Autumn is a sweet time to play golf. The temperatures are often in the 60’s and 70’s, still warm enough for just a golf shirt or perhaps a light wind shirt. There can be balmy days when the thermometer pushes toward 80 and we can haul out the shorts again.
The courses are in pristine condition after a season’s worth of care by superintendents and their grounds crews. The warm days and cool nights are perfect for growing grass, as any super will tell you. The crowds and five-hour rounds of summer are history.
October, and well into November, is a wonderful time of the year to be outdoors to take in the beauty of the fall foliage. I’ll play as long as there is no snow on the ground and the temps are at least in the mid-40’s. Just because we move into November, and Thanksgiving is a few weeks away that doesn’t mean you have to put the sticks away.
We can find stunning natural beauty on a golf course at this time of the year, when the maples and oaks turn brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow. New England, of course, affords some of the best venues for autumn golf to be found anywhere in the country.
C’mon, you still have time to visit courses on Golfing Magazine’s Course Play Stimulus promotion, with a number of those layouts on the list being in eastern Massachusetts. Here’s a selection of the tracks where we believe foliage mixes perfectly with the quest for par.
Blackstone National Golf Club (www.BlackstoneGolfClub.com) in Sutton. Ma, was designed by noted architect Rees Jones, and is tucked into the wooded countryside of the Blackstone Valley area of southeastern part of the Bay State.
Blackstone National, which can stretch to almost 7,000 yards from the tips and plays to a par of 72, has some good short holes. One of the most stunning par-threes is the 173-yard 11th, which demands a tee shot over a small pond.
The par-fours are solid and can be tough, like the 486-yard 15th for example. It bends to the left after a large ridge that cuts across the fairway. Hit a tee shot to the right side of the fairway and the ball will tumble down the hill and shorten the hole by 50 to 100 yards.
The par-five 18th at Blackstone National measures just 485 yards from the tips, but the hole is loaded with all kinds of trouble if you wander. The tee shot must be true to find a landing area protected by wetlands and woods. Big hitters can reach the putting surface in two shots after a strong drive, but the approach is uphill and there are a number of deep bunkers guarding the putting surface. The smart play is to lay up in front of the green and knock the ball onto the putting surface with a wedge.
Blissful Meadows Golf Club (www.BlissfulMeadows.com) in Uxbridge, Ma. is a Geoffrey Cornish and Brian Silva design and winds its way through mature stands of tree.
The course is not long, playing around 6,700 yards from the tips. But, an indication of just how good the layout is and how well it is managed came in 2004 when it was voted Golf Course of the Year by the New England Golf Course Owners Association.
Surrounded by the aforementioned woods as well as open meadows, the course presents a unique and secluded golfing experience. The front nine is more open than the back, which features several dramatic elevation changes and two of the best par-threes you’ll find anywhere. The conditions are always very good.
The opening hole is a 353-yard par-four that demands a precise downhill tee shot to find a fairway that bends slightly to the left. The approach is to an elevated green with bunkers guarding the right side.
The par-three 13th and 15th holes are stunning, a bit intimidating, and demand accurate mid- to long-irons off the tee in order to clear waste areas below and in front of the greens. Rock outcroppings lend a natural feel to the design of the two holes.
The varied natural topography of Wentworth Hills Golf Club (www.WentworthHillsGolf.com) in Plainville, Ma. presents a beautiful round of golf, with rolling, tree-lined fairways, large, receptive greens, ponds and lakes protecting holes, and 60 strategically-placed bunkers.
Superbly conditioned and designed by Howard Maurer, the 18-hole, par-71, 6,202-yard layout offers multiple tees to accommodate golfers of all skill levels. Classic risk/reward decisions dare low-handicappers to “go for it,” and all holes allow alternate routes for less experienced golfers.
The course, while playing just over 6,200 yards from the tips, has a slope of 128 and a rating equal to its par of 71. That tells you something about the demands the track places on proper club selection and accurate shot making.
The greens are on the large side–between 5,000 and 6,000 square feet–and are designed with speeds, contours and angles to meet incoming shots. The bunkers are placed in strategic locations. Good golfers can fly some of the fairway bunkers, while less accomplished players have enough room in the fairways to avoid trouble. There is water on the twin par-threes, eight and 17, as a lake is shared by the two holes.
All three of the track’s par-fives are reachable in two for the big hitters, and there are back to back par-fours–the 268-yard 12th and 288-yard 13th–that dare you to take driver out of the bag and try to get on the putting surface in one shot. Perhaps the toughest hole on the course is its 10th, a 428-yard par-four that plays downhill.
Heather Hill Country Club (www.HeatherHillCountryClub.com) in Plainville, Ma. offers one regulation 18-hole course and one nine-hole course. The North Course (nine holes) has a few hills that can cause uneven lies. The fairways are narrow, and the greens are small. The South Course (18 holes) has many more hills than the North Course, but doesn’t have a lot of sand bunkers. The fairways are wide open, but most are tree lined, so you just can’t spray it around and get away with it. The greens are large, and water hazards come into play on three holes.
The 18-hole course plays around 6,000 yards from the tips and has a mix of short- and medium-length par-fours, tricky par-threes, and two par-fives that can reached in two shots by big hitters. One of those par-fives is the 478-yard third that is very straightforward with few hazards complicating matters, although there are two bunkers near the putting surface. The seventh and eighth are solid back-to-back par-threes, playing almost 200 yards and 180 respectively. The eighth demands an accurate and well hit tee shot, as water fronts the green.
