Finally. It’s spring and we’ve shaken off the dastardly winter weather that kept us inside and off the golf course for four months.
It’s time to, well, make up for lost time. What better way to plan your golf year than around these spectacular courses we have lined up for you. They include the best of the best from the Tri-State region of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Why not tack this story up in your office, on your refrigerator at home or keep it on your I-Phone and see if you can play them all before the end of the golfing season. We guarantee that it will be one memorable year if you can enjoy all of Golfing Magazine’s “Gotta’ Plays.”
Newport National Golf Club
Routed on 200 acres of a former orchard and designed by Arthur Hills and his associate Drew Rogers, Newport National in Middletown, R.I. has an Irish or Scottish links flavor to it, with wide open fairways, tall fescue that grows off the short grass, lots of bunkers, and greens that allow for run up shots.
One of the more beautiful tracks in New England, it offers sweeping vistas of The Sakonnet Passage, the Atlantic Ocean and Narragansett Bay.
Newport National features greens, tees and fairways consisting of 100 percent seaside bent grass. The wind often blows off the water, making Newport National play like a true seaside links course. The track plays 7,244 yards from the back markers and has a slope of 138, which tells you something about the challenge you will face here. There are four other sets of tees that make the course playable for golfers of all abilities.
The Captains Golf Club
The Captains in Brewster, Ma. has two superb 18-hole layouts, an expansive practice area with target greens surrounded by bunkers and a rolling terrain that allows players to simulate actual course conditions.
The Port Course weighs in at 6,724 yards from the tips and plays a stroke and a half higher than its par of 72. There are three other sets of tees.
The Starboard Course is a tad longer, 6,776 yards, and is also rated above its par of 73.
The Port Course has a neat mix of par-fives that includes three very tough and long holes, the sixth, eighth and 18th, and the 446-yard 13th hole that big hitters can easily reach in two. The 17th on the Port, a 246-yard par-three, features the smallest green on the entire 36 holes.
The Starboard Course has one of the most challenging par-fours in the area, the 451-yard fourth. The tee shot is to a slightly uphill, concave landing area, with the green sitting on a ledge that kicks away all but the most accurate of approaches.
Waverly Oaks Golf Club
Waverly Oaks Golf Club in Plymouth, Ma., located 45 minutes from Boston and an hour from Providence, R.I., offers one of the best daily fee experiences in the area.
The greens fees are reasonable, the playing conditions always good and the course challenging. The 27-hole facility has a Championship layout and a nine-hole “Challenger” track that is ideal for beginners or less experienced players.
Waverly Oaks’s Championship Course offers a challenging yet approachable routing that will test but won’t beat you up.
The best hole on the front side might be the 529-yard, par-five fourth, which has water guarding the green, making it risky to go for the putting surface in two.
Much of the beef on the layout comes from its very good par-threes, three of which play over 207 yards, including the 234-yard third and the 251-yard 17th, with the latter being perhaps the most difficult short hole in the region. It demands a superbly struck tee shot over a waste area and a yawning bunker that sits some 15 feet below the putting surface. An up and down from below the green is a difficult task.
The club’s Challenger Course plays only 2,264 yards from the back and is a par-33. Conditions on the Challenger track are just as good as on the Championship Course.
Blackstone National Golf Club
Master golf course architect Rees Jones created what many have called one of his best works in the wooded countryside of the Blackstone Valley area of southwestern Massachusetts, not far from Worcester in Sutton.
Blackstone National Golf Club weaves over hill and dale, through mature stands of trees, past old stone walls and contains enough character to fill a golfer’s dreams. The sense of peace and immersion in nature is second only to the challenging golf Jones presents the visitor.
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. www.bngc.net (508-865-2111).
The Ranch Golf Club
The Ranch Golf Club in Southwick, Ma. has gained a reputation as one of the elite daily fee clubs in the region.
Management takes great effort in making a visit an extremely pleasurable, stress-free experience. The Ranch is an enjoyable routing, a mix of open and woodland holes that never fail to surprise and 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.
While difficult, 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 first hole is a pleasant way to begin. The 510-yard par-five has a massive fairway that shrinks as you approach the putting surface, which is guarded by water to the left.
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 Crumpin-Fox Club was carved out of the forest close to the Vermont line in Bernardston, Ma.
Many of the holes here are tree-lined with ample bunking and enough water to create a few jangled nerves as the round proceeds. Some of the greens are elevated, further complicating proper club selection, especially when the breeze kicks up.
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.
There is no shortage of great holes at “Crump,” designed by noted golf course architect Roger Rulewich, who lives nearby and maintains an office on the property.
The 18th is wonderful. The drive needs to stay clear of trees left and right to set up a daunting mid-iron across a pond to a snake-like green that can be almost impossible to find depending upon pin placement.
Fox Hopyard Golf Club
Fox Hopyard Golf Club in East Haddam, Ct. is a classic woodland course that is a true joy to play any time of the year.
This is one of architect Roger Rulewich’s best designs. He incorporated the rolling terrain and wetlands of the area to create demanding shots, although the fairways on most holes are ample and the undulating greens large and receptive.
