Saturday, February 28, 2009

4. Marion Golf Course

Location: Marion (1:08 south of Boston / 2:56 SE of Pittsfield)
Architect: George Thomas, 1904
Yardage: 2695
Rates (9-holes): $14 (walking)
An impressive rock wall guards the green at Marion's 3rd.

Marion Golf Course is a hidden 9-holer touching the Atlantic Ocean, most famous for being the first course built by architect George Thomas. Thomas went on to create many brilliant tracks including Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, but little Marion is where he got his start. Riviera and Marion are totally different breeds, no question, but each has its unique place in the game of golf. Riviera is known for being one of the most heroic and strategic golf courses in the world - features such as a boomerang-shaped green at the 1st, the bunker smack in the middle of the 6th green, the recently restored dual fairways at the par four 8th, and the diagonal sliver of a putting surface at the drivable 1oth hole make Riviera stand out as an American classic. Little Marion stands out too for its appearance: unchanged since 1904, the architecture is so rudimentary it almost doesn't feel like a golf course at certain points. Impressive but crumbling rock walls lie perpendicular between tee and green on every par three, long linear mounds criss-cross fairways stop balls from scooting along the rock-hard ground, and bunkers are placed in spots such as 100 yards off the first tee - perhaps a hazard for most to think about 100 years ago but not today! At Marion, the length of the holes may be slight, but hazards abound in odd places, ensuring thought must be put into hopscotching the golf ball over and around the walls and berms.

Note the random rocky mound in the foreground, and berm dividing the fairway in the distance.

Marion begins with a par four tumbling gently from a teebox cozied up right next to the small clubhouse. Like most of Marion's fours, it is a short one, and it's immediately apparent that the lack of irrigated fairways allows the ball to run out with the ground contours. However, a pair of crossbunkers stand sentinel 50 yards short of the blind green, deterring any rational thought of using driver to get close to the surface. The second hole is another par four, and is a literal 90-degree dogleg right, rising up a hill to a challenging convex green. Another lengthy crossbunker punishes anyone greedy enough to cut the corner, and the prudent play appears to be two mid-irons. Marion's strength is its memorable, and somewhat themed, set of three par threes. The 3rd hole is a slightly uphill mid-iron to a green that is obscured by a fronting rock wall. Only the very right-most portion of the small target is visible, so the result of any shot to a left pin is a mystery until you round the end of the rocky barrier! Holes 4, 5, 6, and 7 run absolutely parallel to each other toward the ocean and back, and are broken up by rocky mounds, scattered bunkers, and berms cutting straight across the fairway as seen above.

A horseshoe bunker around a rockpile guards the 7th green.

Marion ends with neat back to back par threes at the 8th and 9th, which both utilize rock walls to create blindness and confusion from the tee. Number 8 is a longer par three that plays up over a rock wall about three-quarters of the way to the simple green, which is located in a peaceful pocket of trees.

A notch in the wall allows access for walkers to the 8th green.

Number 9 is the quirkiest, yet most memorable, hole on the golf course. The shot is barely 100 yards, and downhill to boot, but the green is obscured by what looks like a large bunker abruptly fronting the putting surface. Only once you walk down the hill and skirt the left side of the bunker to glimpse your ball do you see that the entire bunker is propped up by a tall rock wall hidden from the tee! Sand spills from the bunker over the rocks and onto the grass a few feet in front of the green - extremely cool.

Marion's unique par threes make it one of a kind in Massachusetts golf - there is nowhere else in the state you can play over three ivy-covered rock walls! The golf course should be on the radar of Massachusetts golfers, not for the scoring challenge it provides but for the historic place in American architecture it occupies. Marion is the perfect course to remove the 460-cc titanium driver from the bag and challenge yourself with a half-dozen old clubs on a very old course. The brown fairways broken by archaic linear mounds are reminders that Marion is an anachronism of the modern golf landscape. Go see it tomorrow, or wait fifty years - Marion Golf Course will play the same.

Course Rating: 3 stars out of 10

Bang for your $14 bucks: 8 stars out of 10

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