Course Name: Great River Golf Club
Designer: Tom Fazio (2001)
Location: Milford, Connecticut
History: A semi-private Tom Fazio design, Great River opened in 2001 and is the home course for Sacred Heart University. It is considered one of the best public courses in Connecticut, earning the following awards:
- #16 Best Course in Connecticut – Top100golfcourses.com (2020)
- #3 Best Public Course in Connecticut – Golfweek (2022)
Conditions: 8/10, Great River is one of the best conditioned public courses in Connecticut, with quick greens, thick rough, and well-maintained fairways and teeboxes.
Value: 3/10, Although one of the best public courses in the state, Great River is overpriced for what you get at $135 to play on weekdays and $155 on weekends.
Tee Par Yardage Rating Slope
Black 72 7090 74.6 146
Blue 72 6707 72.8 142
Combo 72 6496 71.3 137
White 72 6313 70.2 135
Green 72 5525 67.7 123
Red 72 4997 70.5 127
Hole Descriptions: Architect Tom Fazio is well-known in the golfing community for designing glitzy, well-conditioned, and well-designed courses, the majority of which are on the private side. Great River is a somewhat unusual venture for Fazio, as it’s public and one of his few courses in New England. For a public course, Great River does feature strong conditions and views, but the layout is not without its flaws. My major complaint is that the narrow property the course lies on forced Fazio to route 17 of the 18 holes in the North-South direction, greatly hampering the course’s variety and memorability. There are some good holes out here, no doubt, but this is not Fazio’s best effort. In terms of Connecticut golf, Great River is appropriately ranked as one of the top 3-4 public courses, but I certainly prefer Lake of Isles North and would rather pay less to play other courses such as Keney Park or Shennecossett.
Great River opens with a 352 yard slight dogleg right par 4. Although the shortest par 4 on the course, this is an intimidating first teeshot, as water lines the right side the entire way and you need at least 160 yards to reach a fairway lined by two bunkers on either side before 260 yards. An additional bunker lines the right side of a large, subtly undulating green. Good golfers should make par here but there’s a lot of room for danger.
The 2nd hole is Great River’s first par 3 at 185 yards slightly downhill. This hole is somewhat awkwardly obscured by the 1st hole’s mounds down the left and features a narrow green defended by a bunker right and water long right. The waterfall behind this green may work in Las Vegas but feels gimmicky and out-of-place here.
At 498 yards, the 3rd hole is the shortest par 5 at Great River but is arguably its toughest. This teeshot is very intimidating to a narrow fairway that slides left with water lining the right for the first 230 yards and OB left the entire way. This fairway continually narrows and turns left up until about 60 yards short of the green with a creek running across the hole. From here, the golfer must carry their third shot to a very elevated, back-to-front sloped green defended by a bunker right. Given how isolated the green is from the rest of the hole, I don’t know many golfers who can reach in two.
The 4th hole is a difficult, straightaway 384 yard par 4 featuring a narrow fairway lined by fescue and a bunker right at 215 yards. Although not visible from the teebox, water begins on the right at 275 yards and reduces the fairway to almost nothing after this point. A large green featuring multiple plateaus juts out across this water and leaves a very tenuous approach.
The 5th hole runs parallel to 4 and is essentially the same hole with water down the left on the approach instead. At 381 yards, this hole is again straightaway with a fairway bunker at 215 yards down the right and two down the left between 220 and 250 yards. This approach is another challenging one, with a green defended by water left and a trio of bunkers short and right. Featuring two tiers and running back right-to-front left, a back right pin position makes this hole quite difficult.
The 6th hole is a strong 505 yard par 5 running along Great River’s namesake, the Housatonic River. I’m not sure if I would quite call this River “great” but I digress. Requiring an 190 yard carry over water to reach this fairway, this hole is lined by the Housatonic down the left and trees down the right. With about 160 yards remaining, this fairway turns slightly right with a pair of giant bunkers on the inside corner of the dogleg. This multi-plateaued green is slightly elevated and guarded by two bunkers short but can be reached in two by longer hitters.
