The excitement around The University Club of Connecticut located in North Windham was palpable as the chill in the air as summer turned to autumn.
Former UCONN basketball star and NBA veteran Donny Marshall, along with partners Chuck and Joe Grodovich, finalized plans to take over ownership of the former Willimantic Country Club and bring the facility into a new era.
“Last October, when I heard that Willimantic Country Club was being sold, I went to Donny and we talked about the concept of bringing affordable golf and a new dining experience to the Windham area,” said Chuck Grodovich, a veteran of the golf business who has served as general manager at several Hartford area clubs.
Marshall, an avid golfer, loved the idea and the pair approached the University of Connecticut about the possibility of linking the school’s golf interests with the North Windham-Willimantic facility.
“We met with the Board of Directors of WCC and they liked the idea,” said Chuck Grodovich. “Then we made a presentation to the members who owned Willimantic C.C. and they also approved of the idea.”
The club currently has 180 members. Hopes are to build that number to around 240 or so next year and make the club a haven for present UConn students, faculty, athletes, coaches and officials as well as alumni. The club will remain semi-private and have tee times available to the general public. Individuals will not have to be UConn alumni or affiliated with the school to purchase a membership and golfers can play the rest of the 2009 season free if they join now for the 2010 season.
The University of Connecticut golf team has already committed to play its home matches and practice at The University Club and a number of UConn coaches, staff, and former players have been frequenting the charming course.
Donny Marshall and the Grodovich brothers are extremely pleased with the renovation work to the existing clubhouse. The course conditions have become excellent with the addition of skilled course superintendent John Labrie, formerly of Gillette Ridge Golf Club in Bloomfield, Ct., and his talented staff.
“According to longtime members our overall course conditions, especially the greens, are the best they have ever been,” said Chuck Grodovich. “We’ve completely renovated the interior and exterior of the clubhouse, parking lot and curb appeal.”
He continued, “Rounds are up because of the peaked interest in Donny’s involvement in the club and the positive changes being made. It’s exciting, on any given day you might see Donny, Coach (Jim) Calhoun, Ray Allen, Kevin Ollie, Travis Knight, or another UConn greats playing here.”
The club’s food and beverage operations will remain open 12 months of the year and is an ideal place to hold events and parties, with seating up to 175. The Charter Tavern and Oak Room restaraunt provides a comfortable atmosphere to enjoy with friends after a round and enjoy a cold beverage and a bite to eat from the grill, while watching your favorite sports.
Chuck Grodovich says that plans are to bring in a PGA Tour player and a course architect to lengthen the layout by adding pro tee boxes to six or seven of the holes.
The club first opened in 1922 and was maintained as a private facility until only a few years ago when it was opened to the public. Thus, the conditions are very good for a daily fee facility and well worth the modest greens fees. The putting surfaces are medium in size with some undulation. They roll true and reward good approach shots with makeable birdie opportunities. The rough areas are kept at a height to somewhat penalize wayward tee shots but still allow you to advance the ball to the greens with a good swing.
The course demands precision off the tee, as mature trees line many of the holes. There is a pleasing mix of holes, ranging from short to long par-fours, reachable par-fives and demanding par-threes, the latter perhaps the strength of the track.
Examples of the shifting demands the course places on your game are the first two holes. Number one is a 376-yard par-four that plays uphill from the fairway landing area to a green protected by bunkers. The second is a really nice, 287-yard par-four that offers several options off the tee. Big hitters can try and reach the putting surface, but the wise play is a long iron to set up a wedge into a green protected by high-faced bunkers left and right.
The third and fourth holes are tough par-fours, measuring 418 and 416 yards respectively. Maybe the best par-five on the course in the 484-yard sixth hole. A long drive to the right side of the fairway on this dogleg left will allow the player to go for the green in two.
The seventh is a solid par-three, playing 191 yards, with the tee shot through a chute of trees to a slightly elevated green guarded by bunkers and woods to the left.
The back nine is a really fun routing. There’s the 120-yard par-three 10th, the 292-yard par-four 12th that has pond guarding the front of the green, which makes going for the putting surface with a driver much to risky, and the monstrous, 433-yard 14th, where par feels like a birdie.
The 17th hole is another long par-four, measuring 430 yards from the tips. The back nine ends in quite dramatic fashion, with a stunning 220-yard par-three that plays downhill. The day we played the track the wind was in our face and I selected a driver, fortunately finding the putting surface. Again, par here feels like a birdie.
This is a gem worth the visit. You never know who you might run into on the practice putting green, the first tee or in the clubhouse.
The public is invited to check out the course, renovations, daily fee rates and membership packages on the club’s website at www.uclubct.com.
The University Club of Connecticut
184 Club Rd, North Windham, CT 06256
860-456-1971 Golf Shop