NORTON, Mass. – No course on the PGA Tour during the past decade has transformed itself more convincingly than TPC Boston.
Home to the Deutsche Bank Championship since 2003 and part of the FedEx Cup since the playoffs’ inception in 2007, this tree-lined layout started life as a desultory Arnold Palmer design that looked like it had been parachuted in from Myrtle Beach.
But it’s located roughly midway between Boston and Providence, R.I., and it took designer Gil Hanse to come up with the ingenious idea of making the course look and feel like it actually was in New England. To achieve this effect, he has been working closely with longtime associate Jim Wagner and with PGA Tour player/consultant Brad Faxon on making sure that TPC Boston meets championship demands while remaining playable for everyday members.
That meant doing away with the containment mounds, creating quirky angles of approach, ladening the bunker faces and roughs with tall fescue and exposing the rock and stone walls that are found on such sites in the raw. With abundant wildflower areas now serving as buffers into ponds and wetlands and lots of scruffy areas fully in play, TPC Boston has been embraced by the pros as a retro-styled layout – in the manner of The Country Club in Brookline or Myopia Hunt Club in Hamilton.
And at 7,216 yards and a par 71 (77.0 rating / 152 slope), it’s perfectly capable of testing the pros. Though good scores are commonplace here, remember that the field comprises by definition the elite 100 on Tour.
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No. 1, par 4, 365 yards
It’s a bit of a shame to open up a round with a lay-up hole, but there’s no point hitting driver here because at 260 yards from the tee the fairway is at its widest (35 yards), flattest and safest as far as bunkers go. At 290 yards out, it narrows considerably and leaves players with a harder shot in: a half-wedge. There’s tall fescue everywhere on the side, and islands of grassy clumps in the greenside bunker, too. It’s all a reminder that this is a bit of old New England and rarity among the TPC courses: a layout that feels unique to the native terrain.
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No. 2, par 5, 542 yards
One reason the Tour pros like this course is because it occasionally gives them a chance to bomb away and gain an advantage. All it takes off the tee here is to favor the left side, ideally with a fade, to get it beyond a diagonal array of two key bunkers on the right, 270-310 yards out. From three, the second shot has to flirt with a grassy marshland that sprawls in front and to the right of the green. There’s a bailout short left, but the beauty of superintendent Tom Brodeur’s maintenance program is that in key areas like this, he’s mowing fairway-height grass right into the sand. So anything yanked left or hit a bit strong will trundle in, leaving an up-and-over recovery with looming behind. This is one of those real “action” holes.
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No. 3, par 3, 208 yards
A lovely, slightly uphill par 3 to a diagonal green wrapped around a sprawling front-right bunker. The green is tipped carefully so that you can easily play safely front left, but the only way to challenge a back-right position is to draw the ball in on the longer right side, which brings into play the bunker, a steep falloff and a hollow over the green. With its exposed rock, native flower marshland and stone farmer’s wall behind, this hole showcases how a regional landscape vernacular creates a distinct sense of place.
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No. 4, par 4, 298 yards
Anyone familiar with Merion Golf Club’s sweet little par-4 10th hole will recognize this short par 4 as the mirror image of it – with a little more elevation into the green. It’s the perfect short, drivable par 4: it makes you think, and there’s trouble via a bunker or scrubby native wildflower.
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No. 5, par 4, 466 yards
Here and throughout the course, the width and angles of play effectively mask the relative absence of elevation change of site. The drive must carry 260 yards over a well-placed fairway bunker right center that defines the ideal line of approach. From there, the second shot plays across wetlands to a green set on a right-to-left access, guarded by a long, deep bunker on the inside of the hole.
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No. 6, par 4, 465 yards
Straightaway, and perhaps the least compelling hole on the layout, defined only by a green tipped right-to-left toward a pond and with a very tough hole location in the front left.
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No. 7, par 5, 600 yards
It’s amazing what even a little change of terrain does to make a hole interesting. Here, it’s all in the second shot, which has to deal with a version of “Hell’s Half-Acre,” the famous sandy wasteland found at another long par-5 seventh hole, at Pine Valley. The architectural gesture works. Few everyday golfers can handle the second-shot carry of 220-plus yards uphill to the blind landing area beyond, leaving a third shot of 75 yards. But for Deutsche Bank Championship contestants, it’s something of an act of faith. They can hit the shot easily enough, but they just hate shots where they can’t see the landing area. If they pull it slightly, they’ll wind up in a yawning front-left bunker with a difficult third awaiting them. Long hitters will be able to reach this green in two – but only if they bomb a tee shot 300-plus yards into an area of fairway that narrows and brings a pair of bunkers into play on the left. In other words, this is one of those par 5s where the strategy at the green sets up the strategy on the tee shot.
