Keney Park Golf Course has been one of many municipal layouts that has been in the spotlight in recent years, thanks to new interest in elevating its quality through a hybridized renovation-restoration. The “restoration” comes as a result of a newfound interest in restoring the historic facets of the front nine holes created by Devereux Emmet, and the renovation in adapting the course’s Robert “Jack” Ross back nine to shine with features just as distinctive.
Matthew Dusenberry, a former associate of Greg Norman design, walked the fine line between a wholesale restoration and taking his own stab at Emmet’s Golden Age tendencies. No. 8, perhaps the most photographed hole at the property, is a great example: Its signature “accordion” bunker combines Oakmont church pews and Greco-Roman tiling for a unique look. Although Emmet would have been the architect to create such an installation, this bunker is actually an interpretation by Dusenberry.
Template holes make appearances, such as the Redan featuring Emmet’s tile bunkers at No. 6, and No. 9 offers a more reachable Road hole for Hartford golfers.
Keney Park is a Hartford-community playground on 694 acres four miles north of downtown. The golf course opened in 1927 with nine holes designed by Devereux Emmet. The back nine, designed by city engineer Robert “Jack” Ross, opened in 1930. Over the years the condition of the course deteriorated to such an extent that the whole enterprise was shut down in 2013.
The city then decided to pump millions into a course restoration, new maintenance building, and clubhouse renovation. Matt Dusensberry was hired for the course restoration work. Three years later a brand new course opened for play in 2016. Matt had been a 15-year associate with Greg Norman Golf Course Design and then set up his own shop in Milwaukee. Hartford area resident Brad Klein was a consultant. The estimated cost for the course was $5.7 million and used union labor. The final bill might have been closer to $10 million. The work included extensive tree removal and trimming, all new irrigation, some yardage added, and completely renovated tees, fairways, greens, and bunkers.
The terrain is rolling with a few spots substantially uphill and downhill. Many of the holes are bordered by 20-foot tall, mature trees. Parts of the back nine are more open.
There are mounds, gullies, ridges, and ditches in some fairways and in front of greens. There are only 57 bunkers with none on three holes. At the 8th green there is an intriguing large “piano bunker.” There are some Pete Dye small pot bunkers. One is in the fairway on the par-4 #14 hole. Another is at the front middle of the angled 51-yard deep 9th green. The majority of the greens are medium-to-large in size and some have clever shapes and contours.
The course was in good condition, especially for a muni operation. The greens were smooth with a speed of about 10. My only conditioning concern was thick weeds growing close to the right hand side of the 17th fairway. My hope is this is not the first sign of negligent maintenance, which was the reason why the course closed down just a few years ago.
We certainly enjoyed our round and would like to return.
Municipal golf is usually a gateway for many people to experience golf and if that experience can be a positive one can catapult those individuals into a game of a lifetime. I can remember my golf beginnings via Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx with my Dad.
Sadly, too many quality municipal courses have been "dumbed down" through a series of ignorant decisions -- often made by pencil-pushing non golfers. The sum total resulting in core design elements of note being removed. The main argument offered was such actions were to speed up play but even when pace did pick up somewhat the net overall loss of such design rich layouts can likely never be returned to their days of glory.
Keney Park shows what can happen when a concerted effort is brought forward to bolster the original pedigree of the layout. The City of Hartford deserves plaudits for putting forward serious cash to make a dream a reality and in hiring the right people to do the job correctly.
What's fascinating is how Connecticut has two endearing layouts open to the masses and very affordable for nearly all golfers on a budget with the likes of Kenry Park and Shennecossett in Groton.
Credit must also go to Dusenberry Design for its sound thinking and adroit implementation in bringing to life a range of design elements that clearly raise the "fun" meter when playing. It's so enriching to see classical design elements being brought forward at the municipal level.
Adam and Steve have spelled out many of the essential details on the respective holes and I agree with much of what they have said. Keney Park may not suffice for some who view it as being too short. But, on the whole, kudos to Hartford because often when discussion have involved municipal golf courses the net result has been to gut what's there rather than really bring things forward.
Quality affordable golf can happen -- Keney Park is a classic case study with that in mind.
M. James Ward
Bottom line up front: Keney Park is the real deal. Do not drive through central Connecticut without stopping to play this phenomenally routed, fabulously restored gem.
