Located on the Cigna headquarters campus (formerly known as Connecticut General Life Insurance), the course at Gillette Ridge Golf Club is a public golf facility that Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay fashioned in 2004. The course hosted the LPGA Futures Tour Cigna Golf Classic from 2005 to 2008 then the PGA Tour Travelers Championship Qualifier from 2010 to 2012.
Unfortunately, the course closed and fell into a state of disrepair shortly after these professional events were staged at the club. After eighteen months of uncertainty, it reopened again in the summer of 2017 with new greens, refurbished bunkers and additional forward tees.
Gillette Ridge had a reputation as a tough track catering for the better player but the owners’ new goal was to keep the course challenging while improving it to accommodate all levels of player without ever compromising the original design intent.
The par five 2nd is the signature hole here: starting from a tee box that affords views of the 165-foot-tall Heublein Tower in the distance, it plays downhill to a peninsula green which is protected by a pond on the right side of the putting surface.
I was a member at Gillette Ridge for two years.
The 1st is a severe dogleg left with a fair landing area but missing it will be punished. The green is well protected and the hole is fairly flat.
The 2nd is a par 3 down hill slightly with a pond on the right abutting the green which is deep and bunkers on the left.
The 3rd is the one seemingly easy par 5. Slight dogleg right with bunkers left and right in the landing area and a huge slightly raised green with deep short fringe areas all around giving the appearance of a massive green but not as massive as it looks.
The 4th is a short par 4 with a pond left and short. Many will try to drive this as the tee boxes are at distances which create that possibility. A lay up to the right and a short approach to a well bunkered green should be the play.....but....
The 5th is a par 4 of relatively straight and some trees both right and left which create your line.
The 6th is an uphill par 3 with deep bunkers left in the kidney area of the green. Very challenging hole.
The 7th is a great par 4. Slightly downhill to start with a wide playing area. A waste area covers a deep area of about 125 yards from just short of the elevated well protected green.
The 8th is the last par 5 which is relatively straight with trees out on the left next to a fairway bunker. The green sits atop an old bridge crossing of a stream on a diagonal out to the right. Going over the green to the left can create a shot you have never experienced before.
The 9th is just a ridiculously tough par 4. Long. Bunkers to the left. A pond to the right which cuts in short of the green and creates a peninsula green.
The 10th hole is a challenging starter par 4 of good length. Slight dogleg right with a huge green
The 11th hole is a par 5 which seems wide open off the tee to an expanse of fairway but as you get out there you come to a green perched on the left edge of a lake which sits out and forms the dogleg right. The lake is not visible from the tee as it starts at the 300 mark and is just over mounds which hide it's appearance.
The 12th is a dogleg left with a pond out on the left and a rolling fairway on the right with bunkers. The green is set on a slight rise next to the pond with the green jutting out into it. Left, right and long are wet.
The 13th is the first par 3. It's of average length 175ish...But the green is 10 yards wide and 35 yards deep bunkers on the right and the left side rejects balls to the left into unplayable brush.
The 14th hole is a nice par 4. There is a stream in play and depending on tee box it can be 250 to 300 out and it is 25 yards across. The green is sloped severely and is only about 25 yards deep.
The 15th hole s a par 4of slight dog leg right with trees in play on the left so a narrow corridor for placement. The green flat to the hole and is bunkered well.
The 16th is a monster par 5 with wetlands right and a hillside left to start. It plays at 550ish from the middle tee box. Just short of the green is a massive pond area of near 100 yards deep. A layup is almost mandatory for even the longest hitters as the green is kidney shaped and deep and undulating.
The 17th is a par 3 of 175ish with a large green. Very slight elevated tee. brush areas left and right and commercial builings just out to the left past the green.
The 18th is a good finisher. Slight dogleg left with cavernous fairway bunkers on the left. Good length and a well protected green. The tee ball seems blind as you can only see some of the fairway as it gently slopes down to the green after you cross an upslope.
Gillette Ridge is a nice course. The toughest thing about the course is that the turf is shallow and rips easily and you will have divots unlike any you have had before. Now add that it is public and not everyone replaces their divots like they should. Your game will improve if you play here often. It is very challenging.
When you rate golf courses, what factors do you consider? What aspects create an experience worthy of return? By my criteria, Gillette Ridge shines in perhaps the most important category: fun. It is a track that any player could enjoy on an endless loop.
Central Connecticut offers a wide array of parkland courses with corridors lined by thick forest, plain circular green complexes, and blasé fronting bunkers. Gillette Ridge manages to break this mold in countless ways. The most compelling aspects of this Arnold Palmer design are its quirky, pronged putting surfaces and their short-grass collection areas. These chipping swales can be spotted on all four sides of greens throughout the round. On any given day, the proper playing angle and ideal bail out may change drastically. Any players missing greens will find themselves using aerial flops, bump-and-run chips, and other creative recovery techniques.
Sadly, for many years Gillette Ridge fell under hard times. Facing stiff public and private competition in its immediate vicinity, the course was on the verge of closing and lost favor among the local golf community. While great conditioning is not a necessity for all great architecture, tight lies and lush fairways are critical to enabling Gillette Ridge’s strategic interest. Thankfully, under strong management today, Gillette Ridge is thriving once again. Public reviewers are raving about the course and tournaments are returning regularly.
Although the previous arrangement of the front and back nines allowed for a more dramatic start and finish, the tempo of the current routing at Gillette Ridge still features bursts of compelling stretches through each segment of the layout:
• The round commences with a range of tests. These include deep, three shot par fives, penalty areas that are ever present in the players mind, and great temptation shots like the drivable par four 4th.
• Things pick up as the outward side finishes. The 8th hole’s green complex, while polarizing in its design, is undoubtedly unique in the game today. The green is set atop a stone bridge, and achieving the proper angle on the layup shot is nearly impossible due to a centerline trap. Players may also wish to bail out left at the par four-and-a-half 9th to avoid missing its rocky, peninsula green.
• The turn begins with a bang, setting the tone for the remainder of this adventurous excursion. The 11th hole is a superb risk-reward par five. If the pin is on the front or back prongs of the green, laying up is the wise move, while holes cut in the top portion of its triangular shape beg for bravery. Situated on sloping topography, the player can use the ground at the 12th off the tee and as an entry to the large putting surface.
• The finale at Gillette Ridge begs the player to muster up all remaining energy to tackle some of the course’s longer holes.
Growing up and learning the game in the greater Hartford area, my golf group tried to play as many of the Nutmeg State’s daily fee courses as our teenage budgets permitted. In general, we almost always sought out new tracks. Perhaps the greatest compliment we could offer to Gillette Ridge is that it fell among the top echelon of public courses which we gladly returned to regularly. Though the property has hosted numerous PGA Tour qualifying and Symetra Tour events, it continues to offer affordable rates for the public.
With such an accommodating atmosphere, Gillette Ridge is a splendid stop for anyone traveling through Hartford. Gillette Ridge can be paired well with another round at Keney Park, Wintonbury Hills, Wampanoag, or serve as a great standalone 36-hole day.