The course at Rutland Country Club started out in 1901 as a 9-hole layout designed by Carnoustie-born George Low, who laid out more than twenty courses whilst still the professional at Baltusrol. By the middle of the 1920s, the membership had doubled in size so a decision was made to bring in Wayne Stiles to revamp the original holes and add another nine. The first three holes of the Low layout were retained and the other six holes upgraded with new tees, bunkers and greens. On the upland portion of the property, a new nine was brought into play.
In the book The Life and Work of Wayne Stiles by Bob Labbance and Kevin Mendik, the authors have this to say about the course:
“Everything about the Rutland Country Club – from the routing, to the architectural features to the diversity of holes – puts it in the top echelon of courses designed by Wayne Stiles and John Van Kleek. Add in a stunning natural site, top quality staff, noteworthy members and a tradition of excellent maintenance and management and you have one of the premier golf clubs in New England.
“There are so many prized holes it’s hard to single out one or two for commendation. None are flat; all feature flowing fairways, diverse greens, attractive and confounding bunkering and hazards that can be easily avoided but exact a stout penalty when tactics fail. Roadways, rivers, bunkers, tall rough, magnificent trees and terrain deviation all factor into the challenge – yielding a 6,134-yard test that still protects the par of 70 in the face of the state’s best players when the Vermont Amateur comes calling.
“There could not be a better set of par threes. The 170-yard 3rd plays to a small, slanted squirrelly green set in a pocket with a rock wall to the left and plenty of bunkers elsewhere. The 5th is 223 yards of pure carry from an elevated tee, across the river to a steady upsweep concluding at a perched slippery putting surface. The 205-yard 12th may be the easiest, but nobody hits enough club into this hole and two ball-eating bunkers wait short right and greenside left. The good news is that the final three is only 129 yards; the bad news is it drops about 40 feet over that short span.”
I have very fond memories of Rutland Country Club, from winning my first junior tournament to scoring my first eagle on the 18th in said tournament, and I've played the golf course more times than I can count.
Rutland is always a guaranteed enjoyable round of golf on a summer day, but as I've found over the years, Stiles & Van Kleek (outside of Taconic) aren't that great of architects. Rutland has a lot of quirky holes that generally favor luck over skill. In tournament time, Rutland's only defense are its greens which tend to run way faster than they're designed and it turns the golf course into a circus show.
For what it is, it's a decent golf course and it's usually maintained well, but like most Vermont golf courses, it lacks architectural merit. I believe the ranking to be highly overstated at #3 in the state.
The thing that has always fascinated me about Rutland is how the layout oozes New England charm. The course is not overly sculptured as so many modern layouts that have entered the scene in this part of America. The reason why so many modern courses fail in this area is how they are forced upon the land. They emerge as a heavy-handed effort and look like they could have been put together in just about any location.
On the flip side, there are those who gush to the extreme about Rutland. For those who are golf purists the layout encountered at Rutland is clearly without artifice. But, when a course plays to a max of 6,100 yards, and with today's equipment, that can mean a steady diet of forced lay-ups and a failure to really test the full range of dexterity with the 14 clubs. It's an extreme design challenge to engage the fullest array of players when the total yardage amount is limited. It can be done but the imagination required is no small feat.
Rutland has a routing where the preponderance of the holes run on a north/south and south/north direction. On its face, this is not a major demerit but it does restrict the fullness of what a layout that is short on total distance should provide. The good news is that the quartet of par-3 holes is very good -- a mixture of different lengths and specific requirements that are called upon.
Of the two sides the inward half really sparkles and much of that is tied to the location of holes and the land found there. When you get to the 14th tee you get a quality view. The par-4 16h is one of my favorites. The hole just merges with the landscape and fits the eye so well.
A visit to Rutland is clearly a walk back in time. Getting an up close look at how the old time architects were able to make the most of a given site and do so in the time honored and no question frugal New England way.
M. James Ward