In this issue, we would like to share with you a sampling of courses you may have heard about, may not have played and maybe didnít even know that you could play! They are all worth the effort to experience as they are among the top courses in the New England area. Read on, friends . . . Blackstone National G. C.
Sutton, MA www.blackstonegolfclub.com
(508) 865-2111 - Rees Jones Design - Public, 18 holes
Rees Jones created what many have called one of his best works in the wooded countryside of the Blackstone Valley area not far from Worcester.
Blackstone National Golf Club is a truly splendid tract, one that weaves over hill and dale, through mature stands of trees, past old stone walls, containing enough character to fill a golferís dreams. The sense of peace and immersion in nature is second only to the challenging golf Jones presents the visitor to this special place.
Jones incorporated only a few forced carries into his routing at Blackstone National, allowing even mid- and high-handicappers to navigate the course in relative comfort. To make matters easier, Jones also designed large fairways that allow a player to stay in the hole even after a less than perfect tee shot. There is ample bunkering that guards the medium sized greens, making it imperative to choose the proper club on approaches.
The short holes are perhaps the best of the 18 at Blackstone National, which stretches to almost 7,000 yards from the tips and plays to a par of 72. Maybe the best of the bunch is the 173-yard 11th, which plays over a small pond.
One of the best par-fours on the course is the 486-yard 15th, which bends to the left after a large ridge that cuts across the fairway. Hit it just right and youíll tumble down the hill and shorten the hole by 50 to 100 yards. The drop from tee to green is almost 80 feet, creating a magnificent view from the tee box.
The 18th at Blackstone National is a truly superb finishing hole. Itís a somewhat short, 485-yard par-five. But the tee shot must be true to find a landing area protected by wetlands and woods. Big hitters can reach the putting surface in two shots. But the approach is uphill and there are a number of nasty bunkers guarding the putting surface. The wiser play might be to lay up in front of the green and knock a wedge on for a shot at birdie to finish what surely will have been a memorable round.
Oh yes, youíll want to play well at the 18th, for a crowd usually gathers on the veranda hovering above the green on nice days to watch the groups come up to the clubhouse. Good shots are rewarded with cheers and bad ones, well, donít worry about it. Maplegate C. C.
Bellingham, MA www.maplegate.com
(508) 966-4040 - Wogan / French Design - Public, 18 holes
Located in a scenic, quiet area near Bellingham and Franklin, Mass., west of Boston, Maplegate Country Club has been delighting visitors ever since it opened.
Built in lush woodlands dotted with maples, beech, oak and white birch trees, architect Philip Wogan designed a course that fits superbly into its environment and offers an always interesting, challenging round.
The 6,815-yard, well-conditioned layout, which hosted a U.S. Open qualifier in 1998 and 2001, offers a great mix of holes, from short par-fours that may be drivable for the big hitters, to brutally long, difficult four pars. Water comes into play on a number of holes and makes tee shots and approaches to the rather large and undulating greens dicey at times.
Take number four for instance. The par-five is only 522 yards from the back tees. But the lay-up must be hit as close to a pond as possible if you entertain any thoughts of getting on in two shots. Number five, a beefy 431-yard par-four, has water running across its fairway and a nasty fairway bunker guarding the right side of the landing area.
The backside has several great holes, including the 382-yard 11th that has a pond protecting the left side of the green and three bunkers guarding the right.
The 12th, playing at 191 yards from the back markers, is a superb par-three that demands a nerves-of-steel shot over water that hugs the left side of the green.
And the 16th is a wonderfully designed par-five that plays 530 yards and features a rather narrow fairway, a stream cutting across the short grass about 90 yards out from the green, and a pond to the right side the putting surface. Even a lay-up shot here to leave a wedge into the green in a risky proposition.
Number 18 is a scintillating finishing hole. The 447-yard par-four doglegs severely to the right and demands a tee shot of over 200 yards to have an unfettered look at the green. A stream must be carried and a greenside pond avoided on the approach shot.
There really isnít a weak hole at Maplegate Country Club, and there is enough variety to keep players interested the entire round and coming back for more once they finish.
There are four sets of tees to allow players of all abilities to enjoy Maplegate. New England C. C.
Bellingham, MA www.newenglandcountryclub.com
(508) 883-2300 - Hale Irwin Design - Public, 18 holes
Hale Irwin has quietly proven to be a sound PGA Tour player/golf course architect over the past 20 years.
The bespectacled, three-time U.S. Open champ was the mastermind behind the design of New England Country Club in Bellingham, Mass., one of the best-conditioned and most interesting courses in the greater Boston area. The layout has played host to a number of prominent tournaments, including the New England Public Links and NCAA Division II regionals.
New England CC has the look and feel of a private club, with Irwin placing his routing smoothly over rolling hills and through mature woods. He also designed multiple tee boxes to allow all players the opportunity to enjoy the track.
While not overly long at around 6,500 yards from the back tees, New England CC is a true test of golf that features several doglegs, ample greenside and fairway bunkers, and water on a number of holes.
