West of the Connecticut River in Massachusetts lies some of the top public and resort courses the Bay State has to offer.
This unique area of New England is well-known for its natural beauty, art and music festivals, quaint and historic towns, world-renowned colleges and universities, bed and breakfast establishments, boutique and outlet shopping, great restaurants, parks and historic sights, laid back lifestyle, and superb golf courses. High Summer is the ideal tine to visit the Berkshires and Pioneer Valley and take in all this area has to offer, You can easily plan a vacation around the golf and apres golf activities that abound in the western portion of Massachusetts.
The Crumpin-Fox Club in Bernardston, 7,007 yards long from the tips and with a par of 72, is considered one of the most challenging tests of ability in the Northeast. Many of the holes here are tree-lined with ample bunking and enough water to create a few jangled nerves as the round proceeds. Some of the greens are elevated, further complicating proper club selection. The eighth hole is one of the toughest, par-fives in the state. It begins from an elevated tee box and a lake plays a factor on the first, second and third shots, as it must be avoided and then cleared on any approach to a rather large green protected by bunkers.
The Ledges Golf Club in South Hadley is a sweet layout that is routed through woodlands and over and around wetlands and natural areas. You won’t find two holes alike and they range from long and difficult par-fours, like the 448-yard second, to the 106-yard par-three third, short par-fours, such as the back-to-back drivable 15th and 16th holes, long par-threes, and very good par-fives that range from 489 to 579 yards.
Hickory Ridge Golf Club in Amherst is a well-conditioned semi-private track full of interesting holes. The first at Hickory Ridge is a medium-length, 501-yard par-five. It requires a player to hit two accurate shots to leave a short iron or pitch to an elevated green. The biggest concerns are the out of bounds over the green and the lateral hazard that runs the length of the hole on the left side. The 337-yard par-four seventh is short and presents a birdie chance, but there are dangers. Your drive you must carry a river that cuts across the fairway. Use a club that will carry approximately 225 yards. The second shot will only be a short wedge, but be careful, there is a small green and any shot right, left, short or long will produce a difficult pitch or sand shot. There is a water hazard over this green, so be careful not to get too aggressive.
The Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club in Lenox boasts a traditional New England course that is over 90 years old and designed by the noted architects of the early 20th century, Wayne Stiles and John Van Kleek. The layout rolls easily over the hills surrounding the resort and through mature woodlands of the area. The track course features tree-lined fairways and naturally contoured greens that have been carefully preserved.
The first three holes wander near a small clubhouse. The tee box on the third hole, a little 152-yarder that has a huge pine tree guarding the left side of the putting surface. You had better score well on the front side because the inward nine is much more difficult, with several brutal par-fours and some very good par-threes waiting. The 11th is one of the course’s signature holes, a 200-yard par-three that plays from a chute of trees to a severely slopped green. Huge bunkers guard the putting surface. The 13th is a superb, dogleg par-four that plays 426-yards from the tips. The drive is blind to a valley landing area and then it’s back uphill to the putting surface.
The Ranch Golf Club in Southwick is considered one of the top courses in New England. The conditions are always top notch, as is the service and the routing. This is a superb layout, one that is finely conditioned, and features a mix of open and woodland holes that plays to 7,175 yards from the tips.
The 540-yard par-five ninth and 618-yard par-five 16th play dramatically downhill and afford great views of the surrounding countryside. A well struck tee shot on the ninth will tumble down a hill and leave the player with a choice of either laying up for a short third shot or going for the green in two by challenging a wetlands area in front of the putting surface. The 195-yard par-three 17th, which plays across water, is the best short hole on the track.
Tekoa Country Club, located in the scenic foothills of the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, can race its lineage back to the grand master of golf course architecture in the U.S., Donald Ross. Ross laid out the original nine holes of Tekoa, and although only five of the original holes remain intact--the second, third, fourth, 14th and 15th--the owners of Tekoa have taken great care to insure Ross’s touch remains a big part of their course’s appeal. Cornish, one of the most prolific of all New England architects, redesigned the course in 1961 and added 13 holes of his own to today’s present routing.
Tekoa demands that you drive the ball straight and don’t wander too far astray with your approach shots. The greens demand a good short game, especially chipping ability if you miss. Only two-par fours, the second and 17th holes, stretch over 400 yards from the back tees and all four par-fives are under 500 yards and reachable in two for the big hitters.
