Review: Butter Brook Golf Club

Course Name: Butter Brook Golf Club

Designer: Mark Mungeam/Tim Gerrish (2004, front 9, 2007, back 9)

Location: Westford, Massachusetts

History: Built on an old farm, Butter Brook opened with 9 holes in April, 2004. In 2007, practice facilities and a back 9 were added. Currently semi-private, this Mark Mungeam design is situated about 30 minutes northwest of Boston. While it hasn’t cracked any top Massachusetts public lists yet, New England Golf Guide gives it 5 stars and describes it as a “hidden gem.”

Conditions: 8/10, I heard great things about the conditioning at Butter Brook, and the course met my expectations. The fairways are well-manicured, and most divots are repaired even though the course receives a ton of play. Although there isn’t much rough, it is thick and healthy. The greens are acceptable, but a bit slower and bumpier than I had hoped.

Value: 5/10, The absolute cheapest you can play Butter Brook in the summer is $52 to walk on a weekday. Given how difficult walking is (did it, do not recommend), a round will cost $72 on weekdays and $92 on weekend mornings. I will also mention that walking is not allowed at certain times so be sure to check before you play.

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Black                       72           6702               72.6              133

Blue                         72           6174               70.4              128

White                      72           5617               68.6              120

Red                          72           4849               69.4              120

Hole Descriptions: Coming into Butter Brook, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. New England Golf Guide raves about it, but it was hard to find any other reviews or accolades online. We played the Black Tees, and didn’t regret doing so, as only the 9th (618 yards) and 11th (249 yards) are egregiously long. This is absolutely a course that places a premium on accuracy rather than length.

Butter Brook’s two nines were designed at different times and this becomes very clear when you play them; the front nine and holes 17 and 18 are tight, tree-lined and exemplify modern golf architecture’s affinity for target golf. I was pleasantly surprised by the stretch of 10-16, as these holes open up and play over a sandy treeless terrain. When all’s said and done, you feel like you’ve played two different courses, which is up to you to judge whether you’re a fan or not.

The opening hole is one of the tighter holes on the course as a 517 yard dogleg left par 5. Tall trees line both sides of the fairway but the left side is worse, as you’ll at least be able to find your ball on the right. A small bunker 245 yards on the right is another hazard to avoid. The lay-up here is challenging because the fairway pinches tightly with crossbunkers 120 yards short on the right and 60 yards short on the left. This relatively flat green is long, narrow, and guarded by a bunker on the left.

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The tight opening teeshot
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Sequential bunkering on the 1st approach

The 316 yard 2nd is meant to be a drivable par 4, but you take on considerable risk going for this green in one. This hole runs slightly uphill and features a wide fairway that narrows considerably at about 200 yards. After this point, a hidden hazard and trees encroach on the left and partially obstruct the green. Bunkers guard both sides of the fairway about 250 yards off the tee and leave a very awkward 40 yard bunker shot to a narrow green lined by a deep bunker left.

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The risk/reward par 4 2nd presents the golfer several options early in the round

The 3rd is only 136 yards, but is one of the most penal short par threes I’ve played. This elevated green is incredibly narrow with a steep embankment and deep bunker left and long. Two bunkers well-short right appear closer to the green than they actually are.

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The short par 3 3rd – “Shelf”

The 403 yard par 4 4th is a strong golf hole and certainly one of the most difficult at Butter Brook. Requiring an immediate forced carry of 135 yards over a hazard, this hole doglegs left about 260 yards off the tee and anything short of this will likely be blocked out. Lined by trees the entire way, the approach to this heavily back-to-front sloped green runs uphill with deep bunkers on either side. Par is a great score here.

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The difficult par 4 4th – “Faith”

The 5th is another nice par 3 whose value is somewhat diminished considering it plays almost exactly the same as the 3rd just two holes before. Playing the same distance (136 yards), this hole even features a similar name: “Ledge” vs. “Shelf.” Like the 3rd, this green is lined by a bunker left and two right that appear closer to the green than they actually are.

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The short par 3 5th – “Ledge”

The 6th hole is my favorite hole at Butter Brook as a fantastic 432 yard dogleg right. The tall trees lining this fairway are striking, and make this one of the most fun driving holes out here. A crossbunker on the left at 230 yards is a good aiming point for those who can carry it because a speedslot kicks balls right afterwards. This approach plays uphill with water down the right and another pesky crossbunker on the left about 80 yards short of the green.

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The par 4 6th – “Kick”
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The gorgeous 6th approach

Butter Brook is a rare course with five par fives, and the 554 yard 7th is both the best and toughest. This hole features an intimidating teeshot, requiring a 200 yard carry over a pond to reach a tight, forest-lined fairway. Once you reach the fairway, this hole remains narrow, and turns slightly left with cross-bunkers alternating sides every 50 yards. The name “Party Bowl” is inspired by the green, which acts as a funnel and shuttles balls to the back left.

