Sequestered as we are in the southwest corner of the state is seen as a blessing or a curse, depending on your point of view.
The “Quiet Corner” is one way in which the Monadnock Region is described. The “Currier & Ives Section” is another.
The geographic isolation – real or imagined – does mean that much of the history, charm, close-knit village life, pastoral settings and natural attractions are more ours to enjoy.
If you’re a golfer, that’s especially true.
There are 89 “green grass” golf facilities in the state, according to Matthew Schmidt, executive director for the N.H. Golf Association. Of those sites, 16 are private and 73 are public or semi-public. Another 10 are Type-two or Type-three clubs, he said, which means they are essentially Internet-based. They exist, in part, to allow players not attached to a course to establish or hold a handicap.
The region offers a perfect complement of golf-course options, including a 36-hole track, three 18-hole facilities and three historic nine-hole venues, one of which is an executive course, which means it plays shorter than a standard course.
Out-of-the-way jewels in a lot of ways.
The courses are: Bretwood and Keene Country Club in Keene; The Shattuck in Jaffrey; Crotched Mountain in Francestown; Pine Grove Springs in Spofford; Hooper in Walpole; and Hilltop in Peterborough.
Bretwood Golf Course
Later this month, Bretwood Golf Course will mark its 52nd anniversary.
It was more than five decades now that the Barrett family farm that was once this property, burned to the ground.
Before the embers of that blaze had cooled, community members — some 200 strong — had helped the family to rebuild a barn for its livestock, all of which survived the fire.
But it was only weeks later that brothers Tobey and Ellis Barrett made the decision to turn their land into a golf course.
The result today is a showpiece, a 36-hole (37 if you count one par-3 transition hole on the South Course that steers nine-hole traffic back toward the red clubhouse) public facility. The course is often ranked among the best places to play in the state and New England. It is marked by its distinctive Barrett-built covered bridges, stone walls, large trees, the Ashuelot River that meanders through much of the property and its abundant wildlife.
Players share space with foxes, Great Blue Herons, black minks, large snapping turtles and other surprises.
It has hosted top state and New England professional and amateur tournaments.
In fact, starting tomorrow (June 20) Bretwood and Keene Country Club, which is otherwise private, jointly host the 2019 N.H. Open over three days. It will be the first time that the tournament has been contested on two different courses.
The first day will be played at Bretwood, the second day at Keene CC, and the final day of the 54-hole event returning to Bretwood. Professional golfers will compete for a purse of at least $40,000, according to the NHGA.
“We’ve been able to attract top players from across the country and we look forward to a fantastic championship,” Schmidt said earlier.
Bretwood has been the host of this tournament 15 times, while Keene CC has hosted it five times. The N.H. Open — which hosts a field of 156 professional and amateur golfers that is cut down to 40 after the first two days — is one of the longest-running golf tournaments in the state, dating back to 1930.
Bretwood’s championship layouts feature three par three island holes that play over water, some gettable par fives and can be stretched to more than 7,000 yards. The North Course’s par 4 fourth hole is just the No. 13 handicap hole on that side but can be a handful with an assortment of tucked tees and difficult pin options, especially front left.
Bretwood features a grill, driving range, lessons and offers annual memberships and greens-fee play.
Keene Country Club
Like many of the state’s private courses, Keene CC in West Keene is a gem, a spoil for its membership. It, too, has a long history and was the topic of a recent novel – “The Last Caddy” – written by a Keene High graduate, David Irwin.
The 18-hole track is a challenging test, notorious for its fast and undulating greens; long, grinding par 4s; and short, tricky counterparts.
Navigating the front nine means dealing with a tough-to-reach-in-two par 4 fourth, an uphill, dogleg left par 4 sixth that can go toe to toe with any hole in the state for a toughest-to-tame label, and a pair of long par 5s – seven and 16 – that play to elevated greens.
If that’s not enough, a short to mid-iron shot to a straight uphill par 3 17th is a late-round knee-buckler.
One can lick his or her wounds at the downhill par 4 finishing hole, drivable at just under 300 yards.
The course is always in excellent shape. It offers a full banquet and function facility available to the public, but membership play only, for adults and youth.
Pine Grove Springs Golf Course
Pine Grove Springs in Spofford has been around since before 1900, a hilly, craggy and tight nine holes off Route 9A.
It was built in 1986, accompanying the Pine Grove Springs Hotel on Spofford Lake. When the hotel burned down in 1961, it was then called Lake Spofford Hotel.