Shaker Farms Country Club in Westfield is a unique track that contains some interesting holes. Routed through mature stands of trees, where wildlife is abundant, the Cornish design is being brought back to its original luster by new ownership.
The front side has two great par-threes, the demanding 225-yard seventh and the 165-yard ninth, the latter playing across a small pond. The back side features a nice mix of holes. The 318-yard par-four 10th plays uphill from the fairway landing area. The 12th, a 144-yard par-three, has a green flanked by tall pines and is the first of two very pretty short holes on the side.
The Blandford Club, located in Blan ford, name, is a nine-hole layout. Only 2,722 yards from the tips and playing to a par of 35, this is a fun, playable track for all levels of players. Beginners will enjoy the friendliness of the routing and rather short overall distance, while those more advanced can work on their iron and short game skills. The course is one of the oldest in the region, having opened in 1910 and designed by William Dexter.
Waubeeka Golf Links in South Williamstown, Ma. is known for its stunning views. During 2009 to 2010, there were renovations of the 1st, 2nd, 8th, 10th, 11th, 13th, 14th, 16th, 17th and 18th holes, which ranged from the addition of new tees and bunkers on existing holes to completely new holes being created.
Two of the best holes are the 11th, a 420-yard beast of a par-four that has a deep bunker to the right side of the green that makes getting up and down from there very difficult; and the 501-yard 17th, which has out of bounds the entire length along the right side and a lateral hazard almost all the way on the left side of the hole.
Mill Valley Golf Club in Belchertown has some of the best par-threes in the area, with one playing 240 yards from the back markers. The track is not overly long--6,583 yards from the tips--but demands precise club selection and proper shot making.
The course starts with back-to-back par-fives, both of which are reachable in two for big hitters. There is a great mix of short and long par-fours and those tough par-threes, including the aforementioned 240-yard fifth hole. The 468-yard par-four 14th demands two lusty shots to find the putting surface on the dogleg right hole. The layout ends with a long par-four, 422 yards, and a short four par, the 323-yard 18th, where a birdie will be a nice way to finish a round.
The Winchendon School Golf Course in Winchendon was designed by Donald Ross and features narrow fairways, small greens and rolling fairways that are basically untouched from the day Ross designed the layout in 1926, although some tee boxes and bunkers have been modified over the years. As with all Ross courses, Winchendon requires a good short game, especially if you miss those upraised, smallish greens. The course features a fabulous view from the 15th hole.
The 13th hole at Winchendon is a 377-yard par-four that starts with a blind tee shot. You’ll want to lay up short of a pond, unless you can carry it over 200 yards with driver off the tee. There’s out of bounds long over the green, so make sure you play it a little short on your approach. The 14th hole, nicknamed “The Horseshoe,” is a slight dogleg par-four that plays 372 yards from the tips. It’s only 170 yards to a brook that crosses the fairway, and you may think twice about flying it over the water. Favor the left side because everything kicks right. The approach is to a green hidden from view.
Gardner Municipal Golf Course is in the town that it takes its name from and is considered one of the hidden gems of the region. This is a challenging course for even the best players, with small undulating greens. The 100-acre layout is nestled compactly along the shores of Crystal Lake on the north side of the city. The course offers challenging approach shots due to its small, fast greens. Again, bring your chipping skills. Several of the holes, the 311-yard par-four 10th and 480-yard par-five 11th, play near Crystal Lake, which affords golfers a nice moment of relaxation before tackling both.
Agawam Golf Course in Feeding Hills is a “user friendly” track with a rolling terrain and undulating greens. The course is a solid condition and can play anywhere from 4,658 to 5,679 yards, although the course plays tougher than the yardage because of the small undulating greens and faster than usual greens. With four sets of tees the golfer can decide what length of course they would like to play for the day. A number of the par-fours are reachable or almost reachable for big hitters and are perfect opportunities for birdie. The number one handicap hole is the fourth, a 430-yarder that can play either as a four or a five. As a four it’s a tough par, but as a five a birdie chance awaits.
Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club Lenox, Ma.
The Ledges Golf Club
South Hadley, Ma.
The Ranch Golf Club
Shaker Farms Country Club Westfield, Ma.
Waubeeka Golf Links South Williamstown, Ma.
Tekoa Country Club
The Blandford Club
Mill Valley Golf Links
Winchendon Country Club Winchendon, Ma.
Gardner Municipal Golf Course
Agawam Golf Course
Feeding Hills, MA.
Hickory Ridge Golf Club
Crumpin Fox Golf Club