Central Massachusetts' String of Pearls
Sure, Maine has its "String of Pearls," a classic stretch of holes on the back nine of Sugarloaf Golf Club. But Massachusetts has its own string of pearls located along the Route 91 corridor.
Pub Links Gofer Magazine believes golfers will love the luster of this pleasant mix of public golf courses that stretch from the northern part of the state near the Vermont border to the Connecticut state line.
We've picked five of our favorite pearls to discuss and recommend-- . We think these Bay State pearls will dazzle and delight.
The Crumpin-Fox Club in Bernardston was carved out of the forest close to Vermont. The two nines here were built at different times, but they blend seamlessly to create a marvelous golfing experience. Many of the holes are tree-lined with ample bunking and enough water to create a few jangled nerves as the round proceeds.The 550-yard, par-five eighth is one of the more celebrated holes in New England. A lake runs along the entire left side of the fairway towards the putting surface, necessitating an eventual approach shot over water to an undulating green.
The back side has many superbly designed holes. The best may be the finishing hole, a par-four, 440-yarder that calls for a robust tee shot between stands of trees to set up a dicey approach shot to a long, shallow green guarded by wetlands and bunkers. A par here makes the day much more enjoyable.
Hickory Ridge Country Club in Amherst measures around 6,500 yards from the tips. But length can be misleading. The tract plays to a rating of 71.1 and has a slope of 126 from the back tees because of the demands the layout places on shot making ability and touch around the greens.
A river runs along 13 of the holes, severely punishing wayward shots, both off the tee and on approaches to the greens. The seventh hole at Hickory Ridge is a superb, short par-four. The drive must carry the river, which cuts across the middle of the fairway. A well struck shot will leave a wedge into a small green guarded by sand traps and a pond to the rear of the putting surface. It's a birdie hole, but bogey or worse can easily result.
The 18th hole at Hickory Ridge is considered one of the best closers in Massachusetts. It measures 470 yards from the tips, with the long par-four requiring a lusty tee shot to avoid the river to the left and rough on the right. The second shot will likely be struck with a long iron or fairway wood to an elevated, large green protected by bunkers. Four is a great score and makes a visit to the 19th hole all the more enjoyable.
The Ledges Golf Club in South Hadley opened only three years ago. Since that time it has developed a reputation for its eclectic mix of holes, friendly staff and affordable prices (especially considering the quality of the layout).
Glance at the scorecard before starting a round and you'll be tempted into thinking the course is a pushover. Wrong. Sure, several of the par-fours measure under 300 yards, but that's where the fun comes in. You can go for the green off the tee, but you had better hit it straight because trouble, and double bogeys, lurk all-around.
The Ledges is a real shot makers delight. The meat of the course hits you out of the box, with the first four holes among the seven toughest on the layout. The par-five, 550-yard opening hole is a true three-shot par-five. And the dogleg 430-yard, par-four second plays over a natural area to the landing area to set up a long approach to a green guarded by bunkers and woods to the left and rear.
An example of the quirkiness of The Ledges can be found on the sixth and seventh holes. Both par-fours measure under 300 yards and the golf gods call for you to take out the driver and go for the green. Wander left or right and you're in deep trouble--deep as in tall grass--and making par, let alone birdie, may become difficult.
And there are 11th and 12th holes, perhaps the most incongruous back-to-back holes to be found anywhere. The 11th is a testy par-four that measures well over 400 yards with woods right and left all the way down to a narrow green. The 12th is a par-three that is under 100 yards in length. But the green is small and there's a sand trap guarding the front. Donít chuckle at this hole until you make par.
Park-like Oak Ridge Golf Club in Feeding Hills is scenic and fun. The course isnít long, playing a little over 5,700 yards from what are considered the "member tees." But water comes into play on a number of holes, the fairways are narrow--especially on the back side--and the greens rather small.
The eighth hole is a visually stunning 181-yard par-three that calls for a mid-iron shot over a pond to a green framed by tall evergreens. Number 18 is a 426-yard par-four that demands for a strong tee shot and a steady approach to a narrow green guarded by bunkers and water to the right.
The final pearl in our strand is the Ranch Golf Club in Southwick, which sits on 320 acres of former farmland. The course is considered one New England's finest. The routing is a mix of links style and woodland holes. The fairways are fairly large and there are 60 sand traps dotting the course.
The Ranch has some of the best par-fives to be found anywhere. The 618-yard 16th starts from atop a hill and rolls down towards a huge green, which is guarded by two ponds.
Maybe the best hole on the course is the 441-yard, par-four fourth, the number one handicap hole. This starts the woodland section of the course and the tall pines and hardwoods that frame the hole present a delightful natural backdrop. The approach shot is to an elevated green hidden from view from the fairway, making proper club selection a must.
The Ranch offers a superb challenge. There is enough openness to make one feel comfortable on the tee box, and a good deal of bite that keeps even the best players interested the entire round. www.theranchgolfclub.com