Review: The Kittansett Club

Course Name: The Kittansett Club

Designer: William Flynn/Frederic C. Hood (1922), Gil Hanse/Jim Wagner (1998, tree removal and bunker renovation)

Location: Marion, Massachusetts

History: Long thought to be the work of amateur architect Frederic C. Hood, recent discoveries indicate that William Flynn (Shinnecock, Cherry Hills) deserves credit for the layout. Named after the Native American term for “near the sea”, Kittansett opened in 1922, and Hood tinkered with the design for the next several decades. In the 1990’s, the team of Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner restored the course to its original glory by removing trees and renovating bunkers.

Outside of the 1953 Walker Cup, Kittansett has largely stayed out of the national spotlight. Accolades for Kittansett include:

  • #134 Best Course in the World – Golf Digest (2018)
  • #67 Best Course in America – Golf Digest (2017)
  • #66 Best Course in America – Golf Magazine (2017)
  • #50 Best Classic Course in America – Golfweek (2018)
  • #3 Best Course in Massachusetts – Golf Digest (2017)

Conditions: 8/10, Similarly to nearby Newport Country Club, Kittansett has a decidedly linksy feel to it with firm, fast fairways and greens that never run faster than an 11 on the stimp. The fairways, teeboxes, and greens are meticulously kept and the course has very little rough, instead featuring both swampy marshland and dry hardpan for those who venture offline.

Value: N/A, This is a private course.

Scorecard:

Tee                     Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Blue                   71           6934               75.0              145

White                71           6400              71.9              139

White/Green    71           6029              70.0              132

Green                71           5581              67.9              130

Yellow                72          4934              71.0              133

Hole Descriptions: Situated at the end of an archipelago jutting into Buzzard’s Bay, The Kittansett Club occupies an incredibly scenic seaside property. Although the land is flat, Hood and Flynn sculpted numerous mounds and subtle elevations throughout that add to the course’s tremendous character. The layout is quite varied with about half the holes lining the marshes and ocean and other half playing inland off the water. Most publications focus on the world-class seaside holes, but I thought the inland holes were almost equally as good, resembling the great heathland courses in England with their sandy soil, whispy fescue, and tall trees.

Kittansett plays short (not even 7000 yards from the Tips) and even shorter given the firm and fast conditions, but I played horribly here and found the course to be extremely tricky. The major defense is undoubtedly the wind, which usually whips off the Ocean, but the layout is also difficult, especially off the tee. There’s no real rough here and anything mildly off these fairways will likely find marshland or fescue. Flynn demonstrated tremendous command of angles and strategic bunkering at Kittansett, and there really aren’t many teeshots you truly feel comfortable over. As a testament to Kittansett’s difficulty, not one player broke par in a 1996 U.S. Amateur Qualifier held here.

The opening hole at Kittansett is tied for the longest par 4 on the course at 415 yards. This teebox is directly adjacent to the pro shop and you’ll almost certainly have a gallery. This hole is extremely open on the left with the 18th fairway but features a lateral hazard on the right with marshland. A giant sandy wasteland bisects the fairway at about 260 yards and is in play off the tee. The approach to this small undulating green is guarded by a deep bunker on the left.

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The approach on the 1st

The par 4 2nd also plays 415 yards and is another very difficult hole. This hole features beautiful views of the Ocean in the background but don’t let this distract you on this difficult teeshot. This drive requires a carry of 145 yards and avoidance of dense marshes on the right. At about 280 yards, rough and a bunker on the left bisect this fairway. This circular green is lined by two deep bunkers on either side and the Ocean long.

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The par 4 2nd

The par threes at Kittansett are among the best sets I’ve played and the 3rd is the best of the bunch. At just 155 yards, this world-famous hole plays directly over the Ocean to an island green surrounded by beach sand. I imagine this hole floods or becomes a true island green when the tide is up. With the wind usually howling, this is an exhilarating teeshot and one you won’t soon forget.

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The gorgeous par 3 3rd
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Wish I brought my sandals!
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The view from the 3rd green is one of the best in golf

At just 360 yards, the par 4 4th appears easy on the scorecard but is actually one of several very difficult dogleg rights at Kittansett. With a teebox in the middle of a marsh, this is a difficult teeshot with a forced carry of 160 yards and dogleg not coming until 225 yards. Flynn placed two devilish bunkers on both corners of the dogleg that more-or-less force the golfer to hit a drive between 220 and 250 yards. Those thinking of cutting the corner have to contend with tall trees lining the right.  This hole features another tiny back-to-front sloped green lined by cavernous bunkers on either side.

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The 4th is a difficult driving hole
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Great strategic bunkers guard the 4th’s dogleg

The 5th is a strong straightaway 395 yard par 4 that prominently features two large bunkers in the middle of the fairway between 150 and 180 yards. Given that the initially wide fairway progressively narrows with swampland on the right, these bunkers force the golfer to think twice about laying up off the tee. This undulating green is guarded by tall trees on the left and bunkers on either side.

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The par 4 5th

At 385 yards, the 6th is another difficult sub-400 yard par 4 that features another awkward teeshot. This hole bends to the right around 175 yards with marshland lining the right and dense forest lining the left the entire way. This hole reminds me a lot of the 5th at Wannamoisett with the ideal line playing over mounds at the right corner. Those who go left or long will find a bunker at 195 yards or worse – be OB. The approach here is fairly straightforward with bunkers on either side about 60 yards short of this green and three guarding both sides of the green.

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Aim over the right mounds
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The approach on 6

At 505 yards, the 7th is the first and best par 5 you’ll encounter at Kittansett. This hole features another demanding teeshot with a narrow fairway lined by marshland and trees on either side. This is also one of the best bunkered holes on the course with numerous bunkers running through this fairway forcing the golfer to think carefully on each shot. One particularly devastating bunker is a crossbunker that juts onto the left fairway about 100 yards short of the green. This green is large, two-tiered and guarded by deep bunkers on either side.

