Black Rock Country Club
MA, USA

Green Keeper: Chuck Welch

Black Rock Country Club enjoys a tranquil and beautiful setting for a game that is hard to imagine given that it is situated within a rock quarry that was active as recently as 1998.

Owners like their prospective architect(s) to tour the property once and swiftly proclaim it ideally suited to golf and that a world top one hundred course can be built here. Architects happily oblige, uttering the time honored cliche that ‘God intended this to be a great course.’

Happily, such a song and dance never occurred at Black Rock. The owners knew they had a parcel of land not necessarily suited for golf but alas, it was the only large contiguous parcel they could find along the golf hungry south shore of Boston. The architect they selected, famous for his quick wit, couldn’t have said much on his first tour as half the property was an active gravel quarry with literally no dirt. Yet, in the end, the owners got a series of holes that range from good to great with not a dull one among them (thus far exceeding the owners’ hopes), the architect privately considers it the best project he has worked on, and the fortunate members get to play a course rife with fun and enticing shots.

The story begins in 1992 when George McGoldrick moved to the south shore. Though he loved the area, a key attribute was missing and that was the ability to play a golf course nearby. The private clubs had a ten year plus waiting list, leaving McGoldrick and his friends little option but to drive for an hour just for the opportunity of playing a five hour round at a crowded public course.

As a developer, McGoldrick appreciated that the high end demographics of those around the greater Hingham area thirty minutes south of Boston supported a golf course. The rub was where to find a block of land big enough for both a course and real estate component. McGoldrick became aware of a 200 acre rock quarry that recently traded hands and was presently owned by Jim Read. Of course, a rock quarry presented all kinds of construction challenges but it did have one benefit: other parcels of land around it were available for sale as no person or business voluntarily elects to locate beside an active rock quarry!

McGoldrick and Read decided to partner and established Black Rock Developments in January, 1999 for the sake of building the course and homes. They acquired the various parcels of land around the quarry, which totaled an additional 250 acres.

The next step was to select the architect. The design fees proffered by several of the biggest name architects frankly seemed of poor value to McGoldrick. Instead, he thought of the courses built in recent times around the greater Boston area that impressed him as being fun and two readily came to mind: Waverly Oaks and Cape Cod National. Brian Silva designed them both so McGoldrick invited Silva to tour their 400 plus acres.

The quarry was still active in the winter of 1999 with many of the rock land forms extreme to the point where one had to wonder if a course should even be built here, much less one that would render holes of good golf quality. Blasting and disposal of huge boulders too big for the crusher would be a major task during construction. In addition, wetlands were scattered throughout. Nonetheless, after several months of walking the property in the dead of winter, a routing emerged. According to Silva, the process was like a jigsaw puzzle, as follows:

At Black Rock, I knew we wanted to work with the rock faces that came to line the 7th and 16th holes. With a proposed clubhouse location at the edge of the rock crushing plant, a number of golf holes would fill this large open area. I was pretty sure of the “corridors” for 1 and 10 and there were endpoints – wetlands – that defined how long these holes would play. On one side of 1 and 10, there was a hole-width corridor that would form the second half of the 18th hole. And there would be another hole corridor or two that were bounded by 1 and 10 on one side and a road on the other. Past that road, there was room for a golf hole that would be bounded by a wetland on its other side. The landforms on this hole – to be #4 would not allow two individual golf holes. A par four worked up to a huge ledge but a less than 100 yard par three could be jammed from the other side of the ledge to a proposed road. The hole had to be a par five but how could a five be built without an excruciating amount of blasting – well, how about a punch bowl? And with those early-on thoughts driving the routing, maybe the blanks can be filled in.

The rock wall down the length of the 7th was integral in helping Silva develop an initial routing.

 Hole #1 is set as per above.  Cross the wetlands behind the green and there is a nice downhill setting framed left and rear by ledge Р#2 is a par three.

