Review: Taconic Golf Club

Course Name: Taconic Golf Club

Designer: William Howard Doughty/James M. Ide/Edward C. Gale (1896, 7 holes, 1897, 9 holes), Wayne Stiles (1927, Redesign), Gil Hanse (2009, Renovation)

Location: Williamstown, Massachusetts

History: Taconic was formed in 1896 when three Williams College students, William Howard Doughty, James M. Ide, and Edward C. Gale, received permission from the College to install three tomato cans for golf. Over the semester, they created 7 holes and by 1897 would have a full 9. Of this primitive design, only the par 3 17th hole remains. For the next thirty years, Taconic existed as little more than a cow pasture but this all changed in 1927 when wealthy Williams alum George Alfred Cluett purchased additional land and hired prolific architect Wayne Stiles. Stiles spent countless hours on the property and constructed a terrific championship course.

After a lengthening in 1955, Taconic hosted its first major event with the 1956 U.S. Junior Amateur won by Harlan Stevenson. A 16 year-old by the name of Jack Nicklaus made a hole-in-one in a practice round that week. Since then, Taconic has hosted numerous Massachusetts Amateurs, a Massachusetts Open, a U.S. Senior Amateur, and a U.S. Women’s Amateur. In 2009, Gil Hanse renovated the course by expanding fairways and greens and removing trees. Partially owned by Williams College, the Ephs Men’s and Women’s Golf teams call Taconic home and it has hosted the NCAA Championships several times. Considered one of the finest college courses in the nation, Taconic has earned the following accolades:

  • #110 Best Classic Course in America – Golfweek (2019)
  • #42 Best Public Course in America – Golf Magazine (2017)
  • #3 Best College Course in America – Golfweek (2018)
  • #9 Best Course in Massachusetts – Golf Digest (2019)

Conditions: 8/10, Taconic is in excellent condition with speedy greens, well-kept fairways and teeboxes, and beautiful bunkers.

Value: 4/10, Taconic is more-or-less a private club open primarily to its members and Williams College affiliates. However, there are select tee times open to the public for $160. While certainly not cheap, this price is not unreasonable for a course of this caliber.

Scorecard:

Tee                     Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Black                 71           6808               73.5              134

Black/Gold       71           6601               72.5              132

Gold                  71          6410               71.8              131

Gold/Purple      71         6128               70.2              130

Purple                71         5826               68.9             128

Purple/White    71         5402               72.1             126

White                 71         5143               70.5             123

Hole Descriptions: I’d been meaning to play Taconic for a long time, but let’s be honest – it’s not exactly easy to get to. Located in the far northwestern corner of Massachusetts about a mile from the New York and Vermont borders, Taconic occupies a beautiful but isolated setting in the Berkshires. The opportunity arose to play while driving back to New England from a wedding in Saratoga and I gladly took the little detour. Boy, I am so glad I finally made it here – the course is simply fantastic. As evidenced above, Taconic owns some impressive awards, but I have some more for it. It’s the best course from Stiles and Van Kleek. It’s arguably the best college course in America (close to Yale with its superior conditions and setting). It’s the best course in Massachusetts west of Brookline. Finally, it’s the best course in all of New England the public have access to.

Easily walkable, the routing at Taconic is superb as the teeboxes and greens are close in proximity and flow naturally. The mountainous background and quaint little Williamstown make this one of the prettiest courses in New England. While fairly open thanks to recent tree removal and not overly long, Taconic is rightfully known as a tough course that plays longer than its stated distance because all but a few greens are elevated and run hard back-to-front. A good short game is imperative to scoring well here, but I’d argue Taconic is a 2nd-shot course, as precise distance control is required to carry the ball to the green but also stay below the hole to avoid an impossible putt. I felt like I hit the ball pretty well here, but my score didn’t reflect it after running through several greens.

The opening hole is one of the easiest on the course and also one of the weakest. At just 470 yards, this straightaway par 5 plays level as it runs away from the clubhouse. Trees line either side of a fairway guarded by crossbunkers down the left at 190 yards, right at 270 yards, and left at 310 yards. This mildly undulating green is guarded by bunkers short on either side. If it were up to me, I’d move the teebox up a bit here and make this a long par 4.

