Review: Bristol Harbour Golf Club

Course Name: Bristol Harbour Golf Club

Designer: Robert Trent Jones Sr./Rees Jones (1972)

Location: Canandaigua, New York

History: Built by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and his son Rees in 1972, this resort course offers lodging and dining as well as golf. With two very distinct nines, the front and back sides were switched in 2008 to improve pace of play. Although not included in any official New York state ranking, Bristol Harbour is considered one of the top public courses in the Finger Lakes region. Jack Nicklaus holds the course record with a 67.

Conditions: 8/10, Although we played early in the season, I was impressed by the conditions at Bristol Harbour. The fairways had been recently mowed and were in remarkably good condition, as were the teeboxes. The greens were on the slower side, but rolled true. I will also note the rough was particularly thick and healthy compared to most public courses.

Value: 7/10, Early season and twilight rates offer tremendous value for 18 and a cart at under $50 until May 7th even at peak times. While the price does creep up to $85 in the summer, there are definitely still good deals available.


Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Black                       72           6532               72.9              136

Blue                        72           6138               71.4               132

White                     72           5847               70.0               130

Green                     72           5462               68.3               126

Red                         72           4583               68.3               125

Hole Descriptions: Wow! I will preface by saying that I’ve never played a course with two nines that played so differently. Outside of the fact that the front contains three par fives and is a par 37 (compared to 35 on the back), the front side was links-styled while the back side is tight and tree-lined. The resultant course makes it feel like you’re playing two different courses, and the variety of holes at Bristol Harbour is strong.

At 352 yards, the uphill, blind opening hole bends slightly to the right and is pretty open outside of two bunkers that line the fairway on both sides at about 230 yards from the tee. This elevated green is well-protected by deep bunkers in front and to the left. The 2nd hole runs downhill next the 1st as a 164 yard par 3. A bunker to the right and a waste area to the left guard this heavily sloped green.

The par 3 2nd

The 3rd hole is another wide-open blind uphill par 4 that features no real danger off the tee except for a tree just in the left rough about 190 yards from the tee. This green slopes hard back-to-front and plays longer than it looks. The first of three par 5’s on the front 9, the 4th hole is a fascinating short par 5 at 481 yards. While this hole plays downhill, the wind is a big factor here and is usually more important than the downhill. This narrow fairway is guarded by bunkers on both the left and right near the landing area. Hitting this narrow green in two is extremely risky – two bunkers protect the right side of the putting surface while a pond guards the left side. This green is further protected by several plateaus that create some nightmare putts.

The approach on 4

One of my favorite holes on the front side, the uphill 358 yard 5th hole offers yet another blind teeshot. Three bunkers cluster in the left rough about 240 yards from the tee and appear very prominent from the teebox. This green slopes hard back-to-front and might be the highest point on the course; you can see for miles along Lake Canandaigua and the Bristol Mountains if you look back to the tee.

Looking back on the 5th

At only 446 yards, the downhill par 5 6th was one of the most memorable and fun holes at Bristol Harbour. This risk/reward par 5 features OB left and tons of room to the right although this fairway isn’t particularly wide. Going for the green in two is tempting, but a pond running 75 yards before this shallow green complicates things. Three bunkers guard the back of this green and are common spots for those who overclub to avoid the water.

The risk/reward short par 5 5th

At 469 yards, the third par 5 in four holes is a veritable three-shot hole due to its serious uphill slope. This hole is pretty straightforward with few obstacles until you reach this elevated green, which is guarded on all sides by five bunkers. The 183 yard 8th hole is similar to the 2nd as a downhill par 3 with scenic mountains in the background. Wind should play a big factor in club selection here. I was a big fan of the finishing hole on the front, which plays parallel to the 18th and is a better hole than the 18th in just about every regard. This strong 394 yard dogleg right is open off the tee but narrows considerably, as water lines the right side of this hole for the final 100 yards. This green is shaped like an hourglass and is extremely narrow. A bunker to the left is a common bailout for those who fear the creek to the right.

The 9th approach

The 10th hole immediately provides you with a stark contrast from the open, linksy front 9. This downhill 491 yard par 5 is heavily tree-lined and feels more claustrophobic off the tee than it should because you’re not used to such a tight hole. At about 225 yards, this tight fairway turns slightly left and stays downhill and straight until this green. The green and lay-up are well-protected by several bunkers and a small pond to the left of this green.

The approach on 10

The 11th hole is a beautiful downhill par 3 at 173 yards that features a diagonal, skinny green. Two well-placed bunkers guard the front and back of this green.

The par 3 11th

At 350 yards, the 12th hole features a tight, blind uphill teeshot. This green is elevated and has two deep bunkers in the front. The straightaway uphill 349 yard 13th hole is a bit more generous than the previous few but still lined by trees and houses on both sides. This hole features only two bunkers but they are strategically placed on the left side of the fairway and just in front of the green. The 14th hole at Bristol Harbour is their signature hole, the number 1 handicap hole, and the hole most players will probably remember best. At 381 yards, this hole requires an accurate teeshot through a chute of trees and houses. With about 140 yards to the green, this hole turns sharply left and runs straight downhill to the green. This skinny green is framed by four bunkers on the back of it. This was indeed a fun, memorable hole, but I’m not sure it’s the best design I’ve ever seen.

The blind par 4 14th
The extreme downhill approach at 14

After the difficult and confusing 14th, the 15th is a very strong par 3 at 164 yards. You’re required to carry your teeshot the entire way to avoid a gorge and several creeks. If you look to the left of this green, there’s a steep, rocky embankment and river visible.

The intimidating par 3 15th

The 16th was my favorite par 4 on the course. Only 319 yards on the scorecard, this uphill dogleg right is a beautiful hole framed by large trees and a creek that runs along the entire right side. This elongated, elevated green is guarded by bunkers on both sides.

The dogleg right 16th
The 16th approach from the left rough

The 17th is another visually attractive hole at 350 yards. This teebox is elevated and requires a forced carry over a valley to fairway lined by trees on both sides. This fairway runs severely uphill to an elevated green that takes smart club selection to reach. This green not surprisingly runs hard back-to-front and left-to-right.

The downhill par 4 17th

Running parallel to the 9th hole, the finishing hole plays only 331 yards and straightaway. Water comes into play on the left side about 115 yards from the green and is definitely something to consider when choosing your club to tee off with. This water runs all the way to the left side of this difficult, sloping green.

The par 4 18th

General Comments: Bristol Harbour is home to strong practice facilities with a full grass range and expansive shortgame area. I can’t speak for in-season play, but pace of play was great when we played. In addition to some of the friendliest staff I’ve ever met, the GPS golf carts at this course are also top notch.

Verdict: With panoramic views of Lake Canandaigua and the surrounding hills, Bristol Harbour is a fun and interesting design and is one of the best public courses in Upstate New York. I highly recommend this course to those in the region.

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