Tags Posts tagged with "Connecticut Destinations"

Connecticut Destinations

Having toured 23 states, four countries on three continents, it has been another year of stories on short courses, sustainability, municipals, makeovers and effective grow-the-game initiatives.

At a place like Pinehurst, the “Cradle of American Golf,” one could argue, they’re embarking on almost all of the above: a trendy bar overlooking No. 2, a complete renovation of course No. 4, the addition of a short course and an extension of their popular putting course.

On this website, I’ve already chronicled other significant investments being made by some of the top courses and resorts in the country, which includes Bandon Dunes, Pebble Beach, American Club, Sea Island, Sea Pines, Streamsong, Sawgrass, Forest Dunes, Arcadia Bluffs, Big Cedar Lodge and the Greenbrier, among many others.

And the tent poles of golf are doing their part with continued support of First Tee, while creating their own initiatives, such as Drive, Chip and Putt and PGA Junior Leagues, which has enjoyed a 300-percent increase over the past three years and, worth mentioning, gets sponsorship for their championship from National Car Rental.

Meanwhile, Topgolf continues to sweep the country, as more people are seeing the merits of short, sustainable, accessible, affordable, non-traditional and FUN!

Go figure.

But in the past 12 months of travel, it’s the stories on lesser-known grass-roots initiatives that make me so optimistic about the future of golf.

For example, Youth on Course, which was started in 2006 by the Northern California Golf Association. The concept was simple: subsidize green fees for junior golfers. Now, 10 years later, there are 400 participating courses in 12 U.S. regions that have provided 450,000 rounds of golf for no more than $5 per round. Not to mention the addition of caddie programs, internships and college scholarships.

Credit goes to the NCGA for not only caring about the development of their junior members, but also for being so connected and supportive of other golf associations willing to adopt the program’s best practices.

And although there are similar success stories, such as the Birdies program in Morocco, which is teaching and coaching 70 kids, not only to play the game, but also the management and the business of the industry, the idea that municipals matter was never more obvious than in 2016.

The city of Austin continues to rally national and historical support for Lions Municipal, which is where desegregation was happening in golf before it was happening in the country. And it’s where a 7-year-old Ben Crenshaw won his first of many golf tournaments. If the University of Texas turns Lions Muny into more high-rises and real estate profits, they’re going to suffer the public relations blues.

Meanwhile, Goat Hill Park in Oceanside, California has extended a 30-year lease to John Ashworth and his band of lovable and loyal locals, who just facilitated the conversion from potable to reclaimed water.

And in Winter Park, Florida, Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns, two young architects with decorated portfolios, have just completed a $1.2 million restoration of a 100-year-old 9-hole course that navigates roads, train tracks, a church and a graveyard.

Also worth noting, the work that has been done at Weequahic Golf Course in Newark, New Jersey, Canal Shores in the suburbs of Chicago, and Keney Park in Hartford, Connecticut.

And then there’s Torrey Pines North in San Diego, which gets 84,000 rounds per year and just underwent $25 million in changes by Tom Weiskopf, who kept the focus on playability for the people who pay to play as opposed to those who get paid to play.

Again, go figure.

And on the heels of golf coming back to the Olympics and Tiger Woods coming back to golf, Golf Advisor published an article using a 2015 graphic and study by the Sports and Fitness Industry which shows youth sports participation up in golf by 60.4%, while baseball, basketball, soccer and football down a combined 37.4%.

I hear and see all of the counter arguments, which focus on a decrease in number of courses or the millennials’ lack of interest in the game. The fact is, not every course will make it. Nor should they. The industry has provided enough competition in various markets in which smarter and more demanding consumers seek out courses or destinations that are more proficient at meeting their needs and wants. Natural selection collides with laws of supply and demand, laws of economics, and eventually the strongest will not only survive, they will thrive.

And as for millennials, twenty-somethings have always struggled to justify the time and expense of golf while chasing careers, significant others and eventually, their offspring.

The long-term health of the game orbits around getting kids exposed to the fundamentals and fun of golf at an early age. And, eventually, when they get more time and income, they come back in their mid-30s or early 40s, as they recommit to family golf, buddies trips and couples trips.

I’m willing to bet everything I own, that investments made in 2016 will not only pay dividends in 2017, but more importantly, in 2027, and in 2037. I just hope I’m around to collect. Because, as any golfer knows, fast pay makes fast friends.

