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, Bristol Harbour 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 eighteen 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.

Scorecard:

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: There are few courses that provide such a stark contrast on the front and back nines than Bristol Harbour. The front side plays as a par 37 and has an open, links-styled feel, while the par 35 back side is tight and tree-lined. Both nines offer dramatic elevation changes that really add to the course’s character. The resultant course makes it feel like you’re playing two different courses, and the variety at Bristol Harbour is strong.

At 352 yards, the uphill, blind opening hole bends slightly to the right and is pretty open except for two bunkers that line the fairway on either side at 200 yards. 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 water to the left guard this heavily sloped green.

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The par 3 2nd

The 383 yard 3rd is another wide-open blind uphill par 4 that poses no real danger off the tee except for a tree just in the left rough at 150 yards. This green slopes hard back-to-front with a bunker to the right. The first of three short par 5’s on the front, the 4th hole is a strong three-shotter at 481 yards. While this hole plays downhill, it also usually plays into the wind. This narrow fairway is guarded by bunkers on the left at 190 yards and right at 220 yards. Going for this narrow green in two is extremely risky as two bunkers protect the right side of the putting surface while a pond guards the left. This green is notable for several plateaus that create some nightmarish putts.

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The approach on 4

One of my favorite holes at Bristol Harbour, the uphill 358 yard par 4 5th offers yet another blind teeshot. Three bunkers cluster in the left rough at 210 yards and block your view of the green from the tee, while another formidable bunker lines the right at 215 yards. This green slopes hard back-to-front with three bunkers deep and might be the highest point on the course; you get epic views of Lake Canandaigua and the Bristol Mountains if you look back on this green.

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Looking back on the 5th

At just 446 yards, the downhill par 5 6th is one of the most memorable and fun holes at Bristol Harbour. This risk/reward par 5 features OB left and room to the right besides a bunker at 280 yards. Going for the shallow green in two is tempting, but a pond runs 75 yards before this green, complicating things. Three bunkers guard the back of this green and leave a terrifying up-and-down facing the water.

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The risk/reward short par 5 6th is a great driving hole

At 469 yards, the 7th is the third short par 5 in four holes, but is a veritable three-shot hole due to its serious uphill gradient. This fairway, lined by thick forest to the left, plays straightaway with few obstacles until you reach this elevated green. This heavily undulating green is guarded on all sides by five bunkers. The 183 yard 8th hole plays similarly to the 2nd as a downhill par 3 with scenic mountains in the background. Three bunkers guard right and long of this sloping green. I’m a big fan of the 9th, which runs parallel to the 18th and is superior to the 18th in just about every category. This strong 394 yard dogleg right features a bunker on the left at 230 yards, and a wide fairway that narrows considerably with water lining the right for the final 100 yards. This back-to-front sloped narrow green is shaped like an hourglass and guarded by a bunker to the left. This bunker is a popular spot for those who bailout left to avoid the water.

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The 9th approach with the 18th in the background

The 10th hole immediately provides you a different feel from the wide-open front side. 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 245 yards, this tight fairway turns slightly left with a bunker on the left. From here, the fairway runs downhill and straight towards this green. The green and lay-up are well-protected by several bunkers and a small pond to the left.

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The approach on 10

The 11th hole is a downhill par 3 at 173 yards that features a diagonal, shallow green. Two well-placed bunkers guard the front and back of this green. This hole would’ve had a beautiful backdrop if it weren’t for the ugly buildings blocking the view.

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The par 3 11th

At 350 yards, the par 4 12th hole features a tight, blind, uphill teeshot to a fairway that turns sharply right. This green is elevated and features two deep bunkers in the front. The straightaway uphill 349 yard par 4 13th is a bit more generous than the previous holes but is still lined by trees and houses on both sides. This hole has only two bunkers, but they are strategically placed at 220 yards on the left fairway and just short left of the green. The 14th hole at Bristol Harbour is their signature hole, the number 1 handicap, and the hole most golfers will remember best. At 381 yards, this par 4 demands 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. This narrow, diagonal green is framed beautifully by four bunkers long. This is indeed a fun, memorable hole, and one of my favorites on the course.

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The blind teeshot on the 14th
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The extreme downhill approach at 14

The 15th is another memorable hole and my favorite par 3 at 164 yards. This hole requires a carry the entire way to avoid a gorge and several creeks just before the green. If you look to the left of this green, there’s a steep, rocky embankment and river visible.

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The intimidating par 3 15th

The 16th is another one of my favorites at Bristol Harbour. At just 319 yards on the scorecard, this uphill dogleg right par 4 is a beautiful hole framed by large trees, bunkers at 220 yards, and a creek that runs along the entire right side. This elongated, elevated green is guarded by bunkers on both sides. While I think this hole would benefit with some extra length, it’s still a fine hole and one you’ll enjoy playing.

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

The 17th is another visually appealing hole as a sweeping downhill 350 yard dogleg left. This elevated teebox requires a forced carry over a valley to a fairway lined by trees on both sides. This fairway runs severely uphill to an elevated green that necessitates at least one extra club. This green unsurprisingly features a hard back-to-front and left-to-right tilt.

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The downhill par 4 17th

Running parallel to the 9th, the closing hole plays just 331 yards as a straightaway par 4. Water comes into play on the left at 250 yards and runs all the way to the green. I personally don’t see the need to challenge this water on such a short hole. In addition to the water, this heavily undulating green is guarded by bunkers long and right.

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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 here 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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