My Top 10 Courses: A love letter to Connecticut golf

I live in Florida now, but I was born in Connecticut - specifically, Hartford County.

I agonize over the ups and downs of UConn basketball, I've hiked to the Heublein Tower and I can tell you where to get the best grinder (Franklin Ave. Giant Grinders in Hartford). "Grinder" is Connecticut for "sub" or "hoagie," in case you were wondering.

Having grown up in the little Constitution State, I also know how underrated the state's golf scene is. And with the Travelers Championship coming up this week, it's the perfect time to give Connecticut some props.

Wedged between New York and Massachusetts, Connecticut lacks the physical size and large population centers to compete with its neighbors on volume of excellent courses. Westchester County, New York has an embarrassment of riches on the private course side: U.S. Open rota stalwart Winged Foot Golf Club (West), 2018 Curtis Cup host Quaker Ridge Golf Club and other luminaries like Fenway Golf Club, Siwanoy Golf Club and sometime U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying hosts Century Country Club and Old Oaks Golf Club.

The Boston area has its own list of elite and storied private courses: The Country Club, Myopia Hunt Club and Essex County Club all come to mind, as do modern gems like Boston Golf Club and Old Sandwich Golf Club.

If you were planning an all-access golf trip to the Northeast, you'd be forgiven for gorging yourself on New York's great courses before shipping up to Boston.

But you would be missing out on some quality golf in between. The Course at Yale is essential for any serious student of golf course design, and though nominally private, it is not overly difficult to access. TPC River Highlands is finally getting its due from premium PGA Tour players like Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and 2017 champion Jordan Spieth for the interesting challenge it presents despite being barely 6,800 yards. And Fairfield County has a number of terrific private courses: The Stanwich Club, Country Club of Fairfield, Tamarack Country Club and The Round Hill Club, to name but four.

But where Connecticut really punches above its weight is on the public and municipal golf side. And like many states, it took a recent and significant renovation project to put it into the spotlight. That transformative effort: Keney Park Golf Course on the edge of Hartford and the town of South Windsor.

Keney Park is nothing short of a revelation. With a front nine designed by Devereux Emmet in the late 1920s and a second nine added by Hartford city engineer Jack Ross (no relation to Donald) a decade later, there was a solid foundation for architect Matt Dusenberry to work with when he breathed new life into the course in 2015.

Dusenberry studied Emmet's work and applied the Golden Age master's propensity for varied bunkering, bold greens and heaving, natural fairways to a routing that had been neglected in recent decades. He used Emmet's aesthetic and strategic sensibilities on the second nine, too, giving the course a cohesive, old-school look and feel. If you want to experience the best in authentic blue-collar American golf, consider it a must-play, along similar lines as Lawsonia Links and Florida's Riviera Country Club.

There is a ton to appreciate at Keney Park, but for the sake of brevity, here are three highlights:

  • The bunkering: Devereux Emmet courses tend to have a great variety of bunker sizes, shapes and depths. Keney has tiny pot bunkers, larger and broader sandy pits and a lot in between. It’s most stunning hazard: the Snake bunker that winds against the right side of the eighth green, with sideways grass berms jutting into it from both sides in a way that reminds of Oakmont’s famous “Church Pews.”
  • The templates: Dusenberry took a bit of creative license at Keney, particularly on the back nine, which he brought into aesthetic alignment with the Emmet front nine. He also used a few template features of the sort closely associated with C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor. Keney has a modified Biarritz green at the 7th, a splendid Redan at 13 and a perfect Principal’s Nose mound/bunker formation in front of 17 green. These sorts of holes have traditionally been accessible to elite private club members, but Keney brings them to the masses.
  • The vibe and the value: Being a muni in a sizable and diverse city, Keney Park brings together golfers from different backgrounds. The brick Tudor clubhouse is perfectly situated: it’s right behind the putting green and first tee, less than 50 yards from the 18th green and one of its walls sits literally five feet off the back of the ninth green. There are always people milling around practicing, waiting to play, eating and drinking, which gives Keney a true community feel.

(Note: Golf Advisor writer Bradley S. Klein was involved with the restoration of Keney Park)

If it wasn’t already clear, I believe Keney Park to be Connecticut’s best public golf course. Here is the rest of my personal top 10:

This Mark Mungeam major redo of an existing course built by a farming family ticks all the boxes. Despite a somewhat remote location in the extreme northeast corner of the state, it’s an hour from Hartford, Providence and Boston, from which it draws a bunch of regular play. It’s a bunch of fun to play, with a mix of uphill, sidehill and downhill tests. The eighth, a plunging, drivable short par 4, is one of the coolest holes in the state. Jim West is as passionate about his course as any head pro I’ve encountered, and it shows. Best of all, the course maxes out at just $52 to walk.

The town convinced Pete Dye and longtime associate Tim Liddy to design this course on former farmland for just a dollar. The routing is firm, fast and mostly wide open, with some well-placed pot bunkers and interesting green contours. A back-nine interlude by a reservoir gives the course one of Connecticut’s more fascinating par 4s in the long 14th. (Note: Brad Klein was also involved in recruiting Dye and Liddy to design Wintonbury Hills.)

