Sunday, March 11, 2007

Myopia Hunt Club


A hunt club? I thought the quest was to play the world's top golf courses? It is indeed. However, one of them happens to also be a hunt club. Early golf clubs in this country were often inter-twined with other leisure pastimes. Merion was originally both a golf course and a cricket club. Myopia was founded for both equine pastimes and for golf. Another famous early U.S. course with a non-golf history is the C.B. Macdonald designed gem on Long Island, Piping Rock, with its polo field, now converted to one of the largest driving ranges in the world. Although not on the world ranked top 100 list which I am playing, Myopia Hunt Club is on the top 100 U.S. list (ranked #69), and is worthy of a higher ranking on the list, in my view. I got the chance to play this below-the-radar course this past fall and jumped at the chance. Actually, I pestered the member until he cracked and invited me. The course, located 30 minutes north of Boston, is not widely known to most people. It has hosted the U.S. Open four times (1898, 1901, 1905 and 1908). Hosting the 1898 Open puts Myopia into a small fraternity of only five elite courses that hosted a U.S. Open in the nineteenth century.



The clubhouse upon arrival

The course was designed by Herbert Leeds, who had no prior or subsequent experience in course design. He did spend many years tinkering with and perfecting the course into a true gem. Leeds work here adds weight to the argument that many of the world's great courses were the result of 'amateur' architects on their first attempt. In this regard, Myopia is like Hugh Wilson's work at Merion and Henry Fownes's at Oakmont. They are iconoclastic, unique and world-class courses developed by a non-professional who was passionate about golf. I have always been a believer in the feeling that first impressions are often correct. My first impression of Myopia Hunt Club was quite favorable. My readers know that I like old, traditional golf courses. This New England classic is a real gem, reminiscent of courses in England. Driving down the tree-covered road into the club you immediately see horses striding behind a post-and-rail fence and you pass over a humped-backed bridge, all of which creates a welcoming and different feel. A polo field is located to your right as you drive in to the cloistered environment.

The Golf Course



The golf course is situated behind the clubhouse and locker room buildings a short walk up a hill. In one of its charming quirks, the red tees at Myopia are the back tees.

The opening hole is a very short uphill par four where you hit a blind drive and it is a relatively easy hole, although the tilted green is trickier than it looks. The greatness of Myopia is confirmed early in the round as you stand on the second tee and look out at the beauty below.

Myopia #2.2
Myopia's Second Hole


The second hole is an absolutely beautiful hole where you hit your tee shot from an elevated tee down into a valley (shades of Sunningdale's 10th hole) with a fairway that is deceptively hard to hit. The third hold is a healthy 253 yard par three with a small green. As such, Myopia presents challenge and variety early in the round and as you continue around the course, sustains it for eighteen holes.


The course meanders around what I found to be surprisingly hilly terrain in this part of Massachusetts. It is a true parkland course in the forest. Look at the picture below from the fifth hole, which is typical of the course, and if I didn't tell you it was Myopia, you could quite possibly mistake it for the heathlands surrounding London.


Myopia #5

Myopia #5 - Shades of Sunningdale or Walton Heath? <


The 9th hole, pictured below, is a brilliant par three with a postage stamp green. The green is only nine yards wide and surrounded by seven steep bunkers. One of the defining characteristics of Myopia are the deep bunkers, which are, as you can see, reminiscent of those found in the British Isles.

As you play Myopia you will occasionally see bridle paths crossing or paralleling various holes. Rather than taking away from the course, they add to its distinctiveness. One of the local rules at Myopia is that you can take a free drop if your ball lands on a bridle path. I hit onto a path once during my round but decided to hit from the path, which pretty much plays like a sand shot.

Myopia #9


Myopia #9 - A world-class postage stamp hole


The 11th hole, pictured below, is a short par four that has a true cross-bunker cutting across the fairway. Bobby Jones played the course while attending Harvard Law School and apparently had trouble getting across this bunker regularly.

Myopia Bunker



The thirteenth hole, pictured below, from behind the green, is an uphill par four where your second shot plays about three additional clubs longer than the scorecard indicates due to the severity of the hill. This hole parallels the second hole, so you are playing up the hill that you hit from the elevated tee from earlier in your round.


Myopia #13


Green #13 seen from the rear

The 16th hole is a down hill par three that plays back toward the clubhouse and like many holes at Myopia provides a stunning vista as can be seen from the picture taken from this elevated tee, below. The 17th tee is right outside the pro-shop door and has an old stone wall down its entire left side that plays O.B. Holes 17 and 18 seem to be set-off from the rest of course and look like they will be anti-climactic, but in fact provide for the perfect finish.


