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land could be sold and the money reinvested in the educational programs that George Hooper wanted established when he originally made his land bequeath.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.
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