Recreational golfers will love the changes being made at Gillette Ridge Golf Club in Bloomfield, Connecticut.
While retaining much of the challenge of the Palmer Design layout, the new manager of the layout, Matt Manchetti and MDM Golf, LLC, has made a number of holes more approachable for a wider range of skill levels.
“I wouldn’t say we necessarily softened or made the course easier,” said Pat Aquaro, director of golf at the facility. “What the changes have done to the course is make it more playable for all golfers. The skilled player will still be supremely challenged because you can’t get around the fact that it plays 7,191 yards from the tips. But the average player now has options on playing some of the toughest holes on the course.”
Take the third hole for instance. Bunkers in front and to the immediate right of the par-four’s peninsula green, as well as a large tree on the right side of the putting surface, were removed and a chipping area created. The hole still plays like a beast from the tips and the second shot remains tough, with water left and back of the green. But players hitting short on their second shot can now get up and down or at least make no worse than bogey.
Bunkers to the rear of the par-four fifth hole were removed to create another chipping area, and a large bunker was removed from the front left side of number nine, a long par-four. High grass that guards a wetland area on the par-four 16th hole was cut down to give the player who hit a good drive that was a tad too long to hold the fairway a chance to reach the green from what is now rough.
More changes are in the offing, including the removal of additional bunkers on several holes. The roundly criticized, overly penal, narrow par-three third hole is also being eyed for major changes.
Said Aquaro, “We are going to keep doing things to make the course more playable for a wide range of golfers. We want to attract the average player as well as the better golfer.”
Sure, some forced carries remain at Gillette Ridge, both off the tee and on approach shots to the medium size, undulating putting surfaces. But this imbues Gillette with its challenge, and most of the carries will be hit with a short iron. The fairway landing areas are ample. In a nod to its stellar routing and solid conditions, Gillette Ridge annually hosts a Futures Tour event.
There are four sets of tees at Gillette Ridge, making the course play anywhere from 7,191 yards at the tips to 5,582 from the forward markers. The course has a slope of 135 and a rating of slightly over 74 from the back markers. Heed this advice; play up if it’s your first time. You’ll enjoy your round to a far greater degree.
Gillette Ridge is skillfully routed over the softly undulating terrain of land owned by the Cigna Corporation and fits nicely into the existing natural landscape. Most of the holes are self-contained, further enhancing the enjoyment of playing here. There are a number of peninsula greens built with granite from the site with walls near several greens and tee boxes. Bunkers and water in some form or the other comes into play on half the holes.
The second hole is the course’s signature. The tee box affords a view of the Heublein Tower in the distance, and the 505-yard, par-five winds down to a peninsula green. This is a true risk-reward hole, as a long drive will leave the player with an opportunity to go for the green in two. But a pond guards the right side of the putting surface and long is bad.
The 10th hole is a very good par-four. The 410-yarder calls for a tee shot across water with the drive needing to steer clear of a large fairway bunker on the left. Then it’s a mid-iron approach to a green that is guarded by bunkers on three sides. Preliminary plans call for removal of several of the bunkers in front of the green, which will allow for run-up shots to the very narrow, deep putting surface. The changes will make a sound par-four better for all levels of players.
The 182-yard 11th hole is a stunning par-three that calls for a shot across a small pond to a green framed by large trees to the rear of the putting surface.
The 13th hole is one of the best short par-fours in the state. Its only 294 yards from the tips and big hitters can most certainly reach the slightly raised putting surface in one shot. But bunkers litter the landscape, so the tee shot better be true or you’ll have to get up and down for birdie.
There’s also some talk of removing a bunker or two from the 187-yard par-three 15th hole, which I believe is perhaps the best short hole on the track. The tee shot is uphill to a green that is partially hidden from view. The green has severe slopes, so making it onto the putting surface in regulation does not guarantee par.
The 577-yard par-five 17th doglegs to the left off the tee and can be reached in two by big hitters who cut the corner over fairway bunkers. But the green is narrow and sits atop an old bridge. Short right and long puts you in wetlands, so the wise play is a layup followed by a wedge into the putting surface.
The 18th hole at Gillette Ridge may be the best finisher in the state. It’s 478 yards from the tips and the tee shot must be lusty. The approach will be made to a narrow green protected by a large pond to the right, long and left and bunkers.
There’s a well-stocked pro shop, locker rooms and a restaurant and bar that serves as a great place to hang out after a round or meet friends and family for dinner. The club has plans to enhance its dinning area, which also includes a large outdoor patio that offers a great view of the 10th tee and the 18th green.
Gillette Ridge Golf Club
The club is also offering extremely reasonable greens fees--$50 for 18 and a cart weekdays, $65 for the same deal on weekends.