BOSTON – There was a story going around among Foo Fighters fans that Dave Grohl was losing his voice, but Grohl was having none of that. In fact, just a fistful of songs into their first Fenway Park show of 2018, there was Grohl shouting so loudly he might have been trying to deafen every denizen of Suffolk County.
“Heeeeeey Bostooooooooon! They say I’m losing my voice, but whose voice is gonna give out first tonight? Mine or yours?!” he screamed.
“YOURS!” Fenway Park shouted back, without missing a beat. Then everyone laughed, even the band members. Unbowed, unbent and unbroken - you know Grohl! - he growled again, this time an octave higher.
“I SAAAAAAAAAAID...WHOSE VOICE IS GONNA GIVE OUT FIRST, BOSTON? YOURS OR MINE?!"
“YOURS!” they roar came back, just as full-throated.
“Friggin’ Boston!” Grohl snarled mischievously in response, and then he and the rest of Foo Fighters launched into another track off their latest album.
Yes, it’s one of the most plum weeks of the calendar year, with some rock ‘n’ roll golf sandwiching one of the hottest concert acts of the year between two rounds of golf in the area. So when Foo Fighters announced their triumphant return to Fenway Park, I had to pick a course equal to the task of reflecting the band’s stature as an alpha predator of rock. But what course is a proper rejoinder to their Godzilla-sized, punk-rock minimalist ethos and can match their sheer, unadulterated fun?
Hello again, Boston Golf Club.
There’s definitely a lot of punk rock ethos at Boston Golf Club. Punk rock is all about do-it-yourself minimalism. Effects pedals? Samples? Synthesizers? We leave all that to the guys who need to cover up their shortcomings in playing instruments or singing. We’re punk. We just plug in and go. I once described it as raw emotion in its purest, most unprocessed, natural form. Fire it up!
Boston Golf Club was built in the same ethos – DIY and minimalism, pure, unprocessed and eminently natural. Architect Gil Hanse was assisted by Rodney Hine, one of several of Hanse’s design associates who both walked the property and routed the course over topo maps. Hine is now the course’s head superintendent. Hanse, Hine and the rest of the team let the considerable undulations of the property admirably defend par and give the course its inimitable character. They hardly moved any earth at all, so the course flows charmingly, like one of the great Heathland layouts of the United Kingdom. It’s only 23 miles by car from Fenway Park to Boston Golf Club in Hingham, but step onto the grounds of the course and it feels like you traveled 100 years in the past.
The key is a triumphant routing, traversing wetlands areas, rocky out-croppings, treacherous bunkers of all shapes and sizes and hurly-burly terrain that rumbles and cascades on every shot, including putts across its oceanic, fiercely-contoured greens. Gritty, bold and undeniably natural, Boston Golf Club is rightfully unapologetic about its rough-and-tumbleness, just like Foo Fighters.
The routing is also wonderfully asymmetric, with the par 3s bunched at Nos. 6, 8, and 11 before the climatic home hole, one of the greatest closing par 3s in all of golf. Meanwhile the course opens with a par 5, but then you don’t see any more until Nos. 15 and 17. Asymmetric routings such as Boston Golf Club’s scream Golden Age character, an astounding achievement for a course only a dozen years old.
Of course, any truly great course must have tremendous green contours, and Boston Golf Club surpasses all expectations. With myriad hollows, mounds and swales, the adventure each hole continues just as dramatically as the journey from tee to green.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the insiders’ favorite holes and how to play them.
General Consensus of Everyone: No. 5, “Shipwreck”, 300-yard par 4
Five is everybody’s favorite hole, unless they are a low handicapper who tried to overpower it and carded bogey or worse. Many a round has been sunk early on by this Bonhamme Richard of par 4.
“Shipwreck, all right. Shipwreck on my scorecard!” gasped a completely befuddled T.J. Auclair, Director of Content for The Caddie Network. The look of relief on his face when he emerged from the woods after a hole-long absence made you think he escaped the clutches of the Blair Witch.
Standing on the tee, the first question is drive the green or not? It’s only 300 yards, but it’s uphill to a crowned fairway, with the green tucked behind gargantuan hairy mounds. It tests both distance control as well as accuracy. A miss right is off the map into terra incognita, either the shaggy mounds or down into a wooded ravine: T.J. Auclair country. Still the green is set up to accept a long running shot, a bonus reward to those brave enough for the challenge. They even cut a notch in the mounds so you can see the flag flitting in the wind, winking at you bawdily like a harlot at the end of the bar in her short skirt and stockings. Looks great until you miss the fairway, then suddenly it morphs into a gnarled little grinning garden gnome giving you the finger.
