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4.6
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3.6
Value
4.9
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4.8
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4.4
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5.0
Amenities
2.8
94.1%
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3 out of 4 reviews
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5.0
1 Reviews (1)
5 Stars
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4 Stars
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Conditions
4.0
Value
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Layout
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About

Holes 9
Type Semi-Private
Par 35
Length 3043 yards
Slope 117
Rating 34.4

Course Details

Year Built 1924
Golf Season April - November
Architect Seth Raynor (1924) Charles Banks

Rentals/Services

Carts Yes
Clubs No
Pull-carts Yes

Practice/Instruction

Driving Range No

Policies

Metal Spikes Allowed No
Walking Allowed Yes

Reviews

4.6
4 Reviews (4)

Reviewer Photos

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Overall Rating
Recommended
Handicap
Age
Type of Golfer
Gender
Played On
Reviews 197
Handicap 0-4
Skill Advanced
Plays A few times a week
I Recommend This Course
5.0
Top 25 Contributor
Connecticut Advisor
Previously Played
Hot weather
Used cart

Raynor’s Classic Touch

Returning to the Hotchkiss School Course a second time, I found it to have a vibrancy that was missing last year during the inertia of the pandemic. Part of this comes from the school’s efforts to take a more serious approach to conditioning their course: last year it deserved a “gentleman’s C,” in academic parlance; now signs of strong revival are clear, less than a year later. The course was also a bit busier. My son was along for the game this time, and we enjoyed an excellent match, playing the nine twice on a hot summer afternoon. I quizzed him afterward on how he thought this Seth Raynor design compares to the master’s indisputably great course at Fisher’s Island (often ranked in the world Top 20), where he’s played twice in high school matches. He averred that Hotchkiss, which he finds quite different in several ways from Fisher’s Island, is a bit easier, yet hardly a second-class or bantam-weight brand of layout by comparison to the masterwork.

I’m a realist and understand that Hotchkiss is neither Yale nor Fisher’s Island. However, this is still a rare public-access Seth Raynor layout. It avoids all the pitfalls of the typical, often simplistic garden-variety course, which frequently lacks a necessary measure of interest or variety or surprise, not to mention a genuinely compelling challenge. But Hotchkiss is also aesthetically blessed, with holes four through six overlooking Wononscopomuc Lake. Several other holes feature sweeping views of the surrounding hills. Beyond that, the rolling, hilly golfing terrain is outstanding.

Dating from 1926, this course is an integral part of the Hotchkiss School, and its fairways weave through the campus with many of the attractive buildings, old and new, as backdrop. Hotchkiss has most of the elements that marked Golden Age design: wide fairways, unusual slopes around the greens, large fairway contours and undulations, and other aspects that make for strategic choices on most holes. But in the end, this layout is nine carefully crafted holes, often using Raynor’s characteristic “Template” designs to strong effect.

The Routing:
This is a kind of “bookends” routing, for lack of a better phrase: the strongest holes, those that seemingly buttress the whole nine, come at one through three; then, at the other ‘end,’ the even stronger eighth and ninth. The middle stretch from four through seven, however, all present birdie opportunities, especially given that four and six are short par-4’s and the fifth a downhill par-three requiring only a short-iron or wedge. None of the holes run parallel and each has an individual feel.

Raynor’s Style:
Hotchkiss is a typical Raynor course, its design often applying the characteristic Template holes, but more importantly supplying enough width in the fairways to encourage thoughtful players to find their own best routes to each of the longer holes. Some of the holes have a trick or two (e.g., a blind shot, a devilish slope somewhere on a green), but it is far from tricked-up or artificial. Raynor, a typical “Golden Age” minimalist, let the fairways here simply roll over the existing terrain naturally; it doesn’t seem that much earth needed moving to create his final product (other than around the greens). Green siting often features raised or perched surfaces, often with pronounced rolloffs on one side, most often the right. Strategy here may mean, oftentimes, driving to a part of the fairway that allows the best line of attack into the green or the flag, or perhaps a clear view of the green. Or it may mean shaping the drive to avoid ending up on the more dangerous side of a given hole (in the rough or worse) where the trouble is greater.

