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.
Dispatch from the #munaissance: Count @keneyparkgc as an exemplary American public golf facility. It is close to perfect: inexpensive, well-kept, popular, a great walk, historic and 16 tons of fun to play. - 6 green, with shedding and gathering slopes, perfect for a short iron/wedge par 3 - Snake bunker at 8 green, which is itself bisected by a long, high ridge - 9 green, a reverse Road, with a wall of the clubhouse about 15 feet behind today’s hole location #bankshot - 17, with its Principal’s Nose and wavy-gravy green - The renovated Tudor clubhouse, with a Tavern whose menu is more gastropub than muni golf course. Great hot dog. Keney is a public golf paradise.
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:
2. Connecticut National Golf Club (Putnam)
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.
3. Wintonbury Hills Golf Club (Bloomfield)
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.)
4. Shennecossett Golf Course (Groton)
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.
5. Golf Club at Oxford Greens (Oxford)
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.
6. Mohegan Sun Golf Club (Baltic)
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.
Part 2 of yesterday’s golf: Mohegan Sun Golf Club. The tribe acquired then-Pautipaug CC in 2007 and architect Robert O’Neil made some changes to the Geoffrey Cornish design. The bunkering is particularly distinctive. - Looking back from behind the plunging downhill par-5 6th - The small but very undulating 12th green - Fairway bunkers at the par-4 14th The clever par-5 finishing hole, where two ponds pinch the fairway and need to be negotiated on the second shot
7. Lake of Isles Golf Club (North Course) (North Stonington)
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.
Played Connecticut’s two main casino courses yesterday. @lake_of_isles North is a tough, demanding 2005 Rees Jones with some cool scenery and some of the longest forced carries off tees that I’ve seen in a while. - The death-or-glory par-3 11th - The down-then-way-up par-5 12th - The tee shot on the short par-4 17th
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.