Salem Country Club
The US Senior Open will be contested at Salem County Club in July, 2001. Much will be made of the ideal rolling New England terrain and the wonderful set of greens. Everyone will marvel at how Donald Ross created a perfect members course to play weekly and yet challenging enough forsome of the finest golfers in the world.
Forsuch reasons, Salem Country Club deservesits place in the spotlight of American golf. Built in 1925, Ross was at the height of his powers. From 1919 to 1925, five of the seven National Opens were contested on Ross courses. Donald J. Ross Associates, Inc. employed 3,000 (!) people at the time and his services were never in more demand.
Given such popularity, and with so many simultaneous projects going on, one would suspect some deterioration in the quality of his work, even amongst his finer projects. Certainly, such has occured in modern architecture when the biggest ‘name’ architects became swamped with work. Any originality was lost as they hurried from project to project and the quality of their work suffered, especially as it related to the detail work around the green complexes.
Salem, though, was always going to be different. Ross had the choice of 350 acres of rolling New England land from which to build a course. A master of routing a course and selecting the finest natural green sites, Salem appeared as a dream project for Ross.
Consequently,he spent an inordinate amount of time drawing each hole. A full set of hole diagrams exist to this day and they may well be his most intricate and complex. For instance, he painstakingly detailed how the thirteenth green complex should be designed. The result of such precise efforts? Well, in the case of the thirteenth green, he later called it ‘the finest green I ever designed.’
Indeed, this attention to detail resulted in a superior set of greens, even amongst Ross’s finest courses. There is not a single dull one and they range from the alarmingly excellent 13th green to greens like the 7th and 15th that are high on each side and funnel toward the middle to greens like the 4th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 17th, and 18th with their fearsome back to front pitch. In between such greens, there are some original green contours to be foundlike at the 16th with its distinctive moundson either side of the green.
In terms of how the greens affect strategy, it should be noted that half of them are as wide as theyare deep. Some like the eighth play even smaller as it slopes toward the back past the midway point. Others like the inverted saucer seventeenth green mean death to anyone who goes over. In either case, distant judgement from the fairway is at a premium at Salem.
Another factor that helped Ross was that no matter how busy his firm was, they could only move but so fast. After all, at the time, construction was done by horse and slip scrapers and sometimes tractors. Therefore, many of nature’s little humps and bumps remain throughout the fairways to this day. The golfer is always tweeking this and that in his set up, and thus Salem affords the opportunity for the better player to demonstrate his control over a varietyof situations. Modern architecture strips too much character from the land, and one walk around Salem makes any golfer lament the introduction of the bulldozer to golf course construction.
Some coursesgain a reputationbyeither theirambience and/or the fact that a big name architect designed it. Salem has both factorsin its favor but it deserves recognition for the most important reason of all: the high quality of its individual holes. Hole after hole offers something and Ross considered it ‘one of my purest designs.’ When strung together in such an uninterrupted setting of beauty, Frank Hannigan’s long time love affair with Salem becomes understandable.
Holes to Note
First hole, 410 yards; The perfect opener with everythinglaid before the golfer from the elevated tee.Imagine playing the hole back in the 1920s and 30s. After a fine drive, you have a long iron left that must fit in between a pair of bunkers that are cut into an upslope some 100 yards short of the green. You clip the ball just perfectly and it lands thirty yards short of the bunkerless green and rolls on. Two careful putts and away you go with the day’s first four. The hole remains an equal delight to this day to play, and just as challenging. Common with most of the holes at Salem, it enjoys an isolated nature.
Second hole, 395 yards; An appealing dogleg to the left, the ideal drive must carry a bunker on the inside of the dogleg at the 200 yard mark from the tee. Somewhat similarto the 1st hole, there is a step in the fairway, and depth perception for the approach becomes tricky. The two-tiered green is only 25 yards deep and an approach slightly long will roll off the back shaved bank and into a tightly mown chipping area. From there, you can readily tell just how good your opponent is based on how he handles this twitchy little chip – will he putt it, or hit the three wood chip so popular these days, or elect for a bump and run, or maybe even go with a lob wedge?
Third hole, 165 yards; A picture perfect one shotter to the firmest green on the course. Bunkered left and right with a fall off behind, nothing but a well struckiron will do.
Fourth hole, 400 yards; A fine compliment to the second hole, this dogleg swings right and the fairway is canted from left to right. A fade will catch the slope andbounddownhill toward the green. An easy hole to visualize today but remember: when Ross saw the land, it was completely covered in dense trees. Just to find this slope was an accomplishment and then to incorporate it so well into the playing strategyis aprime example of an architect maximizing the land.
Seventh hole, 390 yards; A good example of how Ross teamed with his experienced Massachusetts construction crew to yield a superior product. Ross had an uncanny ability to find ideal green locations on top of hills and hummocks and his instincts served him well here. However, what makes the hole exceptionalis the imaginative green contours. Aenaes Ross, Donald’s younger brother, was the construction foreman and he insured that his brother’s detailed drawings for this green were exactly carried out.The result is the largest green on the course at 7,700 square feet witha mound on the back right and a mound on the left that feed the ball in toward the lower, middle part of the green. The green makes the hole much more than just an uphill slog.