Review: Worcester Country Club

Course Name: Worcester Country Club

Designer: Donald Ross (1914, 1929, Lengthening)

Location: Worcester, Massachusetts

History: Worcester Country Club was founded in 1900, but moved to its current location in 1913. The Club enlisted Donald Ross to build a championship course, which opened in September 1914 with an inaugural round from President William Taft. Although outside the national spotlight for some time, Worcester was a big deal when it first opened and hosted a U.S. Open in 1925. Described as “easily the greatest Open Championship of them all” by The New York Times, this epic tournament saw Scotsman Willie Macfarlane defeat Bobby Jones in an 18-hole playoff for his only major win. In the event, Macfarlane shot a U.S Open record 67 and Jones notably penalized himself after he saw his ball move in the rough on the 11th hole.

Just two years later, Worcester hosted the inaugural Ryder Cup which saw a Walter Hagen-captained U.S. team crush the Europeans 9.5-2.5. Longtime pro and future VP of the PGA Willie Ogg was instrumental in arranging this Ryder Cup at Worcester. In 1960, Worcester held a U.S. Women’s Open won by Betty Rawls. In doing so, it became the first course to host a U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open, and Ryder Cup (since joined by Hazeltine and Pinehurst No. 2). Although there haven’t been any national tournaments since then, Worcester continues to be an excellent venue, as it’s hosted 7 Massachusetts Amateurs and 7 Massachusetts Opens (tied for most with Oyster Harbors). Accolades for Worcester Country Club include:

  • #154 Best Classic Course in America – Golfweek (2020)
  • #17 Best Course in Massachusetts – Golf Digest (2019)
  • #18 Best Course in Massachusetts – Top100golfcourse.com (2018)
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A plaque commemorating the 1927 Ryder Cup

Conditions: 9/10, Worcester C.C. is in generally pristine condition with true-rolling, speedy Bentgrass greens, thick rough, and beautifully maintained teeboxes and fairways.

Value: N/A, This is a private course.

Scorecard:    

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Gold                        70            6711               72.8               134

Black                      70            6406               71.2              130

Blue                        70            6113               69.8               128

White                     70            5584               67.6               126

Red                         72            5368               71.6               126

Hole Descriptions: Every once in awhile on my golf travels, I come across a course that truly shocks me. Now, this happens less frequently than it used to, but Worcester absolutely surprised and floored me in the most positive way. I certainly expected to like Worcester considering it’s a Donald Ross design and has a fairly impressive tournament pedigree, but no publications have it terribly high in Massachusetts so I wasn’t sure what to expect. After playing it, I am confident that Worcester might be the most underrated course in the state and is easily top 10 in my book (Take a step back and appreciate how impressive that is). Unfortunately, as the industrialized city of Worcester declined, so too did Worcester Country Club’s national presence, but if this were a course in the Boston suburbs I think you would hear a lot more about it.

Those knowledgeable about golf history know that Worcester was the first course to host a Ryder Cup, U.S. Open, and U.S. Women’s Open. What else makes this course so special? For one, Donald Ross was at the helm and created an epic parkland design. This feels like a “big” course compared to a lot of Ross’ other city works, and I really enjoy the way he used the hilly terrain of Central Massachusetts to maximize variety. Like one of my other favorite courses The Creek, Worcester is a course broken up into thirds with lower holes surrounding water and streams, transition holes traversing up and down steep hills, and a highland mix of linksy holes that feel very different and have been enhanced greatly with recent tree removal. Despite these drastically differing designs, the layout feels very cohesive and is chocked full of memorable holes.

Tried and true as a strong tournament host, Worcester isn’t the longest course in the world, but is certainly a great stroke play venue with its U.S. Open-style layout and thick rough. In addition to the elevation changes, Worcester is expertly bunkered, and its greatest defense are the classic Ross back-to-front sloped speedy greens that leave even the most adept putters putting defensively. The most difficult holes relative to par are the five par threes, which are a generally long and memorable group.

