High Honors

Staff File PhotoEssex County Club in Manchester was named one of the top 150 golf courses in the world by Golf Magazine.

 Pick any description. They all apply in saluting one of the North Shore’s true golfing gems dating back to 1894. But now the Herbert Leeds-designed masterpiece has gained further stature after Golf Magazine, in its first issue of 2020, in announcing its biennial “Top 100 Golf Courses in the World,” ranked the South Hamilton layout No. 92. That’s right after Peachtree in Atlanta (designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and Bobby Jones) and right before the famed Machrihanish course in Scotland, built in the 1870s by Charles Hunter and Old Tom Morris

“We’re honored with such new recognition from one of the national golf magazines,” says Tom Ellis, Captain of the Green at Myopia. “We did not seek it, but we certainly appreciate it as a relatively small club known for holding U.S. Opens many years ago and a club that will not hold another.”

Myopia has always been held in high esteem by American golf’s cognoscenti. Golf Digest magazine’s 2019-2020 list of “America’s 100 Greatest Courses” ranked Myopia 76th, while GolfWeek’s 2019 annual ranking of the country’s top courses spotted Myopia 34th among classic courses, those built before 1960. Impressive indeed.

“Our rise in the rankings is a direct result of the great work being done by our course superintendent, Jonathan Wilber, and the work he has done with the guidance of Gil Hanse, our course architect,” adds Ellis.

Hanse and Wilbur in recent years have “opened the views, the sight lines,” of this ancient course, as Wilbur pointed out. 

“We’ve also done some tee, green and fairway extensions, as Leeds first provided, and restored some of the creeks that wind through the property. All done with the support of the membership.”

Obviously initiatives that have been warmly received by the raters who traverse the United States regularly to size up the country’s new and old courses for their publications.

Mike Bemis, the Myopia head professional, has been affiliated with Myopia for most of the past 30 years, many as top assistant to his long-time boss and predecessor, Bill Safrin, and now in his fourth year as the man in charge of the golf program. 

Myopia’s stunning climb in the national and world rankings is no surprise to him. “These raters have realized in recent years that it’s not all about length and being a new age club,” Bemis said. “Myopia represents, as Merion has been for some time, the greatness of shorter courses. The rest of the world is taking notice of how special Myopia is; something we’ve known for a long time. This course is not about length, but about control, accuracy, game management.”

Bemis gave an excellent example of how well Myopia holds its own in that regard. A group of 80 TaylorMade staff professionals played a one-day event at Myopia in 2019 and the low score was even-par 72. ‘Nuff said.

“We’ve always held to the firm-and-fast philosophy for our golf course,” says Ellis, a second generation member since the mid-1990s. “But for many years now we’ve also worked on restoring the course’s original character as created by Mr. Leeds.”

The club’s success in that regard has been remarkable. Which leads to additional significant news about Myopia for 2020. The club will serve as co-host for the 100th New England PGA championship, along with Tedesco in Marblehead/Swampscott, scheduled for August 17-19. The third and final round is et for Myopia after players take on Myopia and Tedesco for one round each.

The inaugural NEPGA was contested at Myopia in 1921 with Gil Nichols the winner, shooting 156 for 36 holes for a one-stroke victory.

“We’re excited to welcome the New England PGA to Myopia for its Section championship,” Ellis said.

 

We also tip our fedora to Essex County Club in Manchester for being named to the “third 50” grouping (no specific number) of courses on Golf Magazine’s list of best layouts in the world. 

“It’s very special recognition indeed,” says Robert Rives, the Essex president. “It starts with the amazing restoration job Eric Richardson has done as our course superintendent.”

“Thirteen years ago we embarked on a journey to take bold steps to improve what we believed was a world class golf course,” says Seth Romans, ECC’s Grounds chair, 2012 to 2019. “The membership believed in the vision and incredible talent of Eric Richardson and the results justify our faith in him.”

“When I came to Essex in 2007 I knew this unique Donald Ross property had the potential to be world class,” adds Richardson. “The restoration continues and we appreciate the recognition.”

The removal of thousands of trees has opened a considerably larger percentage of the course and adjoining land to the sun and air not otherwise accessible. Said activity has given the course a stunningly improved look and feel. 

“So much hard work has been undertaken to revitalize the golf course, led by Eric Richardson and our consultant, Bruce Hepner,” says head professional Jack Davis, whose credentials speak for themselves. Davis has worked at Shinnecock Hills as the long-time No. 1 assistant, as well as at Seminole, Plainfield and Spyglass Hill.

“Essex continues to stand out as one of Donald Ross’s most authentic and inspiring works,” he said.

 

Gary Larrabee is an author of 10 books on local and regional country club golf history, he has been writing about the game since 1970. 

Recommended for you