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A Puritan’s Pine Valley | T+L Golf

My first visit to Boston Golf Club, in August 2005, began somewhat inauspiciously. The course was newly opened, and its architect, Gil Hanse, had offered to arrange for me to play it. I asked if I could bring my cousin Jim, a Rhode Islander and a talented golfer. Sure, I was told, as long as we played with John Mineck, one of the club’s founders, and Eric Baldwin, an agent from IMG who had been retained to recruit members. When Jim and I showed up at the club, in the well-heeled South Shore town of Hingham, Massachusetts, we were informed by various staff people that “Mr. Mineck” was running a bit late and probably only had time for nine holes.

But once Mineck arrived and met us on the first tee, we never heard or spoke the word “mister” again. In fact, after Jim and I hit solid drives off the first tee, Mineck—tall, broad-shouldered and wearing owlish wire-rimmed glasses under a beige cap—pretty much dispensed with first and last names, too.

“Baldy,” he barked to Baldwin, his partner in the match, “looks like these boys came to play.”

The club’s official opening weeks earlier had in many ways marked the culmination of years of investment on the part of Mineck and his cofounder, Rob Ketterson. Wealthy Bostonians who shared a purist love for the game, they met in the mid-1990s and teamed up with the goal of creating a traditional golf club within thirty minutes of the city. “Our vision was pretty simple,” Ketterson told me: “To re-create a classic golf experience and do it using modern tools.” They eventually found the spectacular rolling, pine-studded site in Hingham, and after showing it to various architects, hired Hanse to design a walking-only course. With little fanfare, Boston Golf Club opened in June 2005. Comparisons to Pine Valley and some of the most fabled courses in New England soon followed.

Our four-ball turned out to be a spirited affair. I can still hear Mineck telling stories about how the course was built, pointing out targets off the tee and, after I’d managed to make a couple of birdies, wondering how little time I’d been spending in the office (somehow the double bogeys I also made failed to register with him). When we finished the front nine, he didn’t hesitate to join us for the back, and after the round he invited us for beers in the trailer that was serving as a temporary clubhouse. Waving off an attendant, Mineck reached into the refrigerator and grabbed the bottles himself.

Tragically, it was that same whole-hearted, do-it-yourself style that led to his death two years later, at age fifty-four. Mineck was driving an asphalt roller over the club’s freshly paved entrance road on the Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend in 2007. The rig fell down an embankment, and his body was found hours later.

Today, Boston Golf Club is maturing into a fine new club. Less heralded than some other prestigious clubs of recent vintage—such as Sebonack, the neighbor of National Golf Links, or Ballyneal, Tom Doak’s prairie links in northeastern Colorado—it is no less worthy of discussion. The course that Hanse and his team created makes superb use of the rugged terrain, artfully incorporating steep hillsides, swaths of wetlands and, most strikingly, an abandoned quarry. The clubhouse, which opened last spring, is built largely with wood culled from the property. It looks and feels organic, and at just eight thousand square feet—a fraction of the size of most contemporary clubhouses—it’s remarkably intimate.

“There’s no doubt in my mind these guys did their homework,” says Brad Faxon, the veteran Tour pro from Rhode Island, “to see how they could use what was on the land—what was natural to the land—and enhance it and keep that New England feel.” Faxon met Mineck and Ketterson at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton, Massachusetts. Boston Golf Club was under construction at the time, and the founders invited him to visit the site and have a look. A serious student of course architecture, Faxon took them up on the offer, returning on several occasions. “I learned a lot watching everybody work on the course,” he says.

One of the first impressions Boston Golf Club gives is that the holes have been there for a hundred years. Fairways flow gracefully over ridges and ripples in the land. Greens perch on ledges and nestle within nooks and bowls—all natural features, if somewhat enhanced. Rather than putting surfaces of a deep, unblemished color, those at Boston Golf Club are slightly mottled, an effect achieved by mixing multiple varieties of bent grass, including native colonial. A variety of scraggly grasses and plants, even some mosses, grow at the edges of bunkers and the far reaches of rough—the “fringes of the tapestry,” as Rodney Hine, the course superintendent, puts it. Faxon says the untamed look reminds him of The Country Club in Brookline, hallowed ground in American golf.

Anyone familiar with the classic links of Scotland will also notice a number of old-world touches to Hanse’s design. The long par-four twelfth requires a blind drive over the gate in a stone wall—an homage to the sixteenth at North Berwick West. The fairways at twelve and sixteen bleed together, and on the latter hole, a short two-shotter, the landing area is divided by a Principal’s Nose bunker inspired by the one at St. Andrews.

A firmness to the turf introduces another dimension rarely found on courses this side of the Atlantic: the option of playing shots along the ground. Often the best route to the hole is to feed the ball off a greenside shoulder instead of firing directly at the flag. That’s particularly true on number three, where the putting surface slopes from front left to back right, a “reverse redan,” in cognoscenti terms.

The combined effect of all these elements is a round of golf full of variety and surprise. “I get such a kick out of seeing the reactions of people when they play here for the first time,” says Hine, who spent ten years on Hanse’s design staff before setting down roots here. “Their eyes are just on fire, they’re so lit with enthusiasm—the same light that was in my eyes the first time I played Dornoch and Cruden Bay.”

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