500 Alonquin Road,
Connecticut (CT) 06432,
- +1 203 334 5116
4 miles NE of Fairfield
Members and their guests only
A. W. Tillinghast, Ron Forse
Brooklawn Country Club was formed in 1895, with $100 budgeted for establishing a 9-hole golf course, $300 allowed for building six tennis courts and $250 set aside for constructing a baseball diamond. The following year, Brooklawn became one of the first twenty-six clubs to join the newly formed USGA.
Tom Morris, Old Tom’s grandson, was Brooklawn’s first professional, and he was followed as a club employee in later years by Gene Sarazen, who got his first job in golf by “cleaning jobs and sweeping up” around the clubhouse. Honorary club membership would come the Squire’s way further down the line.
There have been several major tournaments played at Brooklawn down the years: the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship in 1974, the U.S. Women’s Open in 1979, the U.S. Senior Open in 1987, the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship in 2003 and the U.S. Senior Women’s Open in 2021.
In the book The American Private Golf Club Guide, Daniel Wexler describes Brooklawn as “an A.W. Tillinghast redesign of an earlier member-built layout on a tree-lined, fairly compact property (which) may not occupy a spot on Tillinghast’s top shelf, but it’s a fine, classic layout well worth seeing.”
In more recent years, Ron Forse has been gradually restoring the layout and the architect commented as follows: “The strength of this place is amazing. It was the next-to-last major design work Tillinghast ever undertook. And it shows off – or showed off – his talents at the peak of his career.”
The first impression one receives when arriving at Brooklawn is how it's neatly tucked away from all the commotion that exists nearby to it location. You are quickly whisked away and can thoroughly enjoy the engaging property which A.W. Tillinghast was able to transform from its original layout to the one you see today.
The property is quite rolling.
The opener belies what lies ahead and it's a strong two-shot hole that turns left in the drive zone with a large solitary bunker guarding the inside corner of the dog-leg.
Upon reaching the 1st green you can quickly see the Tillinghast influence as the putting surface has a number of movements -- some subtle and others more noticeable.
The downhill par-3 2nd appears rather benign -- that is until you see how the green is artfully shaped -- falling away from the tee and being ever so finicky on what shots are able to finish near the hole.
For holes 3-10 you cross Cornell Avenue and this is where the layout really begins to shine.
One of the most difficult design challenges is creating uphill holes that be both effective but not become mindless slogs. The 3rd is especially done well and proved quite challenging for the women who played in the Women's Senior Open this past week. The hole tempts players to go with the driver for maximum length but a pesky fairway bunker is superbly positioned on the right side. The approach, like so many Tillinghast created, is a rigorous one. Greenside bunkers push in from both sides and when viewed from the fairway makes the landing area appear even smaller. The green is sloped from back-to-front and heaven help anyone who gets too aggressive with the approach and finishes in the rear area.
This type of design pattern is repeated -- again and again. Tillinghast provided space in the drive zone but the approach shots must be gauged with proper precision.
Among the more challenging holes on the outward side is the uphill dog-leg left 6th. The drive must find the top of the hill and getting to that position is no small feat. Being able to turn-the-ball from the tee can be an asset but the penalties for failure will add to the demands for the approach. As I have already described -- the greens are well-protected by flanking bunkers hugging tightly to the greens like a preschooler clutching his mother's apron on the first day of classes.
The contours found at Brooklawn are not as severe as the ones faced at Winged Foot / West & East courses but they are hardly pedestrian. The downhill dog-leg right par-5 7th is wonderfully crafted. The tee shot must slide to the right to take advantage of the turbo-boost you received from the downhill landing area. If length and accuracy are linked together -- players have to decide on whether going for the green in two blows is in the cards. The shot is very testing -- having to cross Rooster River and then find a green exquisitely shaped and contoured internally.
One of the common aspects of Brooklawn is how one plays holes that go up and then down - with a few exceptions in the mix. Clearly, Tillinghast inherited a previous layout and likely used the previous hole corridors and then added his own flourishes -- chief among them -- the putting green intricacies that add immeasurably to the challenge and design heft when playing.
