George Wright Golf Course

A strong handful of renowned public golf courses exist in the United States that represent the most virtuous commitment of their municipalities to providing access to high quality design to everyone.  The George Wright Golf Course in Boston, an original Donald Ross design through and through, is one of these.

French Chateau Clubhouse stands sentinel on the hill as you walk up from the car park

The Wright was built in the Depression period of the 1930’s on the old Grew Estate that had been conveyed to the Department of Conservation of Massachusetts through the efforts of George Wright founder of the Wright and Ditson Sporting Goods stores in Boston.  This major project of close to $1 million was financed through the Roosevelt Administration’s Works Project Administration.

In what proved to be an enormous undertaking because of the rugged topography, the construction employed almost 1,000 people as it was completed over a three-year period opening for play in 1936.  There is a unique local flavor to the artistry of this facility in that it included a three-mile long perimeter flagstone wall built by the Italian and Irish masons of Boston and a stunning French Chateau style clubhouse that belies a typical municipal golf course setting.

Note the stone manson’s wall behind the green…3 miles long it encircles most of the property

From the time it opened this course was well reputed and hosted many big local and regional tournaments.  Among the best players it was considered an equal to the posh private venues of Boston.  But time took it’s toll and after the war and a series of financial problems that ensued, it fell into disrepair and by the mid-1980’s faced imminent closure.  Against all odds, an assiduous lobbying effort by the Massachusetts Golf Association kept it in operation for the next 20 years.  Finally in the early 2000’s the powers that be in the city of Boston made the bold commitment to restore George Wright to the original quality and design.

The key to this effort was the arrival of head pro Scott Allen in 2001, who spearheaded the restoration effort, and the hiring in 2004 of Len Curtain, a greens superintendent with a special affection for the place,  who grew playing the Wright.  With the consultation of a Massachusetts course designer Mark Mungeum, together this group embarked on the long term project to peel back decades of neglect and bring this wonderful venue back to original glory.

Lots of trees were removed and the green complexes were restored to their original Ross shapes and surrounds.  Fairway bunkers were relocated along with a few new additions to help the course meet the challenge of the contemporary equipment.  Together they brought back the Wright to a course worthy of being designated as the site of the 2018 State Amateur-the first time in the tournament’s history it will be played on a municipal golf course.

The wide open driving area on the first is a teaser…this is a precise driving course

The first, ninth, and eighteenth holes are on the flattest portion of the property just below the clubhouse veranda so the course begins and ends on a fairly tame note.  On the second tee, in spite of the abundant width of the driving area, you get the sense this is a tee ball position course as the green in the distance is suspended on an alcove shelf tucked in the corner of the property.  From three thru fifteen the course is enveloped in a solitary cocoon and you won’t see any man-made structures besides the clubhouse and the maintenance facility. It makes you wonder how it could be just four miles from the center of a major American metropolis.

The Par 5 3rd gives no room for wandering

Standing on the third tee the challenge is at hand as you are staring up the narrow hallway that defines this uphill and stringent five par.  Keeping the ball between the hash marks off the tee, controlling the roll out, and finding the proper angle of approach for the day’s pins into these Ross green complexes will determine how your scorecard will fare today.  It goes without saying that it will be peppered with some high numbers but you have to accept them and remain aggressive to balance the outcome.

The landing area on the Par 4 4th is saddles the high ground

One thing you cannot fail to notice is that the holes are often lined with rock outcroppings or tall mounds.  These mounds were created by covering the piles of rocks rendered from the fairway demolition and you can begin to appreciate how much went into discovering playable fairways on this severe and rugged terrain.

Looking up the 6th you see how much was excavated to find this fairway

The devil is in the detail as you can see in the Hole-By-Hole Analysis below, the contours of five through twelve in particular will challenge your tactical instinct trying to find the line of charm.

Peaceful tranquility of the green complex on the 9th hole just below the clubhouse

Note: If there is someone manning the dog-at-the-turn cart between the 10th and 12th tees I recommend well done with relish and mustard.  The homemade cookies are not a bad chaser either.

The 8th one of the four intimidating three pars-very demanding little room for error.

