Damian Pascuzzo is an architect who doesn’t appear too often on the east coast, having completed only two original designs to go with lots of work on the Pacific coast. In fact, even The Ranch Golf Club is fairly far west in Massachusetts, a state that tends to gravitate towards the coast.
Knowing he had to make the most of this orient opportunity, Pascuzzo threw everything but the kitchen sink at the opening hole, a reachable, split fairway par five that dares players to take the risky left-hand path right out of the gate, throwing the concept of a “gentle handshake” right out the window. Although the public-access course was developed as part of a wider real estate plan, much of the course remains free from housing, switching from open fields to forest-lined corridors throughout the round.
It’s tough to say that any hole really goes for the gusto like the opener, but the par five that closes the front nine is also an interesting concept. This reachable long features absolutely no bunkers, but players will need to hit up a native-covered hill during the last stretch to reach the green.
The course is a modest drive for those living on the northside of Hartford, just across the Connecticut border.
The Ranch is a high end public course somewhat equidistant from Springfield and Hartford. The conditioning is always very good. There is a large hill which delivers a few dramatic climbs and descents. The par 5's are robust. The green complexes are very good. The Ranch is a joy to play and very much worth your effort to get here.
My first experiences playing the Ranch Golf Club came as a teenager since the course hosted many Central-CT/Western-Mass. junior tournaments. Since then, I have returned a handful of occasions when I could find tee time deals online. While the Ranch does not fall into the “elite” category of New England golf courses, it is a far more intriguing test than most modern clubs in housing communities.
For its convenience to both Springfield and Hartford, the Ranch feels rather rural and rustic. The clubhouse and restaurant ‘barns’ are both incredibly charming, the food and friendliness of the staff are great, and the practice facilities are top notch. Superb playing conditions have been a constant during every single one of my visits to the club, and I cannot sing the superintendent’s praises more highly.
The Ranch is built over massive forested hill and swampland, so the hole settings constantly change. Unlikely most community developed courses, corridors are especially wide, adding strategy via playing angles. With many perfectly mown short grass collection areas, options abound.
The Ranch has a number of notable holes, including:
• #1: This par five is a wild way to start the day. The wishbone fairway is massive, and players who find the short grass will have a chance to go for the green in two. This prospect is complicated by high swampy grass that blocks your view of the green, and the forthcoming shot over a lake. In reality, any player who wisely lays up to the right is greeted with a continued massive fairway, and a fairly easy pitch-and-putt for a far simpler, equally likely birdie.
• #2: The 2nd features a fairway which runs perfectly perpendicular to play, requiring a right-to-left shot shape with a long iron or fairway metal. This hole is not long, but putting your tee shot in any of the bunkers which backstop the fairway almost guarantee a blast back out onto before proceeding further.
• #3: The uphill 3rd captures interest as a proper play requires a right-to-left shaped shot off the tee, and a left-to-right shape shot to this narrow, interesting green complex.
• #9: The colossal plummet down the fairway on the 9th hole is beyond exciting. A well struck drive can easily pick up 40-50 extra yards. Any player in the fairway is then placed with a beguiling decision. Going for the green in two is an option for many players, and with no bunkers at all and a massive collection area beyond the green, all one needs to do is hit enough club long of the green for an easy up-and-down. However, from such a steep downhill lie, this is not so simple. A massive area of tall grass sits in front of the green and runs almost 100 yards back in the fairway. The tendency from the downhill lie is to hit the ball thin, and if it does not carry over the thick grass, the ‘easy up-and-down’ quickly turns into a bogey or worse. Laying up with this hazard is also challenging given the downward slope. This is a hole one could play over and over again without it ever getting old.
• #10: The difficult par four 10th features a somewhat blind tee shot to a fairway that pinches where longer players would ideally like to put their drives. At almost 450 yards, taking anything less than driver is also a dangerous prospect. Here, the designers wisely left the front of the green open for run up shots.
• #14: Although not the most ‘natural’ looking golf hole, the long 14th twists and turns down a slope to the left. The fairway then ‘double doglegs’ back to the right. The architecturally interesting aspect to this hole is that the better angle to the green, from the right side of the fairway, is also the longest path and most risky with out-of-bounds right.
• #15: The uphill par four 15th is a blast to play. Most times I have visited the Ranch, the tees have been set up to make this hole drive-able, and I wish they would always set the hole up in this manner. There is no room to miss the green, with trees left, a bunker right, and high grass long. A fabulous risk-reward short par four.
• #16: Mirroring the tee shot on the 9th, this second straight downhill par five also presents risk-reward options. Drives can easily bumble an extra 40-50 yards down the fairway, though here, laying up is a far simpler, safer prospect. The narrow green has ponds both left and right.
• #17: This medium-long par three plays over a pond. As with other holes, such as the 10th, the architects built options for the player who thinks their way around the course with a beautiful short grass collection area long. Clubbing up is the smart play here.
With all this said, there are still a few aspects of the course which hold it back from receiving higher marks on my end. First, even for its beautiful setting, the Ranch does have many modern, unnatural features (mounting on the sides of holes, etc.) that do not add any strategic merit. Second, many of the more forested holes in the middle of course blend in with one another, and felt like they could be anywhere. Lastly, though this has changed over time, the Ranch can feel a bit overpriced. That is why I typically only play once every few years when I can find deals online.
Overall, though, the Ranch Golf Club is undoubtedly among the finest public courses in New England. Kudos to the architects for maintaining strategic integrity with width, and for not letting houses get in the way of building some fabulous holes, especially its riveting set of par fives. For the right price, I would happily play the Ranch anytime!