US New England Division Best in State Rankings 2020

23 December 2020 Respond to this article

US New England Division Best in State Rankings 2020

At last, a golfing journey that started five months ago in the Pacific northwest comes to a conclusion on the other side of the country in New England. This, the ninth and final divisional update in our biennial revision schedule for the United States, takes a fresh look at courses located in the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

When we last conducted this exercise in 2018, we featured a total of 145 courses across the division. We’ve now added another twenty-five layouts to that number, which brings the grand total across fifty states to exactly two thousand, a figure comfortably encompassing the top 10% of all the 16,752 courses in the USA, according to statistics quoted in the R&A publication Golf Around the World 2019.

To get started with our reappraisal process for New England, we begin in the Constitution State of Connecticut.


Connecticut

There’s a surprise in store for those expecting to find Yale at the top of the standings, a position it had held since we started our Best in State rankings in 2012. We simply could not ignore the serious conditioning issues that occurred following the departure earlier this year of Yale’s superintendent of 17 years, Scott Ramsay, to the Country Club of Farmington. The course only re-opened three months ago and there’s still plenty of work for Peter Palacios, the new man in the greenkeeping hot seat, to undertake before the layout returns to its former glory.

Therefore, opportunity knocks for the Country Club of Fairfield, moving up one place from the runner-up position to the new No.1 slot. One of Seth Raynor’s earliest designs, which both A.W. Tillinghast and Robert Trent Jones Sr. modified after it was brought into play in 1921, the course has hosted a number of prestigious regional competitions in the last few years, including the Met Open (2008), Connecticut Open (2010) and Met PGA Championship (2012).

Country Club of Fairfield

Country Club of Fairfield

Only eleven courses make an upward move in our new Top 40 for Connecticut and the most impressive of these is Shennecossett Golf Course in Groton, rising seven to #20. Golf on this site dates back to a four-hole layout established in 1898 but it took until 1919 to have eighteen holes in play, designed by none other than Donald Ross. Recent reviewers have remarked: “Shenny shows how an engaging design at the municipal level is truly possible… I could play here all the time without a complaint.”

Shennecossett Golf Course

Shennecossett

The highest new entry in our extended state rankings arrives at #22 and it’s another Donald Ross design at Wampanoag Country Club in West Hartford. Established in 1924, Wampanoag’s the home club of author Brad Klein, who devoted several pages of his book Discovering Donald Ross to the development of the course, terming much of it “regrettable tinkering”. He’s been working on a Master Plan for the course (along with architects Kyle Franz and Tyler Rae) which is due to be presented to the membership in the coming weeks.

Wampanoag Country Club

Wampanoag Country Club


Rank/ Course Move
1 Country Club of Fairfield Up 1
2 Yale Down 1
3 Tamarack Up 1
4 Stanwich Down 1
5 Wee Burn No change
6 Round Hill Up 1
7 TPC River Highlands Down 1
8 Country Club of Waterbury No change
9 Brooklawn Up 1
10 Bull's Bridge Up 3
11 Keney Park Up 6
12 Shuttle Meadow Up 4
13 Connecticut GC Down 4
14 Woodway Down 2
15 Wintonbury Hills No change
16 Great River Up 4
17 Hartford (Red & Blue) Down 6
18 Lake of Isles (South) Down 4
19 Black Hall Up 3
20 Shennecossett Up 7
21 Lake of Isles (North) Down 2
22 Wampanoag New entry
23 Rockrimmon Down 5
24 Mohegan Sun Up 1
25 Madison New entry
26 New Haven Down 5
27 Gillette Ridge New entry
28 Fox Hopyard Down 5
29 Oxford Greens Down 5
30 Country Club of Farmington. New entry
31 Burning Tree New entry
32 Greenwich Down 6
33 Hotchkiss Down 3
34 Country Club of Darien New entry
35 Longshore New entry
36 The Patterson Club New entry
37 Fairview CC New entry
38 Richter Park Down 9
39 Shorehaven New entry
40 Pequabuck New entry


Click the link to see full details of our latest Connecticut Best in State rankings.


Maine

The course at Portland Country Club took over as Maine’s No. 1 track in 2014 and it maintains the top spot in this edition of the state’s new Top 20. The club was founded in 1895 but moved to its current location twenty years later. In 1921, Donald Ross was called in to set out the course that’s still in play today. Ron Prichard was hired in 2017 to conduct a restoration on the layout, removing trees, expanding greens, and refurbishing bunkers.

