While most non-golfers don’t know A.W. Tillinghast from A& W Root Beer, for those who swing the sticks in a determined quest for par “Tillie” is a big name in the golf architecture business and a treat to play one of his courses.
But perhaps even the golfers among us do not know that Tillinghast is credited with one of the area’s most historic and oldest courses, the nine-hole layout at Norfolk Country Club in Norfolk, Connecticut.
A little background on Tillinghast: He laid out such notable major golf tournament venues as the Bethpage Black Course and two courses each at Winged Foot and Baltusrol golf clubs. Norfolk’s members and officials weren’t exactly sure who designed their nine-hole course in 1928, but notes were later found in minutes of meetings conducted around the time that showed money being owed to Tillinghast for work done at Norfolk.
Club historian Mike Kelly said that members of the A.W. Tillinghast Association came to Norfolk Country Club several years back. They apparently took one look at the course and said that it was indeed a Tillinghast course because of all his design principles that were in play in the course’s routing. What a neat designation to hang outside your club’s pro shop.
By the way, the must-have book for any golfer, “The Finest Nines: The Best Nine-Hole Golf Courses in North America” by Middletown, Ct. writer Anthony Pioppi, ranks the NCC course as number 11 out of his 25 best such courses. Pioppi ranked the courses solely by course architecture. He called NCC’s ninth hole “delightful and quirky”.
Norfolk Country Club had its inception in 1912 when it opened as a tennis club in the center the small town. Sixteen years later, members purchased land for a nine-hole course, which was to be located a bit away from the town’s center in a rural area and adjacent to a public course, Norfolk Downs, which had opened in 1897. There was talk of merging the two courses and making an 18-hole layout. It was said that Tillinghast came to Norfolk in 1934, met with the pro at the time, and drew up a plan to combine the two courses. But the effects of the Depression and World War II put an end to such hopes and Norfolk Downs eventually closed.
There apparently was a lot of camaraderie between the two clubs, Kelly said. At the time, players on one course would wave to those playing on the other and there was some intermingling of play when they were both open.
Norfolk Country Club has, of course, survived quite nicely and was fun to play when I toured it. The first hole starts very near the clubhouse, which celebrated its 100th anniversary a few years back. The first is considered the toughest hole on the course, as the par-five bends dramatically to the left and plays almost 500 yards from the tips.
The course unfolds pleasantly and immerses the player in
nature. Norfolk is a decidedly early 20th century course, on the short side (2,795 yards) and made during a time when little earth was moved. As a result holes amble over hill and dale, resulting in elevated tees and greens, a few blind approach shots, and side hill lies in some fairways.
The third hole, a par-four, plays only 235 yards, but demands a steady tee shot over a deep gully in front of the tee box. The downhill, 345-yard par-four sixth hole that has its green framed by
tall pines. The seventh hole calls for a drive between wetlands to the left and water to the right. The approach must also avoid water on both sides of the green. The finisher is a nice little 255-yard par-four that works its way up a hill to a green that sits near the club’s tennis courts.
Interestingly the clubhouse at Norfolk was designed by Alfredo Taylor, a noted architect of the early 1900’s, who was an avid tennis player and member of the club. He donated his time and services to design the building. The clubhouse has an old-time laid back feel to its inside, with a large central room, several fireplaces, sitting areas, a cozy bar, and an elegant dining room that overlooks the course. There is also ample seating on several porches and verandas, where members wile away summer afternoons and evenings in style.
The club used to be open only from Memorial Day until Labor Day, but that has since changed to where the club opens in early May and shuts down in early October. The course conditions are impeccable with longtime superintendent Joseph Bunk overseeing maintenance. Ronnie Pfaefflin serves as the club’s PGA Professional.
Thanks to “Tillie”, Norfolk is both a historic and eminently well-designed golf course that must be played if one gets an invitation.