Casper’s Top Five Courses

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Hiddenbrooke Golf Club
Hiddenbrooke Golf Club

Pop Quiz: Who has won the most points in U.S. Ryder Cup history? No—not Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer, though they are near the top. Certainly not Phil or Tiger; their era coincides with the European dominance of recent decades, and these two leading money-winners in PGA Tour history actually have mediocre records in the biennial competition. (True Fact: Tiger and Phil have more losses than any other American players in the entire history of the Ryder Cup. Tiger with seventeen, Phil nipping at his heels with sixteen!)

The surprising answer is Billy Casper, who played in eight Ryder Cups, competed in thirty seven matches, and captured 23 ½ total points. In honor of “The Buffalo,” (the rather obscure nickname for this always-underrated player, who won three Majors and more than fifty PGA Tour events while always laboring in the shadow of Nicklaus, Palmer and Player) we present a quintet of the finest courses nationwide managed by Billy Casper Golf. (In keeping with the below-the-radar theme, most readers wouldn’t even know the company exists, despite its status as one of the largest golf-management company in the nation!)

Wintonbury Hills Golf Course
Wintonbury Hills Golf Course

It’s been rumored that World Golf Hall of Fame member Pete Dye, one of the finest course architects of the last century, designed Wintonbury Hills for a dollar. It was Dye’s way of giving back to the game he loves, and producing a high-quality municipal course in an area that was lacking. The only design he’s ever produced in the six New England states, this Bloomfield (outside of Hartford) Connecticut gem is perennially ranked among the finest municipal courses in the nation. Plenty of permitting hurdles had to be jumped, as the course wends its way through more than eighty acres of woods and wetlands. The end result is a walkable, old-school experience, with a nice balance of holes that are open and tree-lined. There are some nice water views sprinkled throughout, including the nearby Tunxis Reservoir.

Purgatory Golf Club
Purgatory Golf Club

Purgatory Golf Club is an unusual moniker for a course that has actually been blessed by a priest! Located in Noblesville, Indiana, less than an hour from Indianapolis, this is a family-owned business and one of the more popular daily-fee courses in the area surrounding the capital city. Designed by local architect Ron Kern, Purgatory can play as one of the longest (7,754 yards) courses in Indiana and features more than 125 bunkers and acres of tall native grasses. Spread across more than two hundred acres of memorable terrain, the signature hole is a mid-length, par-3 dubbed “Hell’s Half Acre” that features a green guarded by two acres of bunkers. Purgatory has been ranked amidst Golf Digest Magazine’s “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses.”

Hiddenbrooke Golf Club
Hiddenbrooke Golf Club

Hiddenbrooke Golf Club is located in Vallejo, California, some forty minutes north of San Francisco. Designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay about twenty years ago, Hiddenbrooke is considered by many to be one of California’s most entertaining public layouts. It ranked Top Ten in Golf World’s “Readers’ Choice Awards,” in large part because it treats and challenges golfers with undulating fairways, plenty of elevation change and difficult par-3 holes set against a backdrop of hills and native vegetation. Though it has but a fraction of the name recognition of its counterparts on the Monterey Peninsula, the only pair of public-access courses that are consistently ranked higher than Hiddenbrooke in a state with more than 1,100 courses are Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. That’s the level of quality that this underrated facility offers a grateful public.

Magnolia Green Golf Club
Magnolia Green Golf Club

Moseley, Virginia, located west of Richmond, is the site of Magnolia Green Golf Club, the centerpiece of a resort-style, planned community of 3,000 homes. Named among Golf Digest’s “Top 10 Best New Courses for 2015,” this is a Jack Nicklaus Design in association with Tom Clark. This area of central Virginia features abundant wildlife, and golfers share space with a good representation from the animal kingdom. Streams have been fully-restored and lined with native shrubs and grasses to create the natural and environmentally sound course. Bermuda-grass fairways offer generous driving corridors, though the round’s conclusion is stirring. The finale is a mid-length par-4 with a demanding tee shot and nerve-tingling downhill approach to a heavily protected green.

