It’s high summer in western Massachusetts and that means the courses in are top condition and ready to be thoroughly enjoyed before the chores of autumn infringe upon our free time.
Here are a handful of beauties that you don’t want to miss this year.
The Ranch Golf Club
Let’s start with one of the most beautiful courses in New England, The Ranch Golf Club in Southwick.
I had the chance to pay this stunner in early July and it was of the most aesthetically pleasing experiences I’ve had on a golf course. The fescue rough was tall, the fairways, greens and tee boxes like carpets and the wildflowers in full bloom. A bad day at The Ranch is still pretty darn good, if only for the scenery.
The Ranch is an enjoyable routing, with a mix of open and woodland holes that never fails to delight. The layout plays 7,175 yards from the tips and has a rating of 75.4 and a slope of 143 from the back markers. Take my advice, play the course from the setoff tees that best suits you playing ability and you will enjoy your round much more than if you try to prove something to yourself and your buddies.
While it is difficult, especially from the back markers, you can score at The Ranch, as long as you hit the ball straight off the tee and don’t get too greedy on approach shots to the undulating greens that are usually well protected by sand, water or rough.
The 441-yard par-four fourth is one of the prettiest holes on the course. It starts with a carry across a small ravine to a fairway that flows up toward the green. The hole is framed by tall pines and guarded by fairway and greenside bunkers.
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.Tekoa Country Club
Legendary golf course designer Donald Ross designed an original nine holes at Tekoa Country Club, located in the scenic foothills of the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, in 1923.
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 part of their course’s appeal. Geoffrey Cornish, one of the most prolific of all New England architects, redesigned the course in 1961 and added 13 gems of his own to today’s present routing.
About 400 yards of length have been added to the layout in the last few years, while the present owners have also refreshed the course’s classic bunkering system, and enhanced several greens. While not overly long at 6,215 yards from the tips, Tekoa’s smallish, undulating greens are difficult to find and a good short game is essential.
Located in Westfield, Tekoa was originally built around 1890. When the four-hole course on Western Avenue opened it was one of the first golf clubs in western Massachusetts. A clubhouse was added in 1911 on property now owned by Westfield State College.
Ross was commissioned to redesign the course and made it nine holes in 1923. The classic features of Ross’s original holes remain intact, such as the hole’s natural characteristics, and small, raised, undulating greens that place a premium on chipping and putting skills.
You can go low at Tekoa, provided you hit the ball straight off the tee and bring a good short game with you. Only two-par fours, the second and 17th holes, measure over 400 yards from the back tees and all four par-fives are under 500 yards and reachable in two for the big hitters.
Mill Valley Golf Links
Mill Valley Golf Links in Belchertown is one of the region’s newest 18-hole layouts.
The course has some really solid par-threes, with one playing a whopping 240 yards from the back markers. The track is not overly long--6,583 yards from the tips-- but demands precise club selection and sound 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 beastly fifth hole.
The back nine has two par-fours, the 319-yard 11th and the 316-yard 15th, that the big hitters can think about reaching the green with driver.
The 468-yard par-four 14th is a demanding hole and requires 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.Winchendon School Golf Course
Winchendon School Golf Course in Winchendon features narrow fairways, with small greens and rolling fairways that are basically untouched from the day Donald 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 master created. The courses features a fabulous vista from the 15th hole.
The 13th hole is a 377-yard par-four that starts with a blind tee shot. You’ll really 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 tad 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 the stout will not 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.
The 18th is a very cool finisher, a 165-yard par-three that plays through a chute of trees. It’s all carry to the green, which slopes left to right.
Typical of early 20th century golf courses, little earth was moved in making Winchendon, thus the topography is rolling and leaves you with tricky lies at times.Bas-Ridge Golf Course
Bas-Ridge Golf Course in Hinsdale, near the city of Pittsfield, is one of those fun courses you stumble upon every so often.
Playing to a par of 70, it’s only slightly over 5,000 yards long from the tips and a number of par-fours measure 300 yards or less. However, don’t get lulled into thinking you can just let it rip and hit half wedges into the greens here. Despite its yardage, the course record is a modest six-under-par 64, which gives you an indication that this is a track that has a little more bite than first appears.
The course was built on hilly terrain and opened for play in 1998. Since that time it has come to be loved by locals and visitors to the area alike, who enjoy its pleasingly straightforward routing, good conditions, nice views and undulating greens.
There is water that comes into play on five holes and only a smattering of bunkers, the largest of which borders the right side of the fairway on the good 481-yard par-five 16th hole, one of only two par-fives on the layout.
Several of the par-fours are drivable for big hitters, with the opening hole, a 353-yarder, probably being the sternest of the bunch. It’s a slight dogleg to the right and you’ll need a precise tee shot to leave a clear approach to a rather large green.
The par-threes at Bas-Ridge are very good, with the 194-yard third and 190-yard 12th pushing 200 yards. The 15th is a little 115-yard par-three that can cause some problems if you don’t hit the putting surface.Shaker Farms Country Club
While on the short side, just 6,285 yards from the tips, 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 Geoffrey 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 17th, a par-five measuring only 457 yards from the tips, is a dramatic dogleg right that plays downhill off the tee and then back uphill to an elevated green. A stream wanders along the left side of the fairway landing area and bisects the fairway about 180 yards from the green. It’s one of the toughest short par-fives in the area.The Blandford Club
The Blandford Club, located in the town which gives it its name, is a delightful nine-hole layout nestled in the scenic hills of the western portion of the Commonwealth State.
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.CONTACT INFORMATION
The Ranch Golf Club
Tekoa Country Club
Shaker Farms Country Club
Bas-Ridge Golf Course
Winchendon School Golf Club
Mill Valley Golf Links
The Blandford Club