Photo Essay: (Little) Marion Golf Course

Robbie Vogel
11 min readApr 23, 2021

As it has in so many other industries and cultures, the hipster lifestyle has fully arrived in the world of golf. While non-golfers might still picture the game as belonging solely to old, rich, white males chopping up the manicured fairways of their old, rich, white country clubs, we know better.

Kevin Van Cleef splits the uprights on # 2

Cataloging the myriad influences behind the shift in golf’s culture in the past decade or so would be a Herculean effort. Suffice it to say that the game is younger, more popular, more diverse (though that’s not saying much), and more accessible (ditto) than ever before. And this influx of new people, visions, styles, and ideas has led to an unprecedented amount of new golf stuff.

An example of the “stuff” — old-school Masters and jazz cup headcovers by Cayce Golf

Countless artisans, craftspeople, and (apologies on the buzzword) content creators have sprung up around the game, and whatever your view on their particular brand or product, they are capitalizing on the interest of a relatively new type of golfer. This new golfer devours a handful of golf podcasts, salivates over seaside par-3 drone videos, and gobbles up the latest boutique golf-adjacent #merchdrops. And they also prefer a new style of golf course.

Or, should I say, a very old style.

The hazards at Marion are just that — hazardous

The term “hidden gem” is thrown around more often than Billy Horschel’s putter, but like all cliches, it conveys the point well. In golf parlance, hidden gems are those courses that are “affordable, accessible, architecturally interesting… common courses for real folks.” That’s according to Sugarloaf Social Club, one of the originators of this golf hipster mindset, who curates a map of a number of hidden gems on their website.

These types of golf courses check all the boxes for our new class of golfer, so it’s no wonder that we’re seeing an outpouring of support, patronage, and funding for a variety of old-school golf courses across the nation. Think of the recent restoration at Hartford’s Keney Park, the acclaimed and powerful campaign to save Lions Municipal Golf Course in Austin, and the revitalization of San Diego’s Goat Hill Park, funded by the deep pockets of golf/fashion maven John Ashworth.

For our new golf hipsters (a term I use with love), great architecture+ public access + affordable greens fees is the magic equation, and if you can throw quirk, history, and a sense of escape into the mix, then you’re working with something truly special.

George Thomas designed a number of exceptional golf courses in several states, with California’s Riviera Country Club, Bel-Air Country Club, and the North Course at Los Angeles Country Club standing out as highlights. But before he moved out west, he spent some time on a finger of land jutting out into Buzzards Bay on the south coast of Massachusetts, where he designed Marion Golf Course. Known to locals as Little Marion, these scruffy, shaggy, stone-wall-riddled nine holes won’t be confused with a world-class layout, nor should they aspire to. They sit comfortably within the golf world as a bona fide hidden gem, a playing ground for golfers of every experience level, and the first work from an artist who would go on to become a master.

And plus, every hipster worth their salt knows that the new tunes are fine, but the old stuff is way better.

Golf writers can get sucked into gushing about some truly mundane things, particularly when discussing a course they love (see the last 500 words for proof). So allow me to just say that the grungy sign and gravel parking lot ought to remain in their current state forever, as they are intrinsic to the Marion mystique.

Milling at Marion — the first tee allows little room to hide

After paying your modest fee in the pro shop/clubhouse/snack shack, you step onto the first tee, and are greeted with the first of the day’s visual illusions: a golf hole, with no hole.

1st hole, 315 yards, par 4

Winding through the coastal forests on the drive down to Marion feels like making a pilgrimage to a secret surf spot. And while Google Maps can get you there, you’ll need an experienced guide to help you navigate the numerous reefs, rocks, and other hidden dangers here. The best line off the first tee is over the left side of the stone wall, which is a reference point to which you’ll quickly become accustomed during your round. Although the fairway runs straight, the green actually sits tucked into a hollow on the left, so the further right your tee ball strays, the longer (and blinder) your approach shot.

From the middle of the fairway, the green can be intuited by the circular gap in the trees in the lefthand distance. Long drivers might reach grassed-over stone wall that crosses perpendicular to the line of play, and serves as a barrier between the flat fairway and the tumble down to the green.

Marion’s greens aren’t its finest feature, but they’re kept in solid shape and roll true (for the most part), which is all you can expect at a place like this. The first is one of several greens with a dominant back-to-front slope.

2nd hole, 290 yards, par 4

As no flag is visible from the first tee, Marion debutants will be forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief upon stepping up to the second. Though the photo above doesn’t show it, a flag flutters invitingly just below those two dark pine trees in the distance.

Unfortunately, it’s the pin for the seventh hole.

Kevin Van Cleef takes dead aim at the second green.

The two above photos were taken from the same place — hit anything from 160 to 200 yards off the second tee, turn 90 degrees to the right upon reaching your ball, choose your number carefully, and split the uprights!