Portland Country Club

Portland Country Club

The course at Boothbay Harbor Country Club is the biggest climber in our new standings, advancing four to #8. Starting out as a 9-hole layout designed by Wayne Stiles and John Van Kleek in 1921, the course was renovated and a new nine added by Dick Harris and long-time superintendent Clayton Longfellow in the late 1990s. Bruce Hepner completed a five-year redesign last year, modifying fourteen green complexes, re-shaping all of the bunkers and installing new water features.

Boothbay Harbor Country Club

Boothbay Harbor Country Club

We’ve added another five courses to our Maine contingent and the foremost of these is Brunswick Golf Club at #14. Established in 1898, the club appointed Stiles and Van Kleek to remodel what is now the back nine during the early 1920s. The front nine was then added by Geoff Cornish and Bill Robinson in the 1960s.

Brunswick Golf Club

Brunswick Golf Club

In the book The Life and work of Wayne Stiles , Bob Labbance and Kevin Mendik refer to the original layout when they write: “many of the holes require a well struck ball thread through a narrow opening in front of the green.” The authors also sing the praises of the newer holes: “even for Stiles aficionados, don’t miss the Geoff Cornish front nine, which has back-to-back signature par threes (4 & 5) that share a pond.”

Rank/ Course Move
1 Portland No change
2 Prouts Neck No change
3 Belgrade Lakes No change
4 Cape Arundel Up 1
5 Sunday River Up 1
6 Kebo Valley Down 2
7 York Golf & Tennis Club. No change
8 Boothbay Harbor Up 4
9 Sugarloaf Down 1
10 Penobscot Valley No change
11 Falmouth Country Club Down 2
12 Northeast Harbor Up 2
13 Ledges Golf Club Up 2
14 Brunswick New entry
15 Fox Ridge Down 4
16 Samoset Resort New entry
17 Woodlands Club Down 4
18 Webhannet New entry
19 Martindale New entry
20 Links at Outlook New entry


Click the link to see full details of our latest Maine Best in State rankings.


Massachusetts

As an indication of how strong a golfing area Massachusetts is, courses in the top seven Best in State chart positions also occupy slots in the US Top 100. It so happens that these layouts now remain in the exact same order as last time, which means the Clyde and Squirrel nines at The Country Club in Brookline retain their status as the No. 1 course in the Bay State.

The Country Club Brookline

The Country Club

A lot has changed here since the club’s first professional, Willie Campbell, laid out the initial eighteen holes at The Country Club. In 1927, William Flynn rebuilt most of the existing bunkers and greens and added a third nine then a couple of renovations were carried out before Gil Hanse’s recent overhaul, resulting in the removal of hundreds of trees from the property.

Look out for the inclusion of the drop shot par three 12th hole in the Composite course that stages the US Open in 2022. This will be the first time since the 1957 US Amateur that the hole has been part of a championship layout and it will take the place of the short par four 4th hole in the new configuration. The elevation change from tee to green on the 120-yard 12th is around 30 feet. Players who hit and hold the green have a great chance of birdie but those who miss will face sand on the left and in front, a steep runoff on the right, and a penalty area behind the putting surface.

The course at GreatHorse in Hampden was a new entry at #30 two years ago and it now powers another ten places up the chart to #20. It’s a redesign of the original Hampden Country Club layout which started out as a modest bunker renovation then developed into a complete makeover of just about everything on the property.

GreatHorse

GreatHorse

Our regular contributor M. James Ward was here a year ago and had this to say about the man chosen to revamp the old course: “selecting Brian Silva, the long-time New Englander and top tier architect was a brilliant move and demonstrated a clear conviction to get the most out of the site. Silva is a known quantity and his efforts in course design have demonstrated the capacity to tie classic architectural elements in concert with a modern connection.”

His favourable review was then backed up by somebody else a couple of months ago: “GreatHorse is a special place. The course is very nice. Every day the Antonacci family endeavors to improve this very good course. Brian Silva worked some magic redesigning it. It is fun to play. It will garner state events.”

The course at Belmont Country Club leads a raft of new entries at #35. Set out by Donald Ross for Belmont Springs Country Club in advance of the 1916 US Women’s Amateur (when Alexa Stirling won the first of her three titles), the course was remodelled a few times before Craig Schreiner upgraded the layout in the early years of the new millennium.

