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Boston Golf: From the penthouse to the basement

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My short odyssey began Friday, when I played at a golfer’s penthouse. The Granite Links Golf Club sits atop a hill just south of Boston. The clubhouse is a very large, lovely building that contains a pro shop, a member’s area and a beautiful restaurant with lots of glass, allowing you to see in every direction including out to the nearby ocean and north to Boston’s skyline. Granite Links, which has members but is also open to the public, opened in 2004 and immediately gained places on a number of “Best of” lists.

But Granite Links wasn’t always so fancy. The area consisted of three landfills and a number of abandoned rock quarries. Along came Boston’s infamous Big Dig, the immense $14 billion public works project in which a surface highway was buried and a new tunnel was built under Boston Harbor to the airport. But about a million truckloads of fill from the harbor project, amounting to something like 12 million cubic yards of dirt, were added on top of the landfills and around the quarries. Built on top of all that, Granite Links became an instant hit, a premium golf course 15 minutes from downtown Boston and a great place for a beer or a meal or a party.

Granite Links has three 9-hole courses, a very nice range and lots of practice putting greens. On a cold day, with light rain falling for the first third of our match, my partners and I played from the white tees. Given our confirmed hacker abilities and the stiff northeast wind, it was plenty of golf course for us.

The courses are not that long. The Milton course, for example, is 3,478 yards from the tips, 2,893 yards from the white and a par 36. But the yardage alone tells you little. These nines are usually described as “links-like,” which is fair but also woefully incomplete. The courses don’t have many trees in play. Instead, they feature many elevation changes, blind shots, carries over vegetation, sand traps galore, rock outcroppings, ravines, sharp slopes, ponds and fescue. And the greens are very fast, very true and full of tiers, ridges, and seams.

This results in a combination of a links and target golf. You don’t whack away with your driver on a lot of holes from the whites—too many bad things can happen. As for the blind tee shots, what you don’t see can bite you. Hit the right yardages and landing areas, or find your ball in a bunker or behind a rock, or not at all.

But interesting, distinctive holes there are. On the fifth hole of the Milton course, you aim your shot between the John Hancock and Prudential towers that rise from the Boston skyline. On the next hole, you face a demanding par 3 which has a three-tiered green nestled between fescue on the right and a steep hill and a sand trap on the left. And No. 9, a long, uphill par 5, brings you back up to an outside terrace. A tee shot too far to the left will end up on a steep hill filled with fescue. A tee shot too long will bound across the fairway and run into either fescue or an old quarry. If you do hit the fairway and go for the green on your next shot, you’ll need to go over deep traps in front of the green. And a successful second shot puts you on, what else, a very fast green.

If you play, try to hook up with someone who has played the course before. I’m a weekend hacker and played the course for just the third time this season. I managed an 89 on two par-36 courses, despite the wind and rain—including getting birdies on two successive holes, a remarkable event for me. I had a great front nine but lost a wheel or two on the bus early in the second round (including some overly strong putts — did I mention, by the way that the greens are very fast?), but I pulled things back together and limped home with a par and a few bogies. My brethren on the course did not fare quite as well, but we all had a fine time and were astonished at the lovely course and wonderful views we had so close to the city.

Sunday, I visited my local nine-hole muni, Pine Meadows Golf Course, west of Boston. You can play golf at both Granite Links and at Pine Meadows, but that’s about all they have in common. Pine Meadows is a well-maintained, wide-open course that measures no more than 2,800 yards. The clubhouse is one room, with bathrooms, a television and some snacks. No practice range.

The course starts with side-by-side par 5s, with the only problem on either hole a crowned green on the second hole. The course has a few entertaining holes. No. 5 is a dogleg over a pond. The fun there is seeing how far you can cut the corner without going into the woods. No. 8 is a relatively short par 4 that has a tall tree guarding access to the green. The most fun shot there is to deliberately hit your drive a bit to the right, then try to go over the tree to the two-tier green.

The virtues of Pine Meadow are that it’s comfortable to walk, easily accessible and in pretty good shape. I’ve met all kinds of interesting people playing there – not to mention it has slow greens, which I, as a public course hacker, am familiar with. But these features are also the course’s drawbacks.

Over the course of the dozens of rounds I’ve played there, relatively few people have beaten me—which tells you the place is not full of good golfers. One golfer I was placed with by the starter had her own clubs, her own bag, her own pull cart—and she took no less than 10 shots on each of the first four holes to get on the green. Those first four holes included a short par four and a downhill par three. I bailed out after that—it was just too painful to wait and watch.

