According to the Wayne Stiles Society website, “Hooper Golf Club, featured on the cover of The Life and Work of Wayne Stiles came under threat as a result of a somewhat complicated situation involving terms of an old estate, the town’s and State Attorney General’s interpretations of an associated trust, and a lease renewal with the club. Fortunately, an agreement was worked out that will allow this nine-hole gem to continue challenging golfers.”
Basically, the townspeople of Walpole – who had been left 131 acres of land by Dr George Hooper back in the 1920s – paid the Monadnock Conservancy to purchase a conservation easement from the George L. Hooper Trust, ensuring that whoever buys the property in future cannot develop or subdivide the land. While future owners are limited in what they can use the land for, it was built into the easement that the property will continue as a golf course.
This all came about because the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, which is responsible for ensuring that charitable trusts are managing their affairs properly, had looked at the relatively small income derived from renting the course to the golf club, arguing that the land could be sold and the money reinvested in the educational programs that George Hooper wanted established when he originally made his land bequeath.
So now, for the time being at least, Hooper remains one of nine surviving New Hampshire tracks that Massachusetts-born architect Wayne Stiles constructed during a career that took off after he established his own golf and landscape architecture firm in 1915, designing more than 145 golf courses across sixteen states over the next forty-year period.
Architect Tom Doak is certainly an admirer of Hooper, affording it prominence in the Confidential Guide to Golf Courses book, volume 3 as one of his eighteen Gourmet Choice selections, one that he “would take a good friend to play.” In fact, if there was ever an 18-hole composite course composed of Hooper on the front nine and Donald Ross’s Whitinsville in Massachusetts on the back nine then he’d rate this as one of the top fifty courses in America.
If you enjoy traveling and seeing golf courses, a trip to Walpole, NH is a worthwhile one. This Wayne Stiles and John van Kleek course is full of charm and variety. The opening tee shot is atop a large hill and the hole seems wide and open. After a few plays you realize that the left half of the fairway is not a good place to be due to the awkward stance, and the large tree protecting the left half of the approach. The next hole plays in the same direction but to a fairway that features a lot of movement leading to more uneven lies. I personally loved the third hole. An uphill tee shot that must quickly move from right to left and avoid the deep greenside traps. The next shot requires a pitch up to a ridge where the green is located. The fourth is a short par 3 that has a green with severe back to front tilt. The green is brilliantly located on a natural high point. It is no exaggeration that a pitch from behind the green may not be able to stop on the green. Playing Hooper multiple times, like any good course reveals the strategies of the holes. Within the first 4 holes, the golfer is asked to hit a wide variety of clubs, from a variety of lies, to a variety of uphill, and downhill landing spots. After the first 4 holes that course moves through the woods into a more open vista where the remaining 5 holes are located. I thought these holes were pleasant and a nice compliment to the first 4 standout holes. Hooper is a blast!
Rolling through majestic hills, Hooper Golf Course is a gem and, as a fan of Wayne Stiles, Hooper does not disappoint.
I don’t see a better course being built on the land than the one Mr. Stiles laid out some 90 years ago. Tastefully routed and using the natural contours, Mr. Stiles certainly maximized the course on the topography of the property. Hooper shot for shot will best most 9-hole courses. Its layout ‘front 9’ to ‘back 9’ changes the holes and course drastically. Such examples are hole 3 and 7 that require differing shaped shots depending on which set of tees are played, very cool especially when the tees are only moved 20 yards.
Par also shifts depending on the 9 being played, Hole 1 will play as a par 5 the first go around. Making it a rather short warm up hole. While when played as hole 10 it becomes a serious challenge. 450-470 yards in length doesn’t seem like much, but when changing the hole from a par 4 to a par 5, I was frankly amazed at how much the general feeling and perception of the hole changes.
Hooper is an exceptionally designed golf course and I will admit I was hesitant playing Hooper – Mr. Doak’s not so Confidential Guide made my expectations high. Though I wouldn’t say it's complementary to Whitinsville, which isn’t a knock-on Hooper. Hooper’s soul is uniquely different from Whitinsville and rightfully so. Hooper isn’t a complement to any course, and neither is Whitinsville, both courses delightfully create a stellar routing for 18 holes. Hooper is most certainly a course worth playing if you're around and do make sure to play the full 18.
If Tom Doak’s admiration for Hooper as a summer “Gourmet Choice” is not testament enough, notice that the two other [very positive!] reviews here were composed by a pair of the most prolific Top100 Golf Courses raters. It is an honor to be in the company of those who have made the trek to play this Wayne Stiles gem.
The entire Hooper experience is memorable, starting with the drive to the course. Upon arrival, the buildings on the Hooper property take you back in time. Everything about the club feels “local,” from the conversations you will have with dedicated pro-shop staff, to the inspirational story of how townspeople saved Hooper’s existence. As the sign on the clubhouse says, the “magic” and mystique that encapsulate Hooper are evident even before beginning your round.
Hooper’s course is full of charm, strategy, and variety. Reiterating comments below, notable features include:
• #1: An absolute blast of a short par five. From the elevated tee, a right-to-left shot ‘feels’ like the proper play on this slightly bending hole. However, left is deadly the whole way to this rumbled green complex.
• #2: After the feeling of standing on a wide open mountain, the tee shot at the 2nd could not be more different. The setting becomes densely sylvan, and the player enters a tunnel of majestic trees. This lengthy par four demands two excellent shots to reach the green which does provide some relief with a welcoming run-up entrance.