Number three is a fine, short par-four, measuring 338 yards from the tips. It bends ever so slightly to the left with a pond guarding the left side of the green.
The number one handicap hole on the course is the 521-yard par-five fifth. While not especially long, it demands a lusty drive to reach the corner of the dogleg with trees protecting the left side and bunkers to the right of the landing area. The second shot must also be true to find a suitable area from where to hit a short iron approach shot into a deep green that has bunkers on either side.
The ninth hole is a tough way to finish the front side. The 401-yard par-four, a dogleg left, has water that must be cleared off the tee and again on the approach shot.
The 12th hole is a superb, 171-yard par-three that calls for a shot over a pond, and the 13th is a 403-yard par-four that asks the player to fly it over water on the approach shot.
Number 16, a 161-yard par-three, is made more intimidating by having to clear yet another pond on the tee shot with bunkers on three sides of the putting surface.
New England CC, which offers stunning views spring through fall, has all the amenities one would expect from a private club, including an all-grass driving range, practice bunkers, a practice putting green, and computerized GPS yardage systems on the carts.
The clubís Eganís Pub Grille Room and Patio are great for those after round get-togethers. Blue Fox Run G. C.
Avon, CT www.bluefoxent.com
(860) 678-1679 - Stephen Kay Design - Public, 18 holes
Avon, Ct.ís Blue Fox Run Golf Course is public golf at its best.
A friendly atmosphere that caters to parents and women, a superb practice facility and 18 holes of top shelf golf are enough to make this greater Hartford tract one of the areaís favorites.
Conditions at Blue Fox Run, which is adding a new nine this year, have improved dramatically over the years to the point where the club hosted a Futures Tour event for several years before the tournament was moved to recently opened Gillette Ridge Golf Club in Bloomfield.
Blue Fox Run is a true playersí course in that it appeals to both accomplished golfers and beginners. The front nine is wide open and never takes driver out of the equation, a nice bonus in these days of target golf. The first half of the back nine is much the same, but the layout tightens down the stretch, pushing the visitor to play well to finish of a round in high style.
The best hole on the front side may be the eighth, a 568-yard par-five that plays through a chute of trees on the tee shot and concludes at an elevated, severely slopping green that is brutal to putt. The eighth demonstrates that you donít need a lot of hazards to make a hole difficult. Just length and a great green complex.
The 10th, a par-four measuring 430 yards from the tips, is perhaps the nicest on the course. The tee shot must be struck true with water guarding the right and a huge bunker left. The approach is partially over water with large bunkers protecting both sides of the double-tired putting surface.
The 13th is the longest four par on the course. Itís 456 yards of straightforward brawn that demands a crushed tee ball to avoid having to hit a fairway wood in for your second shot.
The 402-yard par-four 16th is the most challenging driving hole on the course, with the tee ball needing to thread trees to the right and the Farmington River the left.
The 175-yard par-three 17th is an island green complex that can play enormously difficult when the wind blows in your face.
The finishing hole is solid, a 416-yard par-four that bends to the right. Take some of the distance off by cutting the corner. But push it right and water waits. There are deep bunkers guarding the green. Dunegrass Golf Club
Old Orchard Beach, ME www.dunegrass.com
(207) 934-4513 - Dan Maples Design - Public, 18 holes
Located near Old Orchard Beach and the city of Portland and only an hourís drive north from Boston is one of Maineís best golf courses, Dunegrass Golf Club.
North Carolina-based architect Dan Maples brought a down-home feeing to Maine when he designed Dunegrass, for there is a distinct Carolina feel to the 6,684-yard, par-71 course that features sandy waste areas and pine needled rough. The course, which opened for play in 1998 and remains in pristine condition, sprawls over 300 acres.
While the tract is not long it does require a thoughtful approach on every shot. Proper club selection is a must as is the ability to chip and putt around and on the undulating greens. There are plenty of bunkers in the fairways and around the greens to further complicate matters.
There are two new holes at Dunegrass for this year, the 384-yard 10th and the 184-yard 11th. Water comes into play on over half the holes, including three of the par-threes, which are a strength of the layout. The course features a pleasing variety of holes.
The 548-yard par-five first is a great way to start the round. The first shot is from an elevated tee that presents a stunning view of the entire hole. Waste areas and water guards the right side of the hole and the fairway is narrow as it winds to a green protected by sand.
The fourth hole is a wonderful short par-four, measuring only 314 yards from the tips. But the tee shot must clear a waste area to the left and there is a pond guarding the front left side of the green. Maybe the wise play is a fairway wood or long iron off the tee to leave a wedge into the putting surface.
Dunegrass has one of the best finishing holes in New England. The par-five measures 548 yards from the tips and the tee shot is across water, although the carry is relatively slight. Sand and waste bunkers guard the fairway all the way to the green, making a lay-up a dicey proposition. The 18th plays as the second handicap hole on the course, so par here will make the refreshments in Dunegrassí attractive lounge or restaurant taste even better.
Located so close to Old Orchard Beach, there are plenty of oceanside sights and sounds to enjoy after your round.
Dunegrass has a driving range, practice greens and bunker, and a full pro shop.