Pine Meadows is a perfect place for beginning or, shall we say, less skilled golfers. I took my teenage daughter there once—she enjoyed it, particularly when I let her drive the cart when we got away from the clubhouse. But get there at the wrong time, it’s worse than a five-car pile up on the freeway. I’ve walked away after six holes on a number of occasions. Since I pay only $20 as a resident, I don’t complain much. But I now play either early in the morning or during those occasional holes in the crowd that occur in the late afternoon. This last Sunday, I played just after the rain stopped. There were very few people on the course and by the third hole, the sun had come out, so it was lovely—though my feet were quite wet. The drainage on the first two holes is crappy, though it has improved. I remember some years ago, standing on the turf maybe 50 yards past the tee on the second hole, a couple of days after a lengthy period of rain. As I stood on the turf, watching a guy hit out of the rough after a mangled tee shot, the ground moved up and down, like it was a surfboard. It essentially was, because there was water moving underneath a large layer of turf. Very weird feeling, surfing on grass.

But hey, it’s golf. I can sneak a bit of practice in there sometimes, and I can tell if I’m hitting it well by measuring my shots against familiar landmarks. I missed a hole-in-one on the long par 3 once by less than a foot and I can still drive the green on the uphill par four (that is, if I don’t hit the road on the right or the trees on the left).

The slow play does drive me crazy and I may give in and find a local, inexpensive club to join. But on a nice fall day, when the course is dry, the leaves have changed color and it’s cool enough to drive the fair-weather golfers away, it’s a delightful place to be. I’ll never have the time or money to make use of a golf penthouse regularly, so I’ve made my peace with playing closer to the basement most of the time. And did I mention it has nice, slow greens?

Click here for more discussion in the “Course, Memberships and Travel” forum. 

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  1. Daniel Marrero

    Nov 21, 2012 at 10:27 am

    I also live in the Boston area and I would have to agree with you. I still find the local municipal courses challanging in their own right. Luckly, there are plenty quality 9 hole courses in the Boston area.

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Courses

Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real

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We touched ground late in the afternoon at Melbourne Airport and checked in very, very late at hotel Grand Hyatt. Don’t ask about our driving and navigating skills. It shouldn’t have taken us as long as we did. Even with GPS we failed miserably, but our dear friend had been so kind to arrange a room with a magnificent view on the 32nd floor for us.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The skyline in Melbourne was amazing, and what a vibrant, multicultural city Melbourne turned out to be when we later visited the streets to catch a late dinner. The next morning, we headed out to one of the finest golf courses that you can find Down Under: Kingston Heath. We had heard so many great things about this course, and to be honest we were a bit worried it almost was too hyped up. Luckily, there were no disappointments.

Early morning at Kingston Heath C) Jacob Sjöman.

Here’s the thing about Kingston Heath. You’re driving in the middle of a suburb in Melbourne and then suddenly you see the sign, “Kingston Heath.” Very shortly after the turn, you’re at the club. This is very different than the other golf courses we’ve visited on this trip Down Under, where we’ve had to drive for several miles to get from the front gates to the club house.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Nevertheless, this course and its wonderful turf danced in front of us from the very first minute of our arrival. With a perfect sunrise and a very picture friendly magic morning mist, we walked out on the course and captured a few photos. Well, hundreds to be honest. The shapes and details are so pure and well defined.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Kingston Heath was designed by Dan Soutar back in 1925 with help and guidance from the legendary golf architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who added to its excellent bunkering system. Dr. MacKenzie’s only design suggestion was to change Soutar’s 15th hole from a 222-yard par-4 (with a blind tee shot) to a par-3. Today, this hole is considered to be one the best par-3 holes Down Under, and I can understand why.

I am normally not a big fan of flat courses, but I will make a rare exception for Kingston Heath. It’s a course that’s both fun and puts your strategic skills to a serious test. Our experience is that you need to plan your shots carefully, and never forget to stay out of its deep bunkers. They’re not easy.

The bunker shapes are brilliant. (C) Jacob Sjöman.

Kingston Heath is not super long in distance, but it will still give you a tough test. You definitely need to be straight to earn a good score. If you are in Melbourne, this is the golf course I would recommend above all others.

Next up: Metropolitan. Stay tuned!

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Courses

Barnbougle Lost Farm: 20 Holes of Pure Joy

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Another early day in Tasmania, and we were exploring the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-design, Barnbougle Lost Farm. The course was completed in 2010, four years after the neighbor Barnbougle Dunes, resulting in much excitement in the world of golf upon opening.

Johan and I teed off at 10 a.m. to enjoy the course at our own pace in its full glory under clear blue skies. Barnbougle Lost Farm starts out quite easy, but it quickly turns into a true test of links golf. You will certainly need to bring some tactical and smart planning in order to get close to many of the pin positions.

The third hole is a prime example. With its sloping two-tiered green, it provides a fun challenge and makes you earn birdie — even if your tee and approach shots put you in a good position. This is one of the things I love about this course; it adds a welcome dimension to the game and something you probably don’t experience on most golf courses.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The 4th is an iconic signature hole called “Sals Point,” named after course owner Richard Sattler’s wife (she was hoping to build a summer home on the property before it was turned into a golf course). A strikingly beautiful par-3, this hole is short in distance but guarded with luring bunkers. When the prevailing northwesterly wind comes howling in from the ocean, the hole will leave you exposed and pulling out one of your long irons for the tee shot. We left No. 4 with two bogeys with a strong desire for revenge.