Playing downhill at 400 yards, the 7th hole is Great River’s longest par 4 and number 1 handicap. There’s a lot going on here, with a decent forced carry to a narrow fairway lined by water right for the first 250 yards and marshland down the left. Those who find the fairway will be left an approach through a tight window to a Redan-like green defended by bunkers short and long. For what it’s worth, I don’t think this is the hardest hole on the course.
There’s not much to the 8th hole, an 177 yard par 3 playing over marshland to a large, back-to-front sloped green. Make a good swing and par should be straightforward here.
My least favorite hole at Great River, the 9th hole is a 361 yard par 4 that begins on the banks of the River. The only hole on the course to not primarily run North or South, this teeshot actually does before turning sharply right around 245 yards. I’m not really sure what Fazio wants the golfer to do off the tee here, but bunkers line the right fairway at 180 and 200 yards while the left is lined by bunkers around 250 yards. Those hoping to cut the corner will need to lay-up short of 250 yards, as a small pond essentially ends the fairway at this point. Golfers will need to carry this pond on their approach to a back-to-front sloped green defended by a short left bunker and right swale.
Interestingly, Great River commences its back 9 with an 174 yard par 3. A nice enough, albeit forgettable hole, this one-shotter runs uphill to a wide green defended by bunkers short and right.
The 11th hole is a 384 yard, straightaway par 4 lined by tall trees down either side and a left bunker at 315 yards. This narrow hole is pretty unremarkable until you reach an awesome green featuring multiple plateaus and a huge false front defended by bunkers on either side.
The 12th hole is one of Great River’s better holes as a 381 yard par 4. Like the previous hole, this teeshot is very straightforward to a wide, tree-lined fairway that runs out at 295 yards. No matter the teeshot, this approach will be intimidating and exhilarating playing uphill over a ravine to an elevated green with Biarritz features and guarded by beautiful bunkering short and right.
At 499 yards, the 13th hole is a short, straightaway par 5 and one that’s readily reachable due to its downhill nature and huge speed slot. This hole is the opposite of most par fives, and is actually narrower at the start, steadily opening up as it progresses. Aggressive golfers will need to be wary of four bunkers just short of this green on either side that are likely common destinations. This green is another very good one, running front-to-back with both sides pushing balls towards the center.
The 14th hole is a solid, 381 yard straightaway par 4 lined by OB right the entire way and fescue and bunkers down the left for much of the landing area. This green is narrow, lined by bunkers on either side, and slopes hard right-to-left.
At 155 yards, the 15th hole is the shortest hole at Great River and also its most memorable. This all-or-nothing dropshot par 3 sits right along the River and requires a carry the entire way to a large back-to-front sloped surface. This is a fun hole and one you’ll want to play over and over.
The 16th hole is one of the more difficult holes at Great River as a 388 yard par 4 running straight uphill with a semi-blind teeshot. Trees line both sides of this narrow fairway, with fescue down the left and a crossbunker down the right at 270 yards as well. This green features a vicious false front and runs right-to-left with two tiers.
At 514 yards, the 17th hole is Great River’s longest hole as a sweeping dogleg left downhill par 5. This is a very interesting hole, as trees and the River crowd the right side of the teebox and make it hard to play a right-to-left shaped shot. For the final 230 yards, this fairway turns left and plays very downhill through a beautiful corridor of trees. This green features a middle slope and is lined by two bunkers right.
Unfortunately, Great River’s closing hole is almost as weak as the 9th as a downhill 377 yard par 4. This hole plays as a slight dogleg left with an initially generous fairway that narrows with a midline bunker and rough at about 250 yards, taking driver out of many golfer’s hands. This approach then runs back uphill towards a back-to-front sloped, two-tier green lined by a bunker right.
General Comments: The amenities at Great River are on the stronger side for a public course, with complimentary practice balls and a nice short game area including a chipping green. The clubhouse and property are upscale and pace of play was about average when I played.
Verdict: The upscale Great River Golf Club offers strong amenities and conditions and is one of Connecticut’s better public options. It is worth a play, but is somewhat limited by a narrow property and routing that features almost all holes running North or South.