Review: The William J. Devine Golf Course at Franklin Park

Course Name: The William J. Devine Golf Course at Franklin Park

Designer: Willie Campbell (1896, 9 holes), Donald Ross (1922, 18 hole redesign)

Location: Dorchester, Massachusetts

History: The history here is palpable as the nation’s second oldest public course. While a 9-hole course officially opened October 26, 1896, golf has been played in Franklin Park as early as 1890. In December of that year, former baseball star George Wright received a permit from the City of Boston to play golf on an “experimental” basis, and played the first foursome on publicly-owned land using tomato cans as holes.

Willie Campbell, the pro at The Country Club, petitioned for an actual course and designed one in 1896. He acted as professional here until his death in 1900. His widow Georgina Campbell briefly took over his position and became the first female golf professional in the U.S. Today, the course is virtually an original Donald Ross and has changed very little since his 1922 redesign. Accolades for Franklin Park include:

  • #10 Best Public Course in Massachusetts – Golfweek (2018)

Conditions: 6/10, I imagine Franklin Park plays very similar to how most Ross courses played in the 1920’s before sophisticated greenskeeping was a thing. These fairways are firm, fast, and golden and the greens run slow (8-9 on the stimp) but true. The bunkers are solid and the rough is not very penal. This is no Augusta National, but these conditions are fun and plenty adequate.

Value: 8/10, Franklin Park offers strong value, especially for Boston residents who can walk 18 for $39 on weekdays. For non-residents, it costs up to $72 on weekends with a cart, which is pretty much in-line with what you’re getting.

Scorecard:

Tee                     Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Blue                   70           6013               69.5              126

White                70           5688               67.3               122

Gold                   70           4924              64.0               114

Red                     71          4676               67.0               112

Hole Descriptions: True, the best courses in New England are private, but those looking for classic public gems won’t have to travel far to find courses that fit the description. In Connecticut, you have Keney Park and Shennecossett. Rhode Island has Triggs. Boston has a pair of great Ross munis – George Wright and William J. Devine. While the conditioning isn’t always perfect on these courses, you’ll find thoughtful designs, strategic bunkering, and great small greens that I personally prefer to play over many modern private courses in the region.

I have yet to play George Wright and hope to this Autumn, but by most accounts Franklin Park is the easier, more beginner-friendly course. At just over 6000 yards from the Tips, this firm and fast course plays even shorter and was undoubtedly meant to be played using hickory shafts. There are few trees or water hazards, and I feel the higher handicapper would love Franklin Park. Despite this, these tiny greens are still quintessential Ross and require precise approaches and chips.

The opening hole eases you into your round as a slightly downhill 386 yard straightaway par 4. While there’s OB and a road to the far right, this hole is wide open and you can bomb it left. This green is small and guarded by a bunker on the left.

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The generous par 4 1st

Although short at just 329 yards, the par 4 2nd is a bit confusing the first time you play it. It appears the hole plays as a dogleg right around fescue on the right, but this fescue is about 200 yards from the teebox and the ideal play is short of this. Any drives in play should leave a wedge into this narrow green surrounded by numerous trees and bunkers. This hole is reachable in theory but I don’t think the reward justifies the risk.

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The par 4 2nd

The 3rd is the longest par 4 at Franklin Park at 421 yards. Although this fairway is generous, fescue juts into it on the right at 225 yards and you’ll want to carry this. This approach plays fairly uphill to a large back-to-front two tiered green guarded by a bunker short right and false front.

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The uphill par 4 3rd

The 4th is the longest par 3 on the course at 189 yards. This is a beautiful hole completely treeless and exposed to the wind. For such a long one-shotter, this hole features a small green surrounded on all sides by four bunkers. Good luck if the wind is up!

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The classic par 3 4th

The 5th is another very confusing hole the first time you play it. At 355 yards, this par 4 features a completely blind teeshot over a mountain of fescue uncharacteristic of Ross. Unbeknownst to first time players, this hole plays as a double dogleg with another mountain of fescue on the left fairway at 220 yards. The golfer has two options on the tee here: Hit long iron or hybrid to the left and risk a possible blind approach, or bomb driver over the right fescue that requires a carry of 220 yards. This small green slopes back-to-front and is guarded by bunkers left and right.

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The blind and intimidating 5th teeshot

The 380 yard 6th plays straightaway and completely wide open from an elevated teebox. With no danger to speak of except for fescue on the left at 285 yards, golfers can rip driver with little apprehension.  This approach runs back uphill to a tiny right-to-left sloped green guarded by a bunker short left.