In the early 1970s, the golf course became a shareholder-held company, owned, effectively, by its members. In 2015, Bob Maibusch, who had worked at a private club in Chicago for more than three decades, moved to New Hampshire with his wife, who grew up in New England, he said.
He had no designs on owning a golf course, but he is now its majority owner. “We’re basically a C corporation,” Maibusch said.
He said he liked the history and the unique terrain on the course, but he bought it sight unseen, when it was covered in three to four feet of snow — “I didn’t know what was really under there until I got here.”
“In 31 years of digging up the same golf course, I probably dug up five boulders the size of a trash can. I couldn’t go 50 yards here without finding one,” he said earlier.
It’s not been easy business, the 62-year-old said. In fact, he’s been open about the fact that he hopes to have the course on the market by the end of the year.
“Knowing how golf courses operate, that could be another three or four years out,” he said.
Maibusch said golf went through a challenging time as participation fell, from 35 million players more than a dozen years ago to about 22 million today. At the same time, in the period from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s, some 4,000 courses were added in the U.S., when participation “was going the wrong way.”
He said he believes things are starting to level out. “We’ve had closings the far outweigh openings, so the supply and demand thing is starting to get a little more in balance.”
In the late 1980s, Pine Grove added two new holes to the farthest-back part of the property – a par 5 with a water hazard dropped in the middle, and a challenging dogleg par 4 – and closed two holes on the other side of 9A. That area is now used for a driving range.
The course’s signature hole is its par-3 finishing ninth hole, 180 yards from the back tees, with a green that slopes dramatically – can you say devilishly? – from front to back.
My Mother’s Kitchen, operated by Pat Searl, opened this year at the course. The restaurant is open to the public.
The course offers annual memberships and greens-fee play.
Hilltop Golf Course
When Monadnock Country Club closed in 2016, bound for bankruptcy, Annie Card stepped in to help new ownership keep it going. She worked 50 hours a week, helping to operate the small course perched on a hill off High Street in Peterborough. She helped to deal with the function hall, too.
Then, in short time, she took the leap and bought the par 29 course that was first golfed in the late 1800s by the MacDowell family, she said. In 1901, it became a proper golf course, nine holes, and opened to visitors and guests.
“It seemed absurd it was going to be let go,” Card said. “I thought someone with deeper pockets or more hospitality experience would step up, but they didn’t, so I did. I like projects.”
Card is keeping a tradition going. In fact, this is the first year in all of the time the course has been open to the public that greens are being mowed daily.
“We bought a proper greens mower and have a new superintendent,” she said. “The greens putt truer than they ever have.”
The course is built on a ledge and has no water hazards. It drains quickly, Card said.
“People can come here and walk nine in an hour and a half. We have people coming here looking for a little more relaxed experience, who don’t like being sandwiched between foursomes.”
Card said a big goal is to prop up and to grow the function hall side of her business, which caters to group events such as weddings, rehearsal dinners, proms and things of that ilk.
“It’s a perfect scenario when we can combine the two; golf with a function,” she said. “I’m no business whiz, but I know golf doesn’t support itself.”
The course offers adult and youth lessons, taught by Franklin Pierce University coach Tyler Bishop, league play for men and women twice a week, and in some cases in the mornings. It offers annual memberships and greens-fee play.
Hooper Golf Club
In late 2018, Links magazine released its top 10 nine-hole courses in the U.S., and Hooper Golf Club in Walpole graces the list. It was not this small course’s first best-of-list appearance.
Hooper garnered national recognition before; in 2010, Golf World magazine rated it the 11th best nine-hole course in the country, according to its ranking.
Hooper and its nearly 140 acres were purchased in the summer of 2018 by a Walpole resident. The course, and some of its supporting facilities, were then bought by a group of investors that now operates the facility.
Here is what Links, a bi-monthly golf magazine published by Purcell Enterprises, Inc. in Hilton Head Island, S.C., writes about Hooper:
“Designed by Wayne Stiles and John Van Kleek, and opened in 1927, Hooper Golf Club is set in remote and beautiful wooded countryside in central New Hampshire, 100 miles northwest of Boston, Mass. Unpretentious and known for building low-cost but very enjoyable courses, Stiles was a fairly prolific Golden Age designer who teamed with Van Kleek, the first golf course architect to graduate from Cornell University, in 1923.
“Together they built dozens of courses, predominantly in New England but other parts of the U.S., too. Hooper has a wonderful variety of holes and is well worth the drive.”
Last month, the restored and permanently protected course, designed in 1927 by Wayne Stiles, one of the most accomplished golf course architects of the 20th century, changed its status from semi-private to public.
