From Westport to New Haven, the Nutmeg State offers splendid golf in a trendy settingBy Katharine Dyson
Sometimes the best places are only a short drive away. Connecticut’s shoreline from Stonington to Greenwich is a perfect example, where you will find long sandy stretches of beaches, natty harbors where skippers tie up their pricey yachts and picture-perfect towns like Madison and Guilford.
You can explore local wineries and the Connecticut River Valley, home to historic houses, the Gillette Castle, a steam train, a riverboat and the fanciful Goodspeed Opera House.
Further south, in Fairfield County, a trendy playground for movers and shakers in arts, industry and the financial world, you can take in a show at the Westport Country Playhouse and visit Norwalk’s Maritime Museum and Greenwich’s Bruce Museum, along with dozens of art galleries, antique shops and upscale boutiques.
All along the way there are courses to be played, salt air to be savored and a wonderful variety of places to eat and stay, from bed & breakfasts to more contemporary hotels.
You might begin your journey at Longshore Golf Course in Westport. Walking along the fairway, you catch glimpses of Long Island Sound as a yacht slices through the water in the marina.
Once a private club dating to the 1920s, Longshore is now owned by the town of Westport, a place where residents cook grass-fed burgers on Compo Beach grills and sport designer jeans and Birkenstocks.
Longshore is more challenging than it appears, especially after a $2.3 million renovation that added expansive new bunkering. Just a few steps from the 18th green is the Inn at Longshore, which has 12 guest rooms.
The Connecticut shoreline runs through Westport, Milford, New Haven, New London, Mystic and Old Saybrook. Duck into Hammonasset Beach State Park just east of Madison to stretch your legs on the two-mile beach, then spend a night at The Delamar, an 83-room boutique hotel on the harbor in tony Greenwich, where you can watch the boats coming and going from your balcony and wake up to the sound of gulls. Treat yourself to French-inspired cuisine at L’Escale Restaurant before retiring to your room, where top-of-the-line furnishings, fine linens and down duvets await.
Many of the golf courses in the area are private, but some are town-owned and typically give the nod to residents with preferred tee times. With a little persistence and insider knowledge, courses like Sterling Farms Golf Course are worth the effort.
Offering glimpses of Long Island Sound, Sterling Farms, a parkland-style layout, is a neat, moderately hilly course designed by Geoffrey Cornish in 1969 on a former dairy farm and renovated by Robert McNeill in 2005.
Heading up the coast to Westport — home to a stylish downtown of art galleries, antique shops, exclusive restaurants, boutiques and beaches—you can tee up at H. Smith Richardson Golf Course in Fairfield. One of the better deals around, Smith Richardson can be walked, but with some fairly steep inclines it is not for the weak-kneed. With tall trees, ponds and wetlands, the course is challenging and worth a visit.
For a convenient and reasonable lodging option, try The Westport Inn on Route 20. This former old-style motel has been transformed into a splendid spot with a pool, restaurant and well-appointed rooms.
Book a table at the Rive Bistro on the Saugatuck River in Westport and savor French fare like trout almondine with lemon butter, toasted almonds, white beans and haricot vert salad.
Tom Fazio worked magic around water, rock outcroppings, trees and sculptured bunkers at Great River Golf Club along the Housatonic River in Milford. The front nine is a links-style layout, while the back nine snakes through woods, with water coming into play on 12 holes.
While in the area, check out the Yale University course in New Haven. With a history dating back to 1924 when Seth Raynor and Charlie Banks laid out the track, it’s one of the finest collegiate courses in the country.
Essex, once a bustling seafaring town, sits on the Connecticut River, which spills into Long Island Sound. Today the town harbors fashionable shops as well as The Griswold Inn (“The Gris”) that has been welcoming guests since 1776.
Up the river in East Haddam, home of the Goodspeed Opera House, is the Fox Hopyard Golf Club, which was designed by the Roger Rulewich Group. Elevated tees, dramatic shots through tall trees, meadows and wetlands characterize this solid track.
Stay at “The Gris” and enjoy a nightcap in the historic taproom, or head to the Inn at Harbor Hill Marina on the Niantic River, where 16 rooms are housed in the original inn and the newer Captain Clark House. Each room is unique, with amenities that include soaking tubs, fireplaces and private balconies overlooking the river. Captain Dave Labrie, the owner, will even take you for a cruise up the river in his boat, the “Inn Style,” a fringed 1940s craft.
For great seafood and steaks, go coastal at On the Waterfront in New London or try Rocky’s Aqua in Clinton, where the bar fries with homemade ranch dressing are outstanding.
Take time out for a 2½-hour journey through the Connecticut River Valley aboard the vintage Essex Steam Train & Riverboat, or book a table on a 1920s dinner train and savor lobster, salmon or prime rib as the scenery rolls by.
Shennecossett Golf Course is owned by the town of Groton and dates to 1898 when it started out as a four-hole track; it was expanded to 18 holes in 1916 by Donald Ross. The town built three new holes in 1997 (15, 16 and 17), opening up spectacular views of the Thames estuary. With its crowned greens and numerous bunkers, it’s the closest you’ll come to a Scottish-style links in this part of the world.
After golf, hit the Connecticut Wine Trail, which includes the Jonathan Edwards Winery in North Stonington. Sit on the stone terrace and sample their superb chardonnay, pinot gris and syrah along with other wines, breads and cheeses.
Check into the 18-room Inn at Stonington, where the decor is fresh and sophisticated. King-sized beds, balconies overlooking the water, fireplaces and Jacuzzi tubs raise the bar for style. This is the place to unwind with a massage, kayaking, yoga or a sunset cruise.
Or all of the above.