Another stone wall guards the green here, and invites a quick discussion about Marion’s signature tumbledown hazards. Walls come into play on seven of the nine holes, with all of them playing almost completely perpendicular to the line of play. Several run across the center of the course, acting as ground-based defenses amid a succession of back-and-forth holes. The walls really show their teeth on the course’s three one-shotters, however, as each one guards the green the way a curtain wall guards the inner bailey of a medieval castle.

Going North of the Wall on # 2

It’s impossible to overstate how crowned the second green is. Donald Ross would salivate at the contouring here — anything that ends up either short or long of the 10-foot spine running sideways across this green will leave the player with a ticklish chip back up the anthill. I tried to photograph this devious green as best as possible, but like most of Marion’s charms, it needs to be played to be understood.

The word is that within the past year, a few members of nearby Kittansett purchased Marion and have plans to improve the course’s playing characteristics. That usually starts with eliminating trees to enhance airflow, sunlight, and grass growth. And while the place could definitely benefit from some better turf, I’ll miss the wooded green-to-tee transitions like this one from 2 to 3.

3rd hole, 175 yards, par 3

A standard, medium-length par three, complicated by an aerial hazard right and the first of the castle fortifications left.

Kev here is about 6'2 — these walls are no joke.

Looking back at the entrance to the green reminds the player that they are treading ancient ground.

4th hole, 460 yards, par 5

Marion’s only three-shotter seems to always play longer than the scorecard yardage. That could be due to the stone wall rumbling through the ground where a big drive might end up, the bog-like conditions of the ground in front of said wall, or the fact that you leave a relatively contained area of the course behind and enter the main meadow.

Looking across 4 (R), 5 (middle), and 6 (L)
A peek through the wall shows the fourth green.
Looking back down the fourth.

The fourth green offers some of the only internal contour on the course, and covers a larger area than any other putting surface, the better to accept longer approaches.

5th hole, 365 yards, par 4

Walk 20 yards left from the fourth green, do an about-face, and send your drive down the fifth fairway, which offers an entire golf hole on either side as a cushion for errant tee balls. The wall here truly wreaks havoc with tee shots of a certain length — I’ve cleared it and had less than 100 yards in, failed to reach it and had to contend with the trees, and have actually come to rest against the green side of the wall on one occasion. That was not fun.

Left of the green at 5 is not ideal

6th hole, 430 yards, par 4

Another 180-degree turn brings you to the first of back-to-back wall-less two-shotters.

Trees and scrub-covered mounds complicate things if you get offline on this hole, but the way to the green is clear.

Of course, if we could all dial up straight drives on command, we’d be getting paid to play this game rather than vice versa. I ended up over here.

The 6th green opens onto a walking path down to Sippican Harbor beyond

7th hole, 365 yards, par 4

With a little TLC, the seventh at Marion could become a truly great golf hole. My only regret is that I didn’t take enough photos here.

It’s a classic ‘work your way back from the green’ hole, as the putting surface is canted from back to front and guarded on the left by an ingenious bunker with a grass-covered stone wall sitting inside it.

Centerline bunkers guard the landing zone, and could be reworked to present some serious challenges to the unthinking masher. Players have the entire previous three holes to miss left off the tee, but the closer they venture to the righthand trees, the cleaner their look at the green is. It’s an awesome hole and I can’t wait to see how the new owners make it shine.

8th hole, 180 yards, par 3

More hiking from green to tee

Marion finishes with consecutive par-3s, and though they’re both defended by a stone wall, that’s where the similarities end.

The eighth is the longest of Marion’s one-shotters, necessitating a confident strike with a mid- to long-iron into a deep green that’s set a ways back from its wall.

9th hole, 115 yards, par 3

Another short forest jaunt brings players to the ninth tee, and offers one more surprise for newcomers. Like the ending of a great mystery novel, Marion’s ninth hole reveals that we had the clues the whole time, if only we had paid attention to what was right in front of us.

A final stone wall to contend with

The ninth plays directly across the driveway from the parking lot and the clubhouse, and the player needed only to have glanced to the right after exiting the first tee to discern the location, style, and pin position of this hidden punchbowl green.

A photo from the beginning of our round, and…
…one from the end. It is, of course, much darker than my camera makes it appear.

Every dip and turn in Marion’s layout reveals another surprise, and even though I’ve looped it a half-dozen times at this point, I am excited for every shot before I step up to the ball.

As a final note on Little Marion, I’d like to praise its complete lack of pretense or self-importance. With a world-famous designer and a historic, quirky layout, Marion has more reason than most to puff its proverbial chest out in an effort to sell high-priced tee times to wealthy golfers. But that’s not what the club is about.

It’s a neighborhood gathering place, the kind of course you roll up to with a t-shirt, sneakers, six clubs, and a bunch of friends, and play until it gets dark. It’s a place where absolute beginners can learn and enjoy the game at the same time. And it’s a place that should be kept just as it is, for as long as is possible, because golf needs courses where the only barriers to entry are the moss-covered stone walls guarding the greens.



Robbie Vogel

Bought a hat once. Did not receive a free bowl of soup with it.