The opening 6 holes (and 18) comprise the lower part of the course and represent my favorite stretch of holes. The 1st hole is an all-world starting hole and a sign of the greatness to come. At 375 yards, this downhill par 4 allows the golfer to hit less than driver with a fairway that ends around 260 yards with a snaking creek. It would take a prodigious carry to get past this creek, so almost everyone is hitting hybrid or wood off this teebox. While the teeshot is fun and rather simple, this approach plays slightly back uphill to a large, severely back-to-front sloped green lined by bunkers on both sides.

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The excellent par 4 opener
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A look back at the 1st and iconic clubhouse

Although not a tight course, there’s a slight sense of claustrophobia standing on the 2nd teebox. This 540 yard par 5 is the longest hole on the course and features OB down the entire right side with shorter trees on the left. With about 220 yards remaining, this fairway drops off like a cliff with a 70 yard valley of rough and a stream for the golfer to carry on their second shot. The rest of this fairway then plays back uphill to another large, severely back-to-front sloped green guarded by deep bunkers on either side.

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The par 5 2nd
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The extremely attractive approach at 2

Running parallel to the 2nd, the 370 yard par 4 3rd hole is another memorable hole featuring an 130 yard forced carry over water to a left-to-right sloping plateau of a fairway lined by a left bunker at 200 yards. This approach can be partially blind to a smaller, more subtle green lined by a false front and deep bunkers on either side.

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The 3rd hole shares a unique U-shaped fairway with the 5th

The 4th hole is an iconic one at Worcester and one of the more stout par threes I’ve come across at 228 yards. This is truly a gorgeous hole playing downhill to an elevated green defended by two extremely deep bunkers short on either side. This green once again slopes very hard back-to-front with some unique ridges that make three-putts a common occurrence.

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The classic par 3 4th

At just 462 yards, the par 5 5th would likely be a par 4 in tournament play but is such a fun short par 5 for amateurs. Playing straight downhill from the teebox, this dogleg left features a narrow fairway lined by a babbling creek down the left. On their second shot, the golfer must decide to lay-up short of a pond or carry it onto a second slab of fairway. This green is elevated, runs hard back-to-front, and is lined by bunkers short on either side. This is probably my favorite hole at Worcester and one of my favorite short par fives anywhere.

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The par 5 5th
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The green is reachable in two, but there’s ample danger between tee and green

The 6th hole is an 190 yard par 3 playing slightly uphill to an elevated green. There are a variety of teebox options here and ours on the left yielded an awkward angle. With a large false front, a bunker short left, and run-offs on all sides, this hole demands an accurate iron. Walter Hagen made his first hole-in-one here in a U.S. Open practice round.

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The par 3 6th

The 7th hole is a wonderful 400 yard par 4 and the first of the “transition” holes taking you from the low ground to highlands. Featuring an extremely unique and highly memorable set of teeboxes layered on a hill, this demanding hole requires an immediate carry over a valley to an uphill dogleg right fairway. Those who venture too far right will find dense forest, but be careful not to lay back too far or you’ll be faced a long approach into an unreceptive back-to-front sloped green guarded by numerous bunkers short.

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The all-world teeshot at 7
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The approach at 7

The 8th hole continues the march uphill as an 185 yard par 3 adjacent to the range. This is one of the more simplistic holes at Worcester, but a difficult par nonetheless given its narrow green lined by large bunkers on either side.

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The par 3 8th

After a walk over some antique railroad tracks, you arrive at the number 1 handicap 9th, possibly one of the toughest 400 yard par fours in existence. To say that this hole plays uphill would be an understatement; this hole is essentially a death march up a mountain. In addition to its elevation changes, this fairway is also quite narrow with OB right and thick rough and trees overhanging on the left. Luckily, this large green lined by bunkers is one of the flattest on the course so the hard work is behind you when you reach the putting surface.

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The brutal par 4 9th

I’m a sucker for great short par threes, and they don’t get much better than the 10th hole. Reminiscent of Shoreacres’ famous 6th, this 173 yard one-shotter plays straight downhill towards a beautiful two-tiered green lined by a bunker short and two more on the right that are wedged into a hill and actually lie above the putting surface. It’s not too often I have a downhill greenside bunker shot!