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The short par 5 1st
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The approach at 1

The 2nd hole is an excellent medium-length par 4 at 355 yards. Requiring an intimidating 130 yard forced carry over a valley and creek, this dogleg right features a strategic crossbunker down the right at 240 yards. You’ll want to be left of this bunker on an uphill approach to a relatively flat green lined by bunkers on both sides.

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The par 4 2nd
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The stunning look back from the 2nd green

The par 4 3rd is another fantastic hole and one of the more difficult at 383 yards. Although not the longest hole downhill, this is an intimidating teeshot with OB down the entire right side and a left bunker at 235 yards. This fairway is pretty wide initially but narrows after a speed slot at about 230 yards. The approach here is very challenging towards a narrow, extremely back-to-front sloped green lined by bunkers on either side and a formidable false front.

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The beautiful downhill 3rd
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A good look at the tricky 3rd green

At just 346 yards, the 4th hole is the shortest par 4 at Taconic, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, this is one of the toughest and most unique holes on the course beginning with a scary teeshot over an 150 yard forced carry with water down the entire left side. The preferred drive here is a 230 yard draw to find the fairway and stay short of the right bunkers at 245 yards. This fairway ends with a small creek about 50 yards short of a severely elevated back-to-front sloped green with bunkers on either side and a serious false front. I was long here in two and literally couldn’t keep it on the green on my chip.

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The idyllic par 4 4th looks so much better than it did 10 years ago covered in trees
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The uphill approach at 4 from just short of the creek

The 5th hole is the first par 3 at Taconic at 157 yards. Playing slightly downhill, this is a nice hole with a pedestal back-to-front reverse redan green surrounded by five deep bunkers.

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The par 3 5th provides no bailout for a poorly struck iron

The par 4 6th hole runs straight into the side of a hill and plays much longer than its official yardage of 356 yards. A dogleg left, this fairway skirts around bunkers down the left at 220 yards with thick trees lining the right the entire way. This approach continues uphill to a large, severely undulating, back-to-front sloped green guarded by bunkers on either side.

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The uphill 6th plays similar to Yale’s 6th
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The approach at 6

The 368 yard 7th hole is another strong medium-length par 4 that plays longer uphill. Like all the par fours on the front side, this dogleg right requires you to shape your teeshot. Ideally, you should be short of a giant crossbunker in the middle of the fairway at 255 yards unless you can really fade it around the right trees. This approach plays uphill to another undulating green with multiple plateaus and bunkers on either side.

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The dogleg right par 4 7th
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The approach at 7

The par 4 8th hole is another dogleg right but plays more like two separate holes because the dogleg doesn’t occur until 280 yards. A straight drive is required to find a wide fairway lined by tall trees down the right and interesting mounds of rough left. At 270 yards, there’s a bunker down the right at the corner of the dogleg. This approach plays relatively level to a long, narrow green lined by a skinny bunker right and a cavernous one left.

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The par 4 8th
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The approach at 8 with the Berkshires in the background

I truly enjoyed almost all the holes at Taconic but the 9th is a real standout. At 167 yards, this stunning par 3 plays severely downhill to a circular green lined by three bunkers. Choosing the correct club with the downhill gradient and hard-to-read wind is tricky here. I particularly enjoy the old-fashioned bridge behind the green that reminds you you’re playing a true classic.

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The excellent par 3 9th is Taconic’s signature hole

Whereas mindless length is rarely rewarded on the strategic front nine, it plays a larger role on the back nine that plays a full 500 yards longer! The 498 yard par 5 10th is certainly a hole where you’ll be able to rip driver without fear. This downhill three-shotter is completely blind and relatively unimpressive from the teebox, but features a wide fairway lined by tall trees. Longer hitters should be able to get a lot of roll with a speed slot, making this hole reachable for many. This approach runs back uphill with a crossbunker down the right 120 yards short of the green and another in the middle of the fairway about 40 yards short. The major defense is an extremely challenging large green with two plateaus and a severe back-to-front tilt.

