Western Massachusetts is a great place to spend a few days, or maybe even a week, playing some of the best daily fee courses the Bay State has to offer.
The scenery is gorgeous; gently rising hills, open meadows and mountains climbing into blue skies dotted with billowy white clouds, and soft breezes offering a respite from the heat. Nature is all around, and the quaint villages and towns of these areas feature superb restaurants, shopping, historic museums and landmarks, and sightseeing.
As I said, stay for a weekend or a week in the Berkshires and Pioneer Valley and sample all that the areas have to offer. Of course, you have to bring the sticks along because there are a number of wonderful layouts located in the western portion of the Bay State.
Thanks to Golfing Magazine’s comprehensive Course Play Stimulus Program, our subscribers can try out a multitude of courses here. Check out the details of this can’t miss offer in this issue. Call 860-563-1633, or visit www.FreeGolf.net to sign up.
Dunroamin Golf Course (www.DunroaminCC.com) in Gilbertsville is a picturesque course that, as the owners and managers say, will allow you to focus on your golf game and leave the distractions of life behind. You will be able to test your abilities on a course that is fairly open, but has its share of challenges, along with large Vesper Velvet bent grass greens. The course is relatively short, with four par-fours that measure around 300 yards, but accuracy with your irons and putting ability are a must.
Greenock Country Club (www.GreenockCC.com) in Lee was established as one of America’s first courses, dating back to 1895. Redesigned in 1927 by the legendary golf architect Donald Ross, the 9-hole course has stood the test of time, a masterpiece of craftsmanship and original style. The club is located just one mile from exit 2 off Interstate 90, within minutes of the historic town of Stockbridge, and just a few short miles from Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.The sixth hole is a risk-reward par-five, measuring only 465 yards, but there is water left and right of the green if you are thinking about going for it in two.
Worthington Golf Club (www.WorthingtonGolfClub.net) is actually a 10-hole course with small sloping greens and tight tree-lined fairways, a well-placed creek, thick rough and 15 strategically placed bunkers. It provides a challenge for the low handicappers, as well as an enjoyable round for the recreational golfer. A hilltop location offers expansive views of the hills to the east and south.
Great Barrington’s Egremont Country Club (www.EgremontCountryClub.com) features a challenging 18-hole course, fully stocked pro shop, and driving range. The well maintained course is surrounded by rolling hills, beautiful views and winding streams. The track is on the short side and there are a number of modest par-fours where birdie awaits after a good tee shot and careful approach, The ninth is a fun hole, with the par-three playing 165 yards. The tee shot must carry a pond that fronts the green.
Mill Valley Golf Links (www.MillValleyGolfLinks.com) in Belchertown has some of the toughest par-threes in the area, with one playing 240 yards from the back markers. The layout is not overly long–6,583 yards from the tips–but demands precise club selection and accurate approaches.
The course starts with back-to-back par-fives, both of which are reachable in two for big hitters. There is a great mix of short and long par-fours and those tough par-threes, including the aforementioned 240-yard fifth hole. The 468-yard par-four 14th demands two lusty shots to find the putting surface on the dogleg right hole. The layout ends with a long par-four, 422 yards, and a short four par, the 323-yard 18th, where a birdie will be a nice way to finish a round.
Gardner Municipal Golf Course (www.GardnerGolfCourse.com) is in the town that it takes its name from and is considered one of the “hidden gems” of the region. This is a challenging course for even the best players, with small undulating greens. The layout is nestled compactly along the shores of Crystal Lake on the north side of the city. The course offers challenging approach shots due to its small, fast greens. Again, bring your chipping skills. Several of the holes, the 311-yard par-four 10th and 480-yard par-five 11th, play near Crystal Lake, which affords golfers a nice moment of relaxation before tackling both.
Agawam Golf Course (www.AgawamGC.com) in Feeding Hills is a “user friendly” track with a rolling terrain and undulating greens. The course is a solid condition and can play anywhere from 4,658 to 5,679 yards, although the track is tougher than the yardage would indicate because of small undulating greens and faster than usual greens. With four sets of tees the golfer can decide what length of course they would like to play for the day.
A number of the par-fours are reachable or almost reachable, for big hitters and are perfect opportunities for birdie. The number one handicap hole is the fourth, a 430-yarder that can play either as a four or a five. As a four it’s a tough par, but as a five a birdie chance awaits.
Hickory Ridge Golf Club (www.HickoryRidgeGC.com) in Amherst is a well-conditioned semi-private track full of interesting holes. The first at Hickory Ridge is a medium-length, 501-yard par-five. It requires a player to hit two accurate shots to leave a short iron or pitch to an elevated green. The player’s biggest concerns are the out of bounds over the green and the lateral hazard that runs the length of the hole on the left side.
The 337-yard par-four seventh is short and presents a birdie chance, but there are dangers. Your drive you must carry a river that cuts across the fairway. Use a club that will carry approximately 225 yards. The second shot will only be a short wedge, but be careful, there is a small green and any shot right, left, short or long will produce a difficult pitch or sand shot. There is a water hazard over this green, so don’t get too aggressive.
Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club (www.Cranwell.com), located in Lenox, is a traditional New England course that is over 90 years old and designed by the noted architects of the early 20th century, Wayne Stiles and John Van Kleek. The layout rolls easily over the hills surrounding the resort and through mature woodlands. The course features tree-lined fairways and naturally contoured greens that have been carefully preserved.
The first three holes wander near a small clubhouse. The tee box on the third hole, a little 152-yarder, has a huge pine tree guarding the left side of the putting surface. You had better score well on the front side because the inward nine is much more difficult, with several brutal par-fours and some very good par-threes waiting.
The 11th is one of the course’s signature holes, a 200-yard par-three that plays from a chute of trees to a severely slopped green. Huge bunkers guard the putting surface. The 13th is a superb, dogleg par-four that plays 426-yards from the tips. The drive is blind to a valley landing area and then it’s back uphill to the putting surface.
The Crumpin-Fox Club (www.GolfTheFox.com) in Bernardston, 7,007 yards long from the tips and with a par of 72, is considered one of the most challenging tests of ability in the Northeast. Many of the holes are tree-lined with ample bunking and enough water to create a few jangled nerves. Some of the greens are elevated, further complicating proper club selection.
The eighth hole is one of the best, and toughest, par-fives in the state. It begins from an elevated tee box and a lake plays a factor on the first, second and third shots, as it must be avoided and then cleared on any approach to a rather large green protected by bunkers.
The 11th hole, a modest 161-yard par-three, is one of the prettiest short holes you will find anywhere. The tee shot is across a waste area to a green that sits atop a plateau. Miss the putting surface and it’s a very tricky up and down.
The Ledges Golf Club (www.LedgesGC.com) in South Hadley is routed through woodlands and over and around wetlands and natural areas. A lot of courses bill themselves “a shot maker’s delight,” but that definitely fits The Ledges Golf Club. You won’t find two holes alike and they range from long and difficult par-fours, like the 448-yard second, to the 106-yard par-three third, short par-fours, such as the back-to-back drivable 15th and 16th holes, long par-threes, and very good par-fives that range from 489 to 579 yards. You have to think your way around the track and proper placement off the tee will likely leave you with a very solid shot at making birdie, especially on the short par-fours. But if you wander with the driver and you’ll pay a steep price.
The Ranch Golf Club (www.TheRanchGolfClub.com) in Southwick is considered one of the top tracks in the state. The conditions are always top notch, as is the routing. This is a superb layout and features a mix of open and woodland holes that plays 7,175 yards from the tips.
The 540-yard par-five ninth and 618-yard par-five 16th roll dramatically downhill and afford great views of the surrounding countryside. A well struck tee shot on the ninth will tumble down a hill and leave the player with a choice of either laying up for a short third shot, or going for the green in two by challenging a wetlands area in front of the putting surface. The 195-yard par-three 17th, which plays across water, is the best short hole on the track.
Westfield’s Tekoa Country Club (www.TekoaCC.com), located in the scenic foothills of the Berkshires, can trace its lineage back to the grand master of golf course architecture in the U.S., Donald Ross. Ross laid out the original nine holes of Tekoa, and although only five of the original holes remain intact–the second, third, fourth, 14th and 15th–the owners of Tekoa have taken great care to insure Ross’s touch remains a big part of their course’s appeal. Gene Cornish, one of the most prolific of all New England architects, redesigned the course in 1961 and added 13 holes of his own to today’s present routing.
Tekoa demands that you drive the ball straight and don’t wander too far with your approach shots. The greens demand a good short game. Only two-par fours, the second and 17th holes, stretch over 400 yards from the back tees, and all four par-fives are under 500 yards and reachable in two for the big hitters.
While on the short side, just 6,285 yards from the tips, Shaker Farms Country Club (www.ShakerFarmsCC.com) in Westfield is a unique track that contains some interesting holes. Routed through mature stands of trees, where wildlife is abundant, the Cornish design is being brought back to its original luster by new ownership.
The front side has two great par-threes, the demanding 225-yard seventh and the 165-yard ninth, the latter playing across a small pond. The back side features a nice mix of holes. The 318-yard par-four 10th plays uphill from the fairway landing area. The 12th, a 144-yard par-three, has a green flanked by tall pines and is the first of two very pretty short holes on the side.
The Blandford Club (www.MassGolfTennis.com), located in the town which gives it its name, is a nine-hole layout. Only 2,722 yards from the tips and playing to a par of 35, this is a fun, playable track for all levels. Beginners will enjoy the friendliness of the routing and rather short overall distance, while those more advanced players can work on their iron and short game skills. The course is one of the oldest in the region, having opened in 1910, and was designed by William Dexter.
Waubeeka Golf Links (www.Waubeeka.com) in South Williamstown is known for its stunning views and celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. During 2009 to 2010, there were renovations of the 1st, 2nd, 8th, 10th, 11th, 13th, 14th, 16th, 17th and 18th holes, which ranged from the addition of new tees and bunkers on existing holes to completely new holes being created.
Two of the best holes are the 11th, a 420-yard beast of a par-four that has a deep bunker to the right side of the green that makes getting up and down from there very difficult; and the 501-yard 17th, which has out of bounds the entire length along the right side and a lateral hazard almost all the way on the left side of the hole.