• #3: A fascinating short par four. The tee shot’s narrow chute essentially requires a perfectly straight lay-up, or a right-to-left shaped shot if one plans to go for the green. With steeply separated tiers, having the proper yardage and angle into this green is critical.
• #4: A two tiered green is not necessarily unique, but the additional pitch from right-to-left on this par three requires the opposite shot shape of the 3rd hole.
• #5: This par five is one of the most textbook examples of laying a hole over the natural terrain that I have ever experienced. With multiple dips and swales, Stiles fabulously used what nature had provided to create interest.
• #6: With full exposure to the broadest part of the property, wind becomes a beguiling factor at this medium-long par three.
• #7 - #9: While Doak and others suggest that the final three holes at Hooper do not stand out, I actually thought each had at least one unique element of interest. The 7th green provided some fascinating left-to-right slope which can be used to funnel a shot closer to tucked pins, if the player properly lays up. The 8th, with its downward slope, actually makes the player think about laying up for a more flat lie in the fairway. The 9th, with one of the boldest, large greens on the course, asks the player to hug the out-of-bounds on the left hand side of the hole near Hooper Road for the best angle to most pins locations.
Hooper literally has it all. In 9 holes, I hit almost every club in my bag, draws, fades, aerial shots and run ups, often consecutively! I played up and down steep slopes, into a thick forest and across prairies. It is no wonder that the locals stepped up to the plate to save this masterpiece. If every community in America had an inexpensive, playable, high value golf course like this, I cannot fathom the game declining to where we find it today. Hooper’s simplicity, naturalness, and variety make it well worth the excursion.
Also worth mentioning was the charming town of Walpole. My family and I had a fabulous lunch at Spencer’s Place after our round and received a 10% discount with our Hooper scorecard – the Garlic Burger was exceptional!
It has been said before and is worth saying again: “Hooper is Super!”
This Wayne Stiles and John Van Kleek designed 9-hole course in Walpole, NH is one of the hidden gems in the northeast. The charming beauty of this property will capture your heart right from the first tee box as you behold one of America’s best opening tee shots down the hill to the sloping fairway.
Hooper Golf Club was formed in 1926, and any review wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the stunning clubhouse built in 1788 that is one of the oldest structures in North America used as a golf clubhouse. It sits up high above the course providing many spectacular views across the New England landscape.
The course itself opened for play in the summer of 1927 and over the last 90 years, Hooper has maintained the spirit of Wayne Stiles inclusive of how much fun it is to traverse across the hills with a smile on your face. In recent years, a determined group of investors worked hard to restore Hooper to its previous high playing standards ensuring a wonderful 9-hole experience that we have today.
After the opening par 5 which whets the appetite, the second hole continues tumbling downhill with a heavy fairway. It’s very strong hole and par is a great score, especially with trees lining the fairway. The layout gets off to a booming start. On the 3rd tee, you turn back with a short par 4 with an enjoyable blind tee shot from a lower tee box to an elevated fairway. The 4th is a mid-length par 3 with a green pitched from right to left with a couple of large bunkers sitting below the left-side of the green. The 5th is a wonderful par 5 reachable in two for the longer hitters and opens you up to the widest piece of the property. The rise and fall of the topography is most evident on this hole. I really like the par 3 6th as it’s a long iron into a severely tilted green (back to the front) with a number of well positioned bunkers flanking the green that seem to be hanging in mid-air given the grand scale of the green-site. Par is a really great score!
The last 3 holes are moderate par 4s that run back and forth and don’t offer much challenge, in fact they all play a similar length. By far, the strength of the course is the opening 6 holes, but the overall layout has a very special vibe that I thoroughly enjoyed.
It takes something special to make the ‘Gourmet Choice’, and I couldn’t agree more that yes, “Hooper is Super”.
It's hard to fathom but clearly 9-hole courses do not get their fair share of attention -- most especially so in America. Fortunately, the broader New England area has a good number of these courses.
After reading Tom Doak's account of the course via his updated Confidential Guide book I knew I had to stop by and play the course during my annual visit to New England.
Hooper accentuates the most important word in golf design -- fun. At just over 3,000 yards the par-36 layout is blessed with quality land -- movement that clearly identifies quality shotmaking.
The 1st hole is modest in length for a par-5 at 456 yards, but foolish plays are treated swiftly and with little patience for such poorly executed plays. The beauty of the hole is accentuated by land that provides the character for the opener as well as the others at Hooper. The opener rewards a well-played right-to-left ball movement but by no means overdo such a play as a steep drop-off awaits.
The 2nd is a very narrow driving hole -- played at 427 yards. There's also OB handing just to the right so you'd best be able to stand and deliver a quality tee shot. Oh, by the way, the fairway is crowned -- so the margin of error is clearly limited.
The next two holes are short ones -- the 3rd playing 285 yards but well -protected against anything but a quality play. The par-3 4th hugs the same OB encountered earlier.
The rest of the course is a pleasant mixture of challenges where positioning is the central hallmark. Playability is also a plus at Hooper -- it's not meant to be a mindless slog Having a deft touch and a sure putting stroke truly helps here. The greens are kept at a modest pace so that a wider variety of pin locations are possible.
Hooper is a reminder quality golf courses come in all shapes and sizes. Those who see golf as just being an 18-hole traditional layout will eschew checking out this creative marvel from the handiwork of architect Wayne Stiles. That's an error on their part.
Given where golf is today - getting "fun" front and center is a must for many courses. None hole courses can do much for the game but such designs need to speak loudly and clearly as Hooper provides.
M. James Ward