Review: Marion Golf Club

Course Name: Marion Golf Club

Designer: George Thomas (1904)

Location: Marion, Massachusetts

History: Most people driving to Kittansett have no idea that another historic gem lies just a mile up the peninsula. Marion Golf Club, affectionately known as “Little Marion” by locals, actually predates Kittansett and opened in 1904. Marion holds the distinction of being George Thomas’ first design, and he would later go on to build Riviera, Los Angeles Country Club, and Bel Air. Today’s course is virtually unchanged from Thomas’ layout over a century ago.

Conditions: 6/10, The conditions at Marion aren’t perfect, but they’re more than adequate for the price. The greens roll true but slow at about 8 on the stimpmeter, while the fairway plays firm and fast with not much distinction from the rough.

Value: 8/10, At just under $20, the easily walkable 9-hole Marion offers strong value and is well-worth its price.

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Blue/White            34           2695               33.6               122

Red                          35           2089               32.6               116

Hole Descriptions: George Thomas’ later work at Riviera and LACC is that of an architect at the top of his game, with full command of angles and strategy. Marion, on the other hand, is the work of a young architect experimenting on a black canvas for the first time. The result is a quirky course with numerous blind shots, strange doglegs, and a highly unique set of rock walls that bisect the property and create some interesting approaches. Marion is an extremely fun course for the above reasons, and offers great insight into the young mind of a genius.

Built in a time when mashies and niblicks dominated, Marion is a short course at just under 2700 yards from the Tips. The opening hole is indeed on the short side as a 315 yard par 4. This hole features a relatively generous fairway lined by thick forests on either side. The approach is blind, as this hole runs downhill for the final 70 yards to a back-to-front sloped green cloistered by surrounding trees.

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The opening teeshot, complete with a quirky rock wall
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The 1st green lies far below the edge of the fairway

Although just 290 yards, the par 4 2nd is not reachable because the fairway takes a 90 degree turn right around trees at about 180 yards. From the teebox, this is unknown to the golfer, who sees the 7th green in the distance and foolishly rips driver. The correct play is a long iron or hybrid through a chute of trees, leaving an uphill wedge to a table-top green lined by a bunker long. The most notable feature of this approach is that it plays through another chute of trees and over a rock wall about 70 yards short of the green. Conventional design would not be in favor of this hole, but it’s so old school and quirky that I can’t help but love it.

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The blind 2nd from the teebox
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The unique 2nd approach through a “field goal” of trees and rock wall

At 175 yards, the par 3 3rd is actually a fairly difficult hole and one I can’t imagine playing with 1900’s equipment. Playing slightly uphill, this hole features a tiny undulating green guarded by rock walls that curve around the front on both sides. A tiny gap in the center allows you to visualize the pin, but this intimidating hole appears much further than it actually is, especially when you consider an overgrown tree obscures the right portion of the green.

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Quirkiness, redefined

After a walk through the woods, you arrive at the 4th, the only par 5 at Marion and the longest hole at 460 yards. Playing straightaway, this hole features a generous fairway lined by OB down the right the entire way and a bunker on the left at 200 yards. The most interesting aspect of this hole is another rock wall lined by trees that runs through the fairway about 285 yards from the tee. This hazard will undoubtedly be on the mind of any golfer who lays up off the tee. This circular green features subtle slopes and is lined by someone’s fence long.

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The approach at the par 5 4th

Holes 5-7 run parallel to each other as strong par fours. At 365 yards, the 5th hole might be the quirkiest hole at Marion. If you take away the distracting features, this hole plays straightaway and slightly uphill, but numerous mounds and trees on either side and the center of the fairway cloud your vision on the teebox. The predominant rock wall running through the property completely bisects this fairway at about 250 yards and your drive should be short of this to avoid a rather unfortunate lie. This green is miniscule and runs back-to-front with a bunker guarding left.

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It almost feels like Tobacco Road with all the mounds and obstacles
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The 5th approach

At a lengthy 430 yards, the number 1 handicap 6th is a legitimate par 4. Playing straightaway to a relatively generous fairway lined by spotty trees, this hole again features a rock wall just in front of the teebox. Bunkers on either side at 300 yards indicate to me that this hole either: 1.) used to be a par 5 or 2.) used to have a shorter teebox. This green sits in the shadows of tall trees and OB right in the form of a fence. A window in the trees just behind this green provides beautiful views of Sippican Harbor.

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The par 4 6th
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A glimpse at one of the Cape’s busiest harbors

The 7th is my favorite hole at Marion as a fantastic 365 yard par 4. With OB lining both sides of a rather tight fairway, this hole demands accuracy from the teebox. This approach is quite attractive with numerous fescue-lined bunkers and mounds dotting the fairway. Tucked behind the right trees, this circular green is guarded short by two skinny bunkers.

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The par 4 7th
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The terrific approach at 7

The 180 yard 8th hole plays similarly to the 3rd as an intimidating, uphill par 3 over a rock wall. This rock wall lies about 35 yards short of the green, but is sufficient to block the surface and leave a very difficult shot. Tall trees running down the right render a right-to-left ballflight impossible here.

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The challenging par 3 8th
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George Thomas was kind enough to leave a 1-foot gap

The closing hole happens to be the shortest at Marion as a lovely little 115 yard par 3. Although there wasn’t much land to work with, Thomas maximized its potential by creating a blind hole over a rock wall turned bunker. This green is my favorite on the course as a punchbowl that filters balls towards the center.

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The blind par 3 9th is as exhilarating at 115 yards gets
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A rock wall turned bunker guards just short on 9

General Comments: Marion’s clubhouse is a tiny shed adjacent to the 1st tee that is just as likely to have an honor box as it is to have staff. Practice facilities are limited and include a small practice green near the 1st tee.

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The practice green

Verdict: Although a far cry from George Thomas’ masterpieces in Los Angeles, Marion Golf Club is a tremendously charming and quirky 9-holer that’s been virtually untouched since 1904. I highly recommend this hidden gem to all golf architecture buffs, and to those who want a warm-up round before playing Kittansett down the street.


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