I had to good fortune to be invited for a visit to the Woodstock Inn and Resort in Woodstock,Vt. several months ago.
What a great place. Located almost in the center of what has been called by some scribes as a “quintessential” New England village, with its colonial homes, tree-shaded streets and white picket fences, the town of Woodstock is a throwback to a simpler time when Americans treated one another with civility and the pace of life was far less harried.
While a tour of the town was nice, the real treat of a stay at the Woodstock Inn was a chance to play one of the neatest courses in New England, Woodstock Inn & Resort Golf Club. More about that later.
I begin this story with my trip because that’s what we at Golfing Magazine would like you to do this summer. Throw your sticks in the trunk, gas up the SUV and head north to enjoy the mild days and cool nights of northern New England while the leaves are still green. No expensive airline tickets needed. Just a vehicle, a full tank of gas, your clubs and a few hour’s drive will take you and your spouse or buddies to some of the finest golf courses, and countryside, in the U.S.
Okay, back to Woodstock Inn & Resort Golf Club. The club traces its roots to 1895 and opened first on a hillside cow pasture. The course was moved to the lowlands with Robert Trent Jones, Sr. redesigning the new layout. Only 6,200 yards or so from the tips, the par-70 tract can play friendly or bite you when you least expect it. Most of the trouble comes from the sparkling clear waters of Kedron Brook, which rambles along 12 of the holes.
Listen, Woodstock is a classic case of a scorecard leading a golfer to unrealistic expectations of grandeur. The guys we were with on the trip HAD to play the course from the tips and it destroyed them. This a shot maker’s course in the truest sense of the term. Several par-fours have their tee boxes located on the side of a hill that overlooks the valley below. (Nope, no cows around.) The drive must thread the needle between the Kedron Brook and tall trees that line many of the holes. Miss just a little and you are looking at double bogey or worse, which is what happened way too often to our buddies.
Woodstock is full of great par-fours, like the 375-yard third that demands a fairway wood or long-iron tee shot to the front the stream followed by a crisp mid-iron to an elevated green. You can try and draw it around the trees and over the stream but again if you miss, the cost is dear.
The fourth hole, a 403-yard par-four, is one of those holes that plays downhill over the brook to a landing area and then back across the water to a green protected on three sides by woods.
The course also has some superb par-threes that, while not overly long, are heavily bunkered with several playing over water. The 15th is only 149 yards but demands a nerves-of-steel tee shot over Kedron Brook with bunkers also protecting the green.
Head pro Jim Gunare is always around to offer advice, like he did to our friends about playing the tips after rain made the course seem more like 7,000 than 6,000 yards in length.
Let’s move on to some other fabulous northern New England getaway courses.
The Shattuck Golf Club is what one would call, hmm, one real tough golf course.
Located in Jaffrey, N.H., Shattuck has developed a reputation as one of the sternest tests of golfing ability in the region. The layout was carved out of granite, rock and mature woodlands and demands a thoughtful approach to every shot on every hole.
The course plays 6,764 yards from the tips and get this, it has a slope rating of 153. Don’t run into that number very often, do you?
The fifth, sixth and seventh form perhaps the toughest three holes you’ll find anywhere. The fifth and sixth are 612-yard and 564-yard par-fives respectively, and the seventh is a 200-yard par-three.
What makes The Shattuck so demanding is that you simply can’t pull driver out of the bag and hit away. There’s just too much risk involved. You’ve got to hit the correct spot on the fairways or you pay a price.
While challenging, the Shattuck has been softened a bit over the last few years. Still, it is a great test of your ability and don’t be afraid to tee it up here. It will make you a better golfer as you deal with everything the layout throws at you. Plus the scenery is exquisite.
Owl’s Nest Resort and Golf Club in the White Mountains of New Hampshire boasts some of the finest views in the region and the golf course has been rated one of the top 100 “must plays” in New England.
The clubhouse at Owl’s Nest, located in Compton, N.H., sits atop a knoll surrounded by mountain views everywhere you look. Stunning.
The course’ first six holes surround the clubhouse and feature a links style routing. Mounding on the perimeter of the holes bring stray drives back into the short grass, a nice plus for average to less-than-average players who tee it up here.
The middle six holes pass through fields and around a four-acre pond, which makes accuracy on several holes a must.
The final third of the course sits atop what is known as “Sunrise Hill,” and offers stunning mountain views and challenging shots.
The course plays 6,818 yards from the tips, but there are four other sets of tees to meet the playing abilities of all visitors.
The number one handicap hole is the 542-yard fourth, a par-five that demands accuracy both off the tee and on the layup. The hole is made tougher by a pond that sits on the right side of the green.
Brattleboro Country Club, located in the town that gave it its name, was first established in 1914 and was known for many years as one of the top courses in the lower portion of the Vermont.
Brattleboro received a remake a few years back that freshened up the venerable track. The course plays a little over 6,500 yards from the tips and features rolling, tree-lined fairways with some elevation changes.
The second hole, a 532-yard par-five, has water right of the fairway to mess with your tee shot and then a large bunker and water left of the green.
The sixth is one of those neat par-fours everybody loves. It’s a drivable 260-yarder that the big hitters can reach in two and the rest of us can make birdie with a well-stuck tee shot and wedge into the green.
The seventh is another good par-five, playing 507 yards from the tips, with the layup, or second shot if you try for the putting surface in two, complicated by a pond that runs up to the green.
Hanover Country Club in Hanover, N.H. is another northern New England gem steeped in a rich golf history. In fact, it’s Dartmouth College’s oldest existing recreational and athletic facility, originally built in 1899.
The course was originally nine holes but another nine holes was added in 1904, with all but four holes of the “new” nine abandoned when Orrin Smith, a former construction superintendent for both Donald Ross and Willie Park, Jr., designed an 18-hole track incorporating a new nine holes into the original nine.
Interestingly, four of the holes that were built in 1904 serve as practice holes for Dartmouth students, club members and the Dartmouth College golf teams.
Only minor modifications were made to the Smith’s 18-hole course over the next 70 years until Ron Pritchard was commissioned to modernize the layout in 2000. He built four new holes and all new tees and greens that resulted in a longer and more challenging course, but one that was also in keeping with the feel of the original layout.
Hanover contains one of the most unique holes you’ll find this side of Scotland. The 17th is played as a par-three, a par-four or a par-five!
As a 517-yard par-five, the tee shot is crucial as it must be hit about 220 yards and favor the left center of the fairway. There is a forced carry 150 yards from the end of the fairway to the putting surface. Do I go for the green in two or not?
As a 441-yard par-four, a tee shot of 150 yards will carry across a brook and gully and leave you with a long iron or fairway wood into the green.
And, as a 165-yard par-three, the forced carry is about 160 yards to the green, which is tiered and sloped front to back.
The course also has an odd configuration of holes, with the front having no par-fives and playing to a par of 34 and the back having three par-fives (if you play the 17th as a five), all three of which come in the final four holes, and plays to a par of 37.
There is only a short amount of summer left to travel north to enjoy these gems, however these also make a special fall trip. In fact, why not make a week out of it and play all five of the above-mentioned courses. It’s a great way to spend a summer or fall vacation.
Woodstock Inn & Resort Golf Club
The Shattuck Golf Club
Owl’s Nest Resort and Golf Club
Brattleboro Country Club,
Hanover Country Club