Designed by Tim Liddy with Pete Dye in 2005, the 18-hole layout at Wintonbury Hills is set in Bloomfield, to the north west of Hartford, and it’s one of the best municipal golf courses in all of New England. Several of the holes are laid out close to the Bloomfield reservoir and the course moves effortlessly through eighty acres of wetlands and forest, across environmentally sensitive terrain that required extensive pre-construction permitting.
Featuring three par fives and five par threes, the layout measures a sensible 6,711 yards from the back tees and it plays to a par of 70. One of the feature holes on the course arrives at the 455-yard par four 14th, which plays along the town’s water retention reservoir.Wintonbury Hills was designed as a walking golf course for the public, with greens and tees placed in close proximity and it quickly gained rave reviews from a number of publications after it first opened for business, prompting Bloomfield Town Manager Lou Chapman to comment: “Since opening, the response from rating organizations, media and the golfing public has been tremendous… we’re absolutely thrilled.”
Municipal golf can be a very tough assignment for most architects. Trying to provide a challenging layout for the broadest level of handicap ranges and doing so within a likely tight budget is no small feat.
Wintonbury was able to secure the services of the legendary Pete Dye for $1. Amazing.
The layout is quite good -- and matters are considerably helped in having a site with plenty of elevation change to liven up the time spent there.
The holes nearest to the clubhouse -- the 1st, 8th, 9th, 10th and 18th -- are on flat land and quite basic. Much has been said about the par-3 9th and I do concur the wherewithal to shape one's tee shot is essential in securing the best opportunity for a par.
The elevation changes considerably when you reach the 2nd and 11th holes respectively. While I enjoyed the former -- the latter is one of the best holes at the course. Creating uphill holes is never an easy matter for architects generally but Dye / Liddy did quite well here. There are two center-placed bunkers which must be avoided. Golfers can play either to the right or left -- the right provides the best angle into the elevated putting green. The target can prove to be elusive -- most especially when the pin is placed in the furthest rear area set on a tiny shelf.
There are a few pedestrian holes in the mix. The two early par-3s on the front and back -- the 3rd and 12th are fairly non-descript. Fortunately, the layout provides a compelling counterpoint with the likes of the long downhill 7th and the aforementioned 9th on the outward side. On the inward half you have the demanding 17th to contend with -- in some ways a modified redan-like hole.
Wintonbury has only three par-5 holes and both the 8th and 13th are done well.
On the back nine you do encounter more of a parks land setting once you reach the par-5 13th. The 14th through 16th are quality par-4s with plenty of varying elements / challenges to keep one focused on the task at-hand.
As I said at the outset, municipal golf is never an easy proposition -- especially when the layout is a singular entity. And being able to meet the various hurdles -- and minefields -- can be a daunting challenge. Playability is clearly provided for at Wintonbury but the design ingredients are anything but elementary when playing a number of the holes. In summation, Wintonbury is not the Dye-abolical layouts Pete is famously known for elsewhere, however, it shows a sensibility given the audience it was clearly meant to entertain.
M. James Ward
Wintonbury Hills is a solid course. Playing the course during the COVID-19 scare the track was near empty with 7 other cars in the parking lot. On this overcast and windy day I started my round. Getting to the first tee I was met with 20mph winds. A great day.
But the course demanding especially considering a majority of the holes were in to the wind was a blast. With little tress on the courses expect the holes that run adjacent to the river, Wintonbury Hills proved to be a fantastic links experience.
Wintonbury Hills may even be the closest I have been to a links course since my trip to Scotland. With Pete Dye designing the track, bunkers where smaller than typical state side bunkers, but the undulation the course fed balls off target into penalty areas. A hilly course to say the least, with hole number 14 and 15 falling off 25 feet at one side of the fairway.
Conditions were excellent on the slow day I played, considering the rain and earliness of the season the course drained quite nicely. Greens are massive, a trait of modern courses that i've forgot.
Had a fun time and would defiantly play again considering the green fees.
Growing up in Connecticut, I can distinctly remember the hype when Wintonbury Hills opened for play in the mid-2000’s. As one of only two Pete Dye courses in the Nutmeg State, and the only one open to the public, Wintonbury immediately received rave reviews from virtually all Connecticut and New England golf publications. Although its media praise has been consistent since then, there are many individual raters who strongly dislike the course. As I was reminded during a round at Wintonbury last summer, Dye designs are polarizing.
Bottom line up front: Wintonbury is an exceptionally manicured course that completely breaks the ‘norm’ for stereotypical golf architecture in central Connecticut. Whether or not that appeals to the golfer is another question entirely.
The Wintonbury Hills property certainly emphasizes the “hills” moniker, but also incorporates other environmental features. Ponds, streams, and other natural wetlands, along with beautiful fescue grasses come into play on most of the holes which fall on flatter, less interesting pieces of the property. In this way, Dye keeps the player thinking throughout the round.
