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 have played Kittansett only once in late October on a day where it rained beginning on the fifth hole. The rain was never “hard” but it was consistent and definitely affected play. We had high winds at the beginning of the round, but not as high once the rain began. We finished in a drizzle with the winds beginning to come back.
I would not quibble with anyone who believes Kittansett is a top 100 course, somewhere between 70 and above. It is really good.
This is why a good course deserves a second and sometimes even more rounds to understand it. Perhaps on a much nicer day I would change my mind.
The entrance road to the course takes one to the end of a peninsula that juts into Buzzard’s Bay. On one side is Sedge Cove. Due to its location, there is a hybrid of holes that are exposed after a tree removal campaign (holes one through three and sixteen through eighteen are in the open) and twelve holes in the woods or bordered by trees. Given the gray/dark skies, we did not have the benefit of fabulous views of the water which no doubt would have enhanced the experience. As we finished our round, we hurried and were focused on finishing to dry off, get warm, and have lunch.
I do wonder how the course would be received if all of the holes were in the open and all of the trees removed from the inner part of the course. I do not know whether more tree-clearing would make all of the holes more consistent. It certainly would change the essence of the course.
The course sits on flat land. There is no real distinguishing land features on the course other than being near the water, tree-lined, and the incorporation of large mounds on many holes. You might have to take more or less club due to the strength of the wind, but you will not have to adjust a club for distance absent the wind. As such, it is not a course where a view is so beautiful as to be distracting (better weather obviously makes the “open” holes with views of the water much better looking as well as being able to look over the beginning/ending of the course from the lovely clubhouse. It is a course that has no single “great” hole, but many very good holes. It is a course that is very much where the sum of the course adds up to more than the parts.
I do very much like the routing in terms of how it starts and ends. There are not many “wow’ holes here, but all of them are good and fit together very nicely. The most memorable holes is the par 3 third hole as it sits on the beach and is an “island green” surrounded only by sand. As might be expected of a course built many decades ago, there are no longer par 5’s with two par 5’s topping out at 545 yards and the final one at 491 yards. The course has a wonderful variety of par 3’s, ranging from the third at 167 yards to the very long eleventh at 253 yards.
The holes I think are noteworthy are 2, 5, 7, 8, 11, and 13-16. The two holes I consider to be the best on the course are 3 and 12. That is eleven holes out of eighteen.
The course is a par 71. From the Blue tees the course is 6934 yards rated 75.0/145. The White tees are 6400 yards rated 71.9/139. There are two sets of tees at lesser yardages. I played the white tees.
1. Par 4 – 450/415. It is a generous fairway with the second shot having the green slightly to the left. There is a long waste area that begins about 145 yards from the green so bigger hitters can run into it providing the wind is not present. The waste area is about 15 yards wide on the left but as long as 35 yards on the right. There is a small bunker on the right about 25 yards short of the green and a long bunker beginning 10 yards before the green and continuing down the left side. There are a couple of chocolate-drop grass covered mounds on the right about 12 yards from the green. The right side off the green also has a fall-off and additional micro-contouring. It is a very nice starting hole.
2. Par 4 – 447/415. This is nice hole playing towards the Cove. After a forced carry over what appears to be wetlands with a stream running down the right, there is a tree on the right that puts mounds about four feet high into play. There is an inner mound on the left side of the fairway about 190 yards from the green. The fairway breaks with a bunker and sandy waste area of about twenty yards before continuing to the green which is set off to the left. The green has two large, long flanking bunkers. The water is about eight-ten yards behind the back of the green. Thankfully, the greenside bunkers are not deep nor is the green particularly difficult.
3. Par 3 – 167/155. It is a really cool look hitting over the curve of Sedge Cove to this island green which was unique for the time period when the course opened. This island green is surrounded by sand with the green sitting about four feet above the sand. It is still great fun on this all-or-nothing hole. If one hits the green, the putt should be straightforward. There is not a guarantee of a two-putt, but hitting the green typically means you are relatively close to the pin unless it is right at the front. The green has a higher ripple on the right and seems to be sloped front to back. The hole is made much more difficult by the direction of the wind as the player is fully exposed.
