The Takeaway: Salem throws a wide net for the number of golfers it appeals to. Everything is in front of you, the terrain enjoys nice movement, and the wooded setting offers privacy; but the real highlight are the Donald Ross greens that will test your game. Grade B+
Designer: Donald Ross 1925
Phone Number: 978-538-5400
Course Website: Official Website - Visit Salem Country Club's official website by clicking on the link provided.
Directions: Get here! - 133 Forest St, Peabody, Massachusetts 01960 – UNITED STATES
What to Expect: Donald Ross rarely does anything very flashy or sexy at his courses with the brunt of his reputation being built on his greens. While Pinehurst No.2 gets all the hype with domed surfaces that are quick to chase balls off the green, Salem Country Club has superior green complexes with more variety, undulations, and dynamic challenges than Pinehurst's more one-dimensional approach. In fact, the greens at Salem CC for all intents and purposes are perfection and easily the greatest feature at the course. The rest of Salem is pretty straight forward with everything in front of you, which is exactly why the USGA has selected the course to host six of its championships. The fairways are lined with a heavy amount of trees and while the course has gone through an extensive timber removing process, it would benefit from more by thinning out about half the trees to allow for more sun exposure for the turf and extended views across the course. The course enjoys gentle movements in the property with the uphill 7th being the strongest change in elevation but nothing that would discourage a golfer from throwing clubs on their back and going for a walk; though carts are available. The opening pair and closing trio of holes are a very stout group of two-shotters to contend with which is another reason the USGA loves Salem; you are tested to the end. The routing leads to a majority of holes running east and west while a pair of the par threes run to the north. In the end, Salem is not an easy course to break par on. The first time around the course will surely cause you issues around the greens and quickly teach you to never get above the hole. And while there aren't a lot of bruising holes, Salem also never yields any easy opportunities either, which tends to wear down players that aren't mentally tough enough to handle it. All in all, Salem is just a good course from start to finish with little to dislike along the way.
By the Numbers
Individual Hole Analysis
Signature Hole: 13th Hole – 344 Yard Par 4 – Ben Crenshaw and I share something in common at Salem Country Club; we both feel this is one of the best holes Donald Ross ever designed. The hole doesn't need to be long to pack some punch given the contours on the green that make it the most challenging to navigate at the course. The tee shot features a bowled fairway that is receptive to tee shots that stay short of the bunker sitting 50 yards short of the green. You'll want to hit your drive to a distance that you feel you can control the spin on your second shot because the green is where this hole really shines. The front third is the most receptive location on this three-tiered putting surface that features falloff areas to each side. Downhill putts are a bear to keep on the green and positioning is everything when seeking success. This hole is a star and one of the finest offerings in New England.
Best Par 3: 12th Hole – 162 Yards – Restored in 2000 to four bunkers fronting the green after removing two of them in 1994, the 12th features a circular putting surface that measures 25 yards across in any direction you measure it, so there isn't a ton of room for error. No matter where the flag is, you need to aim at the dead center of this green for your best chance at success since the 12th features the fastest back-to-front sloping putting surface on the course. If you get above the hole, breathing on your ball for the second stroke may generate too much speed so you will have to summon your finest short game skills and hope that the hole gets in the way.
Best Par 4: 7th Hole – 392 Yards – It doesn't take long to realize that the finest feature at Salem that sets it apart from other courses are the greens. The 7th features an excellent site perched on top of a hillock that is best approached from the right side of the fairway. The largest putting surface at Salem, the contours in the green confound many golfers and require a deft touch to maneuver skillfully. The 30 foot climb to the greensite will require an extra club or two with the approach shot so the mounding on each side of the putting surface could prove helpful if your shot comes in a little hot.
Best Par 5: 8th Hole – 517 Yards – The 8th hole takes advantage of the wonderfully hilly terrain found at Salem and does so with a tee shot that asks players to hit a fade over the two aiming bunkers and finds the fairway nearly 30 feet below. The fairway tilts from left to right enroute to the green and is highlighted by a large "Hershey Kiss" hill on the left side 125 yards from the putting surface. Approach shots from the right side of the fairway have to contend with the bunker protecting that side of the green while approach shots from the left will contend with the ledge on that side of the green that quickly feeds down to a chipping area where par saves become increasingly difficult the further left the flag is. It is a quality three-shotter and shows that less can be more when utilizing the terrain to dictate the design features.
Birdie Time: 5th Hole – 506 Yard Par 5 – Ironically this hole is listed as the #1 handicap, but I think it is ripe for the taking. Measuring just over 500 yards, this hole can be reached in two and features just one fairway bunker which can easily be cleared with the tee shot. After cutting loose with the driver, players can decide whether to go for the green in two or whether to layup short of the bunker that rests 60 yards from the green. The large putting surface yields a lot of greens in regulation which is the #1 indicator of an opportunity to roll in a birdie. With some challenging holes ahead, take advantage of this hole while you have the chance and take a stroke back from Old Man Par.
Bogey Beware: 18th Hole – 442 Yard Par 4 – Salem Country Club holds its most difficult hole for last with a lengthy two-shotter that slowly and steadily plays uphill the whole way home. The bunkerless tee shot calls for a fade off the tee before attacking the raised green with a severe false front. While the natural thought would be to hit an extra club to take the false front out of play, that strategy brings into play one of the toughest features which is the severely sloped back-to-front putting surface where three-putts are commonplace. The final hole calls for accuracy, length, and finesse; the perfect test to conclude on.