Sunday, March 11, 2007

Myopia Hunt Club


A hunt club? Isn't this a quest 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 far higher ranking on that list, in my view. I first got the chance to play this below-the-radar course in 1997 and jumped at the opportunity. Actually, I pestered the member until he cracked and invited me. The course, located 30 minutes north of Boston, is not widely known. It has hosted the U.S. Open four times (1898, 1901, 1905 and 1908). Hosting the 1898 tournament puts Myopia into a small fraternity of only five elite courses that hosted a U.S. Open in the nineteenth century.

Myopia Clubhouse
The elegant 18th century farmhouse, now the clubhouse at Myopia Hunt Club just drips "New England"

The course was designed by Herbert Leeds, who had no prior experience in course design. He redesigned and expanded the original course at Myopia, which was laid out by the club's Master of the Hounds! 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. The other beauty of Myopia, as pointed out by Cornish & Whitten in The Architects of Golf, is that the course exists today virtually as it was laid out. It has only been restored from time-to-time to keep it in its original state, but it has not been redesigned. They rightfully call it a landmark course.

I have always been a believer 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 gently striding behind a post-and-rail fence and you pass over a humped-backed bridge, all of which combine to create a feeling of joy. A polo field is located to your right as you drive into the cloistered environment.

Myopia Hunt Club  Entry Drive
The regal entry drive at Myopia Hunt Club

The Golf Course

Scorecards, like looks, can be deceiving. Myopia plays 6,555 yards from the tips, therefore, it's probably not that hard, right? Wrong. Leeds's strategic use of cross-bunkering and the difficulty of the greens means that Myopia has stood the test of time and is still challenging today. The USGA Course rating is a stiff 72.7/138. Consider that among the five highest total scores in the history of the US Open four of them were scored at Myopia. Even if you take into account the difference in equipment, the winners averaged a score of 80 at Myopia while during the same era the winning scores at Opens held at Baltusrol, Chicago Golf Club, and The Country Club were 10-20 strokes lower!

The golf course is situated behind the clubhouse and locker room buildings, a short walk up a hill. Among one of its many charming quirks, the red tees at Myopia are the back tees. The opening hole is a very short (276 yard) 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. If the drive in and the general environment of the club didn't tip you off that this is a noteworthy club, the greatness of Myopia as a golf course is confirmed early in the round as you stand on the second tee and look across the expanse stretching below you.

Myopia #2.2
Myopia's enchanting second hole is set at the top of  a hill and gives a sweeping view of the heavenly property the course is built on

The 488-yard par five 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) to a fairway that is deceptively hard to hit because the tee box points you to the fescue right of the fairway. The third hole is a testing 253-yard par three with a small green. It has one of Leeds's signature slashing cross bunkers running across the fairway to the hole. As such, Myopia presents challenge and variety not only early in the round but as you continue around the course it sustains this for all 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. The 5th hole, a 417-yard par four that looks tame, but due to the angle the fairway is situated at and the gentle rolling of the terrain, it is anything but, and plays as the number two stroke index hole.



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

I really liked the sixth hole, a 255-yard par four which demands accuracy on your tee shot (water right and O.B. left over a stone wall) and precision on your approach shot (a tabletop green), as well as a deft touch with the putter.

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. This is unmistakably an all-world par three.

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 instead of dropping, which plays like a sand shot.

Myopia #9

Myopia #9 - A world-class par three postage stamp hole

The back nine begins with a bang. The tenth hole is a par-4, 404-yard Alps prototype hole. What makes the hole especially challenging is the blind tee shot. Since you are hitting over the rise of a big hill, you don't fully appreciate that any ball to the right of center feeds down into a jail at the bottom of the hill. The hole also slopes from left to right from tee to green. President Taft, who played his summer golf at Myopia, also had trouble with the deep bunker located in the fairway as you approach the 10th green. The hefty commander-in-chief couldn't climb out of the bunker so the secret service had to bring in a couple of horses and tie a rope around the portly golfer to assist in extricating him.

The 11th hole, Leeds's rendition of a Road Hole, is a short par four  (349 yards) that has a menacing cross-bunker jutting across the fairway at a rude angle. Bobby Jones played the course while attending Harvard Law School and apparently had trouble getting across this well placed hazard on a regular basis. 

Myopia Bunker
The maddening par-4 thirteenth green at the top of a large hill. The putting surface is onerous.