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The blind downhill 10th teeshot
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The 10th approach

The 11th is another driver-friendly hole as the longest par 4 on the course at 449 yards. Playing downhill from the teebox, there’s little danger here besides a crossbunker on the left at 270 yards. This approach plays level to an expansive back-to-front sloped green lined by bunkers on either side. The right greenside bunker is shared with the 8th and was added by Hanse.

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The long par 4 11th
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The 11th and 8th pins in tandem separated by a devastating bunker

One of my favorite holes at Taconic is the 363 yard par 4 12th. Seemingly out of Pete Dye’s or Seth Raynor’s playbook with its sharply angled teeshot over a ravine, this is an extremely unique hole and one you won’t soon forget. Tall trees and a crossbunker begin down the right at 250 yards and force the golfer to be left or short of these. The longer the golfer decides to go left, the longer the carry over the ravine, culminating with a giant tree at the end at 200 yards. This approach plays uphill to a Redan green lined by bunkers on either side.

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The strategic and beautiful par 4 12th
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The approach at 12

The 377 yard 13th hole is another fine par 4 running downhill to a wide fairway lined by OB left and tall trees right the entire way. The entire hole slopes left-to-right, including the elevated green which rises out of the ground surrounded by two deep bunkers short and two more well below the putting surface on the right.

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The par 4 13th
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A look at the impressive scale of bunkering on the 13th

At 152 yards, the par 3 14th is the shortest hole at Taconic and another fantastic offering. From a teebox plaque commemorating Jack Nicklaus’s hole-in-one, this hole runs slightly downhill to a narrow back-to-front sloped green sitting on a pedestal surrounded by six bunkers short, left, and right.

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The gorgeous one-shot 14th
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The 14th teebox provides an incredibly scenic view of Taconic and its surroundings

The closing four holes are arguably the most difficult stretch on the course beginning with the 426 yard par 4 15th. Running downhill from an elevated teebox, this is another beautiful driver-friendly hole with a wide fairway and a crossbunker down the right at 275 yards. Several crossbunkers litter the fairway as you near this back-to-front sloped green lined by multiple bunkers on either side.

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The downhill par 4 15th

The long, difficult 430 yard 16th hole is deserving of its number 1 handicap. Although the fairway is wide and teeshot inviting, this green appears miles away from you as you stand like an ant on the teebox. This green plays at least one club extra uphill and is one of the most severe on the course, running hard back-to-front. Bunkers line either side of the fairway on the upslope and again on either side of the green.

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The uphill par 4 16th

The long holes continue with the monstrous 221 yard par 3 17th. Apparently the oldest hole at Taconic and the only one surviving from the original design, this one-shotter plays over a valley of rough towards an extremely challenging green that tilts hard back right-to-front left. A bailout area exists short right, while a bunker guards the left.

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The long par 3 17th

The 510 yard closing hole is the longest of a rather vanilla set of par fives. This is an interesting hole featuring a forced carry over a water hazard to a straightaway fairway that plays slowly uphill the entire way. OB runs down the tight left side, while sporadic trees line the right. The clubhouse and its patio are just behind this very challenging, two-tiered, back-to-front sloped green protected by bunkers on either side.

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The par 5 18th
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The final approach – apologies for the late afternoon shadows

General Comments: Taconic’s practice facilities include a short game area and large practice green adjacent to the 1st tee and a net to hit balls into behind the clubhouse. The clubhouse itself is small and unassuming, but features a well-stocked pro-shop and simple patio for post-round festivities. Pace of play was excellent on a summer weekend afternoon.

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The makeshift driving range hidden in the corner of the property
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I like how the short game area plays and looks like an actually green

Verdict: With an idyllic setting in the Berkshires, a terrific layout, and a challenging set of greens, the semi-private Taconic Golf Club is extremely underrated and is absolutely the finest course the public has access to in New England. Although quite isolated, any fan of golf architecture owes it to themselves to check out this classic gem.


One thought on “Review: Taconic Golf Club

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