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Digging Boston

Not long ago, Boston's Brahmin roots still ran so deep that the best golf in the area was strictly members-only. Visitors looking for a high-quality round essentially had two options: call a friend with a membership at, say, Brae Burn or The Country Club, or make a long drive out into the country. The daily-fee alternatives consisted mainly of classic but overburdened municipal courses such as George Wright and Newton Commonwealth. Thankfully, all that has changed. Over the past few years, a number of top-notch public courses have opened within a reasonable distance north, south and west of the Hub (as the city's long been called), and none require proof of Mayflower ancestry. Boston itself has undergone similar changes. Its sedate corporate skyline has been enlivened by the stunning, cable-stayed Zakim Bridge; its timeworn Yankee cuisine has been freshened up by a spate of daring restaurants; and its venerable lodgings now face competition from boutique hotels. Don't be frightened away by the last gasps of the Big Dig, the largest public works project in American history. Unless you're part of the morning or afternoon rush, you'll notice little beyond the fact that those ugly green overhead highways have gone the way of the old Boston Garden.

ORIENTATION

Logan International Airport is only fifteen minutes from the heart of downtown. With a few exceptions, such as Fenway Park and Harvard Square, everything most visitors care to see is located within a compact area north of Interstate 90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike) and south of the Charles River. At the southern end is Back Bay, which has a relaxed feel, with sidewalk cafés, high-end shopping and graceful boulevards. Moving north and east, from Boston Common to the waterfront, there's Chinatown, the Italian North End and historic Beacon Hill. Throughout the city, the locals are friendly, if a bit reserved in a New England kind of way, and provided you can decipher the accent, you'll have no trouble finding your way around.

WHERE TO PLAY

The closest, and newest, of the recent wave of public courses is Granite Links Golf Club at Quarry Hills, a 2004 design by John Sanford located in Quincy, only seven miles south of downtown. Built atop 900,000 truckloads of fill from the Big Dig, the layout is hilly and mostly treeless, offering impressive views of both the Boston skyline and a sprinkling of harbor islands. The course is invariably windy and always a challenge. The 457-yard par-four twelfth, for example, plays uphill and has water ominously encroaching from the right.

Forty minutes further south, along Route 3, sits the five-year-old Pinehills Golf Club. There are two courses here, the first designed by Rees Jones and the second by Jack Nicklaus. Both are well groomed, and they share an expansive practice area that is the envy of greater Boston's older clubs. The Jones course is the more interesting of the two, thanks to significant elevation changes—particularly on the long par-three fourteenth and the reachable par-five fifteenth, both of which play over ravines.

The best bets west of the city are a pair of Brian Silva courses, Shaker Hills Golf Club in the town of Harvard (not to be confused with the university, which is in Cambridge) and Red Tail Golf Club in Devens. Both are a forty-five-minute drive from downtown. At tree-lined Shaker Hills, Silva employs an element of deception by making the fairways seem wide open off the tee when, in fact, they have subtle dips and turns that considerably narrow the landing areas. Like several holes, the par-three thirteenth starts from a lofty perch—ninety feet above the green—making club selection a far more complicated equation than simply looking up the distance on the scorecard.

Red Tail Golf Club is set on hilly land that used to be the Fort Devens Army Base (where Earl Woods is believed

to have once been stationed). The holes climb and tumble through an oak forest, with the occasional field of wildflowers coming into view. Here Silva indulged his fondness for short, tricky par fours. Case in point: the eighth, which measures only 323 yards but turns sharply right to a narrow green with steep drop-offs on the right.

A more traditional test awaits at Ferncroft Country Club, a Robert Trent Jones Sr. course in Danvers, thirty minutes north of Boston. (It's a private course but open to guests of the adjacent Sheraton.) For years, the course was a stop on the LPGA Tour, and the upkeep remains tour quality, with the fastest greens of this group. Water comes into play on eight of the first nine holes; the backside rises into the trees and has a more traditional New England feel, finishing with a spectacular downhill par five.

WHERE TO STAY

Great hotels are nearly as ubiquitous as universities in Boston, with all the major chains represented. And then there are the one-of-a-kinds: For an older hotel in the heart of the city, try the Park Plaza, where every U.S. president from F.D.R. to Clinton has bedded down for a night. Home to Todd English's romantic Bonfire steak house, the Plaza has a variety of ultraluxurious suites and pleasant rooms, and it's a two-minute walk from the city's Public Gardens.

Nearby, the smaller Lenox Hotel also offers a stately experience, with working fireplaces in some corner rooms. For a trendier setting, check out Nine Zero, a boutique hotel just steps from Beacon Hill. The design here is strictly modern, with a tiled lobby and flashy tiled baths hiding behind a patrician facade and an acclaimed restaurant, Spire. The nearby XV Beacon Hotel is similarly modern and small.

If it's the vibrancy of Harvard Square you seek, try the Charles Hotel, where the amenities include a self-guided tour of the superb artwork on its walls. The hotel includes a jazz club and a lap pool, and it's just two T (Bostonian for "subway") stops or an easy cab ride from the heart of downtown.

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