Urban Oasis

Boston is a hub for superb golf courses.

BY WAYNE MILLS

With the advent of the industrial revolution in the late 1800s there was a major population shift from rural farming areas to the city as people searched for work in factories across Eastern Massachusetts. Separating people from natural environments and placing them into crowded man-made ones was a concern to those who study such things. That concern gave rise to the concept of the urban park, where residents could reconnect with nature. And no one did more to create these places of tranquility in the midst of urban chaos than landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

Olmsted believed that a rural, picturesque landscape strengthened society by providing a place where all classes could mingle in contemplation. Most Bostonians might not realize the effect Olmstead had on their urban environment. He designed the Back Bay, the Arborway, the Riverway, Jamaica Pond, the Arnold Arboretum and the entire Boston park system known as the Emerald Necklace, which includes 527-acre Franklin Park.
It is at Franklin Park where golf was incorporated into Olmsted’s egalitarian vision.

The birth of golf at Franklin Park can be traced to a confrontation between a Boston police officer and a former professional baseball player in 1890. George Wright played for the Boston Red Stockings from 1871 to 1882 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937. After retirement he opened a sporting goods store in Boston. He had been sent golf clubs from England and decided one day to try them out at Franklin Park. That’s when a police officer came upon the scene.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Playing golf,” Wright replied.

“What is golf?” the police officer wondered, before adding, “You’re going to need a permit for that from the Parks Department.”
So Wright obtained his permit, and six years later Franklin Park, now known as the William J. Devine Golf Course, opened for play. By 1900, the course was hosting 40,000 nine-hole rounds. Among the visitors was a young man from Brookline, Francis Ouimet, who would go on to stun the golf world by winning the 1913 U. S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline.
The current Devine course is much different from the original version. With Ouimet’s guidance, Donald Ross was hired following World War I to design a new layout that opened in 1923 and essentially remains the same today.

The 1920s were a boom period for golf in the United States, which led to another Ross course in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The stock market crash of 1929 delayed the project, but the George Wright Golf Course was finally completed in 1938. More than 60,000 pounds of dynamite were used to blast out the ledge, with 72,000 cubic yards of fill needed to raise the course above swamp level and 57,000 linear feet of drain pipe required to create a course that has only been altered slightly over the years.

Both Devine and George Wright are municipal courses owned and managed by the Boston Parks Department and are open to the public at reasonable rates.

There are several other courses bordering Boston that share the same vision of providing public access golf. The Robert T. Lynch Golf Course (formerly known as Putterham Meadows) in Brookline is located a driver and a 3-wood from The Country Club, but it is a world apart in terms of access and cost. Designed by Bostonian Wayne Stiles with his design partner John Van Kleek (who did Thorny Lea and Taconic), the course has been lengthened since opening in 1930 and now plays 6,300 yards from the back tees.

Nearby Newton Commonwealth Golf Course, another Ross layout circa 1920, has been a bit pinched from city land-takings over the years, but it still presents a challenge and is a delight. With a city resident weekday rate of $25 and a non-resident rate after 5 p.m. of $20, the price is right.

Quincy was once home to massive granite quarries. After yielding the prized black granite used in many of Boston’s iconic structures, the quarries were abandoned and became dangerous places for illicit swimming, stolen cars and trash disposal. Having reverted to city ownership after being abandoned, the city sought proposals from private developers. In the early 21st century, Quarry Hills Associates won the right to construct an 18-hole golf course that was later expanded to 27 with the addition of nine holes in Milton on the site of a landfill.

The project was aided by the Boston Harbor Tunnel Project (The Big Dig), which needed somewhere to dispose of nearly eight million cubic yards of fill. That dirt was used to shape the golf course.
The resulting Granite Links Golf Course is a spectacular transformation of a once-blighted landscape into an urban playground of emerald fairways with spectacular views of the Boston skyline and Boston Harbor.
While Greater Boston is a crowded place with over five million residents, it is possible to escape the urban jungle and find peace, solace and fresh air in the green oasis of the surrounding area’s easily accessible golf courses.

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