Golf has not gone unscathed in the recession: The National Golf Foundation recently reported that more than 350 courses have been shuttered since 2005. In 2011 alone, more than 150 courses closed, far outpacing the 19 courses that debuted last year. Some industry analysts deem the closings a market correction for the overbuilding they say occurred during the Tiger Woods- and real estate-driven boom of the previous decade.
But a measurable uptick is underway. Bloomberg News reported in April that the number of rounds played nationwide has topped 2010 figures for four consecutive months, and industry bellwethers such as Callaway, Nike, and even Toro (course maintenance equipment) are all registering revenue growth.
Those numbers are almost as heartening as the sight of Brent Dawson, 46, of Upton, playing Shining Rock Golf Club in Northbridge on a Sunday evening with his son, Zachary, 13. As shadows dappled the dramatic layout, Dawson helped the youngster mark his ball properly on the green and read the line of a putt. “This is why I’m out here, for him,” said Dawson.
Like several other courses on this list, Shining Rock has a membership, but there are numerous daily tee times reserved for nonmember play. All courses also have twilight rates, typically discounted by 30 percent or more, after 3 p.m.
SHINING ROCK The Blackstone River Valley is home to some of the region’s best public courses, and Shining Rock added to the luster when it opened in 2010. Golf magazine ranked it No. 4 overall and the “best value” among the 43 courses that debuted nationally that year, thanks to its rugged good looks and its reasonable green fees. Like many courses on our list, it has reduced rates for seniors (60 and older) and juniors (13-16). Shining Rock was designed and constructed by Patrick Sullivan around the native rocky ledges, which are most prominently featured on hole No. 16, a par 5 that can play as long as 637 yards to a green sited next to the course’s namesake 80-foot-tall granite formation. 91 Clubhouse Lane, Northbridge, 508-234-0400, www.shiningrock.com, $65 weekdays, $78 weekends and holidays (includes mandatory $15 cart fee)
Named for the red-tailed hawks that soar overhead, this course has been chosen the No. 1 public-access course in Massachusetts three of the past four years by Golfweek magazine. It sits on land formerly occupied by Fort Devens, a US Army post. “We are on hallowed ground,” said Jim Pavlik, club general manager and golf pro. “Millions of soldiers trained here before Fort Devens was decommissioned in 1996.” Some of the holes have names that evoke its past use, such as Tanks Crossing, Shiloh, and Bunkers (as in ammunition storage bunkers). Designed by Brian Silva and opened in 2000, Red Tail Golf Club hosted the US Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship in 2009, and it was the first course in New England to be designated an Audubon International Signature Sanctuary. “It’s a great piece of property that has great eye appeal,” said Pavlik. “On holes 2 to 6, you could be at Pinehurst [N.C.], holes 8 to 12 are classic New England, and on 15 through 17, you might think you were in Myrtle Beach with the fescue and the waste bunkers.” 15 Bulge Road, Devens, 978-772-3273, www.redtailgolf
.net, $85 weekdays, $99 weekends (includes cart, range balls)
OWL’S NEST Located at the southern tip of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Owl’s Nest Resort & Golf Club is about two hours from Boston. Designed by Mark Mungeam of Cornish, Silva and Mungeam Inc. in 1988, the course can be seen as having three distinct sections: the six holes surrounding the clubhouse are links-style, with perimeter mounding helping to keep stray drives playable. The next six holes meander “through the fields” and around a spring-fed pond. The final six holes are set atop Sunset Hill. “There are great elevation changes on holes 13 through 16, plus exposed rock ledge and miles-long views to the north,” said Jeff Park, assistant pro.
40 Clubhouse Lane, Campton, N.H. 888-695-6378, 603-726-3076, owlsnestresort.com/nh. Through June 29, green fees are $50 weekdays and $60 on weekends, including cart with unlimited golf; starting June 30, $82 daily including cart.
