GNN contributor Jay Flemma enjoyed a dream assignment: going to Boston to take in the Foo Fighters at Fenway Park and play some great golf in and around Beantown. This is Part 2 of a three-part series.
11:37 a.m. Thank you, 12:30 tee time! This time there was no madcap scramble for the door, no lunatic blazing through traffic, (Toast didn’t even grab the Oh $%@t! Handle once…) and, best of all, no streaking to the first tee spitting bread crumbs in my wake. Instead it was a Sunday stroll through the neighborhood for coffee at Pavement, the latest, uber-hot hipster-scene café, made cooler by the fact that it shares its name with a quintessential indie band.
The coffee was phenomenal, the conversation not so. I mentioned to Toast that Pavement was also a killer band and the girl in front of us, a 20-something so beautiful she could’ve been painted by Botticelli, turned to me and vacantly mewed, “I just read the Pitchfork review of the new Pavement reissue…Stephen Malkumus is…a…GENIUS!”
Toast just nodded. He wouldn’t know Stephen Malkumus from Stephen Hawking; he was just soaking in the glory of her well-tanned, well-toned candlestick legs. Luckily, I knew the right reply.
“Yeah, but let’s face it; he’s no Conor Oberst.”
That did it. She shrieked in elation, and I didn’t get a word in edgewise for the next 20 minutes. She knew every indie band you never heard of, but I didn’t care, because she also shook and shimmied a little, swaying side to side as she talked, making a Marwood t-shirt and short jean-shorts look more beautiful than a Vera Wang evening gown.
I complimented her – that’s the secret, guys - and that’s when she blew it. She gave a hair flip and giggle and said, “Oh, I am so BoHo right now!”
That did it! Game over. Botticelli or no, I just don’t need another vacuous, high-maintenance yippie-chick running me ragged.
Oh, for those of you scoring at home: yippie – (noun, slang) – a half-yuppie, half-hippie hybrid who’ll drop the hippie ethos like third-period French the minute it becomes too inconvenient for them to live up to.
It didn’t matter, because it was only 20 minutes later as we pulled into Granite Links that we saw plenty of beautiful women, and this time they had golf clubs in their hands instead of lattes.
The joint was jumpin’, I tell ya! Each stall packed with young smiling faces. The millenials were out for brunch and golf. Range balls, Bloody Marys and oysters all within easy reach, because the course’s Clifftop Bar is immediately adjacent to the practice areas at Granite Links, complete with spectacular 270-degree views from 300 feet atop a hill. Today they were choc-a-bloc with players hitting balls at downtown skyscrapers to the north, the scenic Harbour Islands to the east and the endless forests of the Blue Hills to the West. On a day like this, blue skies sparkling crystalline and the sun blazing a skin-bronzing 89 degrees, this was the place to be, a hot scene - a rarity for golf, but a welcome one. People who still think he golf industry is dying are woefully behind the trends. Golf is back, especially at public courses, and players are having a great time.
You can see why Granite Links is so wildly popular with locals. It grabs your attention on the drive in and keeps it all day long. We here at GNN always preach that it’s not what a golf course looks like that matters, it’s how a golf course plays…but it’s a tough assignment even for a veteran when Granite Links shows off one majestic view after another. And whether it’s golf, practice or hobnobbing, you feel like you’re on top of the world.
Happily the golf holes are equally interesting, as is the story of the course’s creation. The architect is a man chasing…no, that’s not quite fair…living his childhood dream. John Sanford used to get in trouble in grammar school for doodling golf holes but then both played golf and studied landscape architecture at LSU. Now one of Jack Nicklaus’s lead design associates, John’s biggest splash so far is the Donald Trump-managed Ferry Point Golf Links, which will eventually hold The Barclays FedEx Cup event on a rotating basis and may possibly draw either a major or a Ryder Cup in the near future.
Granite Links laid the foundation for Sanford being chosen for Ferry Point because the projects were so similar: landfill golf courses for municipalities. As such, both projects were a hellbroth of politics and permits. (They needed 74 different permits to build Granite Links.) Worse still the site was an irregular shape, with three mounds of garbage piled haphazardly across the hilltop on the edge of a granite quarry. Many architects wouldn’t have bothered to take on the project - there were too many moving parts, hassles, and problems to solve.
But if there’s one way that John Sanford has distinguished himself, it’s by tackling tough challenges head-on. Anyone can do the easy sites, but it takes a real talent to design a great golf course on the hard ones.