4. Par 4 – 375/360. This is a cute short par 4 playing as a dogleg right beginning with a tee shot that travels over wetlands. The flanking bunkers at the run are roughly 230-240 yards from the Blue tee. I imagine bigger hitters will try to carry the trees to cut the corner of the dogleg, potentially aiming for the green. Tall mounds are on the left side of the fairway after the turn that can lead to an unknown lie. The bunkers flanking the green are large, particularly the one on the right. The green is small but flat.
5. Par 4 – 445/395. This is one of the better holes on the course with a longer forced carry over tall grass and wetlands/tall grass going down the entirely of the right side. There are two center-line bunkers but they should not be in play. They lie about 230-260 yards from the Blue tee. The fairway stops leaving a shot of 145 yards to the green. There is interesting mounding short of the green on the right followed by two bunkers with more mounding placed between them. The left side has a long bunker that begins 15 yards short of the green ending at the beginning of the green. The hole has a bit of a plateau on the back left. The green has trees on all three sides as a backdrop, but the left side trees are dying/dead.
6. Par 4 – 424/385. I do not know why I did not like this hole more because it does have character beginning with an inner tree on the left of this bending dogleg right. On the right trees pop out as well as a collection area of mounds. The ideal line for the tee shot must be to the right. About 40 yards from the green are flanking bunkers followed by a greenside bunker left and two on the right. To the right and behind the green is a ditch that can have water in it. The mounding to the far side of the left greenside bunker is tremendous as it sits roughly three feet above the top of the bunker and has tall grass on it.
7. Par 5 – 545/505. Bigger hitters will try to cut this dogleg right but if one is short of making the turn there are likely trees that will come into play. What I particularly admire about this hole is the shape of the bunkers, although the first three for the tee shot are standard. There is a “u” shaped bunker left, a large cross bunker cutting across most of the fairway about 100 yards short of the green, a long bunker near the green on the left with an additional spur to the left, and finally a long bunker on the right side of the green. The green is higher on the front right and has a back left lower swale.
8. Par 3 – 209/190. I really like eight with the trees going down the entirety of the right side. There is a center-line bunker about 20 yards short of the green and large flanking bunkers that begin nearly 20 yards short of the green going halfway up. The front of the green is narrow. There is really good mounding on both sides of the green but the eye-catching mound is the tall one at the rear. The green has a lower section on the back right before a plateau begins.
9. Par 4 – 411/380. For me this hole is where one starts to feel squeezed-in by the trees on both sides. It takes a tee shot of about 265 yards to reach the bunker on the right. The fairway is separated by low mounds about 310 yards from the Blue tee. There is an attractive snake-like bunker down the right side beginning about 70 yards from the green continuing almost halfway down the side. The left bunker is down the entire left side of the green. Finally, there is a smaller, almost hidden bunker back right of the green. The green has subtle contours but overall is pretty flat.
10. Par 4 – 352/330. There are three mounds set as cross bunkers into the fairway that begin about 140 yards from the tee. It made me wonder why they were not further down the fairway. Opposite the final mound is a fairway bunker on the right but it is not in play. The second fairway bunker is about 220 yards from the Blue tee. The green is smallish and set off a bit to the left with large flanking bunkers. The front third of the green is smaller due to the shape of the bunkers. The left greenside bunker is fairly deep. There is fall-off at the back of the green, which is sloped back to front with the hint of a bowl in the middle.
11. Par 3 – 253/220. This is a difficult par 3 but not only due to length. Because the hole is flat there is no real definition here and so one can be confused about the required length of the tee shot. There is a cross bunker well short of the green that confuses one as to length. This is followed by two bunkers on the right and one on the left. The green has a left side that is three feet higher than the right and is also sloped steeply back to front.