Some of the standout holes at Wintonbury Hills include:
• #1: A seemingly bland, flat start to the day, there is more than meets the eye at the opener. Three small pot bunkers guard the right side of the fairway, so laying up provides a wider landing area. However, should one play aggressively left of the traps, there is a ridge that runs fast, potentially adding as many as 30-40 yards to your tee shot. This could be very beneficial, depending on the pin placement at this multi-tied green which also slopes right-to-left.
• #2: The massive fairway at the second plays straight up the property’s main hill and also doglegs left. While the safe option is to bail out right, this also creates a significantly longer approach and must contend with another pot bunker. Playing left provides a better angle, but also forces the player to bite off more of a deep corner which slopes severely.
• #5: From the highest point on the property, the view at the 5th tee is majestic. Playing downhill to a potentially drivable, perched green, the tee shot is enticing. With a fairway that runs off on both sides, and a center/right bunker in the landing zone, keeping it on the short grass with a good angle is imperative for a birdie. This is one of the most memorable risk/reward holes in the region, and it does not even have any water!
• #6: The long par four 6th uses similar features to the 5th, but facing the opposite direction, playing entirely different. The fairway is sloped severely from right-to-left, and expectedly, for some pin placements, the better angle will be on the left. Most players will have to deal with a side-hill lie on the approach over center-line bunkers to an elevated putting surface.
• #8: The par five 8th is a visually intimidating test from start to finish. A swamp runs parallel to this narrow hole down the entire left hand side. Of course, the natural inclination on the tee shot and the approach is to play to the right, but in both cases, difficult pot bunkers await…not to mention a worse angle into the green.
• #9: One of my favorite par threes in the state of Connecticut, the 9th hole at Wintonbury Hills is absolutely gorgeous. When conditioning is at its best, it is impossible to tell the difference between the fairway and the green here, and the two bunkers right (surrounded by rough) are beautifully highlighted. The multi-tiered putting surface seems to call for a left-to-right shot from the tee, but anything lost right faces a near impossible up-and-down from a tightly-mown collection area or the previously mentioned bunkers. It is a blast to play!
• #11: Playing up the hill in parallel to the 2nd, the 11th seems like a hole that turns, but is actually quite straight. This is caused by centerline bunkers which make the play left seem appealing, when in fact, tackling the hole straight on is likely the best route.
• #14: Among the most photographed holes in the state, the tee shot at the par four 14th is fascinating. Banked into a hill, most of the fairway runs hard left-to-right towards a local reservoir. The hole is lengthy, and plays more as a par four-and-a-half. Knowing this, Dye built in a wide landing area short of the green that, for some pin placements, may actually be the smart target on the approach.
• #15: Among the most narrow “feeling” holes on the course, the 15th plays through a dense forest. The real point of interest here is the approach shot. Bunkering well short of the create creates the perception that a left-to-right shot is ideal, when in fact, anything lost right faces gnarly rough, swamp, or sand traps. Anything to the left is an easy up and down from a flat chipping area.
• #16: Using the land expertly, the tee shot on the 16th plays blind up and over a hill to a fairly wide landing area. Knowing the pin placement in advance is helpful, since having a proper angle to this downhill green is key.
So many courses in central Connecticut follow the same parkland patterns back-and-forth through thick patches of woods. In this vein, Wintonbury Hills always was and always is refreshing, incorporating strategic wide open vistas, wind impacting most shots, and rumpled texture to both its fairways and greens. Variety is the spice of life, and in so many ways, Wintonbury just stands out.
This said, I too acknowledge the course’s most obvious weakness: mirror image holes from 1-4 and 10-13, respectively. Playing across the same landforms with basically the same clubs and strategy is not especially memorable. All things considered, though, Wintonbury is worth the stop if you are in the area, or if you are a local looking for a different golf experience.
Wintonbury Hills is a nice course. Pete Dye designed it for near free. It standardly receives positive reviews beyond what it deserves in my opinion. It's usually in good shape. There are a good mix of holes. It's very nice. It's just not as nice as the ratings it usually gets. There are 3 or 4 holes where the terrain is so sloped the holes are goofy. I am continually amazed to pick up literature and read this course rated equal to Great River, Fox Hopyard or Lake of Isles. Not in my book.
Those attempting the New England Tour de Dye in New England only need to book one night at a Hartford hotel, as the Connecticut town hosts both of the designer's efforts in the region (is Pound Ridge proper New England? Forgive us if so). And between those two courses, one will get two very different sides of Dye. While TPC River Highlands reflects the more exotic edge more often associated with Pete, Wintonbury Hills takes the strategy—and price point—back to the municipal golfer. Reportedly completing the design for $1, Dye kept the bunkers small and the fairways fat, rewarding angles more than carries. The trio of Par 4s from 14-16 are a reminder how much variety can be accomplished with minimal bunkering and nary a dogleg. But, despite lesson in simplicity, Dye devotees will embrace the Par 3 ninth. Although fronted by three pot bunkers that shift strategy daily, the volcano bunker cluster that serves as a backdrop / practice area reveals a designer who just couldn't help himself. One notable downside is a sense of deja vu from Nos. 1-4 and 10-13; although each series is fine on its own, the repetition in routing makes the latter stretch a touch more boring than its design would otherwise deserve.