Rooster River plays a future role with the downhill par-4 9th. The inward half commences with a short par-3 but one that plays a bit uphill and has a devilish narrow green that is again well-protected by flanking bunkers. When the pin is cut in the very front the proficiency with the short iron is clearly tested.
Players now cross back over Cornell Road for the final eight holes. The uphill par-5 11th is a gem of a hole. Again, the land rises in the drive zone and players have to show a high skill level in being able to work the ball right-to-left while not overplaying their hand as OB lies to the extreme left and those who bailout right only increase the difficulty that remains.
The main drawback when you reach the par-4 12th is that the pattern of holes begins to repeat with little real differentiation. At the par-4 13th you climb uphill before going back downwards at the par-4 14th. Fortunately, the 12th has a fairway ski-ramp that can add tee shots reaching a downslope provided at roughly 260 yards from the tee. The par-4 14th also has a cut-off area whereby tee shots cannot go more than 280-290 yards before rough cuts off the landing area and then descends downhill to a small tributary that runs perpendicular to the hole. The green is set nicely in front of Rooster River which swings behind the putting surface.
The ending run of holes at Brooklawn is a bit of a letdown. The par-3 15th is a fine short hole but hardly as special as others Tillie created. The short par-4 16th which climbs uphill and doglegs right is sufficient but is saved by a greensite that slopes severely from back-to-front.
The final two holes are both mid-length par-4s that play in opposite directions. The 18th ends the day with one final reminder -- a Tillinghast green that is truly a marvel to see and quite hellish to putt.
Credit architect Ron Forse for beefing up the Tillinghast effort. Walking the course can prove to be a tough chore for those a bit weak on leg power but it's not as strenuous as what you find at Bethpage Black.
The genius of Brooklawn comes with the artful greens and the various shapes, twists and turns encountered.
Connecticut clearly does not have the range or depth of private clubs as its neighbors the Empire and Bay States respectively. Yet, Brooklawn is certainly worth top ten consideration in the Nutmeg because of the bevy of architectural flourishes it contains. Kudos to the club and the USGA for keeping the club in the public eye. There's no chance Brooklawn hosts a U.S. Open or PGA Championship -- it's neither long enough nor has enough internal space to stage such events. But when you look at the past USGA championships played there the opportunities are present for those events to return and quite possibly a few others -- including a Women's Open.
For those who are Tillinghast devotees a round at Brooklawn will be one to savor. And it certainly bolsters the club's reputation that two of the sport's all-time greats -- both Gary Player and now Annika Sorenstam -- have won there.
M. James Ward
As a Connecticut high school golfer, I was fortunate to play a rival team at Brooklawn multiple times. Even without the appreciation for golf architecture that I possess today, Tillinghast’s championship routing on this compact property left a big impression. Brooklawn was among the first courses I have played where every single green complex was bold and punishing. Missing in the wrong spot – usually long – was an absolute necessity.
Sadly, I have only been able to play the front nine at Brooklawn. If ever given the opportunity, I would love to return, especially given Ron Forse’s restoration work. Even though it has been over a decade since my last round, some notable holes from that time include:
- #1: The bunker flanking the left portion of the fairway must be challenged off the tee. The green complex is raised significantly with a daunting false front.
- #2: A downhill par three with gorgeous bunkering that welcomes either an aerial shot, or a right-to-left runner. Options abound.
- #9: Another downhill stunner with a large fairway bunker on the right, preventing you from going for the most aggressive tee shot and best angle on some days.
To this day, Brooklawn is still the best conditioned course of my 230+ played. With so much variety and such pristine playing surfaces, it is no wonder that Brooklawn’s name comes up time and time again for USGA Championships. If you are lucky enough to receive an invitation to play, hop on the opportunity. If not, tune in for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, postponed to 2021. I would consider it an honor and privilege to return in the future.
I have been fortunate in having playing Brooklawn a few times as a media member and I am covering this week's Senior Women's Open being held at the club.
I read your review and enjoy your comments but I was struck by how your comments say one thing and your overall ratings assessment (# of golf balls) is only a three (3). That seems totally out of whack.
I will be providing my detailed review assessment very shortly and possibly you and I -- and any others -- can dialogue further on this. Thanks --