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Bay State Deep Dive: Myopia Hunt Club

The dirt driveway that leads to Myopia Hunt’s clubhouse acts as a time portal of sorts. Leaving the fast-paced world behind for polo fields, horse barns, tennis courts, and a golf course, an exceptional golf course.

The experience at Myopia really can feel like time travel. There is an old charm to the wooden locker room and the near absence of golf carts and the surrounding farmland and horses. Of course, with that old-time feel can come with some stuffiness and outdated traditions that don’t always align with present-day expectations.

Myopia was designed by Herbert C. Leeds in 1984, and it hosted four U.S. Opens: 1898, 1901, 1904, and 1908. Leeds himself finished in seventh place in the 1898 competition. Image any modern-day course designer nabbing a top-10 finish in a major championship played on one of their own courses.

Leeds seemed to have a propensity for challenging golf, and the story goes that he would follow groups around his famed Myopia with a pocket full of coins and lay them down in the grass where players had hit errant shots. He’d return to those spots and build bunkers - deep, nasty bunkers.

In the 1901 U.S. Open, not a single player broke 80 in the entire event; the winner, Willie Anderson, had the highest score of any U.S. Open champion (331), a record sure to never be broken. In the 18-hole playoff, Anderson beat Alex Smith by one shot with an 18-hole score of 85.

In the intervening century, Myopia has been left behind by the pro circuit. It didn’t have the length to fight against technology; however, the course still packs a considerable punch for anyone that’s not collecting a paycheck for their golfing prowess. At 6,500 yards the course’s defenses are all the things that make amateurs squeamish: blind tee shots, forced carries, humps and bumps, punishing fescue, and diabolical greens.

The opening holes at Myopia are a perfect introduction to the entire show, like the orchestral introduction to a musical, it gives the player a glimpse of what’s to come. Holes 1-3 are all half-par holes. Even par for these three holes requires 12 strokes, but how a golfer uses them is a completely individual experience.

The first hole is an uphill par 4 measuring 276 yards. It would leave any ignorant scorecard gazer assuming an opening birdie is readily attainable, but the blind tee shot and tiny green can turn a 10-yard approach shot into a bogey. The green’s left side is protected by short grass and a steep slope that carries the ball down a hill and away from the green. That stands in contrast to the right side, which has a steep upward slope packed with thick rough. Players caught up there are faced with a downhill chip that can run all the way down the slope on the other side.

The second tee shot

If the first hole wasn’t enough of a half-par hole, the 488-yard par-five second hole, played from the highest part of the property might fit the bill. The fairway is divided by a cross hazard and large mounds. The hole is indeed reachable, and a birdie is possible, but the green is very small and severely sloped from left to right. Even if a golfer lays up, the third shot will most likely be blind.

The par three third is one of those long par 3s that appears on most classic courses. To place it after a short par four and a short par five is a stroke of genius. The proximity of the fourth tee box to the third green makes the shot even more challenging. Wayward shots to the right could sail right into the group on the fourth tee box. The hole has safe areas, but depending on where the pin is, those safe areas can become more and more dangerous. The two-tiered green welcomes low running shots, which is only fair given the hole's length of 252 yards, just 20 yards shorter than the first hole.

Par-3 third hole

Myopia has the distinction of once having two holes on Golf Magazine’s Top 100 signature holes in the United States. It’s the only course that can make that claim. The dogleg fourth is one of these signature holes. The fourth wraps around a marsh area and takes on the features of a cape hole. Golfers can bite off as much as they want off the tee before playing their approach into a green that is one of the most sloped on the course. Pins are typically placed on the back of the green towards the right side. Balls tend to collect in the front left of the green, sometimes careening into a cavernous bunker. It’s not unusual for players to either putt from above the hole down near or into the bunker. Likewise, players below the hole have to be sure to hit their putt firmly enough to climb the slope, or it will roll back to their feet.

The fourth green is the first introduction to the question: are the greens too fast for their severity? It is often a gripe of people that play Myopia that it is just too challenging a course because the greens were never meant to run as fast as they do. The gripe is valid and can even be held by people like me that love the course. I've been fortunate to play Myopia a handful of times over the last 20+ years, and my most enjoyable rounds are when the greens are a touch slower.

The par-four fifth is a straightaway hole that requires two good shots to reach the green.

The par four sixth is yet another wonderful half-par hole. Players must make a decision to carry the cross hazard and go for the green or lay-up and try their hand with a wedge to a turtle-backed green that would make Donald Ross blush.

Even from the sixth tee, the slope of the green is obvious.

On the seventh hole, a player must pick a line carefully and stick to it, as they play up a ridge that can kick balls left into one of the bunkers that H.C. Leeds certainly made after dropping a coin while watching members navigate the hole. The approach shot into the seventh green is thrilling, as it’s blind for players that don't push their shot to the crest of the hill. Players can fly the ball to the green or run it down the steep ridge that descends towards the green.