The thirteenth hole, pictured below from behind the green, is an uphill par four (358 yards on the card) 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. The thirteenth green is probably the most extreme example on the course, but is indicative of the greens at Myopia. They are tilted, canted, pitched, banked, slanted, and angled, but don't appear to be half as severe as they actually are. It is always advisable to play more break than you think, but even when you do, more likely than not haven't played enough. It is a true challenge in the positive meaning of the word, a real test of your ability to pick the correct line and speed on these perfectly conditioned and fast greens.

Myopia #13
Green #13 seen from the rear

The 16th hole is a challenging 192-yard downhill 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. Despite my bad manners I have been invited back to Myopia a half dozen times and I am always taken aback about how harmonious the entire environment is, it personifies Old World New England. The club has undertaken a tree removal program over the last several years, clearing out hundreds of trees to open up the vistas more and to have more wind impacting the golf shots. The changes are noticeable and well advised, they did a nice job with them.

The 17th tee is right outside the pro-shop door and has an old stone wall down its entire left side that plays out of bounds. Holes 17 (a 394-yard par four) 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 since they are cut artfully into a tumbling hillside. The routing at Myopia is perfectly suited to the terrain and in my view is one of the best in the world of golf.

Myopia CH

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

The eighteenth is one of the best finishing holes in all of golf. It is 404 yards, a dogleg right and your tee shot is semi-blind. You must land on the left side of the fairway to have a clean shot at the green. This is harder than it sounds given the slope of the terrain and the hill. If you are on the right-hand side a hill blocks your 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 to your left 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.

Myopia Hunt Club as the whole package

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.  As I suspected on my first visit and can now confirm after a half-dozen visits (including staying overnight in the clubhouse), 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. In all 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.

DSCF2228-001
The best bar at a golf club in the United States is at the Myopia Hunt Club

The 19th hole at Myopia brings together a lot of what I like about old-style golf clubs and reveals many verities that I have found on my trips. Among the truths: 1) Length doesn't matter. Myopia is a sub 6,600 yard course from the tips, but is still a challenge. 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, Congressional, or Medinah.  3) 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. 4) Old and quirky are under-appreciated. The bar at Myopia has no barman, the members sign chits for themselves and there are private lockers near the bar for members' liquor. The rooms in the clubhouse have low ceilings and a feel of antiquity. The old, original creaking floors will probably never be replaced, giving it a shabby-chic feel. There are antiquated enclosed telephone booths cut into the wall of the entry foyer where members used to discretely make phone calls without disturbing the ambiance. The locker room, housed in a separate building, is original and reminded me of another old original, Garden City on Long Island.  A visit to Myopia is a truly memorable and 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


Golfer Magazine described Myopia and its architect in 1898 thusly: "Leeds is as well known as a hunt club man as a golfer . . . The rolling inland gorse is admirable, the hazards natural, the distances good . . . It was only natural that the cry of Fore! should be heard mingling with the whistle of the quail and the music of the kennelled hounds. Experts have pronounced the links the best natural golf grounds in America." The description remains relevant today.

Myopia 18th Fwy

The sloping of the 18th fairway is best captured at dusk


It is not an exaggeration to say that the greens at Myopia are among the finest in the United States. Part of the reason I think Myopia is such as fabulous golf course is because Leeds kept tinkering with it and refining it over the years. As a member of the club he would sit in the bar and overhear golfers complaining about how easy or hard holes were and would make changes as such. The par-5 fifteenth hole ("Long") is a beautiful 529-yard hole that straddles the hill at the top of the property. When Leeds heard a couple of members complain that the hole was too easy he put in two very deep bunkers short of the green. Easy is not a word that pops into your head as you approach the green today. The course plays as a par 72 and even though it is short there are a couple of very testing par fours, notably #5 at 417 yards, #12 at 451 yards, and #18 at 400 yards. The course, however, truly excels with the short par fours. It is treacherous to compare any course to Merion, but it is my belief that the short par fours here are as good a collection, or better, than those at Merion, which are among the best in the world.

Speaking of Merion, where is the ball Bobby Jones used when he won the Grand Slam, finishing the U. S. Amateur at Merion? It's displayed in a very nonchalant manner tucked above a light in the bar at Myopia Hunt Club. To me it encapsulates everything about Myopia and reflects the ethos of the club perfectly. They have one of the treasures of the golf world on their hands but treat it in a very low key and respectful manner. Myopia is an anachronism in the world of golf to be cherished and preserved for posterity, which is exactly what their erudite membership is doing.

