Owned and operated by the town of Groton’s Parks and Recreation Department, Shennecossett Golf Course is the only public Donald Ross layout in the Constitution State.
According to bethpageblackmetal.com “Shennecossett Golf Club in Groton, CT has had ups and downs, like all munis, but it’s currently sitting in a very “up” place. It’s not 100% Donald: Nos. 8, 9, 15, 16, and 17 are all new additions from Mark Mungeam, created when a land-swap with the Pfizer corporation left “Royal Shenny” with some routing work to figure out, and an excellent plot where the Thames meets the Atlantic. Even then, Mungeam went hard for Ross, whether it’s the crowned features at No. 16’s green, or the Redan-style Par 3 at No. 9.”
The following is an edited extract from Great Donald Ross Golf Courses Everyone Can Play by Paul R. Dunn and B. J. Dunn:
“Since 1898, golfers have admired the awesome view where Long Island Sound and the Thames River merge. Strong breezes off the water keep golfers on their toes. Fairways lined with native grasses remind one of the great links courses Ross knew in his youth. Shennecossett hosts 33,000 rounds annually.
In 1916, Donald Ross was commissioned to redesign the course, which was played for three years, when in 1919 he remodelled three of his original holes to better suit his ideas of how the course should best be played. He was praised for sculpting his greens with a characteristic style that moulded putting surface contours into the existing terrain.
Alex Smith, who won the US Open in 1906 and 1909, was an early pro here. Glenna Collett, his star pupil, went on to win the US Open Women’s Championship six times. Tommy Armour won the 1921 Men’s Amateur Invitation Championship here. (The course was then called the Shennecossett-Griswold Country Club.)
In 1968, despite economic pressure to convert this beautiful land for housing development, the town of Groton, with the help of state grant, wisely purchased the course as a municipal golfing facility. In the late 1990s, a land swap with the adjacent Pfizer complex led to the creation of three new holes along the Thames River.
Todat the course maintains characteristics of Ross’s original design, a traditional American venue with a pronounced Scottish links flavor. The fairways are subtly mounded and generally wide open. The somewhat small greens are sloping and fast. The terrain is mostly rolling, with many uneven lies.
Shennecossett has preserved Ross’s holes as originally designed, with the exception of holes 8, 9, 15, 16, 17 and 18, which is now a chipping green. For just $3 it offers a valuable 48-page course guide which provides beautiful photos of holes, with drawings marking off distances from tee to hole, exact distances to every bunker, and advice on how to score well.”
Shenny as it is called by all the locals is one of those courses which delivers deeply different experiences. The locals with speak of it as Pebble Beach but better. For those who get around, it's a nice course. It has some great views from a few holes. It is usually in good condition. There a few outstanding holes. A few holes which are borderline head scratchers and many average holes. The state of CT has a lot of really nice clubs. I have probably played Shenny a dozen times. Many times when it was the only game open. I'm not gonna go thru the hole by hole view. It is a fun day out. But as I review the CT list of courses. I'm not so sure I'd have it listed higher than many not listed at all.
Super fun course and great local muni vibe with interest/challenge for the low handicapper and accessibility for the higher handicappers. Plays far longer than the yardage would suggest. Truly amazing green complexes that play differently as the dew evaporates in the morning - though they could have been cut just a hair shorter when I played in Nov 2020. The turtleback green holes really mess with your eye and challenge you to trust your stroke. Wonderful surprises await in the fairways as lies are always just a bit more rippled and slanted than expected. It reminded me of English links golf with many blind tee shots and bunkers sprinkled about the property to make any length hitter think before swinging. Very walkable - easily got in 36 with energy to spare. The holes by the water are the only negative, as they feel like a completely different course - but it's easy to forgive given the absolutely gorgeous scenery in that part of the routing. I could play here all the time without a complaint.
The best way to truly appreciate municipal golf is having a close involvement with it. Mine came early on when I was in my early teens -- playing the oldest such course in the USA which exists in my neck of the woords -- Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, New York.
Sadly, over the course of time many municipal courses were "dumbed down -- key design features were either bulldozed away or simply given short shrift in terms of daily maintenance.
While much of the fanfare of marquee municipal courses goes to the likes of Bethpage Black and Torrey Pines South because of host roles for various PGA TOUR event and in having hosted the US Open. The bulk of municipal golf exists far away from such lofty pursuits.
The challenge is finding layouts that still provide a pedigree from the golden age of architecture and can also provide sufficient challenge for varying levels of ability.
Shenny is without pretentiousness. The course is an extension of the area neighborhood. You are near to Long Island Sounds so wind patterns can be quite varied and intense at times.