As an aside, the par threes may be the most interesting holes on the course.  Every one of the four stands apart in visual distinction and precise shot making is demanded.  Not one of them is over 190 yards yet playing the four of them anywhere near par is a major accomplishment.  The Ross bunkering and segmenting of these four green complexes will sustain vivid images in your mind when you rehash the day’s journey later staring at your dark bedroom ceiling.

Bungee drop approach to the 12th from the top of the ridge

The inward nine takes up right where the last one ended with roller coaster elevation changes on the first three holes.  Be cognizant on all three of these not to drive the tee ball too far and overreach the best landing spot for the approach.  As you can read in the detail the blinded approach shot into the tenth green takes serious visualization.  The approach into the eleventh will take a different kind of creativity as it will take all your ground skills to give yourself a good scoring opportunity there.

Drop dead green setting on the Par 5 15th…just don’t hit the green wall netting behind

If you reach the thirteenth tee with minimum scorecard damage there is great opportunity to make up ground on the way to the house.  This hole is one of the most visually pleasing all day but you have to hit two very articulate shots to avoid the hazards that haunt the hole from tee to green.  What follows is a challenging uphill par three followed by a stunning three-shot par five that should give you a good chance to apply some salve to the scorecard.

Talking a 2+ club elevation change into the mountainous 16th green

I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to the Mt. Rushmore green complex of the sixteenth hole.  No course architect would even consider building a hole like this today, but it is just flat out fun.  From the base of the hill where your drive will end up it looks like you need to hit one over George Washington’s left eye and land it on the crown of Thomas Jefferson’s head.  That is kind of what you have to do…long or Roosevelt right is no good at all.

The 18th appears sedate but there is trouble lurking if you get out of position

The two holes that bring you back to the house are very interesting.  The short par three seventeenth is one of the truly quaint looks of the day.  Encircled by sand it takes a lawn dart to give yourself a good birdie chance.  The home hole is a level walk on ground similar to the first, but the green is very deep with severe contour so you must focus to get your approach all the way to the day’s pin.

The apres golf Sports Bar and Grill is a memorabilia must stop

When it was said and done, I found the George Wright an amazing municipal golf experience, right down to the clubhouse building and the players Bar and Grill.  Linger for a cold Samuel Adams and some nachos, check out all the Boston sports memorabilia on the wall, and savor what has been a wonderful day of old style golf at a very accommodating price.

Boston, Massachusetts

Architect:  Donald Ross (1936)

.                       Par    Rating  Slope   Yardage

Blue                 70        69.5     126      6440

White              70        68.6     122      6096

Red                 70        70.3     115      5131

(Click to read the Hole-By Hole Analysis of the George Wright Golf Course)

Cape Cod National Golf Club

ccnationallogoCape Cod National was one of Brian Silva’s first new course offerings on his watch but he came to it very schooled from the time he spent working with his mentor Geoffrey Cornish.  For an early effort this course has woven into it’s fabric amazingly mature design concept.  The course is built with lots of elbow room but, like courses built back in the Golden Age of Design, the width provides plenty of tactical choices for players with imagination. Searching for and losing golf balls should not be a problem out here which makes for fast and enjoyable play.

It is very playable for the average member while it maintains intrinsic challenge for the better player at the same time.  This is a private club but access to it is available to the guests of the Wequassett Resort outside of Chatham.

The look off the 10th tee is truly breathtaking

The look off the 10th tee is a truly breathtaking challenge

Generous width off the tee with parenthetical bunkering to emphasize the proper targeting line is the operating principle.  In most cases the first bunker is in play for all players where the opposing bunker, which sets your target line, is only reachable by the biggest hitters.  As a result there is plenty of room to play and you should not spend much time in the rough or the adjacent trees.  But picking good lines is critical to having advantage angles into the green complexes.

The second principle is green complexes with bunkering on one side and bail pitching areas or grassy rough hollows on the other.  Once again this is good for the broader golfing masses who can work there way around the green size bunkers without taking them on but for the low digit guy up-and-downs off the tight grass pitching areas presents a solid challenge.

