Saturday, February 28, 2009

6. Franklin Park Golf Course

Location: Dorchester (0:15 south of Boston / 2:36 east of Pittsfield).
Architect: Donald Ross, 1922.
Yardage: 6009 (blue) / 5622 (white) / 5040 (red).
Weekend Rates: $35 Boston resident, $44 non-resident. Carts: + $20.
Best Deal: $31 (Boston resident, weekday).

Driving at Franklin Park's 3rd hole.

Franklin Park GC (also known as William J. Devine) is a short but historic 18-hole track on mostly open and rolling terrain in the inner-city setting of Dorchester. While attending Harvard in the early 1920's, Bobby Jones practiced at Franklin Park, especially honing his game using the field next to the course's best hole, the uphill par four 12th. The storied history of Franklin Park goes well beyond being a home course of Bobby Jones; it is the second oldest public course in the United States, after Van Cortland Park in New York City. Franklin Park was the site of choice of the earliest group of Boston golfers, led by the famous ballplayer George Wright, so Willie Campbell – the first golf professional at The Country Club – formalized Franklin Park’s rolling hills into a 9-hole course in the 1890’s. The current 6009 yard layout is the handiwork of legendary golf architect Donald Ross, who redesigned the existing holes and expanded the course to 18 holes in 1922. Franklin Park’s eighteen illustrate both Ross’s knack for routing fairways through valleys and his light touch building interesting green complexes that echo the land upon which they sit.

The front nine is composed of 7 par fours and 2 par threes. The first four holes loop out and back to the new clubhouse, built in 1998. The 1st hole is a medium-length par four with seemingly a mile-wide fairway; however, a busy park road sinisterly curves close to the right side. Slicers beware a potentially awful start to the round – I have seen on more than one occasion a nasty argument break out between golfer and car passenger after an errant first drive! The 2nd hole is an interesting 310-yard par four with a large hump guarding an upper shelf of fairway starting 100 yards from the green. If you are aggressive off the tee, you may be rewarded with a simple and level wedge shot… or could get stuck behind a massive boulder and V-shaped tree to the right of the short grass. The 3rd hole is the best, and longest, hole on the front side.

These three golfers have hit excellent drives into the valley at the long 3rd.

The 3rd hole plays like many Ross holes: from an elevated tee to a fairway below, and then back to a green on high ground. The tee shot is over a rise of browned out grass to a blind but wide landing area. The uphill second is to an unbunkered, two-tiered green, which is receptive to shots of all length but its nasty pitch from back to front makes up and downs difficult from anywhere except short. The slightly downhill 187-yard 4th hole returns to the clubhouse; its teebox is totally exposed, and thus the wind plays a large factor, affecting the iron shot to a small and well-bunkered green. The 5th, 6th, and 7th are fascinating par fours measuring an increasing 352, 384, and 393 yards, respectively. The 5th's tee shot is blind over a hay-covered hill - a bell rung 100 yards from the green alerts the group on the tee the fairway is clear. Drives can be hit on a myriad of angles from the tee, as the hidden fairway snakes from short left to long right; more aggressive players tend to take on the longer carry to the right, and in doing so must also flight the ball higher to clear the apex of the hill. The tee shot at the 6th hangs in the air forever, as the fairway lies way below in the valley, but the tee shot at the 7th is even more memorable, with the fairway curving sharply but gracefully around a pond ringed by trees. Do you play straight away, lengthening the hole but avoiding the pond? Or are you tempted to fire a driver over the corner of the pond, hoping to hear silence as the ball barely clears the huge trees?

The 7th hole bends around the pond toward the bottom right of this aerial photo.

The green at the 7th is much like the wild 13th green at Taconic in Williamstown - it slopes from back left to front right with many interior undulations and numerous bunkers awaiting a righty's pushed shot. The front nine closes with a short par three and short par four that are solid but unremarkable.
Franklin Park's back nine is slightly longer than the front but probably plays easier to par, as it includes the course's only two par fives. The 10th hole is 345 yards from the blue tees, but is a potentially drivable par four from the 299-yard whites. However, the green is tiny, sharply elevated, and walled off in front by bunkers - good luck!

The drive and pitch 10th hole.

Franklin Park's first par five is an odd one, but not as odd as the second par five - the 18th! Number 11 measures 514 yards, and the tee shot dares you to hit over a 45-degree line of trees marching diagonally up the left side of the offset fairway. If the tee shot is aggressive enough and solidly struck up the left side, the perched green may be in reach with a wood. Franklin Park's best hole is the 407-yard 12th; while virtually the entire course inhabits wide-open land, the 12th climbs uphill with forest lining both sides of the hogsback fairway. Only a long, straight drive will open up the green for the second shot. The humped fairway bounces any fade to its right half into the right rough or woods, and any draw to its left half into the left rough. Hitting the 12th green in two shots is an impressive feat. The 13th is a short par three that drops down the same hill the 12th ascended, and the 14th is a short par four with a blind tee shot and a green placed between a fronting hill and partially sloping away toward a gathering pot bunker behind. Only a well-struck iron will stay on the surface. Franklin Park's last good hole is the uphill 162-yard 15th. It is a classic uphill par three, a type of hole rarely built on modern courses, to a large green where you can only see the top half of the pin for back hole locations. The course closes with two short par fours and a short par five.

The 16th tee: lay up or shoot the gap?

The 16th hole measures 343 downhill yards, with trees pinching the fairway severely inside the 150 yard marker. The trees encroach so much that even if you lay back with a mid-iron off the tee, if the layup isn't dead center of the fairway the branches force some sort of hook or slice to avoid them before carrying the water fronting the green. To say the least, some tree-trimming is in order.

And the tee shot at 17: better be straight!

The 17th hole is the length hole I love: 288 tempting yards. The green is bunkered short left so calls for some sort of sweeping draw played off the hill to the right. Unfortunately, the giant overhanging trees not even 75 yards off the tree make the intended shot utterly impossible. The hole would be much improved as a driveable par four if a couple of the trees on the right were cut back. Franklin Park Golf Course finishes with a par five unlike any other I've played: a nearly vertical hill 260 yards off the tee forces a layup where shorter is almost better! A shot played too far to the base of the hill may have no chance to get anywhere near the green in two, as the slope may dictate a short iron just to clear it!

While the back nine closes with a weak stretch of golf holes, the sum of the experience is overwhelmingly positive. I'd consider Franklin Park like a younger sibling to nearby George Wright - the course is often in better shape, the length is not overwhelming, the fairways are wide, the terrain is not rocky but rolling, though the greens are small and challenging like most Ross putting surfaces. Franklin Park is a delight to play alone or with a couple friends - friends you hope stay by your side if you slice it into the road off the first tee!

Course Rating: 5 stars out of 10

Bang for your $44 bucks: 7 stars out of 10

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