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The downhill par 4 6th

At 389 yards, the number 1 handicap 7th is a very difficult dogleg right that seems a bit out of place. With tall trees and water lining the right the entire way, this hole takes a 90 degree turn right about 230 yards from an elevated teebox. A pair of bunkers guard the left side of the dogleg at 220 yards and are a popular bailout. The ideal drive here cuts the corner over the water, but this is not feasible for most golfers. This narrow green is also a bit goofy running hard back-to-front and left-to-right with two bunkers on the right.

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The downhill par 4 7th
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The 7th approach after the dogleg

The 8th is another nice classic par 3 playing 179 yards to a circular green surrounded by three deep bunkers.

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The par 3 8th

The opening side closes with a short, simple 349 yard downhill par 4 featuring a semi-blind teeshot. This hole is again wide open with more room on the left than right. This approach plays slightly uphill to an elevated green guarded by bunkers on either side and short.

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The approach on the 9th

At 337 yards, the par 4 10th is one of my favorite holes at Franklin Park. This straightaway hole begins with an elevated teeshot over fescue to a generous fairway lined by fescue on the right and a bunker on the left at 235 yards. This approach seems straight out of Bethpage Black with a severely elevated shallow green guarded short and left by bunkers.

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The gorgeous par 4 10th

The 11th is the first par 5 at Franklin Park at 533 yards. This is a dogleg left, with small trees lining the left and fescue lining far right. This hole doglegs at about 250 yards but those who bail out right won’t really be penalized much. The rest of the hole is relatively straightforward until you reach this elevated green guarded short by two bunkers. This is the most severe green on the course and slopes hard back-to-front.

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The dogleg left 11th
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The approach on 11

The 404 yard par 4 12th is the hardest hole on the course and apparently was one of Francis Ouimet’s favorite holes. This tight, tree-lined hole has a decidedly different feel from the otherwise open course with the fairway constricting even further around 240 yards. This approach plays uphill and to the left to a small tucked green with OB long and right and a bunker short right. Trees on the left block approaches from the left side of the fairway. This is a demanding hole where pars are to be celebrated.

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The demanding par 4 12th also feels like Bethpage

The par 3 13th is the shortest hole on the course at just 139 yards downhill. This hole seems a bit like an afterthought with a bland circular green and not much danger.

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The short downhill 13th

At 358 yards, the par 4 14th plays blind off the tee over a plateau to another very generous fairway lined by small trees to the far left. This narrow green is partially obscured by mounding and slopes hard right-to-left with two bunkers on the left.

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The blind 14th teeshot

The final par 3 at Franklin Park is a gem with the 164 yard 15th. This hole plays uphill and at least once club extra to a severely elevated green guarded on all sides by steep slopes. A tall tree overhangs the left side of the green and will knock down anything hit that direction.

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The challenging uphill 15th

The 16th and 17th are back-to-back short par fours I’m not sure I know my feelings on. The 16th plays downhill at 337 yards with water bisecting the fairway at 245 yards. It requires a carry of about 300 yards to reach the other side so the golfer is forced to lay up with iron or hybrid here. This approach plays over the creek to a severely back-to-front sloped two-tier green guarded by bunkers on the left. I made the mistake of going long here and discovered the hard way it’s literally impossible to keep it on the green on your third shot.

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The short 16th takes driver out of the golfer’s hand

I like the 287 yard 17th a bit more because it gives the golfer options. Playing back over the creek, this short par 4 runs uphill to an elevated green guarded by a bunker short. This fairway progressively narrows as you near the green, but the distance makes going for it mighty tempting.

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The reachable 17th is a great short par 4

The closing hole is an epic, reachable par 5 at just 473 yards. Playing severely downhill on the drive, this fairway is generous but ends at about 270 yards. From here, the hole plays uphill over a mountain of fescue and to the right towards a flat and relatively large green guarded by two bunkers short on either side. Birdies can be had here.

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The downhill par 5 18th
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The closing approach

General Comments: Situated in Boston’s largest park, Franklin Park is an urban course with no driving range and a small practice green. The 1998-designed clubhouse is clean and modern, but lacks much charm. As you would imagine, this muni is one of Boston’s busiest courses and pace of play is usually slow.

Verdict: William J. Devine Golf Course at Franklin Park is one of several affordable, public classic gems littered around New England. As the second oldest public course in America, the history here is tremendous and both novices and accomplished golfers will enjoy this unadulterated Ross layout. I recommend this course to those visiting the Boston area.


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