I played a round of golf at Madison Country Club recently, which completed my one-year tour of the five private golf courses located along the eastern Connecticut shoreline.
They range from Stonington CC on the far eastern end, followed in order by Great Neck CC in Waterford, the Black Hall Club in Old Lyme, Clinton CC and the aforementioned Madison CC.
Former Great Neck superintendent Dan Rogers liked to talk about how these courses were a great source of information for him with great similarities as well as obvious and unique differences. There is enough bentgrass, poa annua, and ryegrasses to go around. The similarities of weather, turf, and terrain may fascinate agronomists, but it’s the playability of each that entrances the avid golfer.
They range in age from the newbie of the group, Stonington CC, opened in 1992, to the more venerable Black Hall, which opened in 1967, to the old-timers, Clinton, Great Neck, and Madison, which have early 20th century origins.
They come with considerable pedigree. Madison CC is an early 1900s Willie Parks design; Clinton CC has a redesign from Geoffrey Cornish; Great Neck is a Charlie Brooks creation with a 21st century upgrade from Mark Mungeam; Stonington CC comes from the combined efforts of Al Zikorus and Ron Forse while Black is the brainchild of the renowned Robert Trent Jones.
I like them all and each has its own style of play. None is modern-era long but all are fairly subtle in their use of length. Black Hall is the longest at 6,656-yds par 72 from the tips with Great Neck coming in as a par 71-6,460 yards at its peak. Black Hall can play like a beast with long par fours and narrow fairways and when the greens are running, Black Hall can intimidate even the best shotmakers.
Great Neck is the most deceptive in that it seems to play longer than its stated length and when the fescue is high and the greens get to their legendary speed, GNCC is a test for even the best. Many a qualifier has been fooled into thinking that the current iteration of Great Neck is a walk in the park, only to find that fescue and three-jacks can add up quickly. There are quite a few short holes that obscure the fact that 13, a 455-yard monster with fescue left and OB right, might be the single toughest par four in the area.
Madison is very similar with disguised length, a need for precision iron play, solid green complexes, and a re-worked back nine that has some lengthened par fours that can bring tears. It’s always fun to play and you are likely to use a variety of clubs and shots during a round.
Clinton is about as “fair” a golf course as you can play. Everything about the course suggests that if you play well, you can score, but you will not get away with sloppiness. Clinton has done some recent re-design and with great success, I might add. The course has a cleaner, more refined look.
Stonington has some very nice elevation changes that add to the intrigue of the course. It’s the second longest of the group but its length is more obvious than its brethren, and not overwhelming as a result. And, when the round is over, you get to go over to Kitchen Little to sample their new bistro menu. Don’t pass it up.
The single factor most common to these clubs is the group of PGA professionals that are the face of each. There might not be a more accommodating, friendly, and professional group than the five pros who represent these clubs. Madison is led by Frankie Carter, Black Hall by Andrew Campbell, Great Neck by Kevin Shea, Stonington by Mike Myszkowski, and Sean Busca is the man at Clinton. Outstanding service, friendly approaches, and genuine feeling of welcome is what you get from these guys in abundance. But there’s more.
On day one of the Connecticut Open at Wee Burn CC, a course set up as hard as any venue I have seen, Sean Busca carded a 95. That’s right. Ninety-five. And posted it. Like a true pro. He offered no excuses and no complaints.
What’s the big deal you might ask? Well, go to any tournament and check out the list of pros who file “NC” or “WD” instead of the score that might bruise an ego or two; the list is larger than we should see. Make no mistake, Sean Busca is a very good player and it was no picnic for him to play that way and then announce his performance to his peers and club members. But he did it with grace and character. He could have hidden from his performance but he chose to be the stand-up guy his peers and members know him to be. That, my friends is what a true pro does. Thanks for the reminder, Sean.
That’s why this week’s pick for “Someone You Should Play a Round of Golf With Before You Die” is any of the Shoreline Five’s Head Professionals. You can’t make a bad pick from that group.
Jim O’Neill is a member at Great Neck Country Club.