The course plays 6,912 yards from the tips but there are four other sets of tees to meet the playing ability of all golfers.
There are a few open holes on the layout, but most of the track rambles up and down the hilly woodlands of the Connecticut River Valley area. Two of the best are the 202-yard par-three fourth hole that begins from an elevated tee that offers stunning views of the countryside, and the next, a 505-yard par-five, that also starts from a hill and flows down a tree-lined fairway and across a stream.
The 18th is visually stunning. The tee shot must navigate between fairway bunkers and find the generous landing area. The second shot on this 551-yard par-five must steer clear of a pond to the right and tall mounds and bunkers on the left. Even after good layup, the approach is tricky because of the water and greenside bunkers.
Lyman Orchards Golf Club (Jones Course)
Lyman Orchards Golf Club’s “Jones Course” in Middlefield, Ct. was selected by the Connecticut Section of the Professional Golfers’ Association of America to host last year’s 79th Connecticut PGA Championship.
The Robert Trent Jones, Sr. layout at Lyman Orchards Golf Club two years ago debuted a $2 million upgrade and renovation that was led by noted architect Mark Mungeam.
Mungeam is the man who put his talents to the reworking of fabled Olympia Fields Country Club’s North Course and the design of the Golf Club at Oxford Greens in Oxford, Ct., among other courses.
The work at Lyman Orchards involved replacing an irrigation system, renovating all existing bunkers, adding new bunkers, improving drainage on a number of holes and creating sightlines to make a round more aesthetically pleasing.
The Jones Course, opened in 1969, has hosted numerous qualifiers for what is now The Traveler’s Championship PGA Tour event. It measures over 7,000 yards from the tips.
Wintonbury Hills Golf Course
Wintonbury Hills in Bloomfield, Ct. was designed by Pete Dye, a master golf course architect who designed Whistling Straits Golf Club, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort, Harbour Town at Sea Pines Plantation, Oak Tree Golf Club, the Stadium Course at PGA West, the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass, and Crooked Stick Golf Club.
In Wintonbury, Dye created a course that is challenging for the best players, yet enjoyable for all skill levels. His routing, a pleasant mix of what is commonly referred as “links style” and more traditional woodland holes is always interesting. Slight elevation changes enhance the pleasing visual effect of the layout, which plays to a par of 70 and measures 6,650 yards from the tips. The views of the surrounding hills are stunning.
Dye placed over 100 bunkers, both fairway and greenside, in his design. Like the putting surfaces, the grass around the bunkers is hand mown, a nice touch that adds luster to the overall appearance of the course. Fairway bunkers frame the ample fairways, presenting a clear target for the player on the tee box.
Also in evidence are chipping areas around the undulating greens, another Dye trademark, as he is keen on short game ability. There is also room to run the ball up and into the green, as well as bailout areas on each hole.
Gillette Ridge Golf Club
The owners and operators of Gillette Ridge Golf Club in Bloomfield, Ct. have been busy during the past few years making the course more playable for a greater variety of skill levels.
Much if the work has already been completed, such as removing bunkers near the green on the 431-yard third hole to allow for run-up shots, removing bunkers to the rear of the 365-yard par-four sixth hole to make it easier for players to get up and down if they miss the putting surface, and removing bunkers in front of the 430-yard 10th hole that accomplished the same goal.
Bunkers have also been removed on the 447-yard par-four ninth to create a chipping area to the left of the green, and to the left front of the 431-yard 16th hole to create another chipping area. Tall trees to the right side of the 426-yard dogleg right first hole have been taken down, allowing players hitting their tee shots a bit short to still have a shot at the green.
In addition, a large chipping area is being constructed to the left rear portion of the 577-yard par-five 17th hole’s green to allow players to go for the putting surface in two and not be so severely penalized if they miss the target. Before, a shot slightly off line tumbled down into a wooded area. And there’s an entirely new green complex on the par-three fourth hole.
Great River Golf Club
Great River Golf Club in Milford, Ct. has developed a reputation as one of the top daily fee layouts in the Northeast.
Tommy Fazio, the nephew of noted golf course architect Tommy Fazio, routed the course over rolling terrain common to New England, with elevation changes, trees and water--everything that makes good course management essential. If you play the blue or white tees distance is not as important as accuracy and club selection.
This is a course that will reward a thoughtful approach, and one must ere on the side of caution or big numbers lurk on most holes. The slope from the tips is around 150, which gives you an indication of the supreme challenge that waits. But then again, good things never come easy.
The par-four, 419-yard third hole is a prime example a hole that simply must be respected. It’s not long, but your approach requires a shot over a valley that contains multiple bunkers leading to an elevated, sloping green.
The hardest hole may be the par-four, 440-yard 16th. It demands both distance and accuracy off the tee. The fairway has water on the right and a marsh on the left. Your second shot--a long-iron or fairway wood into the green--must avoid a massive tree to the right of the putting surface that Fazio decided to leave where he found it. www.greatrivergolfclub.com
For opinions, golf course reviews, profiles and tennis talk, visit John Torsiello’s website at www.torsmangolf.com