Growing up and learning the game in the greater Hartford area, my friends and I tried to play as many of the Nutmeg State’s courses as our high school budgets permitted. We always sought out new tracks, and in general, we were not picky. However, even we could not have been tempted to visit Keney Park as teenagers. My hat goes off to the Dusenberry Design team for their intensive work on this Devereux Emmet/Jack Ross masterpiece. Touching up a course with basic restoration techniques is one thing; catapulting a course from the bottom to the top of ranking lists while retaining the basic routing and bones? Incredible.
The inherent, classic-era nature of Keney Park’s layout allows the course to stand out from others in the area, and it creates a different adventure during every single loop. One of Keney Park’s shining old-school elements is that holes lay over the natural, rolling terrain, rather than around. Golden age architects did not have the luxury of removing knolls to build flat corridors, and in the case of Keney Park, those fairway slopes are marvelously fun. Another compelling facet are the very large green complexes which present an infinite number of pin placements. At Keney Park, the golfer must think about where to put the ball on the putting surface instead of monotonously playing to the center every time. Finally, on the less compelling topographical holes, Keney Park incorporates thoughtful bunkering and natural hazards, such as streams, rather than forcing an overly manmade appearance. These exquisite features create an adventure that plays differently during every single loop.
So many holes at Keney Park are like a business case. There are a number of routes a player can choose to attack, and each poses challenges and opportunities. Weighing those and executing properly are critical. Contemplative moments arise throughout the round on standout holes, including:
• #1: Every inch of Keney Park’s opener is exceptional. The teeing area connects to the practice green beautifully, and the player is greeted with a hole that bounds over three natural humps in the terrain. Introspection is required from your first tee shot at this potentially reachable par four. For the more conservative player, a wide landing area can be found just beyond the second rumple. However, this seemingly safe valley also presents a blind approach into the narrow green, and any ball on the left side must overcome an inferior angle. Taking driver is a more aggressive play, and a long enough shot may catch the third ridge down to the putting surface. However, the corridor near the green narrows. Ironically, the putting surface at the first is more of a Biarritz than the actual ‘Biarritz’ named hole (#7), in my opinion, and it also slopes hard left-to-right. Clearly, the possibilities are limitless, and your round has only just begun.
• #2: Feeling similar in profile to #4 at Bethpage Black, the par five 2nd at Keney Park has S-shaped curvature and continues the riveting start to the front nine. The first test is the tee shot, which plays to a left-to-right canted fairway is guarded by a parallel, bisecting creek. The overwhelming majority of players will find themselves laying up short of this hazard, yet nailing the proper trajectory and yardage with a long iron or metal is critical. Too long down the fairway, and you will be totally blocked from any line at the green. Too short, and you might catch the slope down into the water. On the second shot, conservative golfers can advance their ball down the wider, right side of the hole. However, third shots from this area have a difficult angle and a longer-than-desirable yardage. Aggressive players can take a more direct line at the hole, setting up a good birdie opportunity, but their shot must fly over an absolutely massive waste area on the left. Adding to the difficulty is that most will be playing from a side-hill, downhill lie. This hole is absolutely ingenious – among the best of my ~3,500 played – and yet it so simply laid upon the land.
• #4: The course’s first par four is a blast. Situated on the opposite side of the 2nd’s hill, the player once again faces a left-to-right canted fairway. Strategic players will hit their first shot towards the left rough to keep the ball in the center. A treacherous bunker is located in the ideal driving zone on the right side, quickly snatching up any overly aggressive shot to the middle of this leaning fairway.
• #6: The ‘Short’ at Keney Park is terrifying. With sharp drop offs in the back and left, pot bunkers surrounding, and a massive protruding spine in the front, this hole demands a high, aerial approach which sticks a perfect landing.
• #7-#9: While the final three holes on the front nine are not blessed with the same rolling topography as their predecessors, each varies in length, welcomes a plethora of ground and aerial shots, and features unique bunker styles (Road, Church Pews, etc.). What could have been a yawner of a stretch ends up presenting a diversity of tests.
• #10: The turn at Keney Park showcases another excellent three-shot hole with options galore. The landing area on the drive is extremely wide, but any shot that fades even slightly right will be blocked by trees. Those players will then face the difficult prospect of laying up while avoiding a massive waste bunker about 100 yards short of the green. Players whose drives are on the left portion of the fairway may reach in two, but also play off a slanted lie. The area before the green is tilted to the left, and of course, there is no room for error in the same direction. The baseball-field shaped putting surface is profile I have not encountered elsewhere, and it is interestingly surrounded by bunkers, short grass, and long rough on different sides. Chipping and pitching possibilities here are endless.
