Review: Hotchkiss School Golf Course

Course Name: Hotchkiss School Golf Course

Designer: Unknown (1897, 6 holes), H. R. Pryde (1911, 9 holes), Seth Raynor (1924, current design), Charles Banks (1930s, redesign), George Bahto (2002, 4th green, restoration plan)

Location: Lakeville, Connecticut

History: Once home to the likes of students by the last names Vanderbilt, Ford, Stanley, and Bush, the prestigious Hotchkiss School is also home to a historic golf course. Golf originally began on site with a rudimentary 6-hole course in 1897. In 1911, H. R. Pryde lengthened the course to 9 holes. A connected alum contacted Seth Raynor in 1923 as he was building Yale in New Haven and Raynor agreed to lay out a 9 hole course on campus. Soon after, a young English teacher at Hotchkiss by the name of Charles Banks developed an interest in golf architecture as he watched Raynor. The rest was history as Banks and Raynor developed a relationship that tragically ended just two years later with Raynor’s premature death. Banks would go on to assist Raynor at Yale, design several of his own courses, and rework the Hotchkiss design in the 1930s after a road was built through the course. Finally in 2002, Raynor expert George Bahto was brought in as a consultant and remodeled the 4th green. Considered one of the best 9-hole courses in America, Hotchkiss School Golf Course has earned the following award:

  • #8 Best Public Course in Connecticut – Golfweek (2018)

Conditions: 6/10, It’s hard to gauge the everyday conditions at Hotchkiss considering the course was waterlogged when I played during a very rainy Fall. The greens were predictably slow, but the course appeared in overall good shape with well-maintained fairways and bunkers.

Value: 8/10, Although there are restricted times for student and member play, the public can play this historic gem for just $15 on weekdays and $17 on weekends.

Scorecard:

Tee                     Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

White                35           3080               34.9              119

Red                     37           2475               34.4              119

Hole Descriptions: Hotchkiss School is located in the isolated northwestern corner of Connecticut just a few miles from the New York border. This hilly course encircles the campus and offers tremendous views of the nearby mountains and Lake Wononscopomuc. Although only 9 holes, you can easily tell it’s a Raynor with numerous template holes and his characteristic bunkering. One can draw the parallels to The Course at Yale and I consider Hotchkiss a “JV version” of Yale with smaller, less bold features but similar themes. Ironically, Hotchkiss is a feeder school for Yale so this analogy is applicable in multiple ways.

The number 1 handicap opening hole is purely the work of Charles Banks, who created this hole after a highway was built in 1931. At 420 yards, this difficult par 4 plays uphill the entire way lined by dense trees on both sides. This approach plays at least one club extra to a left-to-right sloped, elevated green guarded by two bunkers off to the left and a steep hill right. Par is a great start here.

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The uphill 1st on a cold, misty day
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The 1st approach

At 170 yards, the 2nd hole is now a par 3 after originally playing as a short par 4. Campus expansion took over the old teebox and truthfully the new hole feels like you’re just playing an approach shot from the fairway. This unique hole was considered a fine example of a “Leven” template as a short par 4, meaning that a longer drive leaves an open approach but those who lay-up have a blind shot over bunkering or mounds. As a par 3, I’m not sure this definition still fits, but the hole is nonetheless intriguing with a giant mound obscuring the front right of an undulating back-to-front sloped green.

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The par 3 2nd feels like a green in the middle of an open field

The 401 yard par 4 3rd is another fine template hole and my favorite hole at Hotchkiss. This is an “Alps” design similar to Yale’s 12th defined as a long par 4 with a blind approach over a hidden bunker. Playing as a slightly uphill dogleg left, this hole more than meets this definition, with an entirely blind approach until the last 100 yards or so. A deep, hidden crossbunker guards just short of a small, shallow, back-to-front sloped green surrounded by fringe. Apparently this green has shrunk quite a bit over the years, but the approach remains gorgeous.

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The dogleg left par 4 3rd from the teebox
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The approach from about 75 yards out – note the bunker remains hidden
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The bunker revealed!

After walking across a busy road and through campus, you reach the 4th, a 370 yard uphill par 4. This is an extremely tight hole, with thick forest down the right and school buildings on the left. This hole also features the only fairway bunker on the course at 230 yards down the left. The approach plays uphill to a large green (Bahto’s) guarded by a steep drop-off and bunker short right.

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The uphill 4th

At just 140 yards, the par 3 5th is a beautiful “Short” template. With students watching as you tee off, this hole requires precise wedge play as it plays downhill to a shallow, wide, back-to-front sloped green. Like the 5th at Yale, this hole is protected by a hidden narrow bunker short. Don’t be distracted by the tremendous views of Lake Wononscopomuc in the backdrop.

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The beautiful par 3 5th

The 6th is the shortest par 4 on the course at 358 yards, but doesn’t lack intimidation with a completely blind teeshot uphill through a narrow chute. This small green is considered the best on the course with a subtle ridge running through the middle and bunkers lining either side.

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The uphill par 4 6th
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The small 6th green

The 7th is the first par 5 at Hotchkiss playing 500 yards. This hole is a “Long” template modeled after St. Andrews, with a narrow, undulating fairway lined by dorms on the left and a road right. This approach plays to a large, elevated green guarded by a false front and subtle slopes throughout.

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The par 5 7th
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The 7th approach – note how undulating the fairway is

The 188 yard 8th is an exhilarating “Eden” template that bests its counterpart 15th at Yale. Defined as a medium-length par 3 with a severely back-to-front sloped green guarded by bunkers, this hole certainly fits the bill and plays at least one and a half clubs less downhill. This green indeed runs hard back-to-front and is guarded by a deep crossbunker that wraps around short right.

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The beautiful par 3 8th

The closing hole is an extremely penal and wild 533 yard par 5 that draws comparisons to the controversial 18th at Yale. This is one of the most difficult driving holes I’ve played with a completely blind downhill teeshot through a chute of trees to a narrow sliver of fairway that doglegs right at about 230 yards. Anything over 250 yards will run through the fairway into a pond. Similarly to Yale, this hole in particular is built on extremely rugged terrain and thick forest lines both sides. I don’t think it’s possible to cut the corner here, and thus reaching this green in two is likewise impossible. From the dogleg, this hole runs straight uphill with water down the left of a heavily right-to-left sloping fairway. This approach plays uphill to a small, relatively flat green guarded by a bunker right and grass bunker short left.

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The extremely intimidating 9th teeshot
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The closing approach

General Comments: The amenities at Hotchkiss School Golf Course are a bit lacking with a tiny clubhouse containing the bare necessities. The practice facilities consist of just a tiny practice green near the 1st green. Pace of play was brisk when I played, potentially because the course was basically underwater.

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The small clubhouse

Verdict: Just as many Hotchkiss grads go on to do bigger and better things at Yale, so too did Raynor and Banks. Architecture enthusiasts, however, should not overlook this mini-Yale with numerous template holes, a strong Raynor influence, and an important role in golf architecture history. I highly recommend Hotchkiss School Golf Course to anyone in the area.


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