The public was invited to a celebration and saw freshly painted buildings, the new logo and green flags, the refurbished pro shop, new carts, the beams in the barn, and upgraded equipment.
Hooper opened with what it called “a salute to an unusual confluence of volunteer energies, financial contributions and conservation priorities that rescued the 140-acre property from possible commercial development.”
David Howell, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the course, said the golf course and an adjacent forest sit on about 132 acres, which is protected by a conservation easement. The Monadnock Conservancy purchased the development rights to the bulk of the property with $450,500 raised by individual donations from Walpole residents, according to an earlier Sentinel report.
The naturally rolling terrain can be played at more than 3,000 yards and at as little as 2,680. It features two terrific par 3s and two par 5s. One par 5, the opening hole, was referenced in the book “The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses V.3” by Tom Doak. He wrote: “Hooper’s short par-5 1st is one of the inspiring openers in golf.”
The club offers annual membership and greens-fee play.
The Shattuck Golf Club
If a golf course has a reputation that precedes it, it’s apt to be for its level of difficulty as much as anything. The Shattuck in Jaffrey qualifies in some measure.
Since it opened, The Shattuck has been regarded as one of the most exacting 18-hole romps in the state. Nestled at the foot of Mountain Monadnock and snaking around acres of scenic and protected wetlands, it is regarded as one of the most beautiful layouts, too.
Here, nature rules, and golf balls one comes to understand are, well … replaceable.
It’s slope rating of 153 from the back tees is considered very difficult on a continuum, but it can be set up much more favorably from the more-forward tees.
Course architect Brian Silva, in Golf Magazine in 1991, described Shattuck as “the most spectacular setting I’ve ever come across.”
When you cross Dublin Road and head for the inward nine, you will be met a few holes in by miles of wooden foot and cart bridges that carry players over some of the protected wetlands.
Playing there can feel like more than a round of golf.
Its signature holes include the long par 5 fifth, the No. 1 handicap hole, and the short par 4 13th with water along the entire left of the hole, which measures roughly 300 yards. Bite off as much as you like, at your own peril.
The Shattuck reopened recently under new ownership.
Donald P. “Doni” Ash, who owns Lab ‘n Lager Food & Spirits in Keene and Jaffrey, bought the golf club and its Mountain View Grill pub from Sterling Golf Management.
The club, which also features a popular function room, is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with the restaurant running for lunch and dinner seven days a week.
The Shattuck, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2017, offers annual memberships and greens-fee play.
Crotched Mountain Golf Course
Not long at just over 6,100 yards, but narrow, tricky and demanding, Crotched Mountain packs a lot of shot-making punch, and surrounding beauty, into a round. The course is a Donald Ross design, which means it’s a true test, but playable.
The course – hilly and birch lined in many spots – opened in 1929. Each of the two nines flanks Second New Hampshire Turnpike North.
Completed in 1801, the turnpike was a connecting route from Boston to Vermont, and Francestown was one of a handful of New Hampshire towns along that route.
The golf course property is also where one of the state’s first tollbooths was built. That history was inspiration for the name attached to the course’s restaurant today: The Tollbooth Tavern.
Crotched has a target-golf reputation; or, smaller margins for error. But it’s more risk-reward, with a premium on hitting the right club in the right spot, and sometimes putting driver away despite temptation.
Only two of the course’s par 4s measure 400 yards or longer (average of all the par 4s is 358); two of the three par 5s are less than 500 yards, including the No. 2 handicap, the 451-yard 13th; and the par 3s are not chip shots. Those figures are from the blue – or back – tees.
The course features mall greens, and it’s signature is the downhill par eighth hole, which offers a view of the adjacent Crotched Mountain Ski Area.
“Good or bad, the Keene area is considered hard to get to … same thing over here in Francestown,” Crotched Club Pro Eric Sandstrum said. “It can feel like we’re in the middle of nowhere, but we’re in this middle area that’s only 45 minutes to Concord, Manchester, Nashua and Keene. There’s a lot of good value here,” he said, referring to the overall quality of the golf the region offers.
The course is the site of two state events this summer: A N.H. Women’s Golf Association State Day event in August, and the N.H. Golf Association’s Mixed Team Championship in October.
If you like to relax and unwind after your round, Crotched has a large outdoor deck with a great view of the finishing green. The course has a function room and offers annual memberships and greens-fee play.
All of the region’s courses, more than anything, are perfect examples of what
golf in the state’s “Quiet Corner,” has to offer. Jewels, gems, under-the-radar quality – call it what you like. The region’s array of courses – small and large – stacks up nicely.
A brighter spotlight might be better
for business, but charm and solitude
have a price.