The one shot second plays across a natural valley - any shot just short of the putting surface likely takes the slope and rolls downhill, well away from the green.

Can’t do much behind #2 as there is a road and then you are off the property. There is a development parcel to the rear and right of 2 tee – so let’s run #3 along another property line – turn right from #2 green and head up into a cove formed by large boulders.The tee shot for #3 is over a wetland and is solid rock all the way past that to the green – hopefully the Reads can blast the top four or five feet off of the ledge to make something that better resembles a fairway – with the proposed green framed to the rear by wetlands. That’s the third hole.There is an uncomfortable tie-down on the left side of the hole where ledge drops right off to nothing – maybe a strip bunker would do a good job of helping to tie together this disparate grades. And there is an awesome quick “up” to the green – “foxy” – #3 is set. Cross the wetlands behind the green and you soon come to another property line. The resulting corridor can’t be two holes because of the huge ledge outcrop noted earlier. This outcrop has to be made into something golf-able and the land past the outcrop falls precipitously away. What fits there? The punchbowl idea means 4 is set.

The ideal second shot at the fourth is a thrilling one that must scale a 40 foot rock ledge.

5 and 6 turn out to be the two holes on the “other side” of one and ten with five playing slightly uphill all the way to a green pad that is a 30 foot high setting of old pipe, cement beams, rebar and all kinds of other construction debris. Another aspect of Black Rock’s history becomes apparent – a dump site for decades of construction debris. But the landing area is framed by an awesome oak – one of the few specimen trees to be found on the site.

A beautiful horizon green can be found at the 5th - what's underneath the green is a different matter!

Pepe’s hole – a large rock quarry that encompasses parts of three holes and was used as another dump site for construction and quarry debris – could be made into something on #6. On either side of Pepe’s hole – named for the guy who worked it – are nice plateaus. Hopefully the road behind the tee area on this corridor can be shifted back so that a good drive comes to rest near the edge of this first plateau. If this works, the second plateau on the other side of Pepe’s hole works as a swell second landing area. And players have to work point to point (plateau to plateau) to keep a good view of this golf hole.

The fairway at the 6th today rolls along nicely. However, when Silva first walked the property, the place marked by the cart sign in the photograph above was actually fifty feet (!) lower. By using the 6th fairway as one of the primary areas for the disposal of boulders, Silva created a hole natural in appearance that is full of playing interest.

Cross a wetland to #7 tees. 7 works around a rock face. The green is in one of the few gravel pit areas remaining on the course (the Black Rock lineage is that areas were mined for gravel and once they were stripped to solid rock, the area became a blast area for rock that went into the crushing plant). Let’s keep the spent gravel pit look on the left side of this hole from the landing area to the green. There is a great green plateau for 8 but no landing area at all – a fifty foot tall ledge outcrop runs between the tees and the green. It’s gotta go. Back across the wetland to #9. The tees have always been set, framed on one side by wetland and to the rear and right by the entrance road. The hole is originally routed as a right to left par three that plays along a wetland but is “changed” a number of times due to road and development parcel concerns to a sharply uphill par three. It’s a nice par three along the wetland in the low green location and a poor hole in the high green location. Ya, the low location works out. 10 is already set and has a blasted ledge outcrop that frames the green.

Brian Silva escapes from the back greenside bunker at the 10th. The rock behind the green coupled with the wetland area to its left provided Silva with definite end points for the 10th green site.

I know where 12 is going – there is a great ledge boulder cove for the green setting – so 11 has to connect 10 to 12 and this hole works through rock outcrops to the landing zone set on a plateau that looks down to the green.

The beautiful view from the 11th tee.

12 is good stuff. Tees that were supposed to be on top of huge rock boulders get nestled in between rocks – much better than where I had them located originally.

The great long one shot 12th where the golfer can use the ground left of the green to feed his tee ball onto the putting surface.

