Review: Wintonbury Hills Golf Course

Course Name: Wintonbury Hills Golf Course

Designer: Pete Dye/Tim Liddy (2005)

Location: Bloomfield, Connecticut

History: After many years of legal battles with the town and Department of Environmental Protection, the much-anticipated Wintonbury Hills opened for play in 2005. It is Pete Dye’s only design in New England and he only received $1 for his work as a donation to the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Since its inception, the course has received numerous accolades (listed below) and is considered one of the best public courses in New England. PGA pro Andrew Svoboda holds the course record with a 62.

  • #2 Best Public Course in Connecticut – Golf Magazine (2016)
  • #1 Best Public Course in Connecticut – Golfweek (2018)

Conditions: 8/10, For a municipal course, I was very impressed with the conditioning at Wintonbury Hills. The bunkers, fairways, and teeboxes were in fantastic shape and I have especially high praise for the thick, lush rough (which carts weren’t allowed to drive through). The greens were a bit slow and bumpy, but I assume they had just been aerated.

Value: 5/10, In-season rates are about on par with what you’re getting at Wintonbury Hills at $79 on weekends and $69 on weekdays. Off-season and twilight rates are more competitive.

Scorecard:

Tee                     Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Black                 70            6711               72.4               129

Green               70            6283              70.2               127

White                70            5678              67.4               121

Yellow               70            5005              68.7               114

Hole Descriptions: I’ve played quite a few Pete Dye courses and appreciate them for the most part. If there’s one thing Pete Dye does well, it’s creativity and never being afraid to try something big and bold. Whether it’s the insane bunkering of Whistling Straits or the railroad ties he loves so much, his courses are at least always memorable.

I expected the same at Wintonbury Hills but was profoundly underwhelmed. The layout is bland, the bunkers seem unfinished, and the similarity between 1-4 and 10-13 leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Wintonbury Hills is so unlike other Pete Dye courses I’ve played that I think it’s fair to wonder how much Dye actually contributed to the project compared to his associate Tim Liddy.

The opening hole at Wintonbury Hills is a short, straightforward 367 yard par 4 with a wide fairway lined by swampland on the left and rough on the right. A trio of small bunkers loom on the right about 275 yards off the tee. This slightly elevated green features several swales and is guarded by bunkers on the left.

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The par 4 1st is laid right out in front of you

At 365 yards, the 2nd is another short par 4 made much longer by the prevailing wind and severe uphill. A carry of 110 yards is initially needed over swampland but the fairway here is quite generous. This hole features a tricky undulating green with three back-to-front tiers.

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Note the forced carry on the uphill par 4 2nd

The 139 yard 3rd is the shortest hole at Wintonbury Hills, but don’t be lulled into a false sense of security here. This kidney-shaped green drops off steeply on the right, with four deep bunkers waiting. The green itself is again tricky, with two separate tiers and a predominant left-to-right slope.

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View from the par 3 3rd teebox

The first par 5 at Wintonbury Hills is also the shortest at 512 yards. Playing uphill the entire way, this right-to-left sloping fairway is lined by trees the entire way on the left and fescue on the right starting at 260 yards. From here, the hole is relatively straightforward with a wide lay-up area and Redan-like right-to-left sloped green complex.

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The par 5 4th from the tee

Playing downhill at 327 yards, the par 4 5th is the shortest two-shotter at Wintonbury Hills and is drivable in the right conditions. Fescue lines the right side of the hole but the only other danger is a small bunker on the right side of the fairway 265 yards from the teebox. Three small bunkers guard the right side of this green but the green is relatively receptive compared to most short par fours.

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The downhill 5th is tempting

At 400 yards, the par 4 6th is one of my favorite holes on the course and definitely a hole to grip it and rip it. With an extremely wide fairway, the only danger here is hitting it too well into a long bunker 300 yards out in the middle of the fairway. This perched green slopes hard left-to-right and misses to the right will find a shaved-down collection area.

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Missing on the right leaves a delicate little pitch on the 6th

Despite the power lines lining the left side of this hole, the downhill 200 yard par 3 7th is one of my favorite holes at Wintonbury Hills. Requiring a forced carry pretty much the entire way, this Redan green is lined by four tiny bunkers and a hazard to the left. The hole is meant to be played with a right-to-left ballflight and the bailout option on the right is not a bad miss.

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The downhill Redan par 3 7th

The 543 yard par 5 8th is the longest hole on the course and easily one of the most forgettable. Requiring three shots to get home for most golfers, this hole features a skinny fairway lined by a hazard on the left and thick rough on the right the entire way. Several small bunkers come into play on the drive and lay-up. Oddly enough, the front 9 closes with another weak hole in the 170 yard par 3 9th. This green runs back right-to-front left and three pot bunker guard short right.

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The par 3 9th finishes right next to the clubhouse

Wintonbury Hills runs into some trouble on the back 9 as holes 10-13 are almost carbon copies of holes 1-4. The 10th runs parallel to the 1st and 18th and is another straightaway 402 yard par 4. While hazards line the right side, the hole is wide open on the left. This green is quite narrow and plays back-to-front.

