Wee Burn Country Club dates back to 1896 when George Strath from St Andrews set out a 6-hole course on forty-eight acres of leased farmland. A further three holes were soon added to the layout, once members had settled into their surroundings.
The club found it had no room to expand the number of holes in play to a full 18-hole course so, in 1923, a nearby 230-acre site was acquired and Devereux Emmet engaged to design a new layout.
Two years later, the architect unveiled the course to expectant members, all of whom were no doubt thrilled to find that the Stony Brook (a.k.a. “the wee burn”) wound its way through the new property, just as it did at the club’s old location.
Gene Sarazen officially opened the course and, such was the favour it found with the USGA, it went on to stage three Women’s Amateur Championships, won by Betty Jameson in 1939, Ann Quast in 1958 and Martha Wilkinson in 1970.Tom Fazio has carried out significant modifications at Wee Burn in recent years, with more than three thousand yards of stream and lake banks being renovated in the scope of this work.
The Devereux Emmet-designed course opened 1925. Geoffrey Cornish did some minor renovation work in 1978. After playing St. George’s rough-and-tumble-looking course, my overall impression of Wee Burn was smooth and polished. These two Emmet courses were at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Later I learned Tom Fazio and Tom Marzolf were here in 2006 to do a major restoration. I do not know what the course looked like before 2006, but I would say now the club has the best of both Emmet and Fazio.
The course is 7,132-yard par 72. We are walking with a forecaddie. In mid-morning it is cloudy, a humid 85 degrees, and wind at 10-15 mph with 20 mph gusts. The attractive clubhouse sits high on a hill overlooking the ninth green, 10th tee, and 18th green. The ninth green receives a severely uphill approach shot, the tenth tee produces a severe downhill shot, and then the nearby 18th green has another severe uphill approach shot. The rest of the course spreads out with a mix of gradual ups and downs, rolling slopes with side hill lies, and some dead flat terrain.
The club is in a peaceful leafy suburban environment surrounded by tall, mature hardwood trees. Some single family homes are discreetly located away from the course. Out-of-bounds lurks on several holes. Trees are also a major factor on the course, with a forest of trees bordering the 5th and 6th holes. Each hole has trees on both sides with some overhanging limbs affecting shots. Ten of the holes had either a left or right dogleg that accentuated the need for accuracy off the tee.
Water is also a key design ingredient. It comes into play on eight holes, mostly on the back nine where graceful Stony Brook meanders around. It is in front of the 11th green and totally encircles the 16th green. The approach shot to this small island green with a false front reminded me of #17 at Cherry Hills.
There are only 62 bunkers with none on holes five and sixteen. The bunkers are deep with several pinching the entrance to ten greens. The combination of water and bunkers means a strong aerial approach game is essential at Wee Burn.
Most of greens are medium-to-small. The average depth is only 27 yards with the deepest being 34 yards and the shallowest 21 yards. The contours were interesting with some humps along with some false fronts, sides, and backs. Some of the greens have surround mounds to provide definition.
The course was in excellent condition. The fairways were like lush carpets. The greens were healthy despite several days of brutal heat and humidity. Another attractive feature was some attractive tall fescue far rough.
The Nutmeg State has the honor in being squeezed between two States with a very deep roster of superior private clubs. I am referring to The Empire State of New York and the Bay State of Massachusetts respectively. There's little question concerning the merit of the aforementioned States but there are only a few courses worthy of attention from Connecticut.
Wee Burn is beautifully situated on rolling terrain with the clubhouse set on a high point. There's also the inclusion of the Stony Brook which meanders around a number of holes. According to club legend, John Crimmins. the club's founder, invited his friend Andrew Carnegie to the club in 1896, and asked the Scot to suggest a name. Supposedly, Carnegie upon seeing the small brook recommended the club's name be called "wee burn" as it would be in Scotland. The name fit and has been forever since.
Devereux Emmet is rightly lauded for his work at Garden City GC on Long Island but Wee Burn is clearly worthy of attention for the combination of different holes encountered on the property. The routing is also skillfully done -- taking you to the fullest capabilities of the property with nary a repetitious moment encountered -- save for the uphill nature of both of the concluding holes on each nine. The great thing about so many of the old time designs is that when one hole is completed the walk to the next tee is so nearby thereby keeping the pace and rhythm of the round intact.
With the exception of the short par-3 4th -- the first six holes put players on quick notice that you best be ready to execute.
The club smartly decided to update their course and choose architect Tom Fazio to do so. Years back when I first played Wee Burn the amount of tree growth was beginning to become excessive and a few of the greens needed to be returned to their original dimensions. There was also issue with the stream banks being in need of renovation.
Working the ball off the tee is a constant theme when playing Wee Burn. Length is an important commodity but positioning one's tee ball is more essential because proper approach angles are crucial for maxing out one's scoring potential.
Fortunately, Fazio and his team did not insert their fingerprints on the design. The Emmet effort did not need such modifications -- think of a needed dusting not a wholesale revision.
One has scoring opportunities at Wee Burn but only when execution is delivered. There's no cheap and easy successes here. Connecticut doesn't have a deep array of private clubs like its neighbors but there are a few worthy of serious acclaim.
Wee Burn is anything but wee in character.
M. James Ward