A Donald Ross-designed muni that dates back to 1898, “Shenny” is as close to links golf as you are likely to find in Connecticut. The windswept layout used to have nearly 200 bunkers; it’s less sandy now, but still plenty challenging, especially when the wind’s up. Mark Mungeam built three new holes by the Thames River and Long Island Sound in the 1990s when the town swapped some land with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer for a construction project. Overall, though, Shennecossett is authentic coastal New England golf.

This Mark Mungeam course is routed through a residential development but thankfully the housing doesn’t intrude much on play. What takes center stage are the Golden Age features that mark many of the holes, including some Macdonald/Raynor templates like the Double Plateau 12th and the Redan 13th.

The Mohegan tribe bought this course in 2007, and Robert O’Neil subsequently renovated it, complete with a rugged bunker scheme and a few new holes mixed in with existing Geoffrey Cornish ones. The result is a bit of a hodgepodge, but it’s fun to play and in excellent shape.

The public-facing of the two courses across the street from Foxwoods Resort Casino is a tough-as-nails Rees Jones design. Long forced carries off some tees, deep bunkers and punishing rough can inflate scores, but the dynamic terrain and a few holes on the titular lake make for some memorable moments.

8. Fox Hopyard Golf Club (East Haddam)

Course architect Roger Rulewich worked for decades with Robert Trent Jones Sr., and true to that background, this upscale course defends itself with fairway and greenside bunkers, multi-section greens and a bit of water. The par-3 fourth hole drops about 90 feet from tee to green and is a fun shot to hit.

9. Manchester Country Club (Manchester)

Though it hasn’t been perfectly preserved, few public courses have the sort of architectural pedigree Manchester has, with Tom Bendelow, Devereux Emmet and A.W. Tillinghast all receiving shoutouts on the scorecard. Two par 3s on the back are standout holes: the drop-shot 12th with a pedestal green and the 18th, with a two-tiered green in front of a reservoir.

10. Gillette Ridge Golf Club (Bloomfield)

This may be a controversial choice, but I’ve enjoyed the stern test – sometimes tiptoeing toward the edge of reason – that this Arnold Palmer design poses. It also has some quirky-unique holes, like the par-5 17th, whose green juts out onto a concrete bridge.

I haven’t played either Richter Park Golf Course in Danbury or Great River Golf Club in Milford, so I didn’t include them in my list. Both have appeared on best-in-state lists, so let me know where you put them in your own Connecticut golf course rankings.

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for GolfPass. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
11 Comments
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Richter Park is a fantastic public course, but unfortunately it is often packed dawn to dusk and often results in 5 hours rounds. I usually opt to play less courses in a reasonable amount of time.

Played Wintonbury Hills for the first time yesterday, in a breezy mist which added to the links experience. Excellent course, good value. I would caution that low handicappers might be disappointed as the fairways are generous and the fescue only comes into play on very bad shots. I assume this is by design to insure reasonable pace of play. It works, at twilight on a Sunday I played front 9 twice in under 3 hours

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Interesting selection. But you got to give love to Tallwood Country Club in Hebron.

Staff
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Frank, sorry to say I have not played Tallwood. Have heard good things over the years. Will try and check it out next time I'm in CT.

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I believe that the 18th hole at Manchester county club is a Barritz hole/green with the front part allowed to grow up as fairway. Also without side bunkers. The 12th hole is the Short hole with the Thump print green feature on the right side of the green. Again without the sea of sand around the green. #5 is also a copy of the short hole with the sea of sand.

Staff
Commented on

Nick--
Interesting re: some template holes at Manchester. Thanks for sharing! 18 would be really cool if the front end of the green could be restored. Frankly, a modest but targeted restoration effort throughout the course could bring it into the conversation with Keney Park, I think.
--Tim

9b809494-e984-5a8b-a233-f5ef17ef9d78
Commented on

Don't bother with Great River. It's overpriced Meh.

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Tim,
Writing to you from Berlin, right next door to Hard Hittin' New Britain!
I enjoy your work.
I've played all the courses on your list, and I agree 100% with your top 4.
After that, I would replace 5 of the 6 (keep Manchester).
If you consider price/value relationship and difficulty for average players, L of I, Mohegan, and Fox Hopyard are not good. And you can put Great River in that category as well.
Replace them with Timberlin, Longshore, Tashua Knolls, and Hotchkiss, and you will have many happy campers.
Keep up the great work, and let's tee it up anytime you are in the neighborhood.

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My father was able to play Yale a few times in the 60s and 70s as we lived in Milford. If its not so tough to get on I'd love to garner an invite one day. I'd take the trip just to play that and Great River (and my dad's old stomping ground, Orange Hills).

Staff
Commented on

RyckyRych--

Yale is one of those courses of great architectural value that doesn't tend to turn away genuinely interested people from playing if they're in the area. A letter or gracious phone call to the club expressing your interest and a willingness to play (and pay an unaccompanied guest fee, which at Yale shouldn't be too high, relative to the quality of the course) at a time that is convenient for the course (i.e. not a weekend morning in the prime season) should get you on. Be gracious, be flexible and I think you should be able to score a tee time at one of America's greatest courses.

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Your pictures and descriptions have me convinced that I need to find a way to get to Connecticut for some golf. Thanks.

Staff
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Awesome! When you make it to CT, be sure and let us know how your trip goes - where you play and what you think of the courses.

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My Top 10 Courses: A love letter to Connecticut golf