“It’s a spectacular risk reward hole,” Auclair praised. “You just want to bash a driver and cozy it up close to the green, but there’s trouble on both sides. It’s my favorite hole on the golf course, despite what it did to my card.”
Then, of course, there’s the way Mike “Colonel Nitro” Mosely played the hole, ping-ponging back and forth and back again over the green and into bunkers. What the hell kind of ball were you playing?
Wait, don’t answer that.
Now here’s the backstory of the fifth hole, straight from Rodney Hine, who helped design it: It was one of the easiest holes to route and build.
“It was just there, staring back at us, only 317 yards, but fraught with peril, really making you think. We didn’t have to do a lot, other than clean it up to receive the tee shot,” he explained. Then a broad grin of fond remembrance crossed his face and he brightened. “The mounds on the right were my investment. I was out there having a blast digging and shaping bunkers into that hill on the right. I talked to John Mineck and Rob Ketterson who hired our firm, and they said it was fantastic. It’s diabolical, but they were enthralled with it.”
That was the watershed moment for Boston Golf Club, that quantum leap the took the course from “truly great” to “instant classic.” With “diabolical” acceptable to the owners, that was the signal for Hanse and company to go for it. Be as creative as they liked, we trust you: that’s the message every architect longs to hear.
“With that wildness acceptable to them, I knew there were no limitations on the art or the architecture, I knew we were going to have some great fun,” Hine recalled fondly.
The hole might actually be easier for short hitters, as they can lay into a driver without reaching trouble near the green. Then it’s a short, if perilous, pitch to the pin. You can even use a putter from well off the green as the fairway bleeds perfectly into the green, a common theme throughout and a highly laudable trait in any golf course, particularly a modern design.
Five is Hanse at his puckish best. Every architect who builds a course this good gets one joke, this is his. The hole also demonstrates how shorter holes are sexier, due to the temptation to overpower them and then make an expensive mistake. Hanse, like any truly great architect, says more in 300 yards than bland, penal architecture architects can say in 460 yards.
My favorites: No. 3, "Reverse Redan," 420-yard par 4; No. 15, "Coyote Trail," 517-yard par 5
Boston Golf Club’s design scores high marks in two other critical ways: the wonderful horizontal sweep of the fairways across the landscape and the tumultuous vertical movement in the earth. The par-4 third is a two-shot Reverse Redan, the only hole of its kind I have seen and a golf museum piece to boot with its serpentine fairway majestically sweeping across the landscape while also tumbling over and across massive hillocks. The par-5 15
Rodney Hine: No. 13, "Knuckle Bucket," 407-yard par 4; No. 15
“No. 15 is a great par-5,” agreed Hine. “Uphill all the way, you have choices. If you have to be heroic, you can use the ridge on right to carry your approach onto green in two. With so many twists and turns to that green, there’s a lot of ways to get close to the hole. it’s a great half-par hole, terrific for pressing a match play match.
“I also like 13. It lays perfectly from one corner of the property to the other corner and rolled and tumbled so nicely. The line is down the right side of the fairway, and if you clear the bunkers, you have a comfortable shot into the green. But if you play away from the hazard, it continually adds distance to the second shot. The shape of the dogleg is absolutely perfect. Hero or heel? It depends on your execution.”
Head PGA professional Boomer Erick: No. 16, "Principal's Nose," 340-yard par 4; No. 17, "American Chestnut," 500-yard par 5; No. 18, "Stonewall," 165-yard par 3
Head PGA professional Boomer Erick loves the finish, calling them, in order, the best short par 4, best par 5 and best par 3 on the course.
“No. 16 is the best par4 because there is no obvious way to play the hole. (Zach Johnson thought it was no-brainer 3-wood up the right side.) I believe the best play with a front pin is to lay up short and left of the nose,” explained Erick. “I hit driver with a back pin or if I feel aggressive.”
Of course Erick noted that the hole’s perfection lies in the Principal’s Nose bunker complex placed exactly where you would best be able to approach the green. Then again, that’s where all the best bunkers belong.
“No. 17 is the best par 5 because of its beauty and green complex, and 18 is the best par3 for a number of reasons. First because it is a par-3 finishing hole and second because it is very hard to judge the distance with wind and uphill. No. 6 gets more recognition but No. 18 is as beautiful,” he concluded.
