Dorset Field Club had nine holes in play by 1886, though it took another decade before the club built its first clubhouse and implemented a constitution. The original layout was expanded to an 18-hole course in 1999.
The club claims to be “the oldest continuously operating golf club in America,” ahead of Foxburg Country Club in Pennsylvania (1887) and St. Andrews Golf Club in New York (1888) and there’s no doubt that a 9-hole course was in operation during 1886, as evidenced by a map of the original layout attested by lawyer Ransom H. Gillett, who wrote:
“Course laid out by A.W. Harrington Esq, assisted by a crowd of thugs, touts and loafers. 1st Assistant Civil Engineers ‘Doc’ Holley and ‘Bill’ Kent. The course was planned and laid out on Sunday September 12th 1886. The aforementioned A.W. Harrington, Chief Engineer and Mayor of the City, was late to dinner on this account and caught Hell when he got home. All of which I can swear to.”
Unfortunately, these ‘touts and loafers’ didn’t get round to formally establishing a golf club until 1896 or incorporating it with the state until 1918 so exactly when the club was formed is, at best, open to interpretation – and to make matters worse, the original map with the humorous note somehow got lost when it was taken to be copied for the centennial celebrations in 1986!
Today, the course extends to a modest length of 6,198 yards from the back markers, playing to a par of 70. Highlight holes include the 351-yard 4th, where the fairway wraps round a pond to the left of the hole, and the 560-yard 16th, the only par five on the back nine for male golfers, doglegging sharply right between the tee and the green.
Head professional Patrick Berry kindly supplied us with the following information:
“In the late 1990s, Steve Durkee added a new nine (current holes 3 to 5 and 12 to 17) and these were integrated into the original layout which was (from #1 to #9) current holes 10, 11, 6 to 9, 1, 2 and 18. The extended course opened for play officially on July 17, 1999.”
Dorset is a prestigious club but is not opulent in the grounds near the clubhouse. Rather, it is a quiet, summer retreat for wealthy northeast families. The course follows suit, with excellent conditions and clear, natural, design details. Each hole is named and has distinctive signs at each tee box. The fairways were like carpet, the tee boxes were perfectly even, and putting surfaces were smooth and green. The aspect that separates Dorset is the constantly changes style of holes that keeps the player interested throughout. The 13th Hole "Goat's Loose" is a 145 yd par 3 that requires a tee shot over rolling hills of fescue to a partially blind green. The 4th hole is a slight dogleg along a water hazard and would be a signature hole at most other course. But the 17th hole had the most dramatic view, down the hill to a well bunkered green, with water to the front right. ALl framed by the mountains in the background. The course is in a valley and provides mountain views from any spot on the course. I felt privileged to be on the grounds and am grateful to the staff for allowing me to play.