Belmont Country Club

Belmont Country Club

All the greens were rebuilt, bunkers were renovated and new tees added. Ponds were enlarged to facilitate better drainage, enhance wildlife habitats and add irrigation water storage. Tree removal and replacement was key to improving playing conditions, with old Donald Ross plans and aerial photos used to verify original fairway and green shapes.

The club subsequently hosted the Senior Players Championship in 2015, with Bernhard Langer claiming his second of three consecutive victories in this major championship on the professional senior tour.

Rank/ Course Move
1 Country Club (Clyde & Squirrel) No change
2 Old Sandwich No change
3 Essex County Club No change
4 Myopia Hunt No change
5 Eastward Ho! No change
6 Boston No change
7 Kittansett No change
8 Sankaty Head Up 1
9 Salem Up 1
10 Vineyard Down 2
11 Winchester Up 1
12 Taconic Up 1
13 TPC Boston Down 2
14 Hyannisport Club No change
15 Whitinsville No change
16 Charles River No change
17 Nantucket No change
18 Worcester Country Club No change
19 Longmeadow Up 1
20 GreatHorse Up 10
21 Vesper Down 2
22 Oyster Harbors Down 1
23 Brae Burn Down 1
24 Dedham Up 1
25 Cape Cod National Down 1
26 Tedesco No change
27 Black Rock CC Down 4
28 Miacomet Down 1
29 Weston No change
30 Farm Neck Up 1
31 Plymouth Up 1
32 Orchards Down 4
33 Renaissance No change
34 Ranch GC Up 3
35 Belmont CC New entry
36 George Wright Down 2
37 Crumpin-Fox Down 2
38 Red Tail No change
39 Sacconnesset Down 3
40 Kernwood Up 3
41 Turner Hill Down 1
42 Nashawtuc New entry
43 Oak Hill Down 2
44 Indian Pond Down 5
45 Wellesley CC New entry
46 Thorny Lea Up 3
47 Concord New entry
48 Blue Hill (Championship) Down 1
49 Cohasset New entry
50 Bay Club at Mattapoisett New entry
51 New Seabury (Ocean) New entry
52 Waverly Oaks New entry
53 Pinehills (Nicklaus) Down 9
54 Woods Hole Down 6
55 Pinehills (Jones) Down 9
56 Wianno New entry
57 Granite Links (Granite & Milton). Down 15
58 Stockbridge Down 8
59 Ipswich New entry
60 Shaker Hills New entry


Click the link to see full details of our latest Massachusetts Best in State rankings


New Hampshire

The Mount Washington course at the Omni Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods jumped three spots to #1 in 2018 and it holds onto that leading position in this revision. Another of our raters, Colin Braithwaite, posted these remarks after playing here three months ago: “Mt Washington is a classic throwback resort course. Originally a Donald Ross design, it has been reborn by Brian Silva. The resort itself is a classic golden age hotel… the setting and scenery are dazzling”.

Mount Washington course

Mount Washington course

Eight courses progress further up the table in our new chart and the most notable of these is the 18-hole layout at Shattuck Golf Club in Jaffrey (up eight to #9) which lies in the shadow of Mount Manadnock, one of the most frequently climbed mountains in the United States. With playing corridors literally carved from dense forest, this is a notoriously tough track that takes no prisoners, as a slope rating of 153 from the 6,764-yard back tees will testify.

Shattuck Golf Club

The Shattuck Golf Club

The only new entry appears at #12 and it’s the course at Nashua Country Club, which officially opened to its 240 founding members on 3rd August, 1916. This was the very first design of Wayne Stiles, who left the architectural firm of Brett and Hall the previous year to start his own landscape architecture company. William Mitchell remodelled parts of the course in 1949 and Ault & Clark made changes during the 1980s but the original routing is still the same.

Nashua Country Club

Nashua Country Club

Rank/ Course Move
1 Mount Washington (Mount Washington). No change
2 Bald Peak Colony Up 1
3 Lake Sunapee Down 1
4 Lake Winnipesaukee Up 3
5 Hooper Down 1
6 Golf Club of New England Down 1
7 Baker Hill Up 2
8 Montcalm Up 2
9 Shattuck Up 8
10 Manchester Down 4
11 Owl's Nest Up 3
12 Nashua CC New entry
13 Wentworth by the Sea Up 7
14 Concord CC Down 6
15 Portsmouth Down 4
16 Atkinson Resort No change
17 Breakfast Hill Down 4
18 Eastman Up 1
19 Country Club of New Hampshire Down 7
20 Bretwood (North) Down 2


Click the link to see full details of our latest New Hampshire Best in State rankings.


