BOSTON – When tourists visit Boston, they confront history at nearly every turn. Only in the cradle of independence can one can sip a Samuel Adams lager in a pub across the street from the final resting place of Adams, Paul Revere and other American patriots.
Boston also claims its share of golf history. At The Country Club in Brookline, young amateur Francis Ouimet incited golf’s American Revolution in 1913, defeating British pros Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff to win the U.S. Open. Up the road in Peabody, LPGA great Babe Zaharias came back from cancer surgery to win the 1954 U.S. Women’s Open at Salem Country Club. And who can forget Justin Leonard’s Ryder Cup-clinching putt in 1999 on the course Ouimet made famous?
While a round at The Country Club or Salem (both private) requires connections, Boston visitors hungry for golf have plenty of daily-fee options. Two facilities in particular – George Wright Municipal Golf Course and Granite Links Golf Club at Quarry Hills – offer first-rate experiences less than 12 miles from the heart of the city.
|George Wright Golf Course|
In character, the two places couldn’t be more different. An 18-hole Donald Ross design opened in 1938, George Wright attracts a largely working-class clientele, while Granite Links, a 27-hole John Sanford creation that opened its first nine in 2003, caters to players seeking a country-club-for-a-day atmosphere.
But like Boston itself, both courses have compelling histories. In the late 1920s, a group of citizens commissioned Ross to design a course for a private club in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The 1929 stock market crash scuttled the project, but it resumed a few years later under President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. It took the labor of 1,000 men – and $1 million in WPA funds – to transform the site from ledge and swamp into a municipal golf course named for George Wright, a Hall of Fame shortstop for baseball’s first professional team, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. Wright, who later played baseball in Boston, laid out New England’s first public course at the city’s Franklin Park and founded Wright and Ditson, the sporting goods store where Francis Ouimet worked in 1913.
From the 10th fairway at George Wright, one can see Granite Links’ clubhouse perched atop a hill in nearby Quincy (pronounced Quinzy). In the 19th century, Quincy was known for its quarries, which supplied granite for many prominent statues and monuments. In the 1990s, developers began transforming a 540-acre site in Quincy and neighboring Milton that comprised several former quarries and two landfills. To fill quarries and cap the landfills, the developers used 13 million tons of soil excavated during Boston’s Big Dig highway construction project, and in 2000 they hired Sanford to design a links-inspired layout on the site. Rising 300 feet above sea level at its highest point, Granite Links offers breathtaking views of the Boston skyline to the north, Boston Harbor to the east and the 7,000-acre Blue Hills Reservation to the west.
When Granite Links opened, George Wright was hurting. Years of neglect had taken a toll on course conditions and in 2003 the city of Boston resumed operational control after having leased the course to management companies for two decades.
Six years later, George Wright’s conditions are drastically improved. Under the stewardship of head professional Scott Allen, whom the city hired in 2003, and superintendent Len Curtin, who came on in 2004, the course’s tees, greens and collars have become as pristine as most private clubs’. And the fairways, long plagued by an improperly installed irrigation system, are now respectable.
By scorecard standards, the par-70 layout isn’t imposing, measuring 6,440 yards from the blue tees and 6,096 yards from the whites. A wide-open first hole reinforces the impression that the course might be a pushover.
Soon enough, however, the fairways narrow, the blind shots arrive and the challenge is on. At No. 4, a 165-yard par-3 to an elevated green, two deep pot bunkers straddle the green, hidden behind two larger bunkers visible from the tee. During George Wright’s reclamation, the teenagers who work at the course as part of the city’s summer jobs program restored these eroded Ross hazards to devilish luster.
The course’s midpoint has a pair of stout par-4s – No. 9, a narrow 453-yarder, and No. 10, a 462-yard dogleg left with a blind, downhill approach. Other memorable holes include No. 12, a 412-yard par-4 with a fairway interrupted by a cliff, and No. 17, a signature 170-yard par-3 with an elevated green guarded by four fearsome bunkers.
Although it’s a city course, George Wright abuts the Stony Brook Reservation, a 475-acre forest preserve, making one feel removed from the urban jungle. On weekends, non-residents can play here for $44 (cart extra), with tee times accepted four days in advance. During the week, it’s $37, first-come, first-served, but the course is typically closed for outings on Mondays and Fridays throughout the season.
While George Wright offers the intimacy of a local beer joint, Granite Links appeals more to the martini-bar crowd. The expansive clubhouse is bathed in mahogany, and the golf carts have GPS yardage monitors that stream real-time sports scores. And the skyline view from the granite-topped bar in the club’s 19th hole is outstanding.
|Granite Links Golf Club|
Style: High-end public
Such trappings come at a price, of course – a round at Granite Links costs $125 (cart and range balls included), with tee times accepted four days in advance. A semiprivate layout with 340 members, the club reserves one of its three nines – Quincy, Milton and Granite – exclusively for member play. The private nine rotates periodically, giving the public a chance to experience all 27 holes. But on weekends, tee times are for members only until 11 a.m.
On a Thursday in early August, the Quincy and Milton nines were open to the public. A par-71 combination that plays 6,873 yards from the tips and 6,379 yards from the blues, Quincy/Milton challenges players with drastic elevation changes while snaking its way through wetlands and past the occasional quarry.
On No. 2, a 180-yard par-3, golfers must play across wetlands to a green guarded by a native granite wall. And on No. 7, a 296-yard, dogleg-right par-4, architect Sanford offers players an enticing choice: lay up with a mid-iron to the fairway visible straight ahead or cut the dogleg to a blind green.
The course also gives golfers options around the greens with its sloping, closely mowed chipping areas. For many greenside shots, a trusty Texas wedge is the best choice. Players must beware of the ball-eating fescue that skirts several holes, including a seemingly magnetic area left of the 18th fairway. And beware also of the wind, which can whip unmercifully across this unprotected hilltop.
Despite a few eyesores – an apartment complex along the first fairway, the ugly nets that separate the practice range from the course and a mammoth communications tower that rises beyond the clubhouse – the views from the course are spectacular. From the harbor islands visible from the fourth tee to the postcard skyline beyond the 14th green, Granite Links offers great visuals.
But don’t let the views lull your game to sleep, especially on 14. Skull a wedge into the fescue over the green, and your good round will be history.
Mike Cullity is a freelance golf writer based in Manchester, N.H. Email your thoughts to him.