• #12: Arguably the most thought-provoking hole on the back nine, the 12th at Keney Park is tremendous. This short par four plays downhill and is drivable for some players. The fairway leading up to the green is wide, but the putting surface is devilish with a hard tilt especially right-to-left. Players can opt to lay-up to the first tier of fairway but must avoid a cemetery on the right. Furthermore, the angle from this conservative right portion of the fairway is inferior due to the cant on the green complex.
• #13: The ‘Redan’ style hole at Keney Park has interesting padding in the front-right portion of the collar which can be used to boomerang your shot onto the putting surface.
• #17: As your round at Keney Park comes to a close, more visual intimidation awaits. A large cross bunker left guards the shortest route to the hole, and a ‘Principal’s Nose’ style bunker forces many to hit a hit, lofted approach shot to a very undulating green. Spin control here is a necessity.
So many golf courses in New England have amazing landforms that go unfeatured in the routing. Whether holes play around those elements or if they were razed, many other properties lose character and blend together. Keney Park’s leap from a gloomy past to such a promising future demonstrates yet again that great golf can exist just about anywhere. Look at what a difference simple canted fairways and large putting surfaces make for this club! Keney Park’s layout will keep you on your toes from the 1st tee to the 18th green, even if some stretches fall a little bit flat. Keney Park’s restoration also proves that high caliber, architecturally interesting municipal golf need not cost an-arm-and-a-leg. Every community deserves great golf like Keney Park.
Since its restoration, Keney Park has been heralded as one of, if not the best public golf courses in the state of Connecticut. It is high time that ‘public’ qualifier is dropped: Keney Park is one of the best golf courses Connecticut, period. As I said in the beginning and as I reaffirm now, Keney Park is the real deal.
Let me first start by saying Keney Park is not your average municipal course, the course is as challenging as any with deep bunkers. Let me say that again deep bunkers!
An example would be the bunker right of the green on the 3rd whole, that I found myself in. With the pin tucked tight I had nearly a 15-foot bunker to get out of. I will leave it at that.
Bunkering on the front 9 is a key trait of the course, the course has teeth. The back nine is my favorite park of the course, the stretch from holes 11-13 is a good as any.
11, presents a formidable 230 yard par 3 from the tips with views of a creek and cemetery if you go long. The green is one that gradually elevates itself as you go to the back, stay below the hole.
12 My favorite hole on this course, is a short par 4 with an elevated tee box. The creek runs left of the whole and the cemetery runs right. Easy enough? Wrong, the green has a massive false front, Donald Ross on steroids. With, additional complexities, making par is a good score.
13 is a elevated par 3 with the green elevated and sloping from the right to left. Really neat green it looks like it was put on the top of a hill. Tricky hole, 180-190 yards from the tips.
Another notable feature that I have not come across from any other course was the two-faced bunker on the 17th. The bunker with a large mound in the center has bunkers on both sides, making any shot before the mound a death sentence and any coming just after an awkward shot due to the close proximity of the mound to the backswing.
I enjoyed Keney Park, thought it was a solid course worth my trip from New Hampshire. Memorable course with fair conditions. Truly unique in course design.
On my way to Philadelphia Cricket Club, I found a real cricket pitch next to the golf course. (I never saw one at Philly Cricket.) Though I can’t say how good the cricket is at Keney Park, I can say the golf is excellent: the course belongs in Connecticut’s top 10, easily ahead of Hartford and either Lake of Isles course. Plenty of strategic choices here….all but three holes give you a choice between running and aerial approach. And there are a number that require thought from the tee. My favorite was the par five 2nd, a double dogleg with risk/reward choices both off the tee and on the second shot.
Keney Park features lovely green complexes and the putting green—an upturned potato chip—lets you know immediately what you’re in for. So does the first green, which reminded me of Yale’s first if it were turned 90 degrees. Conditioning was good for a muni. Though I had a couple poor lies, I attributed those to recent heavy rains.
My only complaint is the hole names. The Road hole is a dogleg left without anything resembling railroad sheds. The Long is a par 4. The Dell is not blind. And there’s a Redan (# 13) which is called Peninsula.
Keney Park rivals Newport National for my favorite New England public course. I recognize that price is not a factor that should be factored into course assessments. But I must point out that this was the best $30 I ever spent……..on golf at least.