Myopia
Myopia Hunt Club clubhouse as seen from the 16th tee



The 18th is one of the best finishing holes in all of golf. It is 404 yards, a dogleg right with a hill down the right side of the hole, and your tee shot is semi-blind. You have to land on the left side of the fairway to have a clean shot at the green. If you are on the right hand side you are blocked from a view of the green. In front of the green are two massive and deep bunkers. Adding to the beauty of the hole are the horses strutting in front of you as you approach the polo ground and the beautiful yellow farmhouse/clubhouse behind the green. The horses give the place a genteel and civilized ambiance. I can't sing the virtues of Myopia enough. It strikes the appropriate balance between being intimate without being stuffy or pretentious. The membership seems perfectly suited to the historic club. Although it is dangerous to draw conclusions based on one visit, the membership seems to have avoided the usual minority of blow-hards, half-wits, morons, simpletons, rummies and lackeys that make up a minority of any club. It is a rarity to combine a world-class course with a club that has the right mix of elements and intangibles. Thus far in my journeys I have only seen this a handful of times - Myopia, Sunningdale, Maidstone, Royal Liverpool and San Francisco Golf Club. Each possesses an inveterate charm to complement their fabulous courses.


Many other clubs possess great golf courses but fall flat on the club or clubhouse environment. Some are trying too hard or are too uptight or snooty. Others have too many members you wouldn't enjoy associating with. These five pull it all off and are the real McCoy.

The 19th hole at Myopia


Myopia brings together a lot of what I like about old-style golf courses and reveals many verities that I have found on my trips. Among the truths: 1) Length doesn't matter. Myopia is 6,539 yards from the tips but is still a challenging course. 2) Low-key, understated and intimate are better than big and flashy. In this regard I like courses like Myopia and Sunningdale as opposed to big clubs like Wentworth, Riviera or Medinah. 3) Old and quirky are under-appreciated. The bar at Myopia has no barman, the members sign chits for themselves. The rooms in the clubhouse have low ceilings and a feel of antiquity. There are private lockers near the bar for members liquor. The old, original creaking floors will probably never be replaced. The locker room, housed in a separate building, is original and reminded me of another old original, Garden City on Long Island. 4) A variety of holes and shots make a better course. Nothing felt forced at Myopia, the course fits naturally into the terrain; there are a couple of short par fours, a 200+ yard par three and a 130 yard par three. Some uphill holes, some downhill holes and plenty of change in direction. A visit to Myopia is a truly distinctive day. The club is intensely private and there are less than 12,000 rounds played a year, which is about 50% less than at most clubs. If you can wangle an invitation, I suggest going at once.



The weather vane with fox motif adorns the clubhouse
DSCF4965
The 18th fairway at dusk
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The regal entry drive at Myopia Hunt Club

24 comments:

TK Hayes said...

Great write up. One addition though, Mr Leeds is generally credited with the 18 hole layout at Kebo Valley in Bar Harbor, ME - which is a great historic layout and truly fun place.

http://www.kebovalleyclub.com/history.html

KeboMember said...

Leeds did the original design of Kebo in 1888. However he did not do the entire 18 holes. Chicago Golf is documented as the first 18 hole course in America and that wasn't built until the 1890s.

It is believed, by Bradley Klein and others that Donald Ross is the true architect of Kebo, completing the course in 1926.

Anonymous said...

As a caddie at Myopia, I take great pride in the tradition of the golf course. The membership supports the caddie program like no other course on the North Shore and should be proud of that.

Anonymous said...

Myopia

John German said...

I was an assistant golf professional at The Country Club in Brookline in the mid nineties. I was lucky enough to play most if not all of the great classical courses in the New England area and I will tell you that Myopia was my favorite. It is truly a special place and the golf course is second to none. Myopia is the most underrated course in the top 100 by far. It's as good as it gets.

andy said...

Great article i actually live in Beverly Mass and have a few friends who are members, it was also my High School golf teams home course so Ive played it many times and your right it's extremely under-rated.

Anonymous said...

Myopia is an incredible layout and one of the toughest in the country. Every hole is very different from the next which makes the entire round interesting

osh said...

If Kevin Costner decided to do a Field of Dreams for golf, then there would be only one logical candidate - Myopia. This timeless classic harkens the ghosts of golf past. You actually expect a US Open challenger, from the 1890's to pull up to the tee box to enjoy a fun filled, quiet and challenging round with you. Myopia is a special place. As a local kid we snuck on some holes, and, never were rushed off the course. As an adult I look forward to my annual round here. I am a member of Salem CC but this is the apex of New England golf.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Leeds took sadistic pleasure in punishing the duffer!! Myopia is a great golf course and some of my most wonderful golf memories are from that course. Beyond belief!!!

Anonymous said...

Great write up, I'm playing this course on Monday and can't wait

Anonymous said...

