Golf Staycation - Trip 5 - MASSGOLF

The Return of the Golf Staycation: To the End of I-95

Last year, as golf reopened in Massachusetts, we began encouraging Mass Golfers to consider a Massachusetts Golf Staycation. With uncertainty still hovering over domestic and international travel, this is the perfect time to explore some of the beauty, history, and varying designs that our state has to offer. You may be asking ‘What is a Golf Staycation?’ – quite simply it’s using a vacation day exploring different golf public courses across the Commonwealth.

Trip #5 – To the End of I-95 (By: Stephen Hanjack)

Amesbury Golf & Country Club
Merrimack Valley Golf Club

For golfers in Massachusetts, there is something special about golf played in April and May. There is so much hope and anticipation about the season ahead. Every day is blessed with more daylight and gradually the temperatures continue to rise, making each round more enjoyable than the last. While uplifting, many of us still don’t have our game in “mid-summer form” just yet, which makes a trip like the one I just made that much more enjoyable. It’s more about the trip, the journey, the discovery…and less about what I shot.

The 6th hole at Amesbury Golf & Country Club features 2 greens.

For the first Staycation Trip of 2021, I wanted to travel as far north up I-95 as I could, to explore the last courses you can play before reaching the New Hampshire border. In 2020, we took you to the northwest corner of the state and to the farthest part of the Cape, so it only felt right to visit our friends in the northeast corner.

ALSO READ: PAST STAYCATION TRIPS

My goal for this trip was simply to explore courses that reached our boundaries. In doing so I found a couple of courses rich in history and designed by two of the most famous golf course architects our game has ever seen. I have found 27 holes to be the sweet spot for an enjoyable and relaxed day on the course. And for those of you that are looking to keep your Golf Staycation to a 1-day trip, this 27-hole adventure allows you to maintain your normal weekday routine. This trip might not be for everyone. Some people might be more interested in seeing if it’s possible to play 54 holes across 3 different courses in a day. (Don’t worry we have some crazy ideas in the works.) But the most important thing to remember when making a trip like this is to go into it with an open mind. I have found it most enjoyable to go in with no expectations and to see where the day and the courses bring you.

Amesbury Golf & Country Club

As I look back on my trip to Amesbury it’s tough to decide where to start. Do I start with the fact that I found my new favorite course logo in Massachusetts? Amesbury’s carriage logo comes from the town’s storied history as one of the top carriage makers back in the day. My only regret is not knowing that the Amesbury Carriage Museum existed before having made this trip, as it would have been at the center of my itinerary. Next time.

Or maybe I should start with the course architecture, as it is a 1924 Wayne Stiles design. The name Stiles may ring a bell as he is widely considered one of the finest golf course architects of his era. While he has designed dozens of courses, a few that are worth highlighting include: Taconic Golf Club (Williamstown) and Thorny Lea Golf Club (Brockton).

As you play the course, there are unique design features on every hole. For example, the 2nd hole has one of the most devilish drop-offs I’ve ever seen. The 4th hole has a number of grass mounds that you’ll often see at Donald Ross designed courses. This is no surprise as Stiles played competitively out of Brae Burn Country Club (West Newton) in his younger years – a Donald Ross design. One of the most interesting greens you will find in all of Massachusetts can be found on the 8th hole at Amesbury. While I wish I could find words to describe it, I can’t. You’ll just have to see it for yourself. And speaking of greens, they were in perfect condition. Being the first one out has its perks.

But maybe I would have been better served to talk about the vibe first. When you know, you know. And after 5 minutes on-site, I knew this was among the nicest, friendliest, and most genuine staff I have ever come across. As a true family-owned and operated business for over 30 years, you can sense the pride they have in the course. And rightfully so. I came into this trip knowing absolutely nothing about the course. And I left it thinking “I WILL be back.” They also had pride in some of their top players, the most notable being Chris Francoeur. Francoeur, who calls this course home, is one of the state’s top amateur players and was a semi-finalist in last year’s Massachusetts Amateur. A standout at the University of Rhode Island, he will transfer to the University of Louisville for a graduate season in the fall.

