Nirvana on the North Shore

Historic, seaside golf courses dot the landscape along the state’s Gold Coast.

By:Gary Larrabee 

Boston’s North Shore was coined the “Gold Coast” between 1890 and 1930 when the wealthiest of Bostonians established the shores for their summer cottages, stretching from the Hub of the Universe to Cape Ann, and from Beverly to Rockport. At the same time, the region became recognized as a golfing “Gold Coast,” thanks to the creation of four classic, private courses – Salem, Myopia, Kernwood and Essex.

Middleton Country Club.

Middleton Country Club.

The region that spans 40 miles south to north and 10 miles east to west also emerged as the locale for a bountiful and eclectic array of public courses. The 20 courses – 12 nine-holes, seven 18-hole tests and one 27-hole complex – offer an array of enjoyable golf challenges. Accompanying the splendid golf is an equally enticing plethora of restaurants, most of them featuring the freshest of seafood. It’s this unbeatable combination that has made Boston’s North Shore an outstanding three-season playground.

The first course of note is Kelley Greens By The Sea, a flat, walkable, nine-hole executive course situated across the street from Nahant Bay. For a time it was called Tony C’s, in honor of local hero and former Red Sox slugger Tony Conigliaro, who once owned the place. The course literally sits steps from the ocean.

A short drive away is one of three outstanding 18-hole, city-owned courses. Larry Gannon Municipal Golf Course in Lynn is a first-rate layout located within the Lynn Woods Reservation, a forest preserve that covers one-fifth of the city. The hilly course, a WPA project created during the Great Depression, was initially called Happy Valley. It was renamed following the death of its first professional, Larry “Silver Fox” Gannon, who served the club for 44 years. Gannon mentored more future golf professionals than any pro in New England. Among his students were Tony Sessa, co-head pro of Augusta National, Paul Boland of The Island Club at Marco Island, Tedesco’s Bob Green and Eastward Ho’s Brian Hamilton.

The other “munis” are all worth playing. Beverly Golf & Tennis Club in Beverly and The Meadow in Peabody, both 18 holes, and nine-hole Olde Salem Greens in historic Salem along with Reedy Meadow and King Rail Reerve, both in Lynnfield, will all test your game.

Cape Ann Golf Course, Essex.

Cape Ann Golf Course, Essex.

The tip of Cape Ann features several charming layouts, each often enveloped by salty air from the nearby ocean. Wenham and Lakeview stand side by side on Route 1A in Wenham, while Candlewood in Ipswich and Cape Ann in Essex have enjoyed the company of famed author John Updike on many occasions. Rockport, a mere driver and a wedge from the Atlantic Ocean, celebrated its centennial in 2014, with member and international playwright Israel Horovitz among its revelers.

The Ipswich/Essex/Rockport neighborhood offers outstanding dining choices and other activities. For great eats, check out the 1640 Hart House, the Clam Shack and Ithaki in Ipswich, C.K. Pearl and Woodman’s on the Essex Causeway and My Place by the Sea (at the end of Bearskin Neck) and the Emerson Inn (in Pigeon Cove) in Rockport.

Work off your meal by visiting the various antique shops in Essex Village, soaking up some rays at Crane Beach in Ipswich or with a stroll along the visitor-friendly coastline starting at the iconic Motif No. 1 landmark on Bearskin Neck at Rockport Harbor.

Turn north heading for the New Hampshire border and have fun at another pair of nine-hole layouts, the century-old Ould Newbury, located on The Governor’s Academy property adjacent to the expansive marshland in Newbury, and Amesbury Country Club, which boasts a mountaintop-like first tee.

The iconic Motif No. 1 landmark on Bearskin Neck at Rockport Harbor.

The iconic Motif No. 1 landmark on Bearskin Neck at Rockport Harbor.

Resume your tour southward and slightly inland and more public gems appear. Rowley Country Club is a testing, nine-hole course recently saved by a condominium project that sold out within months. Black Swan in Georgetown is a classy, 18-hole Phil Wogan design that was also rescued from bankruptcy by a local entrepreneur/businessman, Jack Swansberg. Far Corner in Boxford, a marvelously conditioned 27-hole championship course, is often utilized for state high school and Massachusetts Golf Association competitions. Sagamore Springs in Lynnfield has a large loyal following, while New Meadows is an intriguing nine-hole course in Topsfield. Finally, there is Middleton Country Club. Arguably the finest pure executive layout in New England, it is known for its superbly conditioned track, veteran instructional staff and stimulating junior programs.

The North Shore has become the No. 1 tourist destination for visitors within a 50-mile radius of Boston. Impressed with a visually stunning coastline, countless beaches, endless historic sites, architecture dating to the 1600s, world-famous museums and acclaimed restaurants, visitors are pleasantly surprised to discover a wide array of highly rated public golf courses to boot.

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