Let’s first relate the cold hard facts, to contextualize things: Connecticut is a wasteland. I spent four college years there. Pretty much every part of the state exists as a satellite to some larger, more consequential place; it’s the world’s biggest suburb, in other words — and yet there isn’t one cool urban redoubt in all of its 5,567 square miles. For years, you couldn’t buy beer there after 8 p.m. In their relative wisdom, modern Nutmeg lawmakers have since upped that to 10 p.m. (Sunday liquor sale bans were lifted in 2012). But it remains the most culturally vanilla corner of New England.
More to the point, the golf on hand in Connecticut is surprisingly poor. Of the six New England states, I’d rank it 5th in terms of overall quality per capita (sorry, New Hamster). There are some perfectly fine private clubs, but honestly, not as many as one might think considering the long coastline and all the money that has consistently sloshed around that part of the state. The public golf is fairly abject by any standard.
However, for much of this Pandemic Spring, Connecticut and Rhode Island have been the only places that have even allowed golf in New England — and Rhody has effectively banned it for out-of-state folks (insisting on a 14-day quarantine beforehand). It seems the most onerous golf restrictions will be lifted across the region come the month of May (or that’s the word here in Maine), so let me praise Connecticut and the golf there while I have the chance.
My daughter passed her thesis in last Friday at midnight. Her college experience is essentially over. As she has spent the last 6 weeks cooped up in her Philadelphia apartment, we reckoned she’d earned some semi-rural time at home. Because Clara required extraction and, because Connecticut is literally unavoidable when driving from Maine to Philly, I resolved to play golf somewhere on the way down.
[Can I just say that I’m not on board with all this hand wringing about how high school and college seniors are missing out on the pomp and circumstance of graduation? It seems misplaced in light of such large-scale public health and economic concerns. I’m particularly put off by online expressions of this treacly sentiment. We can agree that Facebook was created for and has always been sustained by a bottomless human capacity for meaningless, self-referential bullshit. Which has its place. Witness my own wall. But the idea that middle-aged people posting high school portraits of themselves somehow speaking empathically to the graduation void being experienced by their children (who don’t use or give a fuck about FB) is a level of self-reference that is frankly beyond the pale. Fine. Go ahead and share flattering, young-and-fit pictures of yourselves. Go ahead and detail your 10 most meaningful albums. Just don’t think you need the license of Covid-19 confinement to do so — because social media in general and FB in particular have long existed for exactly this sort of piteous self-indulgence. And don’t think our own confinement makes us any more interested. For the record: I’ve checked with my lawyer; these nominations are not legally binding.]
Right. Where were we. My daughter. Golf in Connecticut.
Actually, because I passed through the Nutmeg state twice, I played on the way back, as well. Each round was delightful.
Monday morning I rolled up to Keney Park Golf Course just north of Hartford in Windsor, right off Interstate-91. The original Devereaux Emmet design there was renovated some 7 years ago, to pretty outstanding effect. I picked up a game with 3 other middle-aged guys. Aside from the lack of handshakes before and afterward, our round was not affected much at all by the physical distance we maintained.
Playing on the golf team at Wesleyan did get me around the state to dozens of different courses, back in the day, but I’d never played Keney before. The terrain was superb and the place drained really well (it had snowed the day before apparently, but the ball still bounced/rolled in most places). Some have taken issue with the historical accuracy/integrity of architect Michael Dusenberry’s work at Keney Park — and the project cost. But this seems to me a pretty churlish response. If there’s a better muni track in Connecticut, I’d like to know where it is. The greens are super fun, their complexes bold and varied, and they rolled beautifully for mid-April.
There are dozens of ways to “rate” a golf course, but here’s one I like (especially for public courses): What’s the worst hole out here? At Keney, it took some real head-scratching. It’s probably the 1st — a perfectly good if short, downhill par-4 that otherwise serves as a welcoming opener. I certainly appreciated it, having been sent straight from the starter shack to the first tee after 4 hours in the car. Every succeeding hole I found strategically engaging.
The very next day, after kipping in Philadelphia, we loaded up the car and headed north. (It’s quite a feeling to drive over the George Washington Bridge and sail through NYC at lunchtime with such ease.) Soon enough we had arrived in Old Saybrook, just down Route 9 from Middletown. Fenwick Golf Course is a cool place — a summer-community track surrounded by tony shingle-style homes arrayed about a small peninsula of low-lying land buffeted by Long Island Sound. Just 9 holes, it was the perfect place to play with my daughter in tow.
Tuesday was cold and windy on the Connecticut coast but we welcomed the walk and there are some truly scenic vistas on offer at Fenwick. When it came into view, the Sound was roiling. As for the golf itself: meh. There was a pretty epic cape-style par-4 (the 430-yard 4th), where one is obliged to drive it over a salt-water inlet (and Sequassen Avenue). The 2nd is a cute par-3 (the card indicated there was a back tee stretching the hole to 200 yards, but we couldn’t find it). In all, a lovely spot but nothing too-too special. The greens were uniformly small, round and tilted back toward play with very little internal contour. It reminded me of Abenackie, another antique summer-colony 9 south of Portland, Maine (though the terrain there in Biddeford Pool is superior).
But this is to quibble. It was the perfect way to break up our 8-hour drive, during a pandemic. Invigorated, we jumped back in the car, stopped at Popeye’s in New London (spicy chicken sandwich: believe the hype), and headed north.