Later in the round, we notice our scorecard had a hole numbered “13A” just after the 13th. We then noticed there was also an “18A.” That’s because Barnbougle Lost Farm offers golfers 20 holes. The designers believed that 13A was “too good to leave out” of the main routing, and 18A acts as a final betting hole to help decide a winner if you’re left all square. And yes, we played both 13A and 18A.

I need to say I liked Lost Farm for many reasons; it feels fresh and has some quirky holes including the 5th and the breathtaking 4th. The fact that it balks tradition with 20 holes is something I love. It also feels like an (almost) flawless course, and you will find new things to enjoy every time you play it.

The big question after trying both courses at Barnbougle is which course I liked best. I would go for Barnbougle Dunes in front of Barnbougle Lost Farm, mostly because I felt it was more fun and offered a bigger variation on how to play the holes. Both courses are great, however, offering really fun golf. And as I wrote in the first part of this Barnbougle-story, this is a top destination to visit and something you definitely need to experience with your golf friends if you can. It’s a golfing heaven.

Next course up: Kingston Heath in Melbourne.

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Courses

Barnbougle Dunes: World Class Golf

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We arrived to Launceston Airport in Tasmania just before sunset. Located on the Northeast Coast of Australia’s island state, Tasmania, Barnbougle is almost as far from Sweden as it gets… yet it immediately felt like home when we arrived.

Launceston Airport, Tasmania. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The drive from the airport was just over an hour, taking us through deep forests and rolling hills before we arrived to Barnbougle Golf Resort, which consists of two courses — The Dunes and Lost Farm — a lodge, two restaurants, a sports bar and a spa. Unfortunately, it was pitch black outside and we couldn’t see much of the two courses on our arrival. I would like to add that both Johan and I were extremely excited about visiting this golf mecca. We later enjoyed a tasty dinner at the Barnbougle Lost Farm Restaurant before we called it a day.

The locals at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The next day, we woke up early and got out to The Dunes Course as very first guests out. Well, to be quite honest, we weren’t actually the first out. There were a few locals — Wallabies, lots of them — already out on the course. The natural landscape at Barnbougle is fantastic and my cameras almost overheated with the photo opportunities. After two intense hours of recording videos and producing photos both from ground, we headed back to Lost Farm for a wonderful breakfast (and view). After our breakfast, it was time to try our luck.

“Tom’s Little Devil.” Hole No.7 at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Before describing our experience playing the courses, I would like to mention about Richard Sattler, a potato farmer and owner of Barnbougle. In the early 2000’s, Richard was introduced to U.S. golfing visionary Mike Keiser, who had heard about his amazing stretch of farmland in Tasmania and came down to visit. Mike convinced Richard that Barnbougle (which at that stage was a potato farm and still grows potatoes and raises cattle today) might be perfect for creating a top quality golf course.

After an introduction to well renowned golf architect Tom Doak and the formation of a partnership with former Australian golf pro and golf architect Mike Clayton, the development of the Barnbougle Dunes Course commenced.

The walk between the 4th and 5th holes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Featuring large bunkers dotted between fun rolling fairways shaped from the coastal dunes, Barnbougle Dunes offers the golfer some tough challenges, in particular on the first nine. This is indeed a course that will entertain all kinds of golfers.

After our round, we looked back at some fantastic highlights such as playing the iconic 7th hole, a short par-3 called ”Tom’s Little Devil,” as well as the beautiful par-4 15th. We were just two big walking smiles sitting there in the restaurant to be honest. Lets also not forget one of the biggest (and deepest) bunkers I’ve seen at the 4th hole. The name of the bunker is “Jaws.” Good times!

As a small surprise for Johan, I had arranged a meeting after our round with Richard Sattler. Richard, ever the farmer, entered the car parking just in front of the clubhouse in a white pick-up van with a big smile un his face. We talked to Richard for almost 30 minutes. He is an extremely humble man and left such a warm impression on us. Richard explained the Barnbougle story: how it all began and the property today.

To me, this is a high-end golf destination offering something very unique with two world-class courses in Barnbougle Dunes and Barnbougle Lost Farm, both ranked in the top-100 greatest golf courses by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine (U.S.). With the courses located just next to each other, it’s probably one of the best golf resorts you can find down under and a golf resort that I would like bring my hardcore golfing friends to visit. Everything here is exceptional with the resort providing spacious rooms, comfy beds, good food and spectacular views.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Barnbougle Dunes is a real treat to play for any golfer and will leave you with a sweet golfing memory. Compared to the golf courses available on the more remote King Island, Barnbougle is accessible (given Tasmania is connected by better flight connections) and the hospitality and service at is much more refined.

The golf resort is one of the absolute best I’ve been to. I can also highly recommend playing Barnbougle Dunes; I had great fun and you can play it in many ways. Tomorrow, we will be playing and experiencing the other course at Barnbougle: Barnbougle Lost Farm, a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw course with 20 (!) holes.

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