Friday, 21 March 2014

Essex Country Club (Holes 9 - 18)

The difficult eighth green features a shallow, crowned left side and a high, unpinnable right side which could be used to deaden approach shots and let then feed left towards the hole.  

The ninth green features two bunkers benched into the green pad and more small, irregular mounds left.  The siting of this green also offers spectacular views of the front nine.
The back nine plays over some heavy undulating terrain.  The centre of the tenth fairway is in line with the tree in the background, but to obtain the best angle of approach drives should flirt with the creek left.

The tenth green is modestly crowned, and the surrounds have been shaved down to allow balls to run into the green side bunkers, as intended by Ross.
The wonderful, uphill par 3 eleventh, featuring menacingly deep hazards left and an excellent back-to-front sloped green.  Recent tree removal behind the green has exposed the terrific landscape at Essex CC.

Trouble awaits any misses at eleven, here seen from behind the green.
The tee shot at twelve plays blind over the right hand shoulder of the hill, which until 2007 was replete with trees.

One of the few downhill approaches at Essex CC, the green features more back-to-front and right-to-left slope than is readily apparent.
The thirteenth features hazards along both sides of the fairway immediately beyond the mounds.  Recovery is possible during dry periods, but the hole is short, so laying back for the sake of accuracy is a smart play.

The green side bunkering nicely incorporates native flora into the faces to give a naturalized appearance.

The thirteenth green is full of movement and interesting putting scenarios.
The par three fourteenth falls away at both sides of the green, and features a subtle swale running perpendicular to the line of play, creating a plateaued back shelf.
A closer look at the contouring of the fourteenth green.

The 16th green surrounds merge nicely into the 15th and 17th tees, creating a unified whole instead of three separate elements.  The fifteenth tee offers a nice preview of the challenges awaiting at seventeen.

The tee shot at fifteen plays diagonally to the fairway over some broken ground featuring fescue grasses and sandy waste.  Again, a large scale bunker has been employed to conceal the elevation from fairway to green.
The fifteenth green slopes heavily from back-to-front and has a lovely backdrop.

A brave drive at sixteen should attempt to carry the bunker set into the hillside on the left, thus avoiding a blind approach into the green.

Approaches played from right of this point in the fairway will be obscured by the fescue-faced waste bunker.  The at grade and subtle green is protected by two deep bunkers left and are barely visible in the photograph.
The short par four seventeenth plays steeply uphill for both the tee and approach shots.

Anticipation of a close approach shot lingers during the steep ascend, but regardless, another excellent green awaits.  Note, the original green was located directly behind the photographer of this picture.

While not personally fond of super elevated tees, the views offered here are worth it.  The drive should be played between the eroded path and bunker on the left hand side hill.

The final approach must negotiate the creek guarding the green closely at front right.  The majestic clubhouse provides a beautiful background.
Essex Country Club is a definite must-see when in the Boston area, and exudes old world charm.  Not overly taxing in terms of distance, but full of mystery and character that would make one never tire of playing this fabulous golf course.

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.