12. Par 4 – 440/380. This is the most “hemmed-in” feeling on the golf course given the thickness of the trees on both sides. There is a wonderfully placed cross bunker about 240 yards from the Blue tee. It has a raised face of a couple of feet. There is another bunker on the right about 75 yards from the green that should not come into play but I suspect it does often. This bunker has mounds near it so it would be a terror. The green is fronted by flanking bunkers and is small for the length of the hole, although not tricky. I did find this to be the best hole on the course.
13. Par 4 – 391/355. This strong dogleg right has all three of the fairway bunkers going down the right near the tree line. There is a pond off to the left. The bunkers begin about 230 yards off the tee ending about 300 yards. Bigger hitters might try to go at the green but it is a blind shot and the final bunker comes back into the fairway. There is interesting, rough mounding down the right side at the turn. The mounding on the left begins about 30 yards from the green which again has flanking bunkers. It is another somewhat flat green.
14. Par 3 – 186/175. This is my favorite par 3 on the course as the green is angled right to left with a small middle bunker that is very much in play. The angle of the green places the right side bunker more at the back of the green. Before the green begins are two long bunkers, one to each side. There is interesting mounding down the left side before the green intermixed with the bunkers. The left side of the green is also higher than the front right. Of the four par 3’s, while the third has a unique setting, I think the other par 3’s are more interesting. That shows the quality of the par 3’s at The Kittansett Club.
15. Par 5 – 545/515. The bunker right begins around 265 from the Blue tee while the left bunker begins around 305 yards out. For average length hitters, the bunkers are not a concern. There is another bunker right about 80 yards after the first one. Mounds follows on the left side. The more troublesome bunkers are the cross bunkers about 120 yards from the green, not likely in play for the longer hitters but in play for the average player. The green has no bunkers. It has a large mound off the back right of the long, large green.
16. Par 4 – 411/390. I like this hole because you emerge from the woods to play the final three holes in the open. It feels like you have escaped to a whole new golf course. The fairway is generous as it goes ever so gently to the left. As you near the green you get another look at the par 3 third hole, where you are reminded of either a good memory or a frustrating memory. This hole has trees on the right that curve away from you and should not be in play. There is a bunker on the left that also should not be in play as it sits about 200 yards off the Blue tee. For the longer hitters there are two bunkers on the right that begin about 80 yards short of the green. Finally, there are two mirror image bunkers fronting the green that have raised faces; alongside them are mirroring mounds. The mounding throughout this hole is really well done. The green is raised a couple of feet and is round with a back to front slope.
17. Par 4 – 392/375. This is the only “true” dogleg left on the course as the holes that came earlier only “bend” to the left. There are flanking bunkers about 215-230 yards off the tee. The fairway drops a bit before pausing with a ditch in the middle, leaving only 135 yards into the green. The hole turns left at this pausing of the fairway, lasting perhaps 50 yards. The green is placed off to the left with flanking bunkers. The left bunker is deeper as the green is more raised on that side. Overall the green is flattish.
18. Par 5 – 491/480. Unless the wind is in your face, this hole represents a chance to end the round on a good note, potentially with an eagle for the better player, a birdie, and should be a par. The only real trouble to the hole are two bunkers before the green with the right one going halfway up the side
Perhaps in the USA there is no better usage of mounds on a golf course, whether alongside a fairway, placed inside a fairway, or near the greens. In addition, the contouring near the greens is very good. Missing a green and not finding a bunker will likely lead to a surprising uneven lie or stance. For me, this is the defining characteristic of Kittansett.
The course could be higher in the rankings if it had more undulating greens. The greens do not have a lot of swales, depressions, plateaus, or even second tiers. I do not recall a serious false front. However, making the greens more interesting might take away the joy of playing here as the holes have adequate defense to them from the somewhat small greens to the numerous bunkers. In addition, the three par 5’s are likely relatively easy for the longer/low index player. The par 3’s to me are the star of the course.
Kittansett is a delight to play. We had a poor weather day, but not a high wind day. I imagine on a sunny, low wind day it is glorious.
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.