Review: Shennecossett Golf Course

Course Name: Shennecossett Golf Course

Designer: Thomas W. Avery (1898, 4 holes, 1906, 9 holes, 1911, 11 holes), Morton F. Plant (1914, 18 holes), Donald Ross (1919, Redesign), Mark Mungeam (1997, Holes 9, 15-17)

Location: Groton, Connecticut

History: Shennecossett was originally founded in 1898 as a 4-hole course on the Avery Farm and gradually grew to 11 holes by 1911. In 1914, wealthy New York financier Morton F. Plant acquired the property for his guests at his lavish nearby hotel, The Griswold. Despite the club’s early success, Donald Ross was brought in to redesign a championship course, which was completed in 1919. Many famous golfers including Bobby Jones, Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet, and Babe Zaharias walked these fairways in the Roaring Twenties. As Groton’s wealth diminished and The Griswold closed, Shennecossett’s reputation declined and the Town of Groton purchased the course in 1969. In 1997, Pfizer and Shennecossett made a trade, giving new waterfront property to the course. Mark Mungeam designed current day holes 9 and 15-17 on this land. Shennecossett is underrated in my opinion and has received the following accolade:

  • #9 Best Public Course in Connecticut – Golfweek (2018)

Conditions: 7/10, Similar to many other seaside courses in the region, Shennecossett always plays firm and fast with dry fairways. The bent greens are usually in fantastic shape, and there isn’t much rough to speak of.

Value: 9/10, Shennecossett is one of the best values I’ve ever played. Peak rates are under $50, which is pretty remarkable given the views and history. Twilight, junior, and senior rates are available as well.

Scorecard:

Tee             Par         Yardage         Rating           Slope

Blue           71            6562              71.6                123

White        71            6062               69.1                121

Green        71            5351               70.8                124

Hole Descriptions: Shennecossett is a charming seaside Donald Ross course that is one of my favorite public courses in New England. The old-school design is beaming with character, with railroad tracks and roads bisecting holes and a tremendously quirky routing that encourages walking. Like nearby Misquamicut, Shennecossett is divided by a road, which separates holes 15-17 from 1-14 and 18. Holes 15-17 (and 9) are actually newer holes, but designer Mark Mungeam did a great job with them, as they seamlessly fit with Ross’ original holes. While conditioning and its municipal status may preclude it from ranking higher, I personally would rather play a classic like Shennecossett over higher ranked Lake of Isles, Wintonbury Hills, and Fox Hopyard.

The opening hole is a 345 yard dogleg left par 4. With netting on the left side of the teebox protecting the clubhouse, this hole features a drive over Plant Road with OB left and fescue to the right. Longer hitters can cut the corner of the dogleg, which occurs at only 220 yards. This approach play slightly uphill to a back-to-front sloped green guarded by bunkers short and right. At 384 yards, the 2nd is a strong par 4 and one of my favorites on at Shennecossett. With OB down the entire left side and fescue on the right, this hole calls for a straight teeshot. The most notable feature of this hole is the traintrack that runs through this fairway about 50 yards short of this back-to-front sloped green guarded by bunkers left and long right. Since this hole is an original Ross, these railroad tracks predate 1916 and I wonder if the train was ever active during play. The 3rd is another strong original Ross playing straightaway at 397 yards. This hole plays uphill on the teeshot with trees left and five large bunkers running down the right for the first 250 yards. If you don’t reach the top of the fairway plateau, this approach plays blind downhill to a circular green with OB long and left. The 4th hole is the first par 3 at Shennecossett and one of the most memorable (and difficult) holes on the course. Playing uphill at a lengthy 208 yards, this circular green is shaped like an upside-down bowl with steep slopes on all sides. Holding this green with a long iron or wood is quite the feat and getting up-and-down is a very difficult task.

The current day 5th hole is a combination of the original 7th and 8th holes following the Pfizer land swap. This is the longest hole at Shennecossett at a strong 565 yards usually playing downwind. The bunkering on this hole is curious, with numerous small bunkers around 200 yards seemingly in the middle of the fairway. This is a result of combining the holes as they are the original greenside bunkers on the 7th. After these, the hole plays rather straightforward with OB left the entire way and a trio of large bunkers that jut out into the fairway about 200 yards short of the green. These bunkers were readily in play on the original 8th, but are now more artifact than true hazard. This green slopes right-to-left with a deep wraparound bunker long left. While the bunkering on this hole may be awkward, it adds to the charming quirk of the course. At 421 yards, the par 4 6th usually plays longer into the wind and is one of the strongest holes on the course. This straightaway hole plays slightly uphill with bunkers on either side at 200 yards. Crossbunkers about 90 yards short of the green come into play for those who have to lay-up similar to the 10th at Wannamoisett. This circular green slopes back-to-front and is guarded by bunkers left and long.

