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Golf Course Tiers and Ratings

Updated: Sep 14, 2023



There are 350(ish) golf courses in Massachusetts, and I am aiming to play all of them. Over the last two years people have asked for my thoughts on golf courses and where to play. Context is always important because people are looking for different experiences or have different budgets or are trying to squeeze in a ton of golf on courses in close proximity.


Others just want a ranking or rating for a course so they can make up their own mind. A totally fair request.


So, I decided two create two different ways to think about golf courses and let people decide where to play.


Every course will be in a tier and also receive a rating.


As I play more and more golf around the state, trying to keep a fair and balanced ranking is daunting, and considering I am playing most of these courses only once, and possibly when they aren't at their absolute best because of the time of year or weather, I feel like I can rank a top 20 or 30. However, anything beyond that isn't going to really help anyone.


So instead I created seven tiers.


Each tier is analogous to a type of restaurant.


Similar to when we're picking a place to grab a bite to eat, we all have different golfing moods depending on the day.


This is not a novel idea. Andy Johnson of The Fried Egg has used the restaurant analogy with regards to why every golf course should be accessible. People can eat at any restaurant, they just have to foot the bill. In his estimation, golf should be the same.


My analogy is a little different; I have picked out multiple types of dining experiences from the dive bar to the "Momentous Dinner" location and then I relate them to the golf courses I have played.


In addition to each tier, I am going to include a simple rating that has to do with how often I would want to play the course. This is because there are plenty of courses in the "lower tiers" that I could play often and plenty of courses in the "upper tiers" that playing occasionally is enough.


A quick run-down of the ratings:


1 = One and done. I'd never return to play here again.

2 = Intriguing enough to play it once more, but after that, I think I'll have seen enough.

3 = I would enjoy playing here 1-2 times a year, but I wouldn't be upset if I didn't get to play it every year.

4 = This place is sweet and I'd very much like to play here 3-6 times a year. I would be disappointed to not play it every year.

5 = Can I please speak to someone about a membership? I could play here every day.


Tier: Dive Bar


The idea of a dive bar golf course was brought to me by two friends: Deacon Chapin and Kevin Van Cleef. They used it in reference to Kelley Greens in Nahant. A delightful, run-down, scraggly nine-hole course that weaves through a neighborhood and smells of salty sea air.


The dive bar golf course has zero frills. The clubhouse is simple (if there is one...), the people might be in jeans and t-shirts, the beers are cheap, and there might be some interesting things to look at and experience. Just like the walls of a dive bar, there is probably little continuity to what you see while you're there.


These golf courses have very few rules or pretense, but there are likely some loyal patrons who love the course.


If you're in the mood for a dive bar, you're probably in the mood for a good time. So pop a dollar in the juke box and crank it up.

Course

Location

Public/Private

Holes

Rating

​Saugus, Mass.

​Public

9

2

Stoughton, Mass.

Public

9

1

Taunton, Mass.

Public

9

2

Nahant, Mass.

​Public

9

3

Maynard GC

Public

9

3

Norwood, Mass.

​Public

18

1

Canton, Mass.

​Public

18

2

​Lynfield, Mass.

​Public

9

2

Abington, Mass.

Public

9

1

​Billerica, Mass.

​Public

9

1

Swansea CC

Public

9

1

Swansea CC

Public

9

1



Tier: Fast Food


Sometimes choices are limited. You're on a road trip or need to snap something up on your way somewhere and a drive-through is all you have time for.


Fast food golf courses may bring to mind nine hole courses, but that's not the case here. We all have our go-to orders at fast food spots. You know what you're going to get, it might not be exactly what you want, but it's still going to fill you up and satisfy you.


Fast food courses have some redeemable features but also some items you'd never want to order on the menu. That horrible par 5 with two cross hazards is the filet 'o fish. The par three with the over-hanging tree limbs or power lines is the chicken fries. However, that dogleg par 4 with the sexy green complex and wild bunkering that seems completely out of place is the number 2 combo meal at McDonalds (two cheeseburgers... IYKYK...)