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The straightaway par 4 10th is a long, boring hole

Like the 2nd, the 11th plays uphill over a forced carry at 400 yards. Usually playing into the wind, this is a formidable hole. This fairway is generous, but a set of two deep bunkers looms about 240 yards off the tee smack dab in the middle of the fairway.

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The uphill par 4 11th requires a forced carry of about 140 yards
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Take care to avoid these bunkers in the middle of the 11th fairway

Similarly to the 3rd, the 12th is a medium-length par 3 at 162 yards. I actually quite enjoyed this hole, as trees to the left and bunkers on the right frame the green beautifully.

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The par 3 12th is one of the better holes at Wintonbury Hills

Perhaps the most egregious copycat hole is the par 5 13th, which plays literally exactly the same as the parallel 4th. Running uphill at 521 yards, this hole is treelined on both sides and features a right-to-left sloping fairway. This green is also Redan-like with a right bank that kicks balls left.

After a stretch of nearly 6 boring, repetitive holes, Wintonbury Hills begins its strongest stretch starting with the fantastic 415 yard 14th. Easily the signature hole, this hole is lined by the Tunxis Reservoir on the right the entire way. Featuring a semi-blind teeshot to a severe left-to-right sloping fairway, this brute requires both accuracy and length to make par.

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Looking down at the sloping fairway from the cartpath

The 397 yard 15th is another great par 4 with trees lining the left and swampland guarding the right. This green is guarded by four small bunkers to the right and slightly juts behind the trees for a challenging approach.

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The 15th is probably one of the most challenging teeshots

At 368 yards, the 16th is another neat par 4 featuring a completely blind teeshot. This hole plays straightaway with OB lining the right and a fairly open left side. There is only one bunker on this hole, but it’s prominently featured on a mound 210 yards out on the right.

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I was a big fan of the unique par 4 16th

After driving through dense forest, you arrive at the 190 yard par 3 17th. Featuring another Redan green, this hole offers plenty of bailout area to the right but bunkers and a hazard on the left.

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I was only a bit terrified of being mauled by a bear on the ride to 17
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The strong par 3 17th from the tee

After several strong holes in a row, the closing hole at Wintonbury Hills is rather underwhelming as a straightaway, flat 405 yard par 4. A hazard lines far right, while the left side is completely open in the 10th fairway. With the exception of a few tiny bunkers sprinkled throughout the rough, this is really a grip it and rip it par 4. This green plays as a reverse Redan, with slopes left-to-right and back-to-front.

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The wide open par 4 18th

Best Par 3: 7th Hole, 200 yards, 14th handicap. As the longest par 3, I picked this difficult hole not only because I love the Redan green here, but also because it proves that a hole can tastefully incorporate telephone wires. So many courses I play feature telephone wires that interfere with shots, but the ones here are not in play and actually frame the downhill hole nicely.

Best Par 4: 14th Hole, 415 yards, 1st handicap. The signature hole at Wintonbury Hills, this strong par 4 is lined by the Tunxis Reservoir on the right and thick trees on the left. This green is small and the tall oak tree beyond this green is the course’s logo.

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Good luck getting a flat lie on the 14th fairway

Best Par 5: 13th Hole, 521 yards, 9th handicap. Alone, this is a strong three-shotter, but it’s luster is undeniably dimmed due to its similarity to the 4th. This tree-lined hole features a tight fairway and Redan green.

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The par 5 13th from the teebox

General Comments: My experience with the staff at Wintonbury Hills was less than optimal, beginning with my attempt at a teetime. I called and was told “Singles shouldn’t be calling and are better off showing up at the course. The only teetime available is 11 AM.” Okay, whatever, I thought. I arrived at the course, and it was literally empty. Why couldn’t I play earlier? Furthermore, I was lectured at length by the cartbarn guy about the rules in a pedantic fashion.

While pace of play was fantastic the day I played, the practice facilities also left a lot to be desired. There is a small practice green behind the clubhouse, but the range is down the street and you have to take a car to get there (carts weren’t allowed). Speaking of carts, never before have I experienced such restrictive carts. The carts completely stop whenever you drive through rough and you’re forced to push them back on the fairway. This is one of my biggest pet peeves golfing and I would have walked had I known.

Verdict: Wintonbury Hills is a solid public course, with great conditions and a strong reputation. However, I can’t help but feel like this course is overrated, and I’d rather save some money and play several other nearby courses.


3 thoughts on “Review: Wintonbury Hills Golf Course

  1. Great review. I agree that the value for this course is poor. The weekday rate is way to high. I do really like this course but I do agree with what you said up front. It is not the most dynamic layout and the mirroring of holes to start the front and back are not the best but it’s what the property seemed to offer in routing. I have a soft spot for this course because I often play well here for some reason and have shot some of my better rounds here over the years.

    The course was designed for municipal purposes so as not to be to difficult. Wide fairways help. I think this is a second shot golf course on many holes and especially when it is dry and fast in the summer. Landing the ball on approach in the wrong place can lead to a ball that rolls off some greens or can gives you a tough 2 putt. I think recently the course has lost some of its teeth with softer on approach and slower green speeds.

    Like

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