The course is not overly long -- just under 6,600 yards from the tips. The key is the myriad of design details that are continually sprinkled about.
Other have weighed in with their thoughts on the holes themselves. The ones that come to mind most notably are the par-4 2nd which plays over railroad tracks to an elevated green that has plenty of internal movements. Be sure to make note of the delicious chocolate drop mound which is very much in play for those seeking the boldest of plays.
The uphill and blind tee shot at the 3rd is also done well. The green site concludes with a clear movement that must be wisely handled with care.
The "volcano" par-3 4th is also first-rate. Just so splendid in its simplicity but ever demanding in what is required from an execution standpoint. When you arrive at the tee and stare at the elevated target -- the words "stand and deliver" will clearly ring on your ears!
The routing of the outward nine is constantly shifting so players cannot get too comfortable. The green sites are also varied -- some moving in one specific direction -- others providing a slew of internal riddles to solve.
The inward half commences with the tenacious par-4 10th. The hole commences from a starting point with a tee shot that must traverse a public road. The fairway's movement is noticeable and bunkers are aptly positioned for those failing to pay heed. The green is utterly brilliant -- demanding a first-rate approach.
The back nine showcases short holes to max impact. The par-3 12th is nothing more than a flip wedge but the shot must be struck with purpose to the elevated target. The par-4 is just 353 yards but for those who wish to fire away they will encounter two mounds that narrow the landing area quite effectively.
You then play in reverse direction with the long par-4 14th -- again featuring a devilish bunker to the left side and a fescue covered mound immediately to the right of the green and fully capable in swallowing one's errant golf shot if hit there.
The final four holes are a fine conclusion -- providing enough challenge for varying handicap levels. Standing on the tee at the par-4 17th is clearly an eyeful as you come nearest to the water and can watch the various boats and other ships make their way to and from Long Island Sound.
Shenny is that rare bird municipal course that accentuates "fun" shots for a broad range of players. There's more than ample width but playing angles are crucial to get approach shots to finish near the pin locations.
I salute Adam's rapture of the course. Municipal golf is a very hard task to achieve for the widest array of players. Shenny does this very well and for those traveling nearby via I-95 when heading to either Boston or New York City the visit is clearly one to make and, best of all, the fees charged are very reasonable.
My only real area for improvement is getting the turf to truly play as firm and fast as possible.
All in all, Shenny shows how an engaging design at the municipal level is truly possible.
M. James Ward
An interesting Donald Ross course. Overall a fun little municipal course with trademark Donald Ross features. Siloed turtle greens galore, the fourth and seventeenth greens exemplify the turtle greens. With the fourth rejecting any tee shot hit to the left and long. The seventeenth an uphill green looking more menacing than it actually is, but beware as staying below the hole is key. Holes 15-17 offer views of the harbor.
Overall a fun municipal course worth a look if your in the area.
While a 6 star rating may seem outrageous for a municipal golf course in southeastern Connecticut, Shennecossett is, in my opinion, deserving of a departure from the typical rating guidelines. Of the 210 courses I have played, including 60 listed on this website, “Shenny” is the place I would spend the rest of my days if given one choice. It is the course that inspired my love of classic golf architecture and its architectural brilliance shines through at every corner.
Shennecossett’s history is complex and fascinating, starting initially as a resort and hotel in the 1800’s. Amazing photographs of its Griswold Hotel and golf course can be found on its website, and also are posted weekly at Shennecossett’s Facebook page. While Shennecossett was originally laid out in 1898, but the course we see today is primarily accredited to Donald Ross who revamped the entire layout early in his career in 1916. With corporate development in and around the course, certain inland holes were lost. The town of Groton purchased a piece of seaside land in 1997 when three additional holes (15 – 17) were built as replacements. In its time, Shennecossett has hosted professionals such as Arnold Palmer (since he was stationed nearby in the Coast Guard), Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, Tommy Armour, Francis Ouimet, Babe Didrikson, and Alex Smith.
My passion for golf architecture was born during my first round at Shennecossett. Having just started playing the game a few years prior, I was fortunate to be paired with a longtime local who explained to me the nuances of Ross’ design genius, particularly around the greens. Shenny’s features are enhanced by the firmness of the sandy soil, the changing yet constant ocean winds, and the rustic conditions of its fescue rough. Donald Ross did not design many links style golf courses, and quite frankly, there are not many links style courses available to the public in the United States. Shennecossett breaks that trend and made “brown”, firm and fast courses cool before the USGA adopted the mantra.