The back side has three short par-fours that allow you a real chance at birdie, the 334-yard 13th, the 317-yard 14th, and the final hole, a 317-yarder. Number 12 is a good par-five that plays 516 yards from the tips, with the hole doglegging to the right, which may demand a precise layup shot to set up a wedge approach.
The nine-hole course measures 3,368 yards from the tips and isn’t a pushover. It begins with a 157-yard par-three, and the toughest stretch of holes comes at three through five. The third, a par-four, plays 400 yards, while the fourth is a challenging 500-yard par-five. The sixth is the toughest hole on the course, a par-four that measures 440 yards from the back markers.
Newton Commonwealth Golf Course (www.SterlingGolf.com) in Newton, Ma. is an exceptionally groomed course located just minutes from downtown Boston.
The course, which opened in 1907, was redesigned in 1920 by the renowned architect, Donald Ross. The layout offers a short, but challenging round of golf, featuring quick greens and relatively narrow fairways. Course management is essential, as many a big hitter has discovered, with water and sand bunkers scattered about.
The layout has benefited from constant upgrades and beautification under the management of Sterling Golf. Several tees have been rebuilt and landscaped and bunkers have been renovated.
The sixth hole, a 276-yard par-four, can be reached by the longest of hitters, but a narrow fairway slopes severely from left to right, and the hole features the most difficult green on the course. There is no such thing as a “straight putt” on the multi-sloped and undulating green.
The seventh is a pretty par-three playing 173 yards from the tips. The steep downhill hole features a difficult tee shot, especially on a windy day. A small green slopes from back to front and is heavily bunkered on the front edge. The safe shot onto this green is to aim for the left side where a bail-out area is provided. Miss this green to the right and you are left with a difficult pitch shot back up onto the putting surface.
Norwood Country Club (www.SterlingGolf.com) in Norwood, Ma. is a decidedly fun and interesting layout to play for players of all skills.
Designed by Sam Mitchell, built by Frank Simoni and opened in 1975, Norwood Country Club is one of the best kept golf secrets in the area. A par-71, 5,630-yard layout, the track has fairly flat terrain with medium sized, well-manicured greens.
The course features a number of short par-fours and reachable-in-two par-fives, but don’t let its overall short length fool you, as it has enough bite to keep even the best players on their toes.
The ninth hole is a par-five/par-four plays only 455 yards from the tips, making it short for a par-five. But it plays to an elevated green guarded by a deep bunker short-right. The safe miss on the approach shot is short as the green slopes back-to-front. Missing long should be avoided, as the green falls away sharply.
The 16th, a 416-yard par-four, is easily the toughest hole on the back nine. A big draw off the tee avoids trees and a creek on the left and gives you the best look for your second shot. Short shots should avoid right bunker.
Pine Ridge Country Club (PineRidgeGolf.net), located just south of Worcester in North Oxford, Ma., is a shot-maker’s delight, with several drivable par-fours, reachable-in-two par-fives, and tough par-threes that demand sound club selection and pinpoint accuracy.
A pleasingly eclectic mixture of relatively easy and demanding holes can be found right out of the box. The first is a 308-yard par-four; number two is a short, 150-yard par-three; the third is a beefy, 202-yard par-three; and the fifth is a demanding, 403-yard par-four.
Maplegate Country Club (www.MapleGate.com), located in a scenic, quiet area near Bellingham and Franklin, Ma., west of Boston features a challenging 6,815-yard, well-conditioned layout that hosted a U.S. Open qualifier in 1998 and 2001.
The course has a great mix of holes; from short par-fours that may be drivable by big hitters to difficult fours. Water comes into play on a number of holes and makes tee shots and approaches to the rather large and undulating greens occasionally dicey.
The par-five fourth hole is only 522 yards from the back tees. But the lay-up must be hit as close to a pond as possible if you entertain any thoughts of getting on in two shots. Number five, a 431-yard par-four, has water running across its fairway and a fairway bunker guarding the right side of the landing area.
The backside has several superb holes. Take number 11, a medium length par-four, for example. It has a pond protecting the left side of the green and three bunkers guarding the right.
One of the nicest places to play 18 when the leaves turn color is Glen Ellen Country Club (www.TheGlenCC.com) in Millis, Ma.
The course can be stretched to 6,634 yards and plays to a par of 72. The well-manicured track has two par-threes–numbers two and eight–that play over water. The second hole can stretch to 218 yards from the back tees, while the eighth hole is a full carry over liquid to a large green.
The par-four, 322-yard fourth is a downhill dogleg right where brave big hitters can fly their golf ball over the right side and reach or get near the putting surface in one. If you run your drive tough the fairway you might have a problem, as you may be blocked out by trees. Approach shots to the putting surface tend to end up toward the right side trap due to undulation of the green.
The 526 par-five sixth hole is the longest par-five on the course and a three shots to reach the green for most players, although the green can be accessed in two after a sturdy drive and placement in the middle of a tight fairway. But it’s risky because a creek crosses in front of the green about 30 yards out from the putting surface.
Number 17 is a difficult 411-yard dogleg left par four. The hole demands a hefty and accurate tee shot to avoid water left and right. followed by a well struck mid- or long-iron to the green.
The layout ends in unusual fashion, with a par-three that plays 155 yards from the back. The green slopes from back to front and if you miss long you will have a tough up and down.