The eighth hole is the second of three par fives. Tee shots trundle over the lower edge of the ridge that players navigated on the seventh. There is also mounding on both sides of the slightly hole reminiscent of Irish dunes. Players can reach this hole in two, but if their ball is on the right side of the green or even just favoring the right side of the fairway, the third shot will require splendid touch as the green tilts precariously from right to left. Just like on the fourth, most shots will collect down in a low spot on the left side of the green. Leaving a far easier shot up the hill. It’s a wicked green. It almost seems like H.C. Leeds rotated a traditional front-to-back sloping green 90 degrees.

The ninth. Ah, the ninth.

Like every par three at Myopia, it is preceded by par-five - an interesting feature of the course. The ninth stands in stark contrast to the long second and joins Myopia's fourth hole on Golf Magazine’s signature hole list. The ninth measures 138 yards. The tee is protected by trees, making it difficult to judge the wind. Playing the ninth feels like a separate experience from the rest of the course, as it’s tucked away in a corner. Even the path to the hole pushes the player through a treed entrance with iced tea and lemonade coolers and red-delicious apples. It’s like a brief stop in Narnia before continuing the round. The green might be more like something the Mad Hatter would whip up. It’s long and narrow like a caterpillar, and it's is only about four paces wide in some areas. Miss the green and the player will likely require some yoga training to find a stance to hit a shot from a tiny pot bunker or from some steep grassy slope that leads to a bunker.

The tenth hole is most well-known for its bunkering. At one point President William Taft couldn’t exit one of them and required draft horses to pull him out. Many of the bunkers at Myopia now have stairs to preserve the bunkers and the pride of the golfers.

The eleventh is a short par four with another green that no doubt generates stories around the patio after the round. It is sloped harshly from back to front with a shaved front that helps balls continue rolling after exiting the green. If you’re lucky enough to be in the fairway, take a look at more “coin bunkers” along the right side of the hole. The bunkers at Myopia are true hazards to a player’s score.

Standing on the twelfth’s tee box offers a dramatic view. It sits high on the edge of the property and requires a long, straight drive. The wind is usually an issue, and so is the long fescue that runs along the right side. The combination of the height of the tee box and the wind can exacerbate any tee shot. The length and accuracy required are what make the twelfth the hardest hole on the course. On certain days, this hole might present players with the longest approach of any hole on the course.

12th tee shot

The thirteenth is all about the green. Perched on a plateau, a short iron approach needs to be inch-perfect to provide a good birdie opportunity. One player in the U.S. Open lost his ball after putting it off the front of the green and down the severe slope.

The fourteenth is a hole that on any other golf course would be a standout. It runs along the edge of a ridge. Balls tend to bounce left toward that ridge, but there is also a set of bunkers along the right side that catch plenty of shots. If a player was lucky enough to play twelve with the wind, then fourteen will be into it. The subtly of the hole is punctuated on the green, which doesn’t look intimidating after seeing the fourth, sixth, eighth, eleven, and thirteen greens, but it’s challenging to read and the ball tends to skitter away from the hole down nearly invisible slopes.

The fifteenth, much like the eighth, is a par 5 that feels as if it was created to simply deliver the player to an exceptional par 3 site. It’s a straight-away hole that can be reached in two. Out-of-bounds runs along the left side, and the green is protected by a cross-bunker that catches plenty of brave second shots and turns hopes of eagles and birdies into pars and even bogeys.

The loop of 16-18 is charming as the holes are played within eye-shot of the pro shop and clubhouse. The 16th is what I like to call a “talkers” hole. The right club is vital to holding this green; usually anything landing in the middle of it will scamper off the back into a horrible bunker. The ideal landing spot is just short of the green, so the ball can roll safely onto the green. However, the steep downhill shot makes it tough to choose the proper club.

The 16th tee shot is semi-blind.

The seventeenth and eighteenth holes play alongside each other. The seventeenth goes out, and the eighteenth comes right back to the clubhouse, with the patio placed rather close to the green. Both holes are well bunkered, and the seventeenth green is another one with a steep slope that repels any shot that’s a little too far right. Coming home on eighteen, there’s nothing better than picking a window or chimney on a clubhouse as an aiming point. The Myopia clubhouse is a beautiful one, and while the eighteenth hole isn’t a dramatic one for land movement or length, I’m sure its greenside bunkering has decided a match or two over the 127 years of Myopia’s existence.

Keeping the ball in play is really the biggest key at Myopia. That comes with knowing what you can hit off the tee with accuracy; length isn’t a necessity, especially considering many of the approach shots are to the front of greens to allow the ball to collect onto the green following a few bounces. Of course, putting and chipping are at a premium, as the greens are sloped and there are plenty of tight lies around the greens.

Myopia Hunt is one of the best courses in Massachusetts and has found its way onto USA Top 100 lists. Its architectural quirks and unique features have stood the test of time and are back in vogue after years of adding length and creating big, bold, penal courses that are meant to bring a player to their knees. Myopia is highly capable of bringing any player to their knees, it’s just going to happen with slow, methodical pinpricks instead of a sledgehammer over the head.

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