Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Course Review - Green Harbor Golf Club

Note: I'm going to start writing some golf course reviews. In preparation for our trip to Scotland for the 2014 Ryder Cup, I've been reading a bunch of great reviews of Scottish links courses. These writeups combine what could be my two favorite things: golf and writing. I figured I'd start doing a few myself. If you're reading these and you work for a golf course and would like me to write a review, shoot me an email! (Small chance, but you miss 100% of the shots you don't take). Additionally, if you'd like to use a review that I've already written for your course, I'd be glad to part with it for a (very) modest fee. Happy reading.

Green Harbor Golf Club

Having played Green Harbor Golf Club many times, the one word that comes to mind to describe it is direct. This is a standard, no-frills golf course. The fairways are generally wide and forgiving, the greens are bunkered but approachable, and there are no dramatic elevation changes. The course is easy to find, set just off Route 139 in Marshfield, and the plain green sign proclaims in bold letters: “Public Invited.” This is a golf course that aspires to be no more than that.

With that said, Green Harbor is the favorite course among almost all of my golfing friends. We’ve outgrown the short, tight, O.B.-lined fairways of Widow’s Walk and Scituate Country Club physically, but still feel compelled to pull driver on most every par four. Whether it’s machismo, peer pressure, or simple force of habit, tee shots that would be safe on many other courses wind up crashing down prickle-covered gullies or flying into stands of tightly-laced pine trees, never to be seen again. Green Harbor, to us, is a haven.

The grounds

The pond behind the 9th green, looking from the clubhouse. Via

No sweeping lane or grand vista accompanies the entrance to the club, as the driveway opens onto a wide oval of a parking lot, bounded on the far side by the pond behind the 9th green and the utilitarian brown wooden clubhouse. A white wooden sign hangs prominently on the clubhouse’s exterior wall facing the parking lot and explains that non players are not allowed on the course. Another reminder that Green Harbor doesn’t pretend to be anything other than an honest man’s golf course. I’ve played several courses where walkers are encouraged to traverse the grounds, and I understand that this is the custom at some courses in the British Isles. To that I say: If golf truly is a good walk spoiled, why let anyone have a free good walk when we have to pay to spoil it?

The clubhouse would look at home at any muni in America – the right-hand side houses the pro shop with its assortment of the not-quite-newest clothing and equipment, and the left contains a wide, loft-ceilinged lunchroom, with carpeted floors and a maze of small, circular tables surrounded by low wooden chairs. The men and women who staff the course are the kinds of people who Ace Hardware would want to act in their commercials (if Ace Hardware still had commercials) – helpful folk who want you to enjoy their course, are knowledgeable about the game, and probably enjoy nothing more than listening to the Red Sox on a portable radio while grilling some hot dogs on the back porch on a warm night in July. Through the lunchroom window, you can look back over rear pond to the ninth hole, watching groups play their 2nd shots over a small pond to a slightly elevated, back-to-front sloping green.

And speaking of the holes, do not let the open layout of this track fool you. There are some truly quality holes hidden on this course, particularly on the front nine.

The course
Rather than some of the more famous courses in the world (venues like the Old Course at St. Andrews and Pebble Beach come to mind), Green Harbor eases you into your round with two cupcake par fours. The best line on the first hole is down the left of the miles-wide fairway, leaving you an angle to stick your ball into the right side of the green and let it trickle back towards the center.

The first, from behind the tee box. Via

Things start to pick up on the third hole in a big way. By that, I mean that the third hole is my favorite on the course. In fact, three of my four favorite holes come in the four-hole stretch from three to six. The third is another par four, but there’s almost no circumstance in which I could see someone hitting a driver here. About 150 yards up the right-hand side of the fairway, a creek trickles in from the woods and meanders its way at a 45 degree angle until it empties out into a pond sat smack-dab in the landing area of the longer drivers of the ball. Anything short and right will find the creek, and anything carrying the creek and to the right of the pond won’t hold the slope, and will be lost into the pond.