You do NOT want to be long on the 2nd hole at Amesbury Golf & Country Club.

Other Takeaways From Amesbury:

  • Best Photo Op: Snap a selfie with the tall flag on 9. It’s about 9 feet tall.
  • Favorite Hole: 6th – Not only is it the most picturesque spot on the course, the hole is a “choose your own adventure” featuring 2 different greens to choose from. The closer green was part of the original design, but as players started hitting the ball farther and farther, another green was added, making it a 2-shot hole, and speeding up play during busy times.
  • Don’t Miss: Don’t miss short on 7. The false front on the 7th green is waiting to spit your ball 40 yards back down the fairway.

 

Merrimack Valley Golf Club

After making my way around Merrimack Valley GC in Methuen, there is no doubt what I would remember most: the design features and the green complexes. This course is one of the earliest Donald Ross designs and is believed to be just his 2nd or 3rd design. In 2008, the course commissioned George F. Sargent, Jr., a legacy Donald Ross designer, for an overhaul to address drainage, functionality, and aesthetics. The use of a centralized pond makes for some of the most beautiful photos from the clubhouse. Elevation changes throughout the course had it playing much longer than the 6,016 on the scorecard. And it passed the age-old test of: Did it make me hit every club in the bag?

Merrimack Valley Golf Club is one of the earliest Donald Ross designs.

As mentioned, the green complexes are one of the most notable features of this course. As I tried to come up with a word to describe them, I kept coming back to “tour-like.” Each green is a little bit different. Some are 30 paces long, but just 5 paces wide. A few have as many as 4 different shelves. And others are more memorable for their closely-mown collection areas. The green that I found most interesting was 18. A long par-5 that is a 3-shot hole for most and a green with many different tiers. On this (windy) day, the hole was cut on the top left shelf, on what felt like a 3-yard circle. After missing long, I was unable to keep my chip on the proper shelf, and as it turned out, unable to keep it on the green altogether. I think it’s safe to say the greenskeepers had a nice chuckle watching me march back down the fairway to retrieve my ball.

Other Interesting Findings at Merrimack:

  • New Hampshire Holes: Five of the holes cross state lines into New Hampshire. The 3rd green, holes 4-6 and the 7th tee are all played outside of Massachusetts.
  • The Lost Tee Box: If you are one of those people who click on links to “See what this old Olympic village now looks like” – this might be of interest to you. Tucked behind the 3rd green is a defunct tee box for the 4th hole. While it’s nothing more than the site of an old tee box, I would be interested to find out why it looks to have a wrecking ball buried beneath it.
  • Favorite Design Feature: I really like the way the 5th hole is designed. A short par-3 that played (extremely) downwind and uses a closely mown collection area behind the green. It’s nothing outrageous, but a subtle design feature that I really appreciated.

 

 

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One Final Stop – Birdwatching

In anticipation of not making any birdies on this trip (which of course, I did not) I thought it would be fitting to stop by the Nevins Bird Sanctuary, just minutes from Merrimack Valley GC. In my mind, it was going to be a funny bit that I had to go to a bird sanctuary to actually SEE a birdie on this day. Well, after spending 20 minutes navigating the perimeter, I couldn’t find a way into the sanctuary. So…no birds for me and another wasted joke. The birds are as mysterious as the lost tee box on 4 I guess.

The Itinerary
7:00 – Depart for the Adventure
8:00 – Arrive at Amesbury G&CC, Meet Staff, Talk Course History
8:30  – On the tee at Amesbury G&CC
10:15 – Back on the Road
11:15 – On the tee at Merrimack Valley GC
2:15 – 27 Holes Completed
2:40 – Nevins Bird Sanctuary Search
3:30 – Adventure Complete
Cost – Amesbury G&CC ($21 – Walk 9) and Merrimack Valley GC ($39 – Walk 18)

HAVE AN IDEA FOR OUR NEXT TRIP?

Have an idea? Want me to visit your course? Send your ideas for a special day of golf and I might show up – shanjack@massgolf.org.

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Sources: The A Position, American Society of Golf Course Architects, Directory of Golf Courses Designed by Donald J. Ross