Coke vs. Pepsi, Tiger vs. Phil, Bud Light vs. Miller Lite (sorry Coors Light)
Just like those age-old debates, Myopia Hunt Club and Essex County Club ask people to draw a line in the sand. Which one do you prefer?
Myopia and Essex are world renowned courses on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Both are private and have unique features that make for an interesting comparison of the two courses. An invite to either course is a treat, if you need to move heaven and earth to free up the calendar, you do it.
While the binary of "which course do you prefer" is fun; it is also limiting.
Instead, spreading out ten rounds between two evenly matched courses is more telling of what a golfer enjoys about a course.
If I had ten rounds to play between Myopia and Essex, I would play six rounds at Essex and four rounds at Myopia.
Myopia is a more taxing golf experience. It's delightful and one of the most unique golf courses in the world. It was my favorite course I played in 2021. I even put it above The Country Club (main course) because it is such a distinct golfing experience with varied holes, high shot values, blind shots, and amazing greens.
Myopia is in the U.SGA record books due to how hard the course played back in 1901; no professional broke 80 in any round of that year's U.S. Open, leading to the highest winning score ever recorded. Willie Anderson won $200 after shooting 331 (82.5 scoring average) and beating Alex Smith in a playoff. DiMaggio's hitting streak and this 1901 record will likely never be touched.
Wikipedia might say it best:
"When completed, Myopia Hunt Club measured 6,539 yards and Leeds made certain that golfers would encounter a multitude of challenging features, including tall mounds, deep bunkers, lightning-fast greens, blind shots requiring substantial carry, deep swales, punishing rough, plateaued greens, as well as a pond and paddock to avoid."
What makes Myopia taxing is the half-par holes; they require constant decision making. One could argue that the first eight holes are all par fours. Playing the short par-5 second hole and the long par-3 third hole in eight shots will leave any golfer satisfied.
The par-4 sixth hole is a devilish, drivable hole that might be a par 3.5. The eighth hole is a reachable par 5; however, if players aren't careful they could take five shots from 75 yards away due to the severe slope of the green.
The half-par holes produce destruction and bad breaks everywhere, but they also offer hope for low scores and glory. This can be fun a few times a summer; balls bounding off fairways and careening into and around bunkers is charming. Putts rolling off greens (and into bunkers) might leave a player in awe. Enthusiasts of the rub-of-the-green will love Myopia.
Of course, playing the course a few times allows players to figure out ways to navigate away from some of the disastrous trouble that lies in waiting at Myopia.
During my trips around Myopia, I have learned that fairways are more important than length, especially when the healthy fescue lining the fairways grows insanely thick and hip-high. I have learned that an open-mind is required in order to accept bad breaks, which will inevitably occur.
The story goes that Myopia architect Herbert Leeds would walk the course and drop coins or other items in spots where players hit their shots. Bunkers, mounds, and other treacherous hazards would appear shortly after, forcing players into different positions.
Myopia's fourth and ninth holes are on the list of best 100 holes in the world according to Golf Magazine. It's the only course with two holes on the list, and they're both on the front nine!
In the opposing corner is Essex County Club in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass; a Donald Ross design. Ross actually lived in a house behind the 16th green and had a very hands on approach to this gem on the North Shore.
Ross' subtle touches are all over Essex CC. From a gentle handshake opener to challenging greens to very few places where a player can lose a ball to an excellent set of par 3s (even though a neighbor destroyed one of them...), it's a delightful golf course.
Essex CC allows golfers to be a bit more reckless, but trouble does loom when shots veer off course. Various types of bunkers, both deep and large, come into play a lot. Blind shots forces players to choose a line and club carefully. The greens have subtle slopes in and around them, which can make saving par rather difficult if a player isn't careful with their shots.
Playing Essex CC is less of a grind than Myopia. Players don't have to hunt for golf balls at Essex (pun intended) and there are more opportunities for players of all abilities to enjoy 18 holes.
Myopia and Essex have open sight-lines where players can see so much of the course from various spots on the property. It's nice to look back on a hole already played or see a hole that's coming up. Growing up, it seemed people loved when each hole was separate from every other hole. Now, courses that have opened up playing corridors and sight-lines are more popular than the popular tree-lined layours of the 1990s.
Even courses with trees have carved out sections that feel more open and airy. A good push and pull between tight and open is important. That feeling exists at Myopia and Essex CC.
So, if I had ten rounds to divide between Myopia Hunt Club and Essex County Club, I would play four rounds at Myopia and six rounds at Essex.
Both courses are sublime, but in the end, Essex CC is a little more playable and less stressful. That's the type of golf I like to play day-in and day-out.
How would you break down ten rounds at these outstanding golf courses?