Club, Eastward Ho!, George Wright, Red Tail, Brae Burn, Myopia Hunt Club, the list is endless.
In fall, they are all the more exquisite We finished our round pant legs flapping fitfully, chins nuzzled into our pullovers to avoid the early chill. Eddies of wind spun the first fallen leaves gracefully aloft. As we returned home, it was just as glorious a night outside Fenway Park. We arrived as the Red Sox were five innings deep on another win. A roar suddenly erupts. It rises like a storm, thundering and echoing, long and sustained.
“I bet ya Big Papi hit a home run,” my buddy said.
“So? We did too today,” I replied.