A follow up on your closing remarks (regarding the floorboards):

The porch surrounding the clubhouse is severely worn from the decades of metal spikes that once tread upon it. Apparently, a couple years ago, someone came up with the bright idea to flip the floorboards on the porch, and tidy the place up a little bit. In perfect irony, when the crew began the porch repairs, they discovered that several years ago, someone had came up with the same brilliant idea, and the underside of all the floorboards were equally worn. Appreciating the humor, the club decided to leave the porch as is, and move on.

Anonymous said...

A very good write up of a great course. I've caddied or played it 100's of times. Not that it matters but your view of the 2nd hole is actually a view across the 13th and the flag in the background is the 12th green. I look forward to reading some of your other reviews on courses I've played, for additional context. I hope you might have one on Royal Cinque Ports. AndyMac

Anonymous said...

you would enjoy palmetto golf club in aiken,sc.It was the winter course for many mypoia members. I believe Leeds designed it and the green complexes were converted from sand and designed by Mackenzie when he was working on augusta. they are very similar. It is very short but great fun and a neat place

Anonymous said...

3 4 5 6 may be my favorite stretch of holes because of the challenge and risk factors.

Is that really the 11th green pictured?

Anonymous said...

This course is a tribute to those who have maintained this magnificent golf course over the decades....from the members, staff, to the last one to turn down the lights each night. It is a gorgeous course; a design of tempest and calm, Jekyll and Hyde, without remorse for the golfers that play it, including me. GRCR

Anonymous said...

Myopia was the home course of golf writer John Updike, who also wrote some novels.

Jeff Michaud said...

I caddied at Myopia during the early 1960's. I lived in North Beverly, and me and my brother would hitchhike each summer morning to the golf course. It was easy to get rides, since our uniform consisted of a bright red ball cap with a yellow M on it, and a red polo style shirt. People recognized us as Myopia caddies, and would give us rides...oh the days of innocence.Robert Bromberg was the caddie master and ran a tight ship. One little known fact..some of the older members used to play just nine holes called the "Club Nine", which consisted of holes 1,2,8,9,10,11, Cutoff (a hole with a tee box behind the eleventh green. You hit the ball accross the street and over the trees to the 14th green playing it as a par 3). 15 and 16 were the last two holes on the Club Nine. I learned to play golf on this course, as on Mondays caddies could play the course. I am now retired and live in North Carolina. I still golf, and taught golf to both my sons, who are low handicap golfers. I cherish the memories of caddying and walking this beautiful course, and I still prefer the classic types of golf courses, of which Myopia is one of the best.

Anonymous said...

Your picture of the 2nd hole actually shows the fairway of the 13th hole - with the 2nd green in the distance. 2nd Fairway is to the left of your view. Also, Bobby Jones reportedly had trouble avoiding the deep rough on the right side of the 10th fairway and hit in there so often it became known as "Bobby Jones's Locker" -- no mention was ever made of his ability to clear the cross bunker on #11.

Jeff Michaud said...

I made a previous post about my days where I caddied at Myopia. To me, the toughest hole on this course was #10. The drive is blind over a large hill. Always, one of the caddies would go ahead as a forecaddie to see where the drives would land. Left was out of bounds, and anything right would catch a deep bunker. Every once in a while one of the players would hook one left and it would bounce off the stone wall lining the side of the fairway, and bounce in the fairway.

Anonymous said...

I've been trying to figure out the photo of the so-called 11th referred to in an earlier post. I think it may be the 16th taken from the bunker nearest the golf shop.

Anonymous said...

I am a 11 handicap player and have played Myopia 5 times. I broke 95 only once.The most difficult 6500 yds you will ever play

Anonymous said...

I have played Myopia numerous times and have read recently that it is the only course in the country to have two of the 100 best holes in the U.S. You spoke of one of them the ninth par three but failed to discuss my favorite, the fourth, a dogleg par four which begins with a tee shot over a marshy area that requires a significant carry although there is a bail out that is safer but precludes getting to the green in regulation. the approach shot.involves carrying a series of typical Myopia bunkers to reach a steeply pitched green. If you go long you are dead, the green won't hold anything but a perfect recovery shot. And then you have to read the green correctly to avoid three putting. getting a four here makes the entire round a victory.

Anonymous said...

If you love history of golf this place is for you. There is only 1 obscure 150 marker on each hole and they are practically in the woods. Yardage devices aren't allowed, better trust the caddie and his yardage book! Don't let the short holes fool you the greens are tough and there is usually heavy rough to go along with the fescue. 4, 9, 10, 15, and 16 are my favorites. If you get the chance, play it and then go 10 minutes up the road and play Essex County Club which is just as awesome.

E. Carle Shotwell said...

The picture labelled the 11 th green is the 16th green.