Course

Location

Public/Private

Holes

Rating

​Franklin, Mass.

​Public

9

2

Stow,Mass.

​Public

18

2

Billerica, Mass.

​Public

18

2

Quincy, Mass.

Public

9

2

Lakeville, Mass.

​Public

18

2

Acton, Mass.

Public

9

2

Lynnfield, Mass.

​Public

18

3

Natick, Mass.

​Public

9

2

Wayland, Mass.

​Public

18

2

Scituate, Mass.

​Public

18

2


Tier: Fast Casual


Maybe you have enough time to grab lunch and scroll through your phone at a Chipotle or Sweet Green. It's a little bit better for you, there are more options on the menu and some of the items are more flexible, so you can mix it up a bit more.


The fast casual golf course has more intrigue than the dive bar or fast food courses. The holes might have more choices off the tee, there are more holes that you look forward to playing, the greens are more interesting, and you will probably use more clubs in your bag.

​Course

Location

Public/Private

Holes

Rating

Plymouth, Mass.

Public

18

3

Yarmouth, Mass.

Public

18

3

Yarmouth, Mass.

Public

18

2

Georgetown, Mass.

Public

18

2

Brewster, Mass.

Public

18

2

Brewster, Mass.

Public

18

3

Halifax, Mass.

Public

18

2

Cambridge, Mass.

Public

9

3

Marshfield, Mass.

Public

18

2

Lexington, Mass.

Private

9

3

Methuen, Mass.

Public

18

2

Melrose, Mass.

Public

18

3

Duxbury, Mass.

Public

9

3

Salem, Mass.

Public

9

3

Canton, Mass.

Public

18

​3

Quincy, Mass.

Public

18

2

East Bridgewater, Mass.

Public

18

2

Scituate, Mass.

Private

9

3

Sharon, Mass.

Private

9

3


Course

Location

Public/Private

Holes

Rating

Plymouth, Mass.

Public

18

3

Stow, Mass.

Public

18

2

Stow, Mass.

Public

18

2

Tewksbury, Mass.

Public

18

3

Hignham, Mass.

Public

9

2

Wenham, Mass.

Public

18

3



Tier: Regional Chain


As a New Englander, the 99 Resaturant comes to mind with this tier. You're going to have a sense of place when you walk in. The holes have some character and the menu is extensive, sometimes it might be too extensive, making the golf a bit distracting because, frankly, there's too much going on.


It might be overwhelming trying to remember everything from the golf course when you finish, and the holes might blend together a bit. Even after going to the regional chain multiple times, you're still a little gun shy to try something off the beaten path on the menu because that one time you tried the sirloin you got food poisoning. However, the regional chain golf course is one you find yourself returning to because you know what you're getting.

​Course

Location

Public/Private

Holes

​Rating

Acushnet, Mass.

Public

18

3

Uxbridge, Mass.

Public

18

3

​Brookline, Mass.

Public

18

3

​Canton, Mass.

Public

18

2

Bourne, Mass.

Public

18

2

Essex, Mass.

Public

9

4

Brockton, Mass.

Public

18

4

Fall River, Mass.

​Private

18

3

Lynn, Mass.

Public

18

3

Quincy, Mass.

Public (Granite)/Private (Quincy)

18

2

Quincy, Mass

Private

9

2

Grafton, Mass.

Public

18

2

Andover, Mass.

Private

18

3

Northborough, Mass.

Public

18

2

Bellingham, Mass.

Public

18

2

Bellingham, Mass.

Public

18

3

Norton, Mass.

Semi-Private

18

1

Bridgewater, Mass.

Public

18

3


Pembroke CC

Pembroke, Mass.

Public

18

2

Lakeville, Mass.

Public

18

2

Sudbury, Mass.

Public

18

3

Northbridge, Mass.

Public

18

3

Swansea, Mass.

Public

18

2

Williamstown, Mass.

Public

18

3

Plymouth, Mass.

Public

18

3

Plainville, Mass.

Public

18

2

West Bridgewater, Mass.