The greens themselves are very clever-oddly shaped to compliment the green approach lines with plenty of slope.  The specs the greens were made to allow them to reach quick green speeds which, when matched with the slopes, puts a premium on leaving even the recovery pitch below the hole to avoid the three putts.  The generous setbacks of the greens from the trees makes depth perception when reading the breaks a huge challenge.  Once you determine the prevailing break of the green you must pay attention to countervailing internal breaks they worked into the putting surfaces.

The first three holes give you all of this in heavy dosages.  An unusual sequence of two par fives in the first three holes gives Silva an opportunity to lay out this theme early on.  Setting up the lay ups on these two holes is all about finding a good line off the tee to set up an opposing line of approach to a narrowly confined lay up area from where an attack wedge can be played to the open side of the green complex.  All four of the five pars have interesting tactical options so the opportunity for scoring is there but it takes good planning melded with good shot making.

Finesse demand on the par 4 12th will drive big hitters bonkers

Finesse demanded on the par 4 12th will drive big hitters bonkers

The par fours have great variety-long and short versions that smartly use the prevailing topography to feed into the strategy of  the holes.  Three short ones of 335 yards or less call for very articulate club selection and execution to get the ball into the attack position into the greens.  On some of the longer holes, if you tee shots are not of full measure, it may be smarter to play to a lay up spot and rely on an aggressive pitch and a putt to make a par.  Biting off big carries over the bunker side of the green complex can lead to big numbers if you do not pull them off.  Kenny Rogers golf….you got to know when to hold them..know when to fold them.

Just a little pitch down the hill into a dicey 16th green

Just a little pitch down the hill into a dicey 16th green

The par threes at 178, 159, 209, and 127 cover the gamut when it comes to look and demand of approach shots.  The fifteenth is the longest and probably the easiest one and the shortest is sixteen and may be the one with the trickiest green placements to get at.  My favorite is the sixth where you have a full carry long iron/hybrid across an environmental area and one of the deepest hurdle bunkers you will see all day framing the carry across the full face of the green.  With a little breeze this becomes a real question of how much risk you want to take on to get it in the correct third of the green.

Talk about framing...the tee shot on the final hole

Talk about framing the shot…the tee view on the final hole

For the most part the wide playing area prevails throughout the course but there a tight corner of the property from eleven through thirteen where you have to bear down tightly on the luge runner to stay on the track.  Any towardness issues to the left of these three holes can ring up the register reading of the scorecard in a hurry.

Despite what looks like fairly hilly terrain the course is eminently walkable.  Greens are close to tees, there are very few steep transitional hills to traverse, and they even provide a walkers cut from the tee to the fairway.  Hand carts are available if you like to walk and I would recommend them so you get the full flavor and aroma of the golf experience.

Spy Pelican with a range finder adjacent to the 16th

Spy Pelican with a range finder adjacent to the 16th

One of the real kitchy things about this place is the prevalence of animal accent lawn art.  You will see hippos, seals, pelicans, and more strewn through the course.  Love the sense of humor this indicates.

Some reclining pelicans watch your warm up at the range

Some reclining pelicans watch your warm up at the range

As one of the greens staff said to me on the course, Cape Cod National does not have the reputation of some of the other older, more established courses on the Cape but it probably has more memorable holes on it than any of them.  I would agree.   Silva did a great job in creating a course that the members will enjoy playing every day or a visiting dignitary will appreciate on a one up.

Brewster, Massachussetts


Designer: Brian Silva (1998)

Tees                 Par       Yardage          Rating      Slope

Blue                 72          6954                74.0         135

White              72          6375                71.2          131

Gold                72          5829                69.4          124

Red                 72         4884                 70.7          125

(Click to see the complete hole-by-hole description of Cape Cod National Golf Club)

Highland Links Golf Course

Highland Links LogoFounded in 1892 and heralded as Cape Cod’s oldest golf course, the Highland Links in North Truro is one of America’s nostalgic golf treasures, perched high along windswept bluffs overlooking the Atlantic next to the vintage Highland Lighthouse on Cape Cod.  This is not going to appear on anyone’s top ten courses in Massachusetts much less the northeast, yet if you are truly a student of the game this is a must play if you are on the Cape.

