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.
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.