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The approach at the par 5 7th – “Party Bowl”

At 171 yards, the par 3 8th hole plays uphill to a large green guarded by two deep bunkers short left. Accounting for the uphill is the key to avoiding these hazards and making a good score here.

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The uphill par 3 8th – “Northern Palms”

Butter Brook’s hole nicknames are generally accurate, especially the 9th, a 618 yard monster named “Eternity.” This is a true three-shot (maybe more for some golfers) par 5 that snakes from right-to-left with trees on both sides. Besides its length, there isn’t much danger on this hole until you reach the green, whose right side is lined by a bunker and pond.

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The approach at the par 5 9th – “Eternity”

After a lengthy walk/ride, you reach the 383 yard par 4 10th. Although the fairway is generous, this teeshot is entirely blind due to a huge plateau and crossbunker on the left at 240 yards. Those that carry this bunker will have an easy approach into a bunkerless green, but those who fail to carry the plateau will have a completely blind approach. The 11th is one of the longest par threes I’ve ever played at a beastly 249 yards. My playing partners didn’t want to walk back to the Tips, but I convinced them to. Requiring wood or driver for pretty much every golfer, this hole is actually fairly benign outside of its length and two-tiered back-to-front sloped green.

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The par 3 11th – “Swale”

Aptly named “Freedom,” the 521 yard par 5 12th begins a stretch of open, sandy holes that have a decidedly different feel from the rest of the course and region as a whole. This is the easiest par 5 on the course with a wide fairway guarded by waste bunkers on both sides that are fairly easy to hit out of. This approach is a bit awkward to a back-to-front sloped green guarded by a giant waste bunker left.

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The par 5 12th provides a good birdie opportunity

At 321 yards, the par 4 13th is one of the coolest holes at Butter Brook and has a definite Road Hole feel. This S-shaped fairway features a bunker down the left at 200 yards that golfers must be right of in order to find the fairway.  Aiming right here requires some local knowledge and a leap of faith as you must carry at least 150 yards over an old barn. This is one of the most difficult approaches at Butter Brook to a small severely back-to-front sloped green guarded by bunkers short, left, and right.

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You can aim way more right than you think on the blind par 4 13th – “Barn”
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The 13th approach from just short of the barn

The 14th is another long par 3 at 199 yards. This hole plays over a sandy wastebunker and is notable for a small bunker short right of a large green.

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The par 3 14th – “Oasis”

The 15th continues the mantra of wide open holes, but plays as the longest par 4 on the course at 447 yards. The 14th waste bunker lines the left side of this generous fairway while fairway bunkers are found 210 yards on the right and 265 yards on the left. A pond occupies the right for the final 150 yards but is more in play on the approach than drive. Like the similar 6th, bunkers line the left for the final 60 yards for those who aim away from the hazard. Par is a great score on one of the best holes at Butter Brook.

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The long par 4 15th from the tee – “Old Tom”

The 524 yard 16th is the last of the open holes and you better appreciate it considering how tough the final two holes are. A pond shared with the 15th lines the right side of this fairway for the first 260 yards, but the left is wide open except for a bunker at 290 yards. This fairway progressively narrows as you reach the green with large waste bunkers on both sides. This green plays as a Redan and slopes generously right-to-left with a deep bunker left.

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Remnants of the farm near the 16th tee
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The par 5 16th – “Highlands”

Most golfers standing on the 17th tee will be terrified. Easily the hardest hole at Butter Brook, this 416 yard Cape hole features a tight, angled fairway lined by tall trees on the right and a hazard down the left. If you’re lucky enough to find the fairway, you’re faced with a long, uphill approach to an undulating green guarded by bunkers left, right, and short. Good luck!

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The intimidating par 4 17th – “Butter Brook”
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The uphill 17th approach

At only 355 yards, the closing hole at Butter Brook is a rather disappointing example of a short target golf par 4. This hole demands an immediate forced carry of 150 yards to a tight fairway lined by thick forest on the left and a small bunker at 210 yards. This approach requires yet another carry over a hazard to a back-to-front sloped green with a ridge running down the middle. Tight lies and swales of fairway surrounding this green make for a very challenging up-and-down.

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The par 4 18th – “Ancient Oak”
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The closing approach over Old Mill Pond

General Comments: The driving range is mats only but plenty long enough to rip driver. There are two practice greens – one near the 1st hole and one near the 10th. Many reviews I read online complained about pace of play, but I didn’t find it particularly poor the day I played. It’s inevitable this course will be slower than most, however, as it is challenging and the holes are far apart. I get the sense that the semi-private Butter Brook is a bit more unwelcoming compared to most public courses.

Verdict: Butter Brook is a fascinating and challenging design. While I dislike the feeling of “target golf” on certain holes, many of the holes on this course are teeming with character, especially on the sandy back 9. I highly recommend Butter Brook to anyone in the Boston area looking for an underrated course.


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