Fenway Golf Club
Is Fenway A.W. Tillinghast’s finest design?
What! How can that be, you ask? Fenway hasn’t hosted the U.S. Open like the Winged Foot or Baltusrol or a Walker Cup like Quaker Ridge or Five Farms. Nor has it the fearsome, worldwidereputation as Bethpage Black.In addition,Fenway has never attracted the cult followingof either Somerset Hills or San Francisco Golf Club.
So how can Fenwway even be considered in the same league?
Part of the answer lies in its origins -Fenway was always meant to be the equivalent (or better)of its nearby neighbors Winged Foot and Quaker Ridge. In 1922, the Club hired Devereux Emmet to design an 18 hole course on the old James Fenimore Cooper estate but within 18 months, it was evident that the course was no comparison for its illustrious neighbors. The founding members of the club had no interest in being third best, so the course was closed and Tillinghast was contacted. His marching orders aren’t as famous as those at Winged Foot but the point was clear: build us the very best course that you can.To accomplish that, Tillinghast was given240 acres, the topography of which was more rolling and varied than either course at Winged Foot.
The Tillinghast course opened to rave reviews, and from 1925 until 1929, was considered the equal of any in this golf rich area. In relation to its design merits, Gil Hanse in his Feature Interview on this site said the following:
The course has some wonderful rolling ground, a few rock outcroppings, and a great variety of golf holes. Tillinghast used the ground magnificently and the round of golf incorporates all facets of the game. However, it is the green complexes that make this course so special: they are an eccentric bunch, featuring some of the most incredible raised plateau greens, and deep bunkers. They range in variety from the roller coaster 3rd, to the fiendishly sloping 7th.
In size the 18th green is well over 10,000 square feet, and the short par 4 15th green is barely 2,500 square feet. This variety is a great asset, but it is truly the putting contours themselves that merit a close study to appreciate the fine art of green construction.
However, beginning with the Great Depression, the club fell on hard times and never regained the same spotlight. Fortunately, the club’s fortunes began to change for the better in thelate 1990s. Spurred on by Green Chairman Steve Frankel, the board hired Gil Hanse to restore properly every bunker andreturn allthe greens to their original sizes. In the process, Hansebrought back22 bunkers that had beenfilled inover time andexpanded the greens by over 13,000 square feet. In addition, some limited tree removal was undertaken.
The end resultis astonishing. The days of Fenway notbeing recognized amongst Tillinghast’s most impressivedesigns are over. Given the restoration’s success, it is important to understand what made it so.
First, the golfer never realizes that Hanse & Co. were ever here. Though associate Rodney Hine was the on-site man, the course remains a Tillinghast. Rather than second guess Tillinghast, Hanse and Hine carefully researchedall availableold documents and aerial photos.They uncovered plenty of material and through this research, the need for interpretation was minimized.Thus, the end product is as pure to the original architect’s intent as possible.
Secondly, the club was fortunate in that they were able to hirethe long time Green Keeper from Winged Foot Bob Alonzi. Alreadyintimately familiar with Tillinghast’s work, Alonzi’swork ethic and belief in firm andfast playing conditions made it a certainty that the course would be presented in an ideal manner.
Thirdly, the board put their full trust in Hanse and witha strong Green Chairmanpushingevents through in a timely manner, the project was destined for success.
Holes to Note
2nd hole, 455 yards; Of all of Tillinghast’s courses, Fenway maybesthighlight the optionsfor a ground game. Time after time, the golfer finds that running his approach onto the green is theideal play. With the 2nd back tee having been recaptured and thus extending the hole 60 yards, most golfers will be be left with a long iron approach with the key being to use the open ground in front of the green toone’s advantage.
3rd hole, 525 yards; A great course must have great holes and the 3rd at Fenway counts as a great three shotter. This hole has two attributes that Tillinghast much admired in his long holes: a Sahara bunker complex (as found on the 17th at Baltustol Lower and the 14th at Five Farms in Baltimore) and the use of out of bounds (as found on the 6th hole at Five Farms). Many of the greatmaster architects considered out of bounds as the ultimate test for a golfer and thus a course like Royal Liverpool has always been highly regarded (when asked if Hoylake was the finest in England, Tom Simpson replied, ‘Without any doubt.’) However, as Hanse notes, in this day of public liability, such design philosophy is all but obselete and indeed the trees in the picture below are now meant to steer the golfer away from the out of bounds on his second shot.
4th hole, 145 yards; Thoughtwo of theother threeone shotters at Fenway are more monstrously difficult, this one has the most charm. Yet just because it is in easy reach of all levels of player, the severe green contours easily extract three putts from all those who don’t hit the proper portion of the green.
5th hole,460 yards; Hanse recovered the bunkers both left and right off the tee, so nowthe hole plays from tee to green as Tillinghast intended. However, the real showpiece is the green. Set into the hillside that eventually leads tothe clubhouse, the green ressemblesa wave as it rolls up to the back. Hanse recaptured five feet of perimeter green along the high back right side and the golfer can now use that area to work the ball closer to certain hole locations. Indeed, the membership has come to appreciate that the course is more enjoyable – rather than harder – to play with the greens backto their original size.