Review: Whitinsville Golf Club

Course Name: Whitinsville Golf Club

Designer: Donald Ross (1925)

Location: Whitinsville, Massachusetts

History: Whitinsville Golf Club was the vision of E. Kent Swift, an executive at the nearby Whitin Machine Works textile mill. In the early 1920s, Swift contacted Donald Ross to build a course, but the land was not sufficient for a championship design so Ross declined. When Swift offered an 18-hole commission, however, Ross swiftly changed his mind. The resultant course opened for play in 1925 and has changed very little over the last century besides some tree removal and restoration work under Brian Silva and Gil Hanse. 9 holes has always been Whitinsville’s badge of honor and it is considered one of the best 9-holers in the world. Other accolades for Whitinsville include:

  • #55 Best Classic Course in America – Golfweek (2019)

Conditions: 8/10, Whitinsville is in strong shape with speedy greens, lush rough, and well-maintained bunkers and fairways.

Value: N/A, This is a private course.

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Blue                         35           3303               36.0               141

White                      35           3124               35.2                137

Black                       35           2864               33.9                128

Red                          35           2600               35.2                122

Yellow                     35           2570               35.0                120

Hole Descriptions: 9-hole courses don’t usually garner much acclaim, but Whitinsville is not your ordinary 9-hole course. Most likely excited by his generous paycheck, Donald Ross created one of his best designs on this tiny property in Central Massachusetts few outside the region have heard of. There are many places with 18 average holes and maybe a few highlights; Whitinsville is the antithesis to this with 9 strong holes and not a single ounce of wasted land. In fact, many consider the 9th hole one of Ross’ finest offerings anywhere and the best hole in all of Massachusetts.

While not an overly long course at just over 3300 yards from the Blue Tees, Whitinsville commands an impressive 141 slope due to a very difficult set of Ross greens that generally slope generously back-to-front. Golfers can be somewhat cavalier with their teeshots here, but every shot inside 100 yards demands precision and focus or big numbers can be had. I was fortunate to play the course twice, playing the White Tees and then the Blue Tees. Despite the yardage difference, however, I didn’t feel the course played significantly harder because the primary difficulty lies with the greens, not length.

The opening hole is the lone par 5 on the course, playing a lengthy 578 yards from the Blue Tees. To conserve space, almost all the holes at Whitinsville are doglegs and the 1st is no exception, bending to the left at around 300 yards. This hole is fairly open off the tee, but bunkers down the left at 230 and 260 yards are to be avoided. This approach plays uphill to a shallow back-to-front sloped green guarded by a severe false front and bunkers left, right, and long. As with most holes at Whitinsville, going long is dead here as a steep embankment of rough awaits.

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The long, sweeping par 5 1st
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I can only imagine how pleased Ross was when he discovered these fairway undulations!
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The uphill approach at the 1st

At 155 yards, the shortest hole at Whitinsville follows the longest one with the lovely downhill par 3 2nd. As with most Ross short holes, this green is extremely well-protected with bunkers short and right and steep tight lies surrounding the remaining green. I learned the hard way this hole becomes very difficult if you miss the green.

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The par 3 2nd

You cross a road to access the 3rd hole, a 385 yard par 4 that plays slightly uphill and to the right. OB lines the right and charming chocolate drop mounding lines both sides of the fairway. There are several small bunkers just short of the green, but these aren’t in play for anyone except for the longest hitters. This hole’s greatest defense is its green, which is one of the most severe back-to-front sloped I’ve seen. I put both approaches above the pin and putted it off the green both times just tapping it!

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The par 4 3rd
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The approach at 3

One of my favorite holes at Whitinsville is the 4th, a 373 yard downhill par 4. From an elevated teebox, this fairway doglegs left at only about 200 yards with thick forest down the right and chocolate drop mounds left. This green is one of the finest Ross greens I’ve seen, running back-to-front with multiple swales and undulations. Bunkers guard the green short left and to the right.

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The gorgeous teeshot on the par 4 4th
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The 4th green

You cross back over Fletcher St. towards the 5th hole, a strong 438 yard par 4. This teeshot features the only blind shot on the course, playing over a plateau of fairway with bunkers on either side. It’s a bit hard to convince yourself, but the ideal line is over the right bunkers because this fairway slides right. This green is large and runs hard back-to-front with a false front.

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The blind teeshot on the par 4 5th
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The approach at 5

At 405 yards, the par 4 6th is another fantastic hole and one of my favorites on the course. This dogleg right features a generous fairway lined by mounds of fescue down the right and thick rough left. At about 310 yards, this fairway ends and your approach must play over a valley with a creek at the bottom. Bunkers guard both sides of a large green that runs hard back right-to-front left.

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The dogleg right par 4 6th
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The memorable approach at 6

The 7th teebox is continuous with the 6th green, an awesome feature I wish more courses would utilize. At 183 yards, the excellent 7th hole is the final par 3 at Whitinsville. This teeshot is very similar to the approach on the previous hole playing over a valley to a large back-to-front sloped green guarded by a pair of bunkers on either side.

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The par 3 7th

Although officially 340 yards on the scorecard, the par 4 8th is reachable as the green is only about 275 yards from the teebox. This is a really interesting sharp dogleg left with an immediate 130 yard forced carry over marsh just to reach the fairway. From here, the hole plays directly to the left towards a two-tiered back-to-front sloped green guarded by a bunker right. The fairway bunkering is especially impressive on this hole with a crossbunker on the right corner of the dogleg at 225 yards, and three down the left at 185, 210, and 235 yards.

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I wonder if the Club has considered removing the trees on the left to make the 8th more drivable

The spectacular closing hole is the longest par 4 and number 1 handicap at a difficult 446 yards. This teeshot is one of the most intimidating I’ve ever seen with a giant forced carry over marshland to a fairway angled to the right. This entire fairway slopes hard left-to-right so even well-struck teeshots may wind up with tough sidehill lies, or worse – in the hazard. From the fairway, this approach plays uphill to a large back-to-front sloped green defended by a bunker left. Anything short will trundle all the way down a giant false front, leaving a tough pitch from the bottom of the fairway. This hole is recognized as one of the best holes in the world and I concur wholeheartedly. It’s also one of the most difficult I’ve played, demanding both strength and precision on every shot.

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The terrifying 9th teeshot
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The different angle from the White Tees
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The tough approach at 9

General Comments: Whitinsville is a golf club first and foremost with a modest clubhouse and very few amenities. There is a small putting green near the 1st teebox and a small range abutting the 1st fairway.

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Whitinville’s grass driving range

Verdict: Whitinsville proves the point that 9 great holes is superior to trying to squeeze 18 average holes on a small property. Featuring excellent greens, strategic doglegs, and strong bunkering, Whitinsville is the best 9-hole course I’ve played and is certainly one of the best 9-holers in the world. I highly recommend this course to all who enjoy classic architecture and Donald Ross.


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