Course Name: Kirkbrae Country Club
Designer: Geoffrey Cornish/Bill Robinson (1961)
Location: Lincoln, Rhode Island
History: Established in 1961, Kirkbrae is the premier private club north of Providence. Serving the Blackstone River Valley, this club is also a popular spot for weddings and other events.
Conditions: 8/10, The best thing about Kirkbrae is its impressive conditioning. This course is particularly notorious for speedy back-to-front greens and thick rough.
Value: N/A, this is a private course.
Tee Par Yardage Rating Slope
Gold 71 6549 73.2 128
Blue 71 6264 71.6 124
White 71 5964 68.9 121
Red 72 5761 71.4 116
Hole Descriptions: Kirkbrae CC is another design by one of my least favorite architects, Geoffrey Cornish. Prolific in New England, Cornish’s courses often have very little hole variety, with most holes being tree-lined with back-to-front sloped greens. His holes that do stand out unfortunately stand out for their poor design qualities. While Kirkbrae is certainly well-conditioned and challenging, it falls into many of the same pitfalls most Cornish courses do.
The opening hole is one of the most benign on the course and provides a good scoring opportunity at the start. This straightaway 353 yard par 4 plays slightly downhill to a narrow fairway that narrows to almost nothing at 250 yards with a bunker and trees on the left. Aggressive players may be able to carry this danger, but for most a 220 yard straight shot will suffice. This green slopes hard back-to-front with bunkers on either side.
The 387 yard 2nd ratchets up the difficult quickly with a tight, blind, downhill teeshot with tall trees on either side. While the fairway is preferable, the better miss here is right, as a steep slope on the left kicks balls further left. This green again plays back-to-front with four bunkers on either side. The par 5 3rd is the longest hole at Kirkbrae at 514 yards. Playing uphill as a slight dogleg left, this hole features a tight tree-lined fairway that narrows to almost nothing about 100 yards short of this elevated green with trees on the left. This is one of the flattest greens on the course.
The 141 yard 4th is the shortest hole at Kirkbrae and the first par 3. Playing uphill to an elevated back-to-front green, the worst two misses are bunkers short on either side.
While the opening four holes at least grabbed my attention, hole 5-8 are essentially carbon copy straightaway par fours that serve as prime examples of why Cornish courses don’t appeal to me. The 5th plays 390 yards with trees on both sides. This approach shot plays downhill to a flat, circular green. The following hole plays directly alongside the 5th at a strong 456 yards. While there’s no real danger on this tree-lined beast, the length alone will make this a three-shot hole for many golfers. To further complicate matters, this green plays extremely back-to-front (even after they tempered it due to complaints).
Unsurpisingly, the 7th runs right back along the 6th as a straightaway 393 yarder. While trees are less numerous here, a pond in the right rough between 225 and 270 yards is a legitimate hazard. This undulating green is small by Kirkbrae’s standards and has two bunkers short on either side. The 8th again plays alongside the 7th at 444 yards. A pond in the right rough between 160 and 200 yards combined with this severely elevated green makes this the most challenging hole on the course in my mind.
Kirkbrae’s front 9 interestingly closes with a par 3 and it’s a welcome relief after what seems like a million monotonous par fours in a row. This is a strong hole, playing 194 yards uphill back towards the clubhouse. Bunkers guard short and right while a steep hill and driving range line the left.
By all accounts, the back 9 is the superior side at Kirkbrae, but the 10th is simply a bad design. This 324 par 4 is a pretty, yet confusing C-shaped dogleg left that’s potentially drivable for those who cut the corner over trees. This holes features a short forced carry of about 115 yards over a pond and two tall-lipped bunkers on the left side of the dogleg. This is somewhat of an infinity green that slopes off hard on all four sides.
The 11th is a 411 yard downhill par 4 that plays very similarly to the neighboring 2nd. With dense woods and bunkers lining both sides of this narrow fairway, an accurate drive is a must. This approach plays downhill with bunkers on both sides.
At only 479 yards, the par 5 12th is a short hole and in many ways plays easier than some par fours at Kirkbrae. Playing straightaway with trees on either side, all you need is two or three straight shots to have a good shot at gaining a shot back. Of note, this is the narrowest green on the course and once again plays back-to-front. The 375 yard 13th plays straightaway on the edge of the property with OB along the entire left side and a cluster of bunkers and trees on the right between 180 and 250 yards. This is one of the more challenging approaches with a small, elevated green with many undulations.
The 14th is the third and final par 5 at Kirkbrae and another hole that leaves you wondering what Cornish was thinking when he designed it. Playing uphill and sliding to the right the entire way, this 502 yard hole is virtually impossible to reach in two because you can only drive it a maximum of about 230 yards before you run out of fairway. The combination of trees, dogleg, and uphill make this a frustrating example of target golf that you’re ready to be done with before you even reach this back-to-front sloped green.
I enjoyed the 15th, an 184 yard downhill par 3 that plays considerably shorter. One of the more picturesque holes on the course, this back-to-front circular green is guarded by two bunkers and water short right. At only 326 yards, the par 4 16th is another interesting and quirky par 4. Playing severely uphill and sliding right, this hole isn’t really reachable and most drivers will run through the fairway. This entire hole is bunkerless, but this is the most severe back-to-front green at Kirkbrae. Three-putt city!
The 6549 yard Kirkbrae isn’t a long course by any means, but you wouldn’t know that by playing just the 17th and 18th. At a prodigious 220 yards, the 17th is a monster par 3 that likely requires wood or more from the majority of golfers. This hole is relatively flat with little danger but its length alone makes par an elusive score.
The par 4 18th is a strong finishing hole at a stout 456 yards. This drive is relatively open with the exception of bunkers in the right rough at 210 and 275 yards. This approach plays slightly back uphill towards the clubhouse to a gigantic green guarded by bunkers short on both sides and a pond short right. Par here gains strokes on the field.
Best Par 3: 15th hole, 184 yards, 18th handicap. Easily my favorite hole at Kirkbrae, this severe downhill par three is tree-lined on the left and features two bunkers and a pond short right. This green slopes hard back-to-front, as most do on this course.
Best Par 4: 18th hole, 456 yards, 6th handicap. One of several brutally long par fours at Kirkbrae, this strong finishing hole is quite generous off the tee but bunkers 210 yards and 275 yards on the right jut out into the fairway and necessitate a layup. This large back-to-front sloped green is framed beautifully by the clubhouse in back, multiple bunkers on the left, and a pond to the right.
Best Par 5: 12th hole, 479 yards, 4th handicap. The best of a relatively weak set of par fives, this reachable hole is probably the easiest hole on the entire course. After a drive through a chute of trees, you’re faced with a blind, downhill second shot to a narrow back-to-front sloped green. There are bunkers short on both sides but runners can reach this green through the gap.
General Comments: The amenities at Kirkbrae are strong with an Olympic-sized pool and beautiful banquet room overlooking the course. The chipping and putting practice facilities are extensive, while the driving range features mats and a limit of about 200 yards. While I’ve only played once besides a tournament, I was disappointed in pace of play – we had to jump around because there a high school match, league play, and multiple fivesomes.
Verdict: Kirkbrae CC offers some of the best conditioning and amenities in the Rhode Island, but a subpar design from Geoffrey Cornish prevents it from being one of Rhode Island’s elite private courses.