Colonel Nitro: No. 6, "Wild Turkey," 157-yard par 3; No. 11, "Petrified," 178-yard par 3; No. 18
Speaking of No. 6, that was the Colonel’s favorite hole.
“With the exception of Forsgate’s Banks Course in New Jersey, Boston Golf Club had the best collection of par 3s I’ve ever played. Six is thrilling, with that heroic shot over the waste area. You have a short club in your hand, but you’re swinging scared trying to hit that green. No. 18 is a fantastic way to finish the round, climaxing beneath the clubhouse (so everyone can watch you choke!),” he quipped. “I also love 11 because you get to meet the goats. Any hole with goats is a good hole.”
He’s a wise man, the Colonel is. Every time he speaks, he says something interesting.
T.J. Auclair: Nos. 5 and 18
“No. 18 is such a solid finishing hole,” agreed Auclair. “I don’t usually say that about par-3 closers, but this one is fantastic with its uphill tee shot to a dramatic backdrop and bunker trouble everywhere.
“The experience at Boston Golf Club was first-class from the minute I arrived until the minute I departed. It’s the type of course you’d never get sick of playing, simply because there are just so many ways to play it.”
Indeed it was so good that - this time - the golf was even better than the rock concert. (Insert sound of all my music industry buddies yelling, “BLASPHEMY!”) Don’t get me wrong; Foo Fighters are still the biggest rock show on the planet, and they rocked Fenway to its foundations, but there was a kernel of truth in the rumors about Grohl’s voice. The band had to make some adjustments to protect it. Now during a three-hour show, you get a drum solo, a bass solo, a guitar solo and drummer Taylor Hawkins coming out to sing something as front man. Plus, they played so many new songs, a few old favorites got left on the cutting room floor, like “Hey Johnny Park” and “For All The Cows."
And by the way, Phish’s light show blows theirs away -- blows it away like leaves.
Sure, they blew the doors off from the opening bars of "All My Life" and "Learn to Fly" to the quadruple encore featuring a fully electric “Times Like These” and a slammin’ “Everlong” to close. But their 2015 show, also preceded by a round at BGC, featured a few more hits and less down time. Their firework, while still bright and brilliant in the night sky, may have reached its apex, while Boston Golf Club’s is still streaking high into the stratosphere.
I know, I know -- Grohl will just shrug that sentiment off with another gruff “Friggin’ Boston!” I’d agree with him, but the golf is too good.
Dave Grohl and Boston Golf Club's fifth hole
When discussing the fifth hole at Boston Golf Club, this meme of Dave Grohl’s facial expressions comes in handy. Like the five stages of grief, you actually go through the nine stages of Grohl at the fifth hole.
You step onto the tee box, and you’re Grohl No. 1. 317? Green right there? Wide fairway? I got this.
Flare right. Deadsville.
You pull out another Nitro, errr!...I mean Titleist. Now you’re Grohl No. 2. More concerned. No mistakes now; let’s get this ball in the fairway. This is just a 300-yard hole here.
Immediately you’re Grohl No. 3. The caddies are sniggering. You’re playing partners are nervously looking down and shuffling their feet. (Grohl No. 4.) Time to trudge over to the bag, rummage around for new balls, and pull out...a purple-and-white Eclipse?
Okay, now it’s time for Grohl No. 7. All business. Steer job this ghastly-looking golf ball into the fairway.
The ball pops straight up into the air, not very high, and as you’re holding your finish, it bounces twice on the top of your head before falling next to your feet.
It smirks at you, just to rub it in.
Grohl No. 5, immediately. The caddies are howling. Your playing partners are pointing at you and laughing. Even the squirrels stop foraging for nuts to turn at you and chatter excitedly, seemingly quite amused. A moose strides out of the woods and turns its head towards you.
“Take up hunting, please,” it says. “My friends and I will all live longer.”
All the way up the fairway, it’s Grohl No. 6. That damn little Hobbit Flemma was right: gnarled little grinning garden gnome!
But then you get to the green, that ingenious sliver precariously perched between dropoff and bunkers with its cunning false side, and suddenly you’re Grohl No. 8: Oh, that is coooooooooool. A couple of steps around it and your X on the card is forgotten.
“I love this hole!” you say to yourself as you take those few steps across the closely mowed walkway between the green and the sixth tee, blithely oblivious to your being yet another notch in the fifth hole’s belt.
And Grohl No. 9? That’s the look on your face when your friends invite you back to Boston Golf Club.