Charles River Country Club
Ninth hole, 180 yards; By locating the green on top of a rocky knob, Ross turned this one shotter into a true ‘hit it or else’ situation. The steep slopes that lead up to the green will readily kick the golfer’s ball 20 yards away and once the golfer has seen that happen, the 6,400 square foot green tends to shrink as a target.
Eleventh hole, 240 yards; This is where the routing would have easily broken down with a lesser architect. Holes 12-18 center around specific topographical features but that left Ross needing to place two holes over 770 yards of ground. Hemmed in by a road on the far side, what was Ross to do? He gave the 475 yard 10th great character by creating one of his boldest greens ever and in the case of the 11th, he found a dell-like area just beyond the crest of a hill and before the road and used it to create a fascinating green site for a long one shotter.The player never tires of trying to gauge how to bounce his tee ball onto the green. Indeed, Francis Ouimet once famously remarked that the hardest approach shot at Charles River was the second on the 11th! This hole deserves to be more famous but alas, two large willows at the 200 yard mark obscure the right hand side of the green and detract from its otherwise heroic proportions.
Twelfth hole, 360 yards; The first of only three two shotters on the back nine, the drive is blind over a crest and the golfer is left with a short iron from a finicky sidehill stance with the ball below his feet ala the 8th at Pine Valley. Such a stance often creates a bit of a pull as the golfer comes over the top of his shot and inadvertently, sends his approach deep into the green. From there, it’s an easy three putt on this steeply pitched back to front green.
Thirteenth hole, 350 yards; For no good reason, some people struggle to remember specific holes on many Ross courses. Even at Pinehurst No. 2, the holes seem to run together in their mind. This is not the case at Charles River which is blessed with many instantly recallable holes and none more so than the 13th where a twisting fairway ends abruptly and the green is placed on top of a rock ledge that is some forty feet above the level of the fairway. This sharply uphill pitch is a perfect foil to the downhill, sidehill one on the last hole.
Eighteenth hole, 445 yards; Perhaps the finest finishing hole in New England, this big two shotter gracefully sweeps to the left. As befits the longest two shotter on the course, the green is an extension of the fairway so the weaker club golfer never feels out of the hole. However, from 10 to 40 yards off the green, there are bunkers left and right of the fairway so the golfer needs to keep his misses straight.
In the early 1990s, Charles River didn’t enjoy many of the playing attributes described above. Three hundred additional trees encroached directly into Ross’s intended lines of play and smothered much of the course’s width, which is always needed on a course with severe topographical features if the average golfer is to enjoy himself. In addition, the green pads had shrunk by as much as 30% since their original inception, the bunkering with its flashed up sandyfaces had long since lost the Donald Ross grass faces, and the course in general was not presented in a fast nor firm manner.
However, thanks to the unwavering vision of knowledgeable board members who appreciated what lay underneath the surface, events started to turn for the better in 1994 when informational club meetings were held. The club board hired Ron Prichard in 1995 to create a Master Plan, which was accepted shortly thereafter. Trees were systematically removed, many of the green pads restored to their original size, the 18 tees were reconstructed and all the grass faced bunkers were faithfully restored as per old photographs. Indeed, in 1997 upon seeing the success of thisrestoration, other New England Ross clubs followed suit with Master Plans of their own.
The Club continues to showcase the course’s ultimate trump card within the Ross family of courses, which is its diverseNew England topography. As more trees are selectively felled, greater vistas across this striking property are opened up. Step by step, additional greens are being restored to their original size. Hopefully, one day both the 9th and 18th greens will come out several feet and the ‘squared off’ fronts will be restored, making their false fronts even more diabolical.
Charles River joins other Ross heavyweight courses such as Essex County and Salem CC in making the case that Donald Ross’s most compelling, distinctive work is found within a one hour’s drive of Boston and not in North Carolina.