A look at the best public golf courses in Fairfield County, Connecticut

Fairfield County in southwestern Connecticut is home to hundreds of movers and shakers, many who commute each day into New York City via Metro North Railroad's New Haven Line from Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, Westport and other trendy towns.

They have six-figure jobs in finance, advertising, media, medicine and other industries, and when they kick back they like to unwind by pursuing leisure activities like boating, horseback riding, tennis and golf. So it is not surprising there are many fine golf courses in the region.

A great number of these courses are private, while some are town-owned and therefore not always easy to get on as residents typically get an early nod. With some persistence and insider knowledge, however, it is possible to tee up at several excellent tracks accessible to the public with affordable green fees.

Sterling Farms Golf Course in Stamford

Sterling Farms Golf Course, set on a moderately hilly piece of acreage in Stamford, may be park-like, but it's no walk in the park. Laid out on a former dairy farm and designed by Geoffrey Cornish in 1969 and renovated by Robert McNeill in 2005, Sterling Farms is country-scenic, revealing peeks of Long Island Sound. As you play think right, as going left is not a good idea on most holes. A town-owned course, Sterling Farms is not easy to get on, but keep trying.

Longshore Club Park in Westport

Dating back to the 1920s and designed by Orin E. Smith, the Longshore Club Park on Long Island Sound was once a private club. Now the town of Westport -- where residents wear their affluence well, modestly driving SUVs and shopping in designer jeans -- owns the course. At 5,895 yards from the tips, Longshore is easy to walk yet more challenging than it looks, especially after a major renovation expanded bunkering, giving it a links-like feel. The finishing hole, a sharp dogleg right with out of bounds on the right, can make or break your round.

H. Smith Richardson Golf Course in Fairfield

One of the better deals around, H. Smith Richardson Golf Course, designed by Hal C. Purdy and Malcolm Purdy in 1972, can be walked. But there are some fairly steep inclines -- like holes 6 and 10 -- that are not for the wobbly kneed. With tall, old trees, doglegs, ponds and wetlands, the course is challenging, always in good condition and well worth playing. Because of its popularity, the pace of play can be sluggish, but tee it up early and enjoy a fine day of golf on a classic old course.

Richter Park Golf Course in Danbury

Skirting around and over the West Lake Reservoir, Richter Park Golf Course continues to reign as one of America's top public courses. With water coming into play on at least 14 holes, undulating fairways and steep drop-offs, if you go astray you can be punished. But one thing is for sure -- you'll never be bored. The newly renovated bunkers and fairways are immaculate, and the tall hardwoods are spectacular, especially in the fall. You'll need some luck getting on as Danbury residents have priority, but try mid-week.

D. Fairchild Wheeler Golf Club in Fairfield

Owned by the city of Bridgeport, D. Fairchild Wheeler Golf Club dates to 1934, when Robert White of St. Andrews, Scotland, designed The Wheel's layout. The fairways of the club's two 18-hole courses follow the undulating Connecticut landscape, ranging from hilly to flat, while creeks wind through the terrain. The Red Course is more open, while the Black Course is longer, tighter and rated more difficult. Be sure to catch the views of the Sound from the 10th hole on the Black Course. Although "The Wheel" has been through some rough patches, today it's in pretty good shape after upgrades.

Ridgefield Golf Course in Ridgefield

You'll enjoy two very different experiences when you play Ridgefield Golf Course. Designed by George Fazio in 1974, water comes into play on several holes. While the front nine is fairly flat and open, the back nine plays through the woods and is more challenging, with more elevation and some very tight tee shots to narrow tree-lined fairways. The front has its tricky holes like the par-5 sixth, where your drive can land in the rough on an uphill fairway, leaving you a second shot toward a green you can't see tucked to the left and guarded by bunkers. Getting par is tough.

Whitney Farms Golf Course in Monroe

Set on a former horse farm and dairy land, Whitney Farms Golf Course was designed by Hal C. Purdy and opened in 1982 as the centerpiece of a moderate-sized residential community. Houses are situated along the fairways, but tall trees provide a good buffer. The course plays 6,714 yards, and water comes into play on several holes. The par-3 15th plays across a pond, and water runs all the way along the fairway at the par-5 third. A target golf course with plenty of OB, Whitney Farms rewards those who can control the ball.

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.
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A look at the best public golf courses in Fairfield County, Connecticut