Review: Blackstone National Golf Club

Course Name: Blackstone National Golf Club

Designer: Rees Jones/Keith Evans (2000)

Location: Sutton, Massachusetts

History: Located between Worcester and Providence, Blackstone National opened in 2000. Architect Rees Jones personally chose the property for the design.

Conditions: 7/10, The conditioning at Blackstone National is above average for local public courses, with well-manicured bentgrass teeboxes and fairways and some of the thickest rough I’ve ever had the misfortune of playing. When I played in mid-May, the greens were still recovering from a tough winter and were slow and bumpy.

Value: 5/10, Ranging from $43 to walk on a weekday to $80 to ride on a weekend, Blackstone National offers competitive but not tremendous value. I will note that you’re allowed to walk on weekdays (unlike weekends), but the course is not built for walking.

Scorecard:

Tee                     Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Black                 72           6909               74.6              139

Blue                  72           6655               73.5              134

White                72           6396               71.8              128

Green                 72          5804               69.3              124

Red                     72          5203               71.8              129

Hole Descriptions: The “U.S. Open Doctor” Rees Jones has received his fair share of criticism over the years, and for the most part, I agree with the critics. Prior to Blackstone National, I had played two of his original designs – Lake of Isles and Pinehills. While both are fine upscale courses, nothing about the two left me begging for more, as I found them too monotonous with forest-lined holes over forced carries and unimaginative greens complexes. Rees Jones himself chose the property at Blackstone National, so it’s not surprising that it too falls into similar pitfalls. Nothing about the course is truly offensive and it certainly has its moments, but overall I find it far too banal to require repeat visits.

Like most Jones courses, Blackstone National is demanding tee-to-green, but the 1st hole is quite easy, providing golfers an early chance to get under par. At just 331 yards, this downhill dogleg left par 4 is reachable for long hitters, but there’s plenty of room short right for those who chose to lay-up. The left side of this hole is filled with fescue and bunkers and should be avoided at all costs. This green features a hump running horizontally and a bunkers on the left.

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Do you go for glory on the opening teeshot?
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The speedslot on the 1st allows golfers to run their drives onto the green

The 2nd hole is not as easy as a long, narrow 575 yard par 5. This mammoth hole bends to the left and any miss off the tee will likely never be found. A giant bunker at the corner of the dogleg further compounds the difficulty. From here, your second shot is uphill and blind to a plateau in the fairway, but anything hit straight should be fine. The approach here runs back downhill to a green guarded by bunkers short left.

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The long slender par 5 2nd

After a bridge over a swamp, the 154 yard par 3 3rd awaits. This is a cute little hole with a carry over a swamp and deep bunkers on the right.

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The par 3 3rd

The par 4 4th is officially 393 yards, but plays much longer with one of the most severe uphill gradients I’ve ever played. Even with a wide fairway, this teeshot is still intimidating as you look up at the mountain in front of you. A bunker on the right starting around 200 yards is the only real danger until the green, which falls off hard on the right with a steep grass bunker.

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Pars on the uphill 4th are a rare feat

What goes up must come down with the beautiful downhill 348 yard 5th. I actually really enjoyed this hole, as it offers some great views of the surrounding forests and also features some great strategic bunkering as you near the green – a crossbunker on the right at 230 yards and one on the left at 295 yards. I personally don’t think the reward is worth the risk, but longer hitters can certainly reach this green with driver.

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The downhill par 4 5th

At 390 yards, the semi-blind straightaway 6th is a rather uneventful par 4 with mounds lining both sides of the fairway. Two straight shots here and this becomes another good birdie opportunity.

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The par 4 6th

I also enjoyed the 7th, a strong uphill 196 yard par 3 with a devilish green that slopes both back-to-front and left-to-right. Bunkers and a steep hill short right make this hole a perfect candidate for a reverse redan, but unfortunately the green is not as severe as it could be.