Notable Holes:
Third: This 401-yard four-par features the kind of dramatically rolling, wide fairway that is one of the trademarks of classic golf. Its sprawling but hidden cross bunker, fully disguised from the fairway, changes the complexion of a typical approach: there’s virtually no way to roll the ball on the green, which is only slightly canted from back to front. This is essentially one of Raynor’s template holes: the Alps.

Par-5 seventh: A potent road hole: any significant slice will bounce on tarred pavement, not fairway. Playing uphill from the tee and then traversing a vale prior to the plateau green, this is an exciting setup and gives the green light to those who are long enough to reach it in two shots.

Eighth: A striking-looking downhill 3-par, the mid-length eighth plummets from its tee to a bunker-fronted green and woods around three of its sides. It’s another example of a Raynor template, this one an “Eden.” Miss this green to the right and you’ll quickly fall out of Eden, perhaps nixing any chances of saving a par.

Key Hole #1: the first, par 4, 420 yards.
Playing uphill from tee to green, the first fairway has as much ground movement on a golf hole as any I’ve seen, anywhere. Humps, bumps, little swales, ripples, knobs, depressions, rolls and dips--everywhere. The natural terrain looks sculpted even in the right-hand rough. Perched well above the fairway, the contoured green is a tough target, and missing it on the right may cost you a stroke or more. Only a pair of rock-solid shots will get you on here in regulation.

Key Hole #2: the ninth, par-5, 533 yards. An utterly fascinating hole requiring a straight drive into a threatening landing zone; then an equally accurate second over the roller coaster fairway’s transverse hills’ finally a sharp pitch to the elevated green. The second shot should be played to the right, where the pronounced side hill will kick most balls back onto the fairway. It’s tough-as-nails and will keep you engrossed until the last putt of the day. I hit hybrid, hybrid, wedge--as playing driver, I felt, was a mistake from the tee. It’s a hole to be finessed, not overpowered.

Conditions:
Tees: good to excellent; Fairways: fair to good; Greens: nearly excellent (a bit slower than I expected but smooth and consistent); Fringes and Around the Greens: excellent; Roughs: mostly good.

Some conclusions:
I empathize with those golf historians who find the contemporary version of Raynor’s original design to be somewhat watered down (shortened, modified, with greens altered). True, a hole like the second, in its current incarnation as a par-3, cannot possibly play like the original, and that’s something of a shame. Yet the hole plays like any solid par three. The bottom line is that I enjoyed, again, nine respectable holes at Hotchkiss. This is a course with some verve, lots of character, and a fair amount of challenge: it’s no day at the beach (course rating: 69.5 vs. par of 70). More importantly, the layout scores high in terms of its playability and strategic values: I had to think my way around carefully, not to mention strike the ball well, to card a score I thought I could over the ‘second nine.’ While such considerations don’t comprise the full essence of golf, they’re certainly a big part of it.

Maybe this Hotchkiss layout can’t go toe to toe with Yale, but it doesn’t have to. What it has is quite enough.

Conditions Good
Value Excellent
Layout Excellent
Friendliness Good
Pace Excellent
Amenities Average
Played On
Reviews 197
Handicap 0-4
Skill Advanced
Plays A few times a week
I Recommend This Course
4.0
Top 25 Contributor
Connecticut Advisor
First Time Playing
Hot weather
Walked

Of Algebra, Seth Raynor, and Top-Notch Golf

During my first fifteen years or so playing this game, golf architecture didn’t matter all that much to me. When I chose to read a book on golf, it would be something like “Bobby Jones on Golf” or “Pure Golf” by Johnny Miller. Forget stuff like “Some Essays on Golf Architecture” by H.S. Colt; I was into making pars or birdies, not the aesthetics or purpose of course design. My college golf experience, which included playing at venues like Yale (designed by Seth J. Raynor and Charles Blair Macdonald) or Princeton (remodeled by William S. Flynn) left some impression, anyway, about the quality of the layouts, but it was far from an earth-shattering one. At Yale, for example, I was mostly impressed with the Biarritz green at nine—but paid modest heed to the other great aspects of the course. I was more consumed, in fact, by the unusual eighteenth, perceiving it to be a rather strange monstrosity and, more than that, utterly joyless to play.