Public

18

2



Tier: Neighborhood Joint


Meeting someone after work? Have a friend coming into town for the evening? The neighborhood joint is the perfect easy spot you'd bring a friend in order to show them a good time.


You love walking your guest through the menu, sharing what you like, similar to the way you might describe oles on a golf course. The neighborhood joint probably requires a reservation or a wait at the bar for a spot to open because it's rather popular. The draught list is solid, too. Due to its popularity, you might have to eat at the neighborhood joint at odd hours unless you're organized and have a plan a week in advance.


It always delivers and impresses.


Course

Location

Public/Private

Holes

Rating

Andover, Mass.

Private

18

2

Canton, Mass.

​Private

18

4

Westford, Mass.

Public

18

3

Falmouth, Mass.

Public

18

4

Cohasset, Mass.

​Private

18

4

Plymouth, Mass.

Public

18

3

Plymouth, Mass.

Public

9

3

Framingham, Mass.

​Private

18

3

Franklin, Mass.

​Private

18

3

Jamaica Plain, Mass.

Public

18

4

Hyde Park, Mass.

Public

18

4

Haverhill, Mass.

​Private

18

3

Hopkinton, Mass.

​Private

18

3

Bolton, Mass.

​Private

18

2

Ipswich, Mass.

Private

18

2

Paxton, Mass.

Public

18

3

Watertown, Mass.

Private

18

3

Haverhill, Mass.

​Private

18

3



Shaker Hills

Harvard, Mass.

Public

18

3

Thorny Lea

Brockton, Mass.

Private

18

4

West Boylston, Mass.

Public

18

4

Milton, Mass.

Private

18

3


Tier: Farm to Table


The lines between the neighborhood joint and a farm to table dining experience might be a touch blurry, but that's okay. The farm to table restaurant is a little more upscale and transcends the neighborhood joint because it requires a bit more effort to get there. It's not a quick walk down the block or a short drive.


This experience means you're making an effort to go and eat something delicious. Some neighborhood joints enter this tier if you see patrons pouring out of Ubers from other sections of the city or bordering towns. A Farm to Table has a little extra touch of class, a killer dish or two on the menu. Something that you think about days or weeks after the meal. You talk to your friends about a dish or a cocktail, you encourage friends to make the trek to try a specific dish. It's the type of place that after you finish your meal, you're trying to figure out when you can come back.


These courses are worth driving to, they have a bunch of memorable holes, shots you'll want to hit again and again, and features that capture your imagination.

Course

Location

Public/Private

Holes

Rating

Hingham, Mass.

Private

18

4

Concord, Mass.

Private

18

5

Fitchburg, Mass.

Private

18

3

​Weston, Mass.

Private

18

3

Plymouth, Mass.

Private

18

4

Norton, Mass.

Private

18

2

Tyngsbourgh, Mass.

Private

18

5

Winchester, Mass.

Private

18

5



Tier: The Momentous dinner


A tenth wedding anniversary, a 40th birthday party, or any momentous occasion calls for a big time meal at a big time restaurant.


This is the type of place where a glance at the prices on the menu might make your palms sweat. It's a restaurant you've walked past multiple times and peered inside wondering when and how you'll ever sit at one of the tables and eat a steak that barely needs a knife.


It's the kind of place with a sommelier and a wine list that has your eyes skimming to the bottom of the list and ordering the second cheapest bottle. It's the kind of place where you might not have to pay at the end of the night because someone else has it covered and you're trying desperately to figure out how in the hell you're going to make it up to them. It's the kind of meal that most of us experience only a few times in our lives and we wonder how anyone could ever find their way into a lifestyle that would afford multiple opportunities to enjoy such an incredible experience.

Course

Location

Public/Private

Holes

Rating

Essex, Mass.

Private

18

5

Marion, Mass.

Private

18

4

S. Hamilton, Mass.

Private

18

4

Brookline, Mass.

Private

18

5

Brookline, Mass.

Private

18

4

Williamstown, Mass.

Semi-Private

18

5





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