11 Point Rd,
Massachusetts (MA) 02738,
- +1 508 748 0192
12 miles E of New Bedford
Members and their guests only
William Flynn and Fred Hood should each receive equal credit for the course at The Kittansett Club (native Indian for “near the sea”) which opened for play in 1922. Flynn provided the routing plan and Hood built the course and continued to "tweak" the layout for the next 20 years. The course is situated at the end of Butler Point which extends into Buzzards Bay. Its location offers spectacular views and challenging shot making in the ever-changing wind.
Only third in stature in the state of Massachusetts to The Country Club and Old Sandwich, Kittansett hosted the Walker Cup in 1953 when USA beat Great Britain & Ireland 9-3. The course was restored in the late 1990s by Gill Hanse who recaptured many of the original features that had been eroded over the decades. Hundreds of trees were removed for two reasons – first to reveal grassed over mounds alongside fairways, and second, to improve visibility of the Bay. Some disused bunkers were brought back into play and others were rebuilt to their original size and composition.
The signature hole is the 3rd, a 165-yard par three, which is an island hole requiring a tee shot that carries sand and water to reach the putting surface. The small green can be easily missed from the tee (especially if the wind is unkind and takes a tee shot offline) leaving the golfer with a recovery shot from the beach – if the tide is out!
Since 1995, Gil Hanse has been advising The Kittansett Club on course restoration matters.
Kittansett, which means “Near the Sea” is situated at the tip of a peninsula jutting out into Buzzards Bay and is consistently rated one of the top 100 courses in the US. Interestingly, it was originally conceived as a way to spread overhead costs from the local yacht club that was only open three months of the year. The true architect is subject to debate as both Donald Ross and Toomey & Flynn were consulted. The land on which the club purchased was owned by Frederic Hood, a founding member who took responsibility for constructing the course based upon a set of plans developed by Toomey & Flynn. Not sure if this was yankee ingenuity, thrift or underhanded. Regardless, the first nine opened in August of 1923 and the back nine in October of the same year. Hood nurtured and tinkered with the course as the superintendent until his death in 1942. One of the hallmarks of the course was the unique mogulling that was created to cover up large boulders on the property. In the late 1990s the course went through a retro redesign. This eliminated hundreds of trees to reveal much of the original contouring. Most of the greens were brought back to the original design as well as the bunkering. It is now a much more open course and the sea is visible from many more holes and thus the wind became a bigger variable. A good low ground game here will make you a lot of $$.
The first hole is a long par 4, fairly straight, open to the left (18th hole) but there is a lateral hazard right with marsh. A sandy wasteland bisects the fairway about 260 yards out. The small undulating green is protected by a deep bunker left. The 2nd is another long par four heading out to Buzzards Bay. This hole is also bisected with a cross hazard. Typically, plays downwind with deep greenside bunkers left and right. The challenge is guestimating what yardage to land the approach at to bounce onto the green. Oh , and of course hitting it between the bunkers. The 3rd hole is one of the most famous par 3s in the world. Short with a water carry the green is an island on the beach. Really cool hole and an exhilarating tee shot. The 4th is a dogleg right. You tee off in the marsh hence you have a forced carry and there are bunkers on boith the inside and the outside of the elbow. Off the tee, a fade is ideal. The green is protected with bunkers left and right. The 5th is a throwback with two bunkers in the fairway between 150-180 yards. The wind will dictate how one chooses to play the hole. Additionally, marshland is creeping in on the right, along with a greenside bunker and a small grove of trees left. When Gil Hanse did the redesign he brilliantly decided to move the 6th tee box back about 30 yards. This brought back into play the grassed over boulder mounds. The ideal tee shot over the mounds. The first par 5 tee shot is fairly tight, but this hole is notable for the bunkering. The most nefarious is the cross bunker on the left side about 100 yards out. This one of the largest greens on the course, is multi-tiered with deep bunkers on both sides. It is possible to get home in two, but you must favor the right side. The 8th is long par 3 protected by 3 bunkers with fescue eyebrow coverage. The 9th is pretty straight and a good birdie oppty. Heads up, as a creek does meander across the fairway about 280 yards off the tee.