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The striking par 3 7th

At just 480 yards, the dogleg right 8th is an interesting short par 5 and definitely one of the easier holes on the course. The dogleg occurs at only about 230 yards and longer hitters will need to think twice about hitting anything more than 3 wood, as they can run through the fairway. The ideal play is to cut the corner over a bunker that requires 240 yards to clear. From here, the hole is pretty straightforward, with a slightly uphill approach to a wide but shallow green guarded by bunkers short and long.

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The dogleg right 8th

The closing hole on the front side is a wide-open 363 yard straightaway par 4 I found very simple. Except for two bunkers lining the fairway between 190 and 220 yards, golfers can swing with confidence here with little fear of losing their ball. This green is well-protected with two small bunkers on the left and a giant one snaking around the right-front.

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The 9th hole at Blackstone National

The 10th and 11th holes have a decidedly different feel than the rest of the course as wide open fields with very few trees. Despite this, the 10th is still a difficult hole playing 396 yards uphill and usually into the breeze. This fairway is tight and lined by thick rough and a large bunker on the left at 210 yards. The green here is narrow with a long, deep bunker on the left.

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Swing with confidence on the open par 4 10th

The 160 yard 11th also features no trees, but contains the only water hazard on the course with a large pond that lines the entire left side of the hole. Depending on the pin position, golfers will need to clear this to have a reasonable birdie chance on this long and undulating green. A bunker long right is probably a common bail-out area.

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The par 3 11th locals call “Blackbird”

At 358 yards, the downhill par 4 12th is an interesting hole that requires some thought on the teebox. This fairway narrows as you reach the green, but a forced carry of about 160 yards almost forces you to hit some kind of wood or hybrid. As most short holes should, this hole features a tiny and sloping green guarded by bunkers both short and long.

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The downhill par 4 12th

My favorite hole at Blackstone National is the 190 yard 13th, a fantastic one-shotter perfectly framed by tall trees on the right and a barren wasteland of swampy tree stumps on the left. This guitar-pick shaped green features a backstop and runs hard back-to-front.

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The gorgeous par 3 13th

At 387 yards, the 14th is a strong uphill par 4 lined by dense forests and a bunker on the right at 225 yards. This approach runs uphill and to the right towards a large undulating green guarded by a small pot bunker on the left and a deep one short right.

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The intimidating uphill 14th

The number 1 handicap 481 yard par 4 15th is undoubtedly Blackstone’s signature hole as a sweeping downhill dogleg left. This is a strong hole that requires a drive between 200 and 280 yards to find this fairway. If you can clear the series of bunkers on the left at 240 yards, a speed slot propels your ball well over 300 yards, leaving only a short iron in. For those unable to find this slot, the approach runs severely downhill to a large green surrounded by drop-offs on all four sides.

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The downhill teeshot on 15
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Looking back from the 15th green

The par 5 16th is a bland, yet nevertheless difficult hole playing a prodigious 568 yards uphill. This straightforward hole features a generous fairway lined by trees on both sides for its entire length. This green is large, narrow, and guarded by bunkers on both sides.

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The uphill par 5 16th

The 17th is another rather vanilla hole as a 372 yard par 4. Featuring a blind teeshot over a plateau, this gentle dogleg left runs downhill on the approach to a flat green guarded by bunkers on either side.

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The approach on 17

I am not a fan of the 18th, an awkward short 480 yard par 5 that plays considerably longer because of an unnecessary hazard that bisects the fairways about 260 yards off the tee. This swampy hazard is virtually impossible to carry for even the longest hitters, so many golfers will be forced to hit less than driver off the tee. From the hazard, the second fairway runs straight uphill to a long narrow green that features a severe back-to-front slope and two tiers. Taking driver out of the player’s hand on a closing par 5 takes a lot of the fun out of a short hole.

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The 18th requires a forced carry to a blind plateau
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From just short of the 18th hazard

General Comments: The practice facilities at Blackstone National comprise of a grass range and large, sloping practice green. Pace of play was decent but not great when I played.

Verdict: Blackstone National is one of the better public courses in New England and one I’d recommend in the area, but ultimately falls into too many of the same Rees Jones pitfalls as his other New England courses – bland, treelined holes too demanding tee-to-green for the average golfer yet at the same time too unimaginative around the greens.


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