Rhode Island

The course at Shelter Harbor Golf Club in Charlestown took over at the top of the Rhode Island listings when we last updated the Best in State charts and its No. 1 stature remains intact after this latest re-ranking exercise. Recent review comments for this Hurdzan/Fry co-design include: “Shelter Harbor is a wonderful golf experience due to the beauty of the golf course and the challenges it presents… it’s just a fabulous day to be at this club… the land is accentuated by a skilful routing eschewing banal golf holes.”

Shelter Harbor Golf Club

Shelter Harbor Golf Club

Moving three places upwards to #6, the course at the Misquamicut Club in Watch Hill is a Donald Ross redesign from 1923 which lies close to Block Island Sound, with sandy-soiled fairways laid out close to the tidal pools that feed into the Atlantic. Reviewer opinions recently include: “Misquamicut is a true delight to savor and relish… it is a course that is inspirational and sparks joy… having played all of the best of Rhode Island I would humbly say this is the best.”

Misquamicut Club

Misquamicut Club

The only new entry for the Rhode Island chart at #12 is the 18-hole layout at Pawtucket Country Club outside Providence, where only the clubhouse, two tee boxes and the 18th green lie within the state – the vast majority of the course actually sits on the Massachusetts side of the state line and this has caused no end of problems this year as covid-19 restrictions (affecting around two in every three members who are Bay State residents) have forbidden golfers from playing outside their state.

Pawtucket Country Club

Pawtucket Country Club

The club was formed in 1902, starting out with a 12-hole layout on a 50-acre site. When more land became available in the early 1920s, Willie Park Jr. was engaged to expand the layout to eighteen holes and he used every available inch of land to shoe horn a new par 69 course into a very compact 105-acre property. Little, if anything, has changed from that time onwards.

Sadly in September 2020 Metacomet closed and the curtain was drawn across more than a century of golfing history. The financially ailing club had succumbed to the developers and in December 2020 its assets were unceremoniously sold off at an online auction.

Rank/ Course Move
1 Shelter Harbor No change
2 Wannamoisett No change
3 Newport Country Club. No change
4 Rhode Island No change
5 Warwick Up 2
6 Misquamicut Up 3
7 Newport National Down 2
8 Sakonnet Down 2
9 Wanumetonomy Down 1
10 Point Judith Up 1
11 Aquidneck Club Up 1
12 Pawtucket New entry
13 Triggs Memorial No change
14 Agawam Hunt Up 1
15 Meadow Brook Down 1


Click the link to see full details of our latest Rhode Island Best in State rankings.


Vermont

The course at Ekwanok Country Club in Manchester is one of nine non movers in the rather static Vermont listings. It was the No. 1 course in the previous four editions of the chart and it’s still the No. 1 layout in the Green Mountain State. Designed at the end of the 19th century by Walter Travis and John Duncan Dunn, the course was, by some 500 yards, the longest golfing layout in America when it first opened for play.

Ekwanok Country Club

Ekwanok Country Club

Host venue for the US Amateur in 1914, Ekwanok has since been altered a number of times by prominent architects such as Donald Ross, Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Geoff Cornish but Bruce Hepner’s work in the 1990s (when he was with Renaissance Golf Design) is what really brought this Golden Age classic back to life through restoring bunkers, removing trees and redefining greens.

Only two courses move forward in the new chart and the most noteworthy of these is the 18-hole Mountain layout at Spruce Peak in Stowe (up four to #6), which Bob Cupp set out in 2007. Formerly known as Stowe Mountain, this course is split into two sections; the first eleven holes climbing high enough to visit the lower slopes of Spruce Peak then the final seven routed around Peregrine Lake on the valley floor. M. James Ward’s verdict after playing here last year was: “give Cupp plenty of credit for routing the layout, given what he had to work with.”

Spruce Peak Mountain course

Spruce Peak Mountain course

Rank/ Course Move
1 Ekwanok No change
2 Country Club of Vermont No change
3 Rutland No change
4 The Quechee (Highland) No change
5 Vermont National No change
6 Spruce Peak Up 4
7 Jay Peak Down 1
8 Okemo Valley No change
9 Dorset Field Down 2
10 Burlington Down 1
11 Equinox No change
12 Green Mountain National No change
13 Stratton Mountain (Lake & Mountain). No change
14 Sugarbush Up 1
15 Woodstock Inn Down 1


Click the link to see full details of our latest Vermont Best in State rankings.

Jim McCann
Editor
Top 100 Golf Courses