13 is simply ledge with no fairway to be found. There’s a great location for tees up on top of the rocks that frame 12 green but the rest of the hole will be a blast-o-rama! And it somehow works out to be a unique drive-able par four.

The course at Black Rock enjoys a sense of spaciousness but the going gets tighter at the reachable, 335 yard 13th hole.

14 plays over some nice land – pretty gentle grades up to the landing area and then back down gently to the green. Not too much rock though there are outcrops right of the drive zone and left of the second landing area that will do a nice job of supporting bunkers.

The three shot 14th flows over some of the gentler land on the course. Speaking of gentler, note the rounder, softer shoulders of the bunkers versus those at Silva's Black Creek.

15 is a flattish area that has been de-flattened by being used as a dumps site. With the debris removed, it will be a good distance for a bit of a breather par three before the long road in.

The bath tub feature within the 15th green helps make the hole distinctive.

16 takes its line all the way from an old blasted ledge face.17 is going to have a road through it……no, it is going to be a housing area……no, it will just be a golf hole!!! And there is lots of width with which to have some landing area fun. I’d like a fade green here but the existing ledge pond doesn’t work for fade – let’s make it a hook as 18 is fade all the way (and in hindsight so is a good portion of the back so the existing pond helped me out!)18 may be the plainest land on the property – where the old crushing plant was set up. Once the plant is gone and all its flotsam and jetsam is removed – huge piles of rock too large to fit in the crusher and huger piles of processed and washed stone – the hole is a dogleg right with no inside feature. How about a bit of a bunker?

The 18th hole finishes in front of the clubhouse. The playing corridors of what became the 6th, 1st, 10th, and 18th holes where in a large open 400 yard area wide that suggested itself early on to Silva as the ideal place for the clubhouse with holes radiating out from it.

Finally there are 18 holes on paper.And in the best situation – and I had the best situation at Black Rock – there is a guy like George McGoldrick who sticks with you. Without that, the majority of the paper holes have no chance of becoming golf holes on a site like this. And it keeps going along – some holes fit land in a good way – 7, 16, 2, 9, 12, 14, 15 – while others are what the hell can be done to make this a golf hole! I need as good a client as I can ever find to make it work type of golf holes. Some holes jump at you off the background map – some you recognize walking the land – some finally become golf holes about five minutes before you seed them.

Black Rock was not, obviously, “there were 120 great golf holes on this property and I just had to narrow it down to the best 18″. It was more like “there might be 6 to 8 golf holes on this property – how are we going to round out the field?” At the very worst – some corridors you have “selected” appear to have no natural potential as golf holes – the big architect upstairs had no intention of them being golf holes. They are 8, 13 and 17, among others. They will have to be built. At the worst – some corridors you have selected appear to have no chance of becoming golf holes as their previous use created a complete lack of potential. They are 1, 6, 10, 15 and 18. They will have to be “cleaned” – and where does one dispose – on a site that has been stripped to bedrock – of hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of yards of ledge too large to fit in a crushing plant and more construction debris than you have ever seen in total on all of your jobs? It is a big jig saw puzzle…in planning and construction…..something you don’t see on the site on Monday makes itself apparent later in the week. Something that you think will never work – #13 – is a world’s fair view from the tee in more than one direction and turns out to be a sharp golf hole. On some holes you know what you want to do…on others you have a general leaning and on still others you are stunned at what appears after clearing/debris disposal and wonder what a thirteen hole golf course will do for your handicap if not your career. Something that you think would work easily has to be worked over and over til you wear out the dirt. It is a jig saw puzzle.

With the routing complete,the way forward is now known. The monstrous task of building the course from such an unpromising beginning as a gravel quarry commences. The challenges are numerous and occur on an almost daily basis. Finding soil and clay is one of the biggest but the timing is fortuitous as there are several huge building projects going on around Boston at this time including one at M.I.T. These projects are looking to rid themselves of the dirt and clay and Black Rock gladly strikes a deal with them.

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