Friday 21 March 2014

Essex Country Club (Holes 1 - 8)

Essex Country Club in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts dates back to 1893, making it one of the oldest clubs in the United States.  The current golf course was re-designed by Donald Ross after the advent of the Haskell ball rendered the original course obsolete.  Ross incorporates two of the original holes (current No. 13 & 16) into his work and left intact the 3rd green, believed to be the oldest in continuous use in the country at 120 years!  The new golf course was built between 1910-1917, but Ross was able to supervise much of the work owing to the fact he had been hired as the golf professional at the club, and served in that position between 1910-1913.  In fact, Ross lived in a house immediately adjacent to the 15th tee (see picture below). 

Essex Country Club is a great example of why pigeon-holing classic architects as having a single style is not prudent.  I have seen pictures of many restorative projects at Donald Ross golf courses, and they bear a striking similarity.  At Essex, Ross employed a variety of bunker styles and made some rather bold design decisions that don't fit with the traditionally held belief of what a Ross course should look like, and would befuddle most architecturally aware golfers trying to assign design attribution to the course.  The routing is however, stereotypically Ross, expertly exploiting the landforms which dominate the property to create a very unique golf course.

The existing golf course is much the same as Ross left it after a final renovation in 1927, which moved the 17th green slightly downhill from its original location.  Sadly however, in 2002 Renaissance Design was hired to re-locate the 14th green approximately 25 yards away from the property line to appease a litigious neighbour.  In comparing with what I saw last year to a photograph in Bradley Klein's wonderful "Discovering Donald Ross" it appears all efforts were made to recreate Ross' original green in this new location.

The opening tee shot plays across a creek to a wide fairway occupying the tamest portion of the property.

The first green has plenty of back-to-front slope and running approaches need to negotiate a grouping of irregular mounds left and bunker right.
The second hole features some turn-of-the-century "chocolate drop" mounding, which are most likely bury piles of rock, which is found in abundance in certain parts of the property.

A dicey approach into the second green awaits, a spine runs through the green diagonally causing balls to release towards the front right bunker and back left edge of the green.
The third is a monster par five measuring 623 yards that demands players reach a plateau on the second shot to avoid a blind approach.  Note the large, flat waste bunkers Ross incorporated into his design which are more commonly seen on modern courses.

The third green is the oldest putting surface in continuous use in the USA, dating back to 1893.  The "bathtub" contour in the front left portion of the green adds great interest to putting.
The long one-shot fourth plays over a pond with large yawning bunkers awaiting misses right.

High shoulders on both sides of the green funnel balls towards the centre of the putting surface, and a steep false front rejects tee shots not played strong enough.
The fifth plays back over the creek into a protuberance of land that encompasses holes 5 through 7. 

A narrow creek protects long approaches into subtle green set at grade.  More fescue covered bury piles exist here adding some contrast to the flat landscape.
Do I go over the creek or lay-up left?  How much further is the carry on the left?  The short sixth ingeniously utilizes the creek as a diagonal hazard creating complexity over flatter terrain.  The large bunker right of the green helps mask the climb on the approach into the elevated green complex.  

The par 3 seventh is guarded by a creek short right and a series of trench bunkers left and right of the green.  The putting surface is split in two by a spine running parallel to the line of play adding another element to an already interesting green.

The eighth tee shot is blind, playing straight over an abrupt rise in the terrain with not a hint as to the proper line to tackle. 
Tee shots hugging the property boundary on the left will gain extra yards owing to nature of the wild fairway undulations.

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