The original Highland House Golf Links was an adjunct to an ocean hotel and cottage resort operated for years by Isaac Small of Truro and his family.   After years of growing wear and tear the links were refurbished in 1955 by owner Hal Conklin.  In the 1960’s, when Congress approved President Kennedy’s Cape Cod National Seashore Act, Highland Links became Federal property leased to the Town of Truro.  This is now an inexpensive public golf course available for the pleasure of anyone visiting the northern end of Cape Cod.

The second would feel at home anywhere in Scotland or Ireland.

The second hole would feel at home anywhere in Scotland or Ireland.

Deep natural rough, Scottish broom, thick gorse and low bushes, hilly terrain with non-irrigated open fairways, and spectacular ocean views make this course a genuine links in the Scottish tradition.   Wind, weather, rock hard fairways, and high rough are always a factor at Highland Links. Add to this the up and down elevations and gently rolling fairways you will have a links golf experience that you will not soon forget.

Each hole requires a second time around.

Each hole requires a second time around.

This is only a nine hole course but they have two sets of tees so you can make a second loop to get in the full eighteen.  I highly recommend you do that because the first time through there is a steep learning curve on how to play these holes successfully.   As you play the nine again from slightly different tees it is interesting that the men’s inward nine is 200 yards shorter while the women’s inward nine is 30 yards longer.  The second hole is a par 5 on the front and a much shorter par 4 on the back.  The fourth goes from a par 4 to a par 5 as the thirteenth.   With different teeing lines, the shorter distance on the second nine seems a harder round to the measure of par.

Elevation change and wind have to be constantly condsidered.

Elevation change and wind are constantly considered through your day.

If you are used to lush fairways and fair bounces you need to check your ego at the door of the golf shop.  This is golf the old way, rock hard fairways with existential bounces, small putting surfaces with angular fall offs, and serious slopes to navigate on the greens.  The wind will be a major influence so trajectory control and creative attack lines are called for.  If you have a quiver of links shots bring them with you because the ground is your friend and you will have to make some strong up and downs to play well here.

Full links drama on the drive on the Par 5 sixth.

Full links drama unfolds before you on the drive at the Par 5 sixth.

The views on the high holes are just spectacular.  When you get to the tee box on six you are perched on a cliff about 400 yards above the ocean with a drop dead panoramic view worth a digital moment.  This place is not without a sense of humor.  There is a sign adjacent to this tee box on the walking path to the cliff that says, “No Ball Retrieving From Pond”.   You would need a grappling hook, lots of rope, and a lobster basket.

The PondThe Highland Lighthouse is prominent on the horizon through the round but never more spectacular then when it is the backdrop to the finishing par three on each nine.  In fact on the Truro Links website under “Directions”  they have:


Sail Southwest until you reach the 42nd parallel. Then head due West until you see Highland Light.

The views do not get any better than this.

View at the Par 3 ninth……it does not get any better than this.

There are also two other curious architectural artifacts on the top of the dunes behind the second and third holes.The first is a globe that looks straight out of Epcot Center at Disneyworld.  It is an old FAA service dome that originally was used by the Air Force as a surveillance station during WW II.  Juxtaposed to it stands a 55-foot tall medieval looking granite tower on which you would expect to see Mel Gibson in full Braveheart garb wielding his sword and a shield.  This is the Jenny Lind Tower that was transplanted from Boston in 1927 as a gift to Truro from Harry Aldrich, a rich Boston attorney.  The tower was famous because Jenny Lind, the most famous singer in the world in 1850, delivered a concert from the top of it to a throng of people who could not fit into the auditorium she was scheduled to perform in at Boston and Maine’s Fitchburg Depot.  I am thinking that a young and impressionable Mr. Aldrich must have been in that crowd.

The embellishments on the horizon seem to span centuries.

The embellishments on the horizon seem to span centuries.

What this place lacks in polished feature and comfort detail it more than makes up for in traditional links look and feel.  For those who love a rough and tumble British Isles golf experience there may be no better place on the east coast to find it than a double lap at Highland Links.

North Truro, Massachusetts

Architect:  Willard Small (1892)/J. Henry McKinley (1913)

Tees                Par     Yardage      Rating     Slope

Blue                 70        5332           67.0        114

Red                  72        4587           67.8        117

(Click here to review the complete Highland Links Golf Course hole-by-hole descriptions)

For more pictures click to review Postcard From Highland Links