Of course, with time comes change. Today, when I walked up the diminutive pro-shop at the Seth Raynor-designed Hotchkiss School Golf Course, the lack of a spacious clubhouse on-site bothered me not a whit, as it might have when I was twenty-one. I was also quite prepared to face what I knew would be an unconventional golf layout. It was even satisfactory that this was ONLY a nine hole (Mercy! Horrors!) layout, not the conventional eighteen. I told the gentleman at check-in that I’d heard good things about the architect of this course, and mentioned having played Yale long ago. Then he made a perceptive comment that would have meant little to me in my college years: “Playing Yale is like calculus, but this is a bit easier—it’s more like Algebra. But they’re both higher math.” Now that was a brilliant analogy that I could appreciate, even though I never much liked either subject. After playing Hotchkiss today, it turned out to be spot-on.

As a pure layout, Hotchkiss is one of the top five public-access golf courses I’ve played in Connecticut. Usually, I’m not quick to make judgments like this after a first play, but the golf is so overwhelmingly strong that it cannot be denied. Green design meets expectations from someone of the stature of Seth Raynor, the course architect of record, which means it is of the highest quality. What nearly blew my golfing socks off, however, was the sustained tee-to-green excellence from one through nine. True, the routing is not ideal, having the annoying aspect of thrice running across a busy road, but I actually like the way the layout is interwoven with the prep school’s campus. This lends it a unique visual character.

TEE-TO-GREEN:
Hotchkiss’ first, hardly a routine 4-par, has everything we’re unaccustomed to on an opening hole: a long, hilly uphill climb of 420 yards, unpredictable bounces and unsavory fairway lies; a perched green and its difficult contours. The tree-lined fairway, another possible irritant, does grant the luxury of a favorable bounce from its canted left side.

Tame by comparison, the par-3 second runs downhill and features a generous opening on its left side, but any pin set rightward here will be guarded by a sizeable, sculpted mound.

The mid-length 4-par third may be the course’s most deceptive hole. While the drive is straightforward enough—downhill and open—your approach will likely be blind. A massive bunker fronts the green, but it, too, hides stealthily from view until you’re virtually upon it. Waves are a theme of the third: the fairway rolls like a stormy ocean; the green possesses a pair of small but pronounced undulations (a foot or so high) that make putting over them quite dicey, particularly when the pin lies just to the other side of these mini-hills.

Four manages to be outstanding, but with what first seems like little fuss. The driving zone, wooded to the right but rewarding a member’s bounce from the left, presents no great challenge. And you may even be hitting your second on this short par-4 with a short iron or wedge. A fortress-like green, however, set upon a massive mound with a steep right-side falloff, demands both a careful choice of club and a superbly executed approach—for anyone, that is, expecting to be near the pin.

A second short par-three at Hotchkiss of a trio here, hole five boasts an astonishing green complex. You’ll need to strike another solid, lofted iron into this downhill 140- yarder. The hole will punish misses short (hidden bunker) and pretty much everywhere else (steep falloffs) beyond its generous fringes.

Six swings back uphill on the drive, and may feel like nothing problematic. The landing zone does pitch from a higher left side to its right. But the approach at this short par-4 surprised me, as I was expecting a bigger downhill bounce into the green than what the mown contours actually doled out. Be careful, too, that you don’t dump you pitch into either of the greenside bunkers, both right and left.

At seven, Raynor achieved the nice feat of blending a straightforward—although rather tight—uphill drive with the complications beyond it for the second and third shots. The hole measures 500 yards, and its one constant is the road lining the entire right side, tee to green (the left flank is sprinkled with Hotchkiss campus buildings). Seven’s green itself rests on another imposing knoll. My bid to reach this in two—by which the second shot must fly over a vale—fizzled off the right front side of the knoll. Ah, well. I also found that pitching to the top of the knoll is tricky, and had to settle for a par (‘settling for par’ is a phrase I like to use when pretending to be a tour pro).