“Just seven miles away was a ‘Big Dig’ project, one of Massachusetts’ massive highway infrastructure projects,” explained Sanford. “We used soil excavated from the tunnels to cap the 400-acre site, 13 million cubic yards of material in all.”
Sanford used that fill to cover the garbage in a terracing effect. Like the layers of a wedding cake, he routed the holes around and along both his man-made tiers and the quarry’s edge. The bi-level effect works for both strategic defense and natural containment. It’s a design feature used to great effect at courses like Bayonne in New Jersey and Tallgrass on Long Island. The terraced routing also brings the wind seriously into play on the treeless and exposed top levels, visited in both the Milton and Quincy nines. The other nine, the Granite nine is a more penal, center-line, target-style parkland layout that hopscotches between, over and around marshes, creeks and the quarry.
The Quincy and Milton nines, more walkable than the Granite nine, form the layout most often played by visiting golfers, and when you play them, you say to yourself, “It’s no wonder Sanford got the Ferry Point gig.” Fairways are 80-90 yards wide like at Ferry Point, so in case of crosswinds, golfers still have a reasonable chance to hit the fairways. Also like Ferry Point, fairways blend seamless into the greens, so it’s imperceptible where one begins and the other ends. Best of all, you’d never know you were playing on a former landfill.
Quincy is strongest nine from start to finish. With three par 3s and two par 5s, the asymmetric routing is a refreshing change from the tired Doctrine of Symmetry (where there are two par 5s and two par 3s on each side for a balanced 36-36=72 configuration). The best holes include the short par-4 fourth, with its thrilling blind tee shot (aim at the buildings clinging to the mountainside in the distance!). The hole then cascades downhill sharply before emptying out into a Biarritz green, a deep and wide swale bisecting it perpendicular to the line of play. (Indeed this whole trip has excellent blind shots, each more exciting than the last.) It’s the most thrilling hole at the complex, and makes a strong argument to be considered one of he best holes in all Massachusetts public golf, along with the 17th at Red Tail. Other notable holes include the terrific short par-3 sixth with the thumbprint in its green and the rousing skyline green at nine to close the front nine. What a finish!
Best of all, there was an idyllic peacefulness to the round. All alone on the third tee, an almost holy silence descended on the course – no one else in sight and no sound but the birds chirping. We played the rest of the nine in a hush although it was a Sunday on a packed golf course -- solace amidst the traffic of the world. We barely saw another group all day -- that’s how huge and isolated the place is.
The Quincy nine is a difficult walk, even for a couple half-marathoners like us. In particular, the walk from the long par-3 eighth to nine was ludicrous.
“You’re walking from Quincy to Brookline!” moaned Toast, as we hoofed it uphill several hundred yards. Still, intrepid golfers can do it, as evidenced by the number of walkers that are members or regulars.
The Milton nine features an excellent stretch from four through seven where the holes again visit the highest terrace where a torrid crosswind rages fiercely across the top of the quarry at the par-4 fourth, snapping your pants legs like you’re playing an Open Championship Rota course in the late autumn.
It’s a majestic scene turning towards downtown Boston at the par-4 fifth with the skyscrapers rising between two mounds guarding the green – almost perfectly in tableau off in the distance – as though the city were floating in the clouds above the golf course.
“That is my favorite hole on the course for just that reason,” said frequent Granite Links player Bobby Fell. “It gets me every time. What a genius Sanford had to be to come up with that idea.”
Other solid holes on the Milton nine include the short, but interesting par-4 seventh with its diagonal bunkering, and the long uphill climb to the ninth green set right below the Cliffside Bar, so you will have a gallery watching you close out the side.
Again, however, the walk from eight to nine is redonkulous.
The Granite nine is completely different – mountain golf, and the most difficult walk of the three nines. Ponds, creeks, marshes and the quarry mandate that the design be more penal than the much wider Quincy and Milton nines. The most interesting architectural feature is the excellent hidden section of fairway leading to the fifth green which is obscured by rocks, much like the 15th at Jim Engh’s Fossil Trace on Golden, Colo.
“There’s more than one way to play these golf holes,” noted Sanford, and he’s right. That’s also what makes the course so much fun for golfers of all skill levels.
At Ferry Point, Sanford polished to a high shine many of the ideas that he made work so well at Granite Links. When you play both facilities, you can see the progression of his design concepts.