Search “Shennecossett” and undoubtedly, the first images which will appear online are those of the three, new seaside holes. This is understandable, yet the true genius of the golf course emerges on the inland holes. I will use the remaining part of this review to dive into notable holes:
• #2: The tee shot requires the player to play over a creek, with two options: an iron or fairway metal to a larger landing area with a mid-iron to the green, or, a more aggressive play with a driver to provide a short-iron into the green. Should the player opt for the harder line, Ross put in a fescue covered chocolate drop to pinch the landing area. The second shot brilliantly plays over an old railroad track, one of the most unique incorporations of such a feature in the game today.
• #3: The third hole is arguably my favorite on the property because it perfectly fits the land on which it was built. The tee shot is blind over a small hill with beautiful golden fescue lining the right, and out of bounds naturally in play on the left. The green site was banked onto a hill, and of the 3500 holes I have played, is the ONLY true right to left sloping green I have ever witnessed. This hole’s strategy is brilliant as it forces players to either work the ball left to right, or play out to the left and run the ball up.
• #4: Ross designed many notable “volcano” holes at places such as Bald Peak, Wilmington, Roaring Gap, and the Country Club of Buffalo. The 4th at Shennecossett is among those greats. With a long-iron in hand, players must hit a green that is perched on what feels like a Himalayan mountain. Members refer to this hole as “the hardest par 4 on the course,” and after years playing Shennecossett, it is easy to understand why.
• #6-7: These two holes are a wonderful demonstration of Ross’ foresight and architectural genius. On the surface, they are almost identical – back-to-back ~420 yard par 4’s situated right next to each other. Despite seeming so bland on the surface, Ross knew that wind would always be a factor at Shenny. Typically, the prevailing wind forces one hole to be downwind (playing closer to 350) and the other into the wind (playing closer to 470). Therein lies the genius – half-par holes which provide a new challenge every single day, guarded by natural hazards and still providing strategic options for players who wish to run the ball up.
• #14: In terms of the green itself, this is tied for being the most memorable on the golf course with #4. The turtle back shell is bisected by an interesting lower right tier. Even with a wedge in hand, I admit to laying up to prevent going over this deadly, yet beautiful, Ross green.
• #15-17: The new holes at Shennecossett receive significant condemnation on other architecture websites, yet I feel this is undeserved. The 15th is a medium length par 3 with a very generous entrance should a player need to run the ball up. 16 is a great ‘bite-off-as-much-as-you-can’ tee shot and the best view from virtually any golf hole in the state of Connecticut. 17 also provides some risk-reward for a long hitter, yet rewards the deft wedge specialist.
As if the golf course and its true links conditioning were not enough, the whole Shennecossett property is charming. Fees are very reasonable, rarely exceeding $50, the course is open all winter (weather permitting), and the clubhouse restaurant is wonderful…not to mention the fitting New England nautical feel to the entire place.
Shennecossett will always hold a special place in my heart, and despite having played many other ‘highly ranked’ courses, is easily my favorite golf course out there.
My playing partner, a longtime resident, took the time to point, from atop No. 16's crowned green, across the Thames River at two separate lighthouses, each haunted by its own ghost. A more benevolent spirit lingers around Shennecossett's property, that of designer Donald Ross. Nothing is better proof of this than the very "turtleback" green we stood upon.
Ironically, Ross did not lay out the stretch from Nos. 15-17. They were added in 1997, after a land swap with a local pharmaceutical giant. The commitment to the Scot's legacy means his name appears frequently, and Tim Gerrish—the architect responsible for the fine three along the sound—is lucky to get a mention.
For a more historically-sound Ross primer, note how the designer uses deep, lengthy, and curvaceous bunkers (Nos. 5, 7, and 11) to make one rue what seemed like a good tee shot / lay-up at the the time (for some reason, our knowing playing partner chose not to share THIS information). No. 2 may not be particularly Rossish, but it packs Old World charm nonetheless, playing across a burn from the tee and hopefully stopping before fescued mounds, before presenting an approach shot over live train tracks to a tricky right-to-left green. Unfortunately, our aforementioned playing partner has only seen two trains cross in his 30 years.
The maintenance of the aforementioned bunkers is certainly better than the municipals in your correspondent's neck of the woods, and the greens are also admirable for the price point. Although the Par 3 at No. 4 is neither particularly fun nor fair, the crowned green 200 yards away at the top of a high hill is true-to-form (Arnold Palmer shared our opinion while stationed nearby). The Redan at No. 9 plays true to its purpose, however (if on the shortish side, at 175 yards). Although a touch short for good players (6,600 yards), that Shennecossett is maintained as a municipal at its rates is an admirable feather in Groton's cap.