Whisper Creek Golf Club
Whisper Creek Golf Club

One of the most prestigious private clubs in the nation is Whisper Rock, in Scottsdale, Arizona. But the traveling golfer would be well-served visiting the similarly-named Whisper Creek, in Huntley, Illinois, some thirty-five miles west of Chicago. Designed by Billy Casper himself, in consultation with Greg H. Nash, Whisper Creek Golf Club opened in 2000. Measuring 7,103 yards from the back tees, the course features bent grass fairways and greens, wispy fescue grass, protected wetland environments, notable rock formations and cascading waterfalls. It’s one of the most picturesque layouts you can play in the Chicagoland area. Added bonus: They offer GolfBoards for rent, which is a surfboard-meets-scooter mechanism to tool around the grounds. Less taxing than walking, more exciting than a golf cart, a GolfBoard is meant to appeal to Millennial golfers, or anyone else wanting to inject a bit more excitement into their amble-through-the-meadow.

Playing a Different Troon

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The Open Championship returned to Royal Troon for the ninth time in 2016. It’s a magical, historical venue, with the tiny ‘Postage Stamp’ par-3 likely it’s most famous hole. Great as the course is, like every course in the Open Rota, it’s not easily accessible to busy American golfers. Luckily Troon Management, speaking of Troon, operates some of the finest public-access courses in the U.S. Here’s a brief look at several, most all of them 36-hole facilities, in varying corners of the nation:


One still has to fly across the ocean to get Kapalua, on the Hawaiian island of Maui. However, the biggest difference is that lovely weather is a virtual certainty; a guarantee that can never be made in the raw, windy and often rainy weather one encounters in the U.K. Located on Maui’s northwest shore, Kapalua stretches 22,000 acres, from mountain peaks to the edge of the glistening Pacific Ocean. The 7,100 yard Plantation Course is the marquee venue, familiar to TV viewers as the host of the PGA Tour Hyundai Tournament of Champions each January, featuring an elite field of the previous year’s tournament winners. Designed by two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw and partner Bill Coore, the grand scale of the course unfurls across natural geographic formations and pineapple plantation fields. The Bay Course, designed by Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane, represents the first of Kapalua’s two championship golf courses. Measuring 6,600 yards long, the layout is an excellent example of resort golf at its best with gently rolling fairways and generous greens.

Troon North
Troon North

Another fabulous one-two punch is found in Scottsdale, Arizona. Troon North features the Monument and Pinnacle courses, the former dating from 1989, the latter 1995. Giant granite boulders lie strewn across the rugged landscape of the High Sonoran Desert. The courses, artfully designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, cleverly wrap around the northern slopes of landmark Pinnacle Peak. In golf-rich Scottsdale, these dueling beauties are very near the top of the pecking order, on either the public or the private side of the ledger.

Giants Ridge
Giants Ridge

Biwabik, Minnesota is well off the beaten path, some 200 miles due north of Minneapolis. However Giants Ridge is well worth the three hour drive from “The Cities,” offering a pair of courses designed by Jeffrey Brauer in consultation with former PGA Champion Lanny Wadkins. The Quarry and The Legend are two of the most exceptional golf venues in the Midwest, and in tandem, make for a great weekend getaway. Pristine bent grass fairways, massive lakes, giant boulders and towering trees are all earmarks of The Legend. The Quarry, the younger sibling (opened in 2004) offers dramatic raised tees and deep hazards. The architects routed the playing fields through and around former mine lands, wetlands, forests and a sand quarry to make The Quarry a one-of-a-kind course design. It’s no surprise that Golf Digest named Giants Ridge as the best public-access facility in Minnesota.


The leafy woodlands of eastern Connecticut are the improbable home of one of the nation’s busiest casinos. Foxwoods Resort, within driving distance of multiple millions in the northeast corridor, has much to offer, not the least of which are a pair of Rees Jones-designed beauties at Lake of Isles. The ninety-acre lake provides much of the stunning background, and the rolling terrain, island greens and tees and sublime views have made these courses among the most popular in the entire state. Both the North and South courses opened simultaneously in the spring of 2005, and have been doing brisk business in the ensuing decade-plus. The North Course always welcomes visitors, while the South can be accessed as the guest of a member, or sometime with a letter of introduction from one’s home club professional. Despite the rolling nature of the terrain and the elevation changes, architect Jones insured that the fairways are mostly flat, without the confounding side-hill and downhill lies one often encounters on New England courses with greater antiquity.