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No. 8, par 3, 213 yards
A lovely not-so-little platform green with a run-up ramp on the far side of a marsh, with bunkers set at 4 o’clock and 7 o’clock and a hollow around the back. It’s very much in the style of Seth Raynor and makes for a simple but effective presentation.
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No. 9, par 4, 472 yards
One of the ironies of tree clearing is that contrary to conventional wisdom, the wider the landing area, the harder it is for players to put it in play. That’s because they tend to get a little looser, thinking they have more room to work the ball, and on a dramatic dogleg left like this one, the ideal draw quickly turns into a power block right or quick pull left. A cross bunker well short of the green effectively makes it a bit of a guessing game as to where to land the approach on a green that’s aligned to reward shots working in from right to left.
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No. 10, par 4, 425 yards
An unremarkable opening to an otherwise compelling nine, thanks to a straightaway landing area with no angles or hazards and a contour mowing pattern on the sides left over from Myrtle Beach. At least the green is engaging, with a slight diagonal tilt that brings flanking bunkers into play as well as the threat of running long into a grassy hollow.
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No. 11, par 3, 231 yards
Steeping onto this tee is like going from Motel 6 to the Grand Hotel. Wow! It’s dramatic in the extreme, thanks to a green sitting 20 feet above the tee, protected by a massive rift of sand that makes going for the right side (if the hole is cut there) pretty scary. The left-side approach recently has been dished out, making the front left of the green readily accessible, but there’s no getting to the right half without flying it there all the way.
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No. 12, par 4, 461 yards
The only unbunkered hole on the course, with a drive across a tawny grassed slope that helps propel the ball sharply to the left. This is one of those holes where you have to reverse yourself: a right-to-left drive followed by a left-to-right approach into a green protected by a rock-strewn hill.
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No. 13, par 4, 451 yards
A hole that looks tougher from the tee than it plays for these guys. Of course, it helps if you regularly carry your drive more than 260 yards, which they all do. Once carried, the more ominous left side, with heavy grass and rocks scattered randomly throughout the rough, gives way to a favorable fairway line to the green on this dogleg-right hole.
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No. 14, par 4, 495 yards
The idea here is pretty simple on this long, graceful left-turning hole. Just hit the left side of the fairway for an ideal line with a middle iron in to the green. Tug it a bit and the ball will wind up in a nightmarish pile of rocks, mounds and deep fescue. Bail out right and you’re now facing a shot of 200-plus yards on a tough angle over bunkers on the right, exactly where you’re likely to land the ball.
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No. 15, par 4, 421 yards
The closing stretch of holes has Hanse fully engaging the golfer in his strategic options. Here the trick is to draw the player into the tightest corner of the fairway, deep on the left side, for a perfect angle and view into the green with a short iron – at the risk of running aground amidst sand off the tee. A safe tee shot to the wider right side leaves a blind entry to a perched green that does not support an approach played in from that side.
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No. 16, par 3, 161 yards
There is a lot of box-seat, stadium-style viewing here around this petite par 3 over water to one of the smallest greens on the course. Sometimes under pressure, half shots are the hardest to pull off, especially when a slight pull brings water into play, which is the case here when the flag sits on the top-left shelf.
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No. 17, par 4, 421 yards
This is an absolutely ingenious hole, and if a bit confounding to view from the air, it’s simply mesmerizing to play and evokes memories of another famous dogleg-left 17th that Hanse has reworked, that of The Country Club in Brookline. Here there are more pronounced options, all created by a diagonal mound that traverses the fairway and creates three options: drive deep right and play down to the green from 130 yards out; lay up short left and play in from 155 yards, though with an obstructed view; or thread a drive through the mid-fairway chicane and wind up within 100 yards on a perfect little flat spot.
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No. 18, par 5, 530 yards
The green here has been changed completely from the last few years; it’s now a smaller target, elevated and less forgiving, though still readily reachable in two and thus the scene of lots of risk/reward action. It all starts with a decision at the tee: whether to back off a bit, play the drive safely left to a very inviting fairway, and play in from 240 yards out over a massive wetlands crossing; or to bomb it past two central bunkers and come as close as possible to two others on the far side of the landing zone 300 yards out. There’s also a chance to utilize the firm ground game and exploit another mid-fairway chicane that’s the reverse image of the one at 17, which if successfully negotiated leaves a player only 180 yards out. From there, the old green was miles wide, and because Tour-quality players rarely hit short (they just miss it right or left), there was little question they’d get home, Now that more of a question since the new green, 30 percent smaller and perched, brings more trouble into play, including wetlands on the right that had hardly been relevant before. And by the way, even a lay-up second shot in front of the wetlands crossing is no mindless matter because a punitive pot bunker looms exactly at mid-fairway, 100 yards from the green. This is a great finishing hole, with lots of possibilities across the spectrum of scores from 3 through 7.