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The excellent par 5 7th
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A neat yet terrifying sign on the 7th

The 8th marks the start of the interior holes, which have a decidedly different feel than their seaside companions. This is another very strong par 3 at 190 yards. With a carry over fescue and bunker, this green is guarded on either side by deep bunkers and slopes extremely hard back-to-front.

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The worst par 3 at Kittansett would be the signature one at most courses

The 380 yard 9th is one of the weaker holes on the course as a straightaway par 4 lined by tall trees on both sides. This hole is notable for a creek that crosses the fairway at 285 yards and bunker just short right of the creek. This approach plays to a large, flat green lined by bunkers on either side.

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The par 4 9th

The reachable 330 yard 10th gets my vote for easiest hole at Kittansett. This is a relatively straightforward hole with a generous fairway after carrying a series of fairway bunkers for the first 200 yards. This approach plays slightly uphill to a small, undulating green surrounded by deep bunkers. While this hole is drivable in theory, I think the ideal play is doing whatever you can to find the fairway.

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The par 4 10th – note the characteristic mounding of bunkers on the left fairway

Relative to par, I’m not sure there’s a more difficult hole than the 11th. At a prodigious 220 yards, this is a semi-blind par 3 courtesy of tall fescue directly in front of the teebox. There’s a giant crossbunker about 50 yards short and three deep ones on both sides of the green. This hole features one of the coolest green complexes I’ve played with what I can best describe as a diagonal Biarritz with the left side higher than right. Par is a tremendous score here.

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The long par 3 11th
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View of the 11th green just short of the crossbunker

The 12th is a fantastic strategic dogleg left playing at 380 yards. Featuring a crossbunker on the left at 170 yards and dense forest down the left, this difficult teeshot causes many golfers to bailout right, leaving a more difficult approach possibly blocked out by trees. There’s another bunker 100 yards short and on either side of this small circular green.

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The strategic par 4 12th

At 355 yards, the par 4 13th is the last of a trio of very challenging short dogleg rights. Featuring perhaps the tightest fairway at Kittansett, this dogleg doesn’t occur until 240 yards, forcing the golfer to hit something longer than they’d prefer off the tee. The right corner of the dogleg is lined by deep bunkers while a hidden pond guards the left. This approach is fairly straightforward with a narrow green guarded by large bunkers on either side.

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The par 4 13th

With the Ocean glistening in the background to remind you where you are, the 14th is the last of an amazing collection of one-shotters. This hole plays 175 yards to a wide yet shallow green surrounded by deep bunkers and fescue. This green generally slopes back-to-front.

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The strong par 3 14th

The 15th is the longest of a short set of par fives at 515 yards. This hole plays dead straight with thick forest running down the right the entire way. The left side is fairly open until 280 yards when it too develops forest. Like the 7th, this par 5 features numerous well-placed bunkers running down its fairway – notably crossbunkers on the left at 260 yards, right at 300, and one very tricky one on the right side of the lay-up area. This green is one of the largest on the course. The golfer needs to think his way around this hole, but birdies can certainly be had with good ballstriking.

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The long, straight par 5 15th

Most critics point to the 16th as the best par 4 at Kittansett and I have to agree. This hole marks a return to the Ocean, as the final three hole play on the tip of the archipelago. The view from this teebox is world-class, with 390 fantastic yards separating you from the water. This fairway bends slightly to the left with marshes on either side. About 30 yards short of the green, two cross-bunkers squeeze the fairway, preventing runners from reaching the green. This green is relatively flat, but plays elevated with slopes on all sides. Apparently overgrown trees behind this green obscured the view, but Gil Hanse removed them in the 1990’s.

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The phenomenal par 4 16th
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The approach on 16
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Four very lucky individuals at an all-world course

The 375 yard 17th is another dogleg left running in the opposite direction of 16. We didn’t play on a particularly windy day, but I imagine these two holes rarely play the scorecard yardage. This hole is notable for a creek that bisects the fairway at 255 yards, causing many golfers to shy away from driver. The other dangers on this teeshot include bunkers on either side at 175 yards and marshland for those who go way offline. This approach runs uphill towards a back-to-front sloped green guarded by bunkers on either side.

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The par 4 17th
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The 17th green – I love the two synchronized flags in this picture

After being beat up all day by strategic and difficult par fours, the closing hole at Kittansett offers a great scoring opportunity as a straightaway 460 yard par 5. Playing back towards the clubhouse with a busy road on your right, this hole features a generous fairway especially the further left you go. This approach is a bit more challenging with large bunkers 60 yards short on the left and to the right of the green. A charming rock wall and fescue guard just right of the green as well. This is a great closing match play par 5 where birdies will fly.

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Try not to hit a car on the 18th

General Comments: Kittansett’s clubhouse is understated, but gives off a classic New England summer charm. The parking lot is one of the most scenic in all of golf, occupying prime oceanfront property. The practice facilities are also strong and include a grass range long enough for driver and two short game areas. I find it interesting how the parking lot and practice areas are found on some of the most beautiful parts of the property, but I think it speaks to the strength of the inland holes that this isn’t more readily apparent. Pace of play is tremendous, and this seaside gem is a joy to walk.

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Kittansett’s gorgeous clubhouse and the 18th green
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You get a real feel for the wind on the exposed range

Verdict: The charming and exclusive Kittansett Club is one of the most underrated courses in America and might be my dark horse candidate for best course in New England. Featuring a dazzling set of seaside holes and equally interesting inland holes, an invite to Kittansett is to be cherished.


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