Old Works
Old Works

Finally, a ‘one-off’ (IE—18 hole facility) that deserves mention on its own standalone merit. The Old Works golf course in Anaconda, Montana, in the southwest area of the state, is a 1997 design by Jack Nicklaus. This is the first-ever golf course developed on a Federal EPA Superfund Site, which in layman’s terms means something appalling has morphed into something wonderful. Generous fairways, native grass borders and expansive greens make it one of the most spacious and unique golf courses in the region. There are exceptional views of the Anaconda Pintler Mountains throughout the property. What makes the facility even more memorable is the fact that the architect cleverly incorporated many significant mining relics to help reflect the region’s colorful mining history.

March Madness

Duke University Golf Club
Duke University Golf Club 9th Hole

The NCAA basketball tournament is in full swing, which means just one sure thing: There are no sure things. Tiny colleges upend massive universities, top seeds topple, underdogs prevail, and the general unpredictability of the entire event make it ‘must see’ for untold millions nationwide.

However there are some ‘sure things’ when it comes to some of the finest collegiate golf courses around the country. Duke, Purdue and Yale all took their rightful place in this year’s ‘March Madness’ jamboree. And despite their ultimate finish in the current three-week basketball extravaganza, they will remain on the list of the nation’s best college courses in perpetuity.

Duke’s fine course has been restored to its original grandeur, and this parkland beauty is once again one of the premiere golf venues in the south. Originally designed by Robert Trent Jones, the redo was executed by his son Rees, who first visited the course as a member of the Yale golf team in the ‘60s. “When my dad built the course a few years prior, there wasn’t money available for fairway bunkering or grading,” recalls Jones. “When we came in to do the restoration work in the early ‘90s, we added fairway bunkers, graded the fairways, lengthened the course, re-contoured the greens and re-bunkered the entire facility.”

It’s tree-lined but not tree-choked, with elevated greens, yawning greenside bunkers and a palpable sense of remove. Several par-5s are bisected by streams, requiring careful decision making. Many of the par-4s feature both length and bend of fairway. It’s not quite as prestigious as the nearby university, but it’s close.

Duke 12
Image via Duke University Golf Club

Individual highlights are numerous on the course. But Duke’s version of “Amen Corner,” including the downhill, stream-crossing par-5 11th, daring a power player to reach in two blows, which is followed by the back-across-the-water-in-the-other-direction par-3 12th, and then the pond-on-the-periphery-of-the-landing area par-4 13th, are likely the three best successive holes.

Washington Duke Inn
Image via Washington Duke Inn

To make matters even better, the course is just steps away from the Washington Duke Inn, one of the area’s premiere accommodations. The combination of course and lodging practically on site make it a one-of-a-kind university experience.

Purdue University’s Kampen Course in Indiana was formerly little more than a ‘farmer’s course,’ before acclaimed architect Pete Dye decided to lend his considerable skills to a comprehensive facelift. His architectural career took off after a series of agronomy courses he took at the school while learning the trade, so the longtime Indianapolis resident was happy to give back when the school was in need.

Purdue Golf
Image via Purdue Golf

Much of this heavily bunkered, fescue-laden course is routed around a natural marsh known as the celery bog, to the right of the brutally long par-5 sixth hole. The greenish bog is home to all sorts of birdlife, and thanks to the sophisticated filtration and recycling system Dye devised, the course’s water runoff goes through several stages of cleaning before entering the bog.

The place is a living, green grass laboratory. Just off the 8th tee, a tough par-4 with waste bunkering down the entire right-hand side, is a sign for the Turfgrass Research and Diagnostic Center, which is housed in a building just a long iron from the hole itself.

The course concludes in wicked fashion. The 17th is a daunting par-3 over water, 200 yards of terror, often into the wind. The last is an exhausting par-4, a driver and then a 3-wood, which most players just hope to reach in regulation.

Last but not least, Yale Golf Course offers those willing to meet its many challenges a rugged adventure, and is one of the nation’s best examples of early American golf architecture.

Yale 7
Image via The Course at Yale

Now ninety years old (designed by Charles Blair Macdonald in 1926) this Grande Dame has lost none of its bite, nor allure. Large greens, most deeply bunkered, and constricted, heaving fairways reveal Yale’s penalizing character. There are a spate of memorable holes, none more than the unforgettable ninth. This downhill par-3 Biarritz green is bisected by a head-high trench. Woe to the player who’s tee shot lands on the wrong side of the green. The approach putt is nothing more than a guessing game; it will roll down and then back up a chasm that’s as deep as nearly any feature on any putting surface most players have ever encountered. Just one of the unique quirks that makes Yale such a standout in the collegiate golf world.