Eight is arguably the best of the par threes, being long and downhill (188 yards) and fully intimidating. It left me puzzled on club selection. Fortunately, its green is sizeable overall and quite deep, but airmailing it is not advisable—unless you enjoy mid-afternoon visits with squirrels, raccoons, or other Connecticut fauna.

The par-five ninth almost seems out of character for Architect Raynor, as here we encounter something bordering on a ‘death hole,’ if you’ll pardon the hyperbole. Alone, the view of the driving area may chill you to the core. A steep downhill drop, a small landing zone, lots of heavy and deep woods and a serpentine tree-line that finally bends rightward just before a huge pond—all of this serves to intimidate the golfer uncertain of his or her swing. Problem is, the bite is expectedly worse than the bark: this tee shot proves just as tight and penal as it looks. More potential trouble arises here (on the 533 yarder) as it travels uphill over a roller-coaster fairway. I hit a high-flying hybrid to its extreme right side on my second, only to watch it tumble—to my alarm—a mere ten yards or so from the huge pond lining the left side. The final task is lofting a very carefully judged wedge onto the dramatically perched ninth green, which at all costs must not be missed left. But the ninth, despite its extreme rigor, is a sensational creation sprung from the mind of a master architect. You have to play it to believe it.

COURSE CONDITIONS: For most golfers, the Hotchkiss fairways will be sub-standard—right now, that is, in the midst of this dry summer. As at Connecticut golf courses over the past couple of dry weeks, most fairways have burned out. These were still playable, though. The rest of the course ranged from fair to quite good condition, including tees, greens, fringes and the rough. In particular, most of the smooth putting surfaces proved very good and, most importantly, putted truly and ran quickly. But the overall conditioning here—only a bit above average in this summer heat—is the one critical aspect that holds it back from being a ‘five-star experience.’

I want to return in the spring or fall, when, from what is typically seen in photos, this course will be in closer-to-optimal condition. The first-rate green design is another subject entirely; I’ll save it for later.

Today, benefiting from a wider perspective than that from my youth, I appreciate the real value architectural treasures like the Hotchkiss Golf Club. Yet I would have still loved the pure challenge here when I was twenty-one.

Conditions Average
Value Excellent
Layout Excellent
Friendliness Excellent
Pace Excellent
Amenities Average
Difficulty Extremely Challenging
Played On
Reviews 6
Skill Advanced
Plays A few times a week
3.0
Previously Played

Not a destination course

I'm a fan of Seth Raynor courses - he built this around the same time as Yale (#55 course in US, # 1 college course.) Unfortunately, this is no Yale. The course suffers from limited irrigation- it looked like greens complexes only. By September the course was burnt out and overcome by crabgrass. Greens were lush and slow, and a few had unusual features like a hump/ridge running across the green. Like Yale, there's a few blind shots - greens on 3, 4, drive on 9. I walked the course, there's some long walks between holes, and a couple steep up hills.

There's no amenities to speak of, just a tiny clubhouse and putting green. The pro was very nice, walked me through the routing so I wouldn't get lost, and when finished asked me if I enjoyed the round. Clearly they don't have a budget for great maintenance, and fees were only $20 for 18 holes. It's a nice walk with a couple holes with gorgeous lake or pond views. I drove an hour to play the course - not really worth the trip. Stoneybrook is a much better 9 holes in Litchfield county.

Conditions Average
Value Good
Layout Average
Friendliness Good
Pace Excellent
Amenities Poor
Played On
Reviews 21
Handicap 10-14
Skill Beginner
Plays Once a week
I Recommend This Course
5.0
Previously Played
Excellent weather
Used cart

Hidden gem on a campus

A wonderfully quirky and challenging course with something for every part of a complete game. Long ball hitters and those with a great short game will have something for both of them. It plays fast, is rarely busy, and has wonderful staff. If you are in the area take the time to get to know it

Conditions Good
Value Excellent
Friendliness Excellent
Difficulty Somewhat Challenging
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