Myopia Bobby Jones Ball

It is a lucky golfer who finds themselves walking on the boardwalk of the elegant Myopia clubhouse:

clubhouse boardwalk

Myopia's blue blood roots run deep. The club first used the name Myopia Hunt Club in 1876. The august Republican Senator from Massachusetts, Henry Cabot Lodge, was a founding member of Myopia.  The Harvard polo team still uses the fields at Myopia.

As I was playing at Myopia in the summer twilight recently there was a light breeze blowing and the ancient specimen trees were casting long shadows over the verdant fairways. It didn't take too much imagination to forget that I am an olive-skinned crank of Italian extraction from New Jersey, and I thought for a few moments that I was one of the original fair-haired Haa-vard boys who founded the club over a century ago, and that I was back in 1894 playing a leisurely round of golf. Myopia is timeless.

mhc ,
The scene at Myopia from a postcard  produced in 1904. It could have been taken today.

Post Script - Not everyone agrees with my assessment of golf courses (I know, I find it shocking also). Even the skeptics among you must agree, however, that Myopia surely has the best logo in the world of golf. What could be better than a fox with a horn above his head?

31 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.

Charlie Manuel said...

The photo captioned "Myopia's Second Hole" is actually Myopia's Thirteenth Hole. The photo is taken from the Second Hole tee box. The Second Hole is parallel-to-the-left of the Thirteenth Hole. FYI

ted brooks said...

I caddied for Brom, back in the day. Those who caddied for Brom didn't like him much , because He was tough, tough as nails. Now looking back, I appreciate Brom, He made me what I am today, a pro Caddie. I do hate though, that People came in and changed the original Myopia golf course, the layout, sometime in the 80's or 90's.That should of never happened. The original layout of the 18holes was, an incredible challenge, one that I played from the early days sneaking onto the course from behind the maintenance building with my Dad, where we would chip over to 3, and then head down 4, and so,on. I also played 4 years of High school golf there at Ham. -wen. regional, Myopia let us use there course, what a thrill, and a nice gesture

Jamie Tollefson said...

What a fabulous course and great membership. Truly a test of golf! When they get the greens blazing, you can easily imagine playing in the US Open. All bad shots are punished here. I just love it.

Jamie Tollefson

MistyMtnHop Heals11 said...

I was trying to figure this picture out as well. This is definitely 16th hole. The bunker acroos the green with the first tee below.
Also as a side note: If anyone hasnt played or seen Myopia in the last 6 years than you wouldn't know about the new tee's and how the golf committee has lengthened the golf course. New tee's on 2,4,7,10,11,14,15 and 18.
The other huge change has been the removal of thousands of trees. The trees behind 6 arw no longer but the biggest tree removal was done behind the 8th green. That has completely no trees any longer so when playing 8 you can see straight up to 10th fairway, 11th green, 12th tee box and 14th green.
Someone had mentioned the 9 hole "members course" if someone was to play now, when finishing the 11th green, you have a straight shot to 14 with no trees. All the changes arw for the better. When the fescue behind 8th green, up to 11th green, 12th tee and 14th green comes in next season its going to look incredible. One cant imagine the new looks and vistas the golf course has now. The new tree removal has really made the walk up 14th fairway one of the most beautiful views in all of golf. Now you can see both caddies and players struggling to read a putt on 8, players hacking the ball out of greenside bunker on 9, Players trying to find fairway on tee and players trying to keep ball below pin on 11. I was looping in the fourball recently and a longtime member of The Country Club & forner winner of Myopia 4-Ball said to me "You really can't explain to people, who haven't played Myopia, how beautiful it is out here at dusk"

Anonymous said...

I was fortunate to have worked at Myopia Hunt Club in the summer of 2001 and I was shocked how challenging each and every hole was. The elevation change on 2 as well as 13 were awesome not to mention the extremely fast green during the member quest at the end of the summer. This makes for U.S. open conditions. I loved it!!

Anonymous said...

Ash,

Kevin Costner did do a Field of Dreams for golf. It was called Tin Cup.....it sucked.....

MountainsInMist Heals11 said...

First time I played Myopia was 96 State Am & the course is drastically better now. The tree removal was outstanding. Some trees such as the right side of #2 just had mo business being there.