The back starts off with another birdie oppty. In the fall of 2019 Hanse and his team moved the mounded bunkers on the left 50 yards closer to the green. Originally, in play, technology had long ago taken them out of play as they were only 190 yards to clear to set up a flip wedge. It will be interesting to see how the “new” mounds will be received in 2020. The 11th is one of the toughest most unique par 3s I have ever played. Let’s start with do not be ashamed to hit your driver. After all when a par 3 has a cross bunker. It is not a gimme, plus, 3 deep greenside bunkers. The cherry on the ice cream sundae, however, is the green. Two tiered with a valley does not seem to do it justice, perhaps a kitty korner Biarritz? There are not too many 3 putts that I have been thankful for. No rest for the weary, the 12th is a slight dogleg left and is the number two handicap hole. Off the tee left is better, but there is a cross bunker on the left side. For those faint of heart, the approach from the right is much tougher to one of the smallest greens on the course. The 13th is a short par four dogleg right. As part of the redesign the former trees have been removed from the inside of the elbow and the bunker and mounds are back. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss this green as it is less than 3000 SF. The 14th is a par 3 with a kidney shaped green with two bunkers front right and left and then another on the inside of the kidney left. Supposedly, the easiest hole. The par 5 15th is a pretty straight with several cross bunkers coming into play. The sneakiest one is on the right side and loves to gobble second shots. Make sure you have your yardage right. Two good shots should give you a flip wedge into one of the courses larger greens. The 16th is a classic par 4, not only in scenic beauty but also design. The tee shot is straight out to Buzzards Bay with a slight left bend and a generous landing area, albeit with marshland right and left. The challenge becomes the left and right cross bunkers about 30 yards in front of the green. Kittansett is a ground game course and on 16 one must thread the needle. The contour then dips down into a swale before rising back up to the green itself. Short airborne approaches will hit and die (or perhaps roll down) in the front bank. I would not quite call this a tabletop green, but it is elevated and can create mischief. Hanse brilliantly removed the tees left and behind the green to bring in the water vista. Awesome golf hole. The 17th is a dogleg left with a creek about 250 yards out. Favor the right off the tee. Take an extra club to this elevated green with front right and left greenside bunkers. If you are birdie less thus far, take heart, 18 is a very short par 5. Favor the left off the tee to take the road on the right out of play. There is a fairway bunker on the left about 50 yards out, but you gotta go for it.
When I played it as a kid, and did not know any better, I thought it was great. The work that Hanse and team performed have made it awesome.
Shinnecock is the best course I've played in the US, but Kittansett is my favorite. In my opinion, it is better than the two courses in Mass ranked above it (the Country Club and Old Sandwich). The tree clearing that has occurred over the last few years has transformed the place. Wind is now a constant element to consider with each shot. The views rival any course in New England. And the design utilizes the land perfectly. There are jaw-dropping holes (the 3rd), and there are straightforward holes (1 and 18). But there are no boring holes. Kittansett is pure golf, with treacherous greens and a mixture of angles that make a first play extremely difficult. It is a course that you start to figure out the more you play it. And on a windy day, it is all the challenge you could ask for.
I first played here in the 1970s and couldn’t figure out what all the hoopla was about. A number of return visits over the years did little to change my view. But last week’s round was an eye opener. Bunkers have been restored and others added and now there are few tee shots that don’t cause the player to ponder how much risk (s)he wants take on for a commensurate reward.
Moreover, thousands of trees have been removed. And while the course is not built on linksland, the experience is now definitely linkslike. The conditioning is firm and fast, and the open views now provide at least a glimpse of Buzzards Bay on every hole but the twelfth. The fairway mounding also provides a sense of a classic older course. The routing is classic out and back variety, but the holes are configured so that the wind is felt from all directions. Not all the green complexes have the spectacular undulations of #11 but there is plenty of challenge once one reaches the green.
Kittansett is one of my half dozen favorites in Massachusetts.
Leave your iphone in the car and just assume it’s 1922. When you talk to golfers in the NorthEast about “courses going back to original designs”, chances are they speak of Oakmont and Kittansett. There is a trend in the United States, that due to economic reasons, there aren’t too many new courses being built, but rather, there are many course renovation projects (eg: Pinehurst #2, LA Country Club, Saucon Valley).
I first played Kittansett in 2005 and heard of the tree clearing project in its infancy. Over the past few years, this same conversation has continued to the extent that you’d think there isn’t a branch left on the property. This course is really old school and the membership has preserved this feeling exceptionally well. Kittansett is similar to a Swinley Forest experience in so far as there are many short par 4s, humps & bumps, series of mounds, crowned greens and breath-taking par 3s. You could easily imagine yourself playing this course with a hickory shaft.
It has a pioneering layout created by Flynn, who also created Shinnecock. Count how many times you find yourself saying “I’ve never seen a hole like this before”. You only need to stand on the 3rd green and conclude that this hole is a one of kind. Who builds a beach the entire way around a green in the 1920s? The 11th green is arguably the greatest green in golf. Now that’s what I call a shelf! You could spend the rest of your life staring at it trying to figure out how a human imagination could stretch to these limits – even North Berwick would be proud of this one.
The tree clearing project has done wonders for the health of the greens, and has extended their lifecycle. In addition, it has now opened up views of the Atlantic, opened up unknown corridors throughout the property and it’s not unusual to look around and see 12 other holes. The exposed nature of the course makes it at the mercy of the ocean wind and ensures that no two rounds ever resemble each other.