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The elegant par 3 10th
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A closer look at the unique bunkering surrounding the 10th green

The 11th hole begins the stretch of highland holes, which are much more open and level than the rest of the course. At 400 yards, this slight dogleg left features a generous fairway lined by trees left and several fescue-lined bunkers down the right. This approach plays to a large, back-to-front sloped green lined by deep bunkers on either side and an overhanging tree short right. It was on this hole that Bobby Jones famously called a penalty on himself because his ball might have moved in the rough.

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The dogleg left 11th

At 425 yards, the 12th hole is the toughest hole on the back 9 and an excellent par 4. This entire fairway slopes hard right-to-left with thick fescue lining both sides. With an inevitably uneven lie, this approach must carry a crossbunker 80 yards short of a large front-to-back sloped, semi-blind green.

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The par 4 12th

The last of five strong par threes, the 190 yard 13th hole is an excellent one-shotter playing to an elevated, three-tiered, back-to-front sloped green lined by deep bunkers short on either side. Due to a hill on the right, this green has some Redan-like features and several members of my group even used this hill as a backstop!

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The par 3 13th

Most likely the easiest hole at Worcester, the 14th is a short, straightaway 342 yard par 4. Featuring a generous fairway lined by multiple bunkers around 230 yards, the golfer should swing with confidence from this teebox. By far the best part of this hole is an infinity green, which slopes hard back-to-front and is guarded by two deep bunkers left and steep drop-offs long and right.

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The par 4 14th
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A closer look at the 14th green

At 528 yards, the 15th hole is the final par 5 at Worcester as an uphill dogleg right. Fescue lines both sides of this narrow fairway, but the preferred miss is left, as trees at the inside corner of the dogleg will block any right miss. I am not a huge fan of how narrow the lay-up area is, especially considering how difficult this green is to access around the corner of the dogleg. This approach plays uphill and semi-bind to an undulating green lined by bunkers on either side.

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The par 5 15th

The 16th hole finally takes you back down the mountain as a straightaway downhill 405 yard par 4. Playing much shorter than the scorecard, this exhilarating hole doesn’t feature much danger besides a midline bunker around 340 yards. Take less club on the approach to this undulating green lined by a bunker right.

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Quite possibly the shortest 405 yard hole in existence

On the other side of the railroad tracks, the 17th continues downhill as the longest par 4 on the course at 455 yards. The key to this hole is hitting the teeshot long enough (about 270 yards) to catch the speed slot and avoid a blind shot on this straight downhill approach. Take a club or two less towards a large left-to-right sloped green that is very receptive to balls that land just short.

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The lengthy par 4 17th
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The approach at 17

At just 338 yards, the closing hole is the shortest par 4 at Worcester, but is still quite memorable with its wildly undulating fairway and beautiful clubhouse backdrop. This two-tiered, back-to-front sloped green demands an aerial approach with three gorgeous bunkers short and additional ones on either side.

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Chasing sunlight on the par 4 18th
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Excellent bunkering at the closer
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A look at the 18th green from the patio

General Comments: An old school Club, Worcester’s historic clubhouse is majestic with its beautiful red roof. The interior is full of old memorabilia and its one of a select few clubhouses with a bowling alley. For practice facilities, there’s a limited grass driving range and a small practice green by the proshop. Pace of play was excellent when we played, but be warned it is not an easy walk.

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Worcester’s range

Verdict: Worcester Country Club is one of the most underrated courses in America and definitely amongst my favorites in the Bay State. With an extremely strong Donald Ross parkland layout, an important place in golf history, and wonderful conditions, this is a course I’d go out of my way to play. It’s simply that good.


3 thoughts on “Review: Worcester Country Club

  1. I was lucky enough to play with World Golfer when he reviewed the course. It was my first outing and thought it was magnificent, although the 6th hole (par 3) had little character. The Pro, members and house team were very gracious hosts to us RI fugitives.

    Like

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