Hanse Golf Design restores Donald Ross character to Worcester CC

  • Worcester Hanse Golf Design
    Hanse Golf Design

    Hanse Golf Design has restored the Donald Ross-designed course at Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts

  • Worcester Hanse Golf Design
    Hanse Golf Design

    The project has included the removal of trees that were planted after the course opened in 1913

  • Worcester Hanse Golf Design
    Hanse Golf Design

    At the par-four eleventh, a cross-hazard has been restored, along with the approach area and green complex

  • Worcester Hanse Golf Design
    Hanse Golf Design

    Several fairways have been connected

  • Worcester Hanse Golf Design
    Hanse Golf Design

    “The new bunkering and the newly expanded green complexes provide much more setup variety,” says Kevin Murphy of Hanse Golf Design

  • Worcester Hanse Golf Design
    Hanse Golf Design

    Greens have been expanded to their original sizes and Ross bunkers have been reinstated where possible, as seen in this before and after of the tenth hole

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Hanse Golf Design has completed a project to restore the original character of the Donald Ross layout at Worcester Country Club (WCC) in central Massachusetts.

The course was designed in 1913 and went on to host the US Open in 1925, the first official Ryder Cup in 1927 and the US Women’s Open in 1960.

Ross’s routing remains largely unchanged but tree planting throughout the 20th century narrowed playing corridors and transformed the heathland-style layout into more of a parkland course. In the 1990s, architect Ron Prichard renovated greens and bunkers, removed trees and planted native fescue.

In 2018, Hanse Golf Design was appointed to restore the Ross character back to the course. Gil Hanse and his design associates Kevin Murphy and Ben Hillard began work in autumn 2023. Murphy and Hillard were on site for much of the project, working with the club’s superintendent Adam Moore and contractor MAS Golf Construction. Golf journalist and historian Brad Klein was also involved as a consultant.

The team had access to original construction photos, imagery and programmes from the 1925 US Open, and aerial photos from the mid-1930s. “For restoration work, both aerial images and photographs from a ground view are very valuable tools,” said Murphy. “It’s not often you have both together, but when you do, it makes the job a lot easier and more fun.

“The property is bisected by train tracks, so it is common to refer to the ten holes below the tracks as the ‘lower’ holes and the eight up on the hill as the ‘upper’ holes. We were fortunate to have both aerial images and ground photos for the lower set, but only aerial images for the upper. An aerial from 1938 became our most go-to resource. The lack of images for the upper holes is curious to us given the prominence of the events and field of players they hosted. With the starting and finishing holes both down on the lower side, our thought was maybe they just did not want to lug the massive camera equipment up to the middle holes as that was likely not an easy feat at the time!”

The first step of the project was to clear trees, which  began in August 2023. “Old aerials showed minimal trees when the course was first formed but, like many others, the spaces between the corridors were filled in over the years,” said Murphy. “Removing the trees, exposing the existing terrain, opening up views and improving agronomic conditions by increasing light and air movement are undoubtably the most prominent changes to the experience.

“We knew the previous work had retained the bones of the original golf course, but in our dismantling process, we were able to uncover actual bunker sand and greens layers from the original construction. From a shaping and creative standpoint, having the opportunity to ‘chase’ old bunker sand to expose the original footprint or peel layers away to expose the original green is more valuable than any photograph could be. It provided a great roadmap for our work and allowed it to truly be called a restoration.”

Greens restoration has provided more hole locations. “Not only did we remove the sand dams around the edges that had built up, but we also expanded the size of greens out to their original footprint,” said Murphy. “The old aerials showed us just how much they had changed over the years. Pushing them back out to their original size, and often unique shape, created new pin placements. This will greatly enhance daily setup and the variety of play.”

There have been substantial changes to the par-four eleventh. “This hole had been edited the most in the past and required building an entirely new approach and green complex to restore it,” said Murphy. “All our research pointed to the eleventh having a blind second shot over a cross hazard to a low-lying green running away, however, past work had filled in the approach hazard and raised this green up as much as eight feet.

“With limited photos of the hole, and only a vague one- or two-line description of the approach cross hazard in the club’s history books, we started some exploratory digging. Sure enough, we found an old bunker that had been filled in. On the green, we slowly peeled away the layers of fill that had been brought in until we got down to original existing grade, clearly defined by a change in material. Between the earthworks, the newly discovered cross hazard, and the newly designed green, this hole will play dramatically and excitingly different.”

The Hanse team has reinstated Ross bunkers where possible and added some of their own, too. “The new bunkering and the newly expanded green complexes provide much more setup variety – members may feel as though they have a new golf course,” said Murphy.

Hanse Golf Design has also connected more fairways. “The layout of the course and the width of the playing corridors meant that there were multiple opportunities for us to connect holes to one another,” said Murphy. “These fairway connections enhance playability by widening fairways but also simplify the landscape and highlight the terrain. They’re unique and impressive from the various vantage points across the property.”

Work was completed in December, and the club has reopened holes in phases.