Head to the River Valley for some of the state’s finest daily fee courses.Written by John Torsiello | Photography by Mark William Paul
Pictured above: Gillette Ridge Golf Club, Bloomfield
If you’re thinking of remaining close to home this spring for an early multi-day golf fest, consider the Connecticut River Valley.
The valley holds some of the top daily fee courses in the state, and there are tons of dining, entertainment, shopping and historic venues to sample. If you live in New England, this is a nutmeg-flavored golf holiday.
Willow Brook Golf Course in South Windsor is a manicured, player-friendly, walkable course. There are 13 par-3’s measuring from 85 to 217 yards, and five par-4’s, the most difficult being the 373-yard 18th hole that bends slightly to the right.
Keney Park Golf Course, one of two municipal tracks in Hartford, underwent a $5 million renovation and restoration two years ago and is a can’t-miss destination. It was designed by Devereux Emmet, one of the leading architects of the early 20th century. I love the mix of short par-4’s, strong par-3’s and reachable par-5’s. But be forewarned: the greens are sloped and tricky to read.
The city’s other muni, Goodwin Park Golf Course, has 27 holes, with the short North Course a great place for beginners at 2,544 yards.
Rockledge Golf Club in West Hartford is a relatively flat layout that sits in a sweet parkland setting. It’s playable for all golfers and offers a visually pleasing mix of holes.
Blue Fox Run Golf Course in Avon has 27 holes, with a new nine added a few years back. The routing is a mix of open and tree-lined holes. You can let it fly with a driver on most of the par-4’s and par-5’s.
Tunxis Country Club in Farmington has 45 holes, so it’s never a problem getting a tee time, and it rolls along over flat terrain, making it a good walk.
Wintonbury Hills Golf Course in Bloomfield is Pete Dye’s only New England design, and he did a super job by weaving the linksy course over the rolling hills of a former dairy farm. I love teeing off from the short par-4 fifth hole. Big hitters can hit the putting surface with their drives, but the green is dastardly.
Gillette Ridge Golf Club in Bloomfield has returned to superb condition after a few years of neglect. I like the fact that you have to hit good golf shots here, as there are forced carries to several greens. But the driver is never out of the equation off the tee.
Quarry Ridge Golf Course is actually located on the slopes of the Connecticut River Valley in Portland. I love the final hole, a par-4 that has a quarry hugging the left side of the fairway.
Fox Hopyard Golf Club in East Haddam is always in superb condition and it features challenging greens, thick rough, and clear definition between the fairway and rough and the green and fringe. There isn’t a weak hole at “The Hopyard.”
After golf, the valley offers plenty of other options, including numerous hotels and bed and breakfast establishments to use as a base for your golfing getaway. For dining, the Capitol Grille on Hartford’s Riverfront area has arguably the best steaks around. If you’re into Italian food, check out Franklin Street, Hartford’s own “Little Italy,” and its quaint bistro-style restaurants. Peppercorn’s Grill offers fine dining and the best zucchini blossoms. City Steam Brewery is a fun, funky place to spend an evening, and if you want to quench your thirst, check out Hog River Brewing Co. and test a flight of craft beers. If wine is your thing, head to Clinton’s Chamard Vineyards. The historic Griswold Inn in Essex is a wonderful tavern and restaurant that was founded in 1776. There is live entertainment every night.
For activities, Hartford boasts the Connecticut Science Center, the Mark Twain House & Museum, and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts stages a variety of plays, shows and other events year-round, and the Xfinity Theatre is a major concert venue. Check out a Minor League Baseball game at the new downtown stadium.
West Hartford reinvented itself a few years back and now is a chic place to hang out, dine and shop. There are cruises that operate along the Connecticut River during the warm weather months, including a cool nature cruise that takes you to the mouth of the river.
Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill has a massive collection of fossil footprints. Gillette Castle State Park in Lyme and East Haddam towers above the Connecticut River. The castle, which you can tour, was originally a private residence commissioned and designed by William Gillette, an American actor famous for his stage portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. The Goodspeed Opera House is located downriver in East Haddam.
It’s obvious that you don’t need to wander outside the Connecticut River Valley to play outstanding daily fee courses and to enjoy an abundance of post-golf activities.