Course Photo
The pond at the third. The pin can be seen just right of the bunker. Via

More often than not, I play a 5- or 6- iron to the left of the fairway, but the safe play sets up a daunting second: the green is elevated a few feet above the fairway, and a steep bunker guards the left-hand side. From the fairway, it seems like the only way to the green is to drop a 150-yard shot over that bunker to a green that slopes down and away from you. In fact, the green extends a bit to the right of the trap, but a drawn 7- or 8- iron up the hill is devilishly tough to land close to the pin.

Just as the third presents two complex shots, the fourth and sixth are terrific holes in that one great shot can put you in position for a birdie. The fourth is a 90-degree dogleg right. The fairway is blessedly easy to hold thanks to its banking being something out of a NASCAR track, but deceptively shallow if you’re trying to land it past the corner. Cutting the corner is an option, but the trees short of the green have a way of swallowing wayward balls, despite the lack of underbrush beneath them.

A drive finding the center of the fourth leaves you with less than a pitching wedge to a green also set on this slope – a stuck wedge will usually trickle four or five feet right after landing.

The fifth is a standard par-three, with an elevated green that forces correct club selection with big drop-offs front and back.

Course Photo
The tee shot at the sixth, with some nice fall foliage. Via
Standing on the tee of the sixth, you could be forgiven for having flashbacks (good or bad) to your tee shot at the fourth. Indeed, you’ll need to pull out a similar effort for this dogleg right, though the elevated tee box and flat fairway mean that keeping your ball in the short grass won’t be as easy. This is a longer hole though, and the punishment for missing right is simultaneously less severe (in that you’ll probably find your ball) and much more annoying (in that you’ll need to hit over or under a 75-foot pine tree). This green is one of my favorite on the course, and is typical of Green Harbor’s putting surfaces: wide, uniformly manicured, and with a prevailing slope to the whole of the green, within which the player needs to account for other, subtler breaks.

There are a few other notable holes that make the back nine worthwhile, including the sometimes-drivable par-four 14th complete with a cross-bunker some 275 yards from the tees. Laying up here is an option, but there is no O.B. left, so I often pull out the driver and see if I can hit a long fade that carries the bunker and lands short of (or hopefully on) the green.

The 16th and 18th holes give this course its deserved, measured finish. A long, looping dogleg right par four, the 16th invites a fade, but punishes the player who doesn’t bite a big enough chunk off the corner by offering up a mid-iron second into a small, away-sloping green. The 18th is reminiscent of the third, and might be my favorite if it didn’t also mean the end of a round and the return to the drudgery involved in not being on a golf course. Left is the play here as well, with the dual intention of taking the deep pond out of play and setting yourself up with a second shot unaffected by the tremendously large (at least by Green Harbor’s standards) hump guarding the right portion of the green. You need to put a little extra on your wedge to get it to the hole, as the putting surface is slightly elevated. This is one of the flatter greens on the course, allowing you a good chance at draining a lengthy putt to end your round in style.

The atmosphere
The thing that sets Green Harbor Golf Club apart from anywhere else I’ve played, and the reason that many of my friends love it so much, is that the place imparts a sense of peace. I personally feel that every golf course should give you this feeling – it’s one of the reasons that the sport is so popular. A great round of golf does not need to be a demanding, heart-pounding thrill ride that forces multiple long water carries or approaches to greens guarded by bunkers with nicknames referencing a certain underworld deity’s nether regions.

No one could consider Green Harbor a great test of golf. But that is exactly why it appeals to so many. The players and staff alike realize that while we may subscribe to Golf Digest (or at least read it at the barber) or watch the tournaments on TV (at least when Tiger’s in the hunt on Sunday), we want a golf course that rewards good shots, softens the blow on bad shots, and gives us four or five hours to reflect, relax, and take our hacks.

As carts aren’t allowed at Green Harbor, everyone will have a good walk. It’s up to you not to spoil it. 

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