Residents of the Commonwealth State generally think of their state as two separate entities; one anywhere near Boston and the rest anything not near Boston.
Well, while the greater Boston area and Cape Cod have some spectacular golf courses, there are a number of wonderful tracks in the western part of the Bay State that can keep a golfer busy all summer and fall. So check out this handful of beauties that are more than worth a drive to get to and enjoy.
We’ll start with the splendid Ranch Golf Club in Southwick. Listen, I’ve played pretty much all the great public layouts in southern New England and this is simply one of the best I have had the pleasure of knocking the little white ball around on.
To start with, a round at The Ranch is an aesthetically pleasing experience, with the playing surfaces always in great condition thanks to superintendent Jed Newsome and his staff, and the atmosphere welcoming and laid back.
The Ranch offers a superb routing. It’s a mix of open and woodland holes that plays to 7,175 yards from the tips and has a rating of 75.4 and a slope of 143 from the back markers. So, this isn’t a piece of cake, despite the rather generous fairways on the par-fours and par-fives, several of the latter being among the best in New England. My advice is to play down a level or two and enjoy yourself, especially if it’s your first time.
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 510-yard par-five has a massive fairway that shrinks as you approach the putting surface, which is guarded by water to the left. A big drive will leave you with a chance to go for the green in two shots.
I believe the 441-yard par-four fourth is one of the nicest holes on the course. It starts with a carry across a small ravine to a fairway that flows quite steeply up toward the green, which is hidden from view on the approach shot. The hole is framed by tall pines and guarded by fairway and greenside bunkers. Make sure to take a picture before teeing off.
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. They are both fun holes and can make or break a round, depending upon our courage and second shot.
The 195-yard par-three 17th, which plays across water, may be the best short hole on the track.
About an hour’s drive northwest of The Ranch is another one of Massachusetts’ dream courses, the Crumpin-Fox Club, which was carved out of the forest close to the Vermont line and is widely considered one of the most challenging tests of playing ability in the Northeast. It’s also real pretty.
Many of the holes on the 7,007-yard, par-72 layout are tree-lined with ample bunking and enough water to create problems on wayward shots. 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 talked about, visually exciting and darn scary holes you will find anywhere. 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. The tee shot is from a slightly elevated area and the water threatens to the left. Got your drive in the short stuff? Okay, now play a second shot near the water to set up a mid-iron third shot across water to a green that is wide but not very deep and well bunkered. Let me tell you, walk off with a bogey here and it feels like a par. A par? Well, you get my drift.
The 18th is a great finisher. 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.
If you admire Donald Ross courses, and who doesn’t, Tekoa Country Club, located in the scenic foothills of the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, can race its lineage back to the grand master of golf course architecture in the U.S.
Ross laid out the original nine holes of Tekoa, and 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 big 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.
Recent work has added about 400 yards of length to the layout, 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 to score well here.
Tekoa has tons of history beyond Ross. Located in Westfield, the club originated around 1890. When a 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, the retention of the natural characteristics of the land, small, raised, undulating greens that place a premium on chipping and putting skills.
Tekoa demands that you drive the ball straight and don’t wander too far astray with your approach shots. The smallish greens demand a good short game, especially chipping ability. Only two-par fours, the second and 17th holes, stretch 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 in Belchertown is one of the region’s newest 18-hole layouts.
The course has some really solid par-threes, with one playing 240 yards from the back markers. Ouch! Despite this beast, the track is not overly long--6,583 yards from the tips-- but demands wise club selection and good 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 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 demanding and requires two lusty shots to find the putting surface on the dogleg right hole.
The layout ends with a long par-four, 422 yard 17th, and a short four par, the 323-yard 18th, where a birdie will be a nice way to finish a round.
Did someone mention Donald Ross? The prolific architect also designed the delightful Winchendon School Golf Course in Winchendon that features narrow fairways, small greens and rolling fairways that are basically untouched from the day 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 course features a fabulous view from the 15th hole.
This is old-time golf at its best when a track was routed over the land available to the designer and builders and not shaped as modern courses have been. Thus, you will have some unusual looks off the tee, funky lies, tricky approach shots and be asked to think our way around the layout, which is the way golf was intended to be played.
The 13th hole at Winchendon is a 377-yard par-four that starts with a blind tee shot. You’ll want to lay up short of a pond, unless you can carry it over 200 yards with driver off the tee. Heck, why not, give it a go. There’s out of bounds long over the green, so make sure you play it a little 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 you may 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 bit unusual because it is a 165-yard par-three that plays through a chute of trees. It’s all carry to the green, which slopes left to right.
The Gardner Municipal Golf Course is in its 75th year of operation in the town that it takes its name from and is considered one of the hidden gems of the area.
This is a challenging course for even the best players, with small undulating greens. The 100-acre layout is nestled compactly along the shores of Crystal Lake on the north side of the city. The course offers challenging approach shots due to its small, fast greens. Again, bring your chipping skills.
Several of the holes, the 311-yard par-four 10th and 480-yard par-five 11th, play near Crystal Lake, which affords golfers a nice moment of relaxation before tackling both.
The number one handicap hole is the 538-yard par-five seventh that is a tough dogleg left with trees guarding the left side of the fairway all the way to the green.
There is a pleasing mix of holes at Gardner, including several par-fours that are drivable for big hitters, strong par-trees that require fairway woods to reach the putting surface and sound par-fives.
The Ranch Golf Club
Crumpin-Fox Golf Club
Tekoa Country Club
Mill Valley Golf Links
Winchendon Country Club
Gardner Municipal Golf Course