Although it usually plays downwind, the 431 yard 7th is another difficult hole and the longest par 4 at Shennecossett. This hole is a slight dogleg left with OB down the right and a series of bunkers on the left between 210 and and 265 yards. The most difficult aspect of this hole is a classic Donald Ross green surrounded by bunkers on all sides including a moat-like one behind. At just 490 yards, the 8th is a short par 5 and another combination of holes from the former 11th and 12th. This hole plays uphill on the teeshot to a generous fairway lined by OB right and bunker left at 240 yards. The most notable feature of this hole is the church-pew bunkering seen in the middle of the fairway about 160 yards short of the green. Again, this bunkering made more sense on the original holes and isn’t really in play. This green is shallow and guarded by bunkers short and left. The front side closes with a completely new par 3 from Mark Mungeam. At 175 yards, this hole is almost completely flat and features a circular green guarded by bunkers short and right.

The back nine starts off with a great par 4. Playing 425 yards, this long hole was actually shortened by over 100 yards from a par 5 after the landswap. This is one of the strongest and most memorable holes on the property with a drive back over Plant St. to a narrow fairway lined by OB and bunkers at 200 and 275 yards on the left. As a result of the rerouting, this awkward teeshot aims you almost directly at the 13th green, which is only 175 yards on the right. This may be one of the most dangerous greens in the country. The approach here is tremendous to a tiny elevated green that slopes from right-to-left. Bunkers short, left, and right of this green are common destinations but are infinitely better than a creek just to the left of them.

IMG_1623
The 10th green from the right rough

At 385 yards, the 11th is a blind medium-length par 4 that plays as a slight dogleg left. OB lines the left while sparse trees line far right. This green is again rather small and is guarded by a deep bunker right and tiny bunker back left. I love a good Donald Ross short par 3 and Shennecossett features a great one at 12. Reminiscent of the famous 3rd at Wannamoisett, this 125 yarder features a very tiny elevated green with steep slopes and bunkers surrounding it. When the wind is up off the water, this becomes a very difficult par. The 13th and 14th are two strong original par fours that demonstrate Ross’ creativity. At just 353 yards, the 13rd plays straightaway and places a premium on accuracy with bunkers on either side at both 190 and 275 yards and thick fescue left. The true defense of this short hole is a difficult approach to another tiny green that slopes generously back-to-front. Four bunkers guard either side but are preferable to being long, which slopes off steeply with fescue. The 14th runs parallel to the 13th at a longer 418 yards. Usually playing back into the wind, this long hole is lined by fescue and bunkers on the left at 200 yards and right at 250 yards. This circular green slopes off hard left and long with bunkers left, long, and right and another crossbunker about 80 yards short.

Golf architecture junkies will focus on the original Ross holes, but for many the most memorable stretch of holes at Shennecossett is 15-17. After crossing underneath a busy road via tunnel, the 15th is the last par 3 on the course. At 195 yards, this is a difficult hole that plays slightly downhill to a generous green that slopes left-to-right with bunkers on either side.  The 16th is a great hole and one I’m surprised was approved environmentally in 1997. This 400 yard dogleg left par 4 begins with a teebox in marshland and requires an 135 yard carry to reach the fairway. This dogleg occurs around 230 yards with three bunkers on the left and tall mounds of rough for those that venture right or long. This approach plays slightly uphill to a large back-to-front sloped green with a steep dropoff and bunkers on the left. You get a tremendous view of the Thames River and Long Island Sound from this green.

IMG_1624
View from the 16th green

With the water at your back, the par 4 17th is an interesting hole at 345 yards. This fairway narrows to almost nothing at 250 yards with a bunker and hazard on the right, while the left is lined by OB and bunkers at 160 and 220 yards. This approach plays straight uphill to a shallow back-to-front sloped green guarded by a bunker short right.

IMG_1626
Looking back from the 17th green

After crossing back under the bridge, you find yourself on the closing hole, an original par 4 converted to a par 5 with a new green. At 500 yards usually downwind, this hole presents a fantastic opportunity to finish your round in style. While there are bunkers jutting out on the left at 195 yards and right at 275 yards, this drive is wide open and you can really spray it here. This approach plays semi-blind downhill to a shallow back-to-front sloped green surrounded by tiny bunkers. The original green here is now the practice green on the left side of the lay-up – be careful not to aim here!

General Comments: Shennecossett’s majestic original clubhouse was designed in 1914 by H. R. Douglas. I can’t tell how much (if any) remains, but the Pro Shop is as old-school as it gets. Practice facilities are limited, with a small practice green by the 1st tee and small grass area for short irons adjacent to the 8th. One of the biggest complaints I have with Shennecossett is pace of play, which was brutal when I played and is normally very slow.

Verdict: The value and history at this classic seaside Donald Ross are hard to beat and I can’t think of many Connecticut public courses I’d rather play than Shennecossett. I highly recommend this course to anyone in Southern Rhode Island or Eastern Connecticut.


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