PORTSMOUTH Portsmouth Country Club was founded in 1901, though its current course dates to 1957. The land the original course occupied was taken by eminent domain and became the Pease Air Force Base Golf Course. The club brought in famed architect Robert Trent Jones to design its current layout, which is semiprivate and includes some outstanding secluded holes along Great Bay, including the 472-yard 12th, a par 4 with a green set on a point jutting into the bay. “The wind is always a challenge here,” said Kevin Potts, the clubhouse manager. The club is open for nonmember play seven days a week, and golfers can call three days in advance to reserve a tee time. 80 Country Club Lane, Greenland, N.H., 603-436-9791, www.portsmouthcc.net, $80-$85 through Sept. 30, cart not included
JAY PEAK RESORT The course here, designed by Graham Cooke and opened in 2006, is not a typical mountain layout. “It’s not constant up and down, turning holes,” said golf pro David Jankowski. “You can see everything in front of you. The sixth through 13th holes meander uphill into what we call the West Bowl, and the 14th through 18th come back down to the clubhouse. Those holes have beautiful views over the valley and the White Mountains.” The course has been named top public course in Vermont the past two years by Golfweek. Watch the website for upcoming stay-and-play options available with resort lodging, with the 176-room Hotel Jay having opened in December. 830 Jay Peak Road, Jay, Vt., 802-988-4653, jaypeakre
sort.com, $65 weekdays, $85 weekends, not including cart
RICHTER PARK This Connecticut course has been a staple on “best of” lists for decades since it opened in 1972 on the former site of a farm donated to the city of Danbury by Stanley Richter. Water can come into play on 14 of the 18 holes, three of which even feature quicksand (holes 15-17, though signs provide ample warning). “It’s a tree-lined course that’s very pleasing to the eye,” said Brian Gehan, the golf pro. “One key stretch is from No. 12 through 14. The 12th is an uphill, dogleg-right par 5 with a green that sits on a peninsula. No. 13 is an uphill par 3, and No. 14 is a par 4 that features amazing views from the highest point on the course.” Danbury residents pay reduced green fees, and non-residents also get a break this year, with rates having been trimmed by $20 across the board. Four sets of tees make it a comfortable course for all; in fact, Richter Park Golf Course was named one of the top 50 courses nationally for women by Golf Digest in 2011.
100 Aunt Hack Road, Danbury, Conn., 203-792-2550, www
.richterpark.com, $69 Mon-Thu, $79 Fri-Sun and holidays, cart included
BANGOR MUNICIPAL In 1978 Bangor Municipal Golf Course hosted the US Amateur Public Links Championship, making it the only course in Maine to have held a USGA championship. The course, which is ranked among Golf Digest’s best public courses, has hosted players who have gone on to become some of the game’s best. “We also play the Greater Bangor Open here,” said Rob Jarvis, the club’s assistant pro. “Both Keegan Bradley and Sean O’Hair played in that event shortly before they went on to be named PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. Jeff Sluman, Lanny Wadkins [like Bradley, both are PGA champions], and Fred Couples also played here, Couples in the 1978 Amateur Public Links.” Jarvis calls Bangor one of New England’s busiest courses, with some 37,000 rounds played annually in a typically short Maine season. “The greens are very large, and can be deceiving with some very tricky breaks,” he said. 278 Webster Ave., Bangor, 207-941-0232, bangorgc.com, $32 every day, cart not included
KILLINGTON This 6,186-yard Geoffrey Cornish design, with Roaring Brook running through eight holes, provides one of the best values in New England for 2012. It is offering an unlimited golf pass for $249, with unlimited use of cart for $149 through the close of the season in October. A limited number of the passes are available, and the price increases on June 15. The course sits at a 2,000-foot elevation, with striking views of the Green Mountains and the Killington ski resort. Killington Golf Course is also offering a two-round special with nearby Green Mountain National Golf Course: For $79 including cart, you can play both courses. The offer ends June 15, but once purchased, you have until the end of the season to play. “With the mild winter that we had, our greens are in the best shape in years,” said assistant pro Drew Ludvigsen. 227 East Mountain Road, Killington, Vt., 802-422-6700, killington.com/summer/golf_course, $50 weekdays, $60 weekends and holidays, not including cart
ATLANTIC This course is often overlooked among its upscale neighbors, Pinehills and Waverly Oaks. In fact, New England Journal of Golf has called Atlantic Country Club the most underappreciated course in Massachusetts. “I guess we are sort of a hidden gem,” said golf pro Don Daley. “But we have a very good layout that’s in great condition, and the course is user-friendly; it’s not really penal.” Atlantic has four sets of tees, and it can provide a good test as well. “The better player would look to score on the first six holes,” said Daley. “The course gives you a chance to warm up and get into the round. The middle six holes are the toughest stretch.” That group is highlighted by the most demanding, No. 8, an uphill par 4 that plays 448 yards from the back tee. 450 Little Sandy Pond Road, Plymouth, 508-759-6644, atlanticcountry
club.com, $48 weekdays, $58 Fri-Sun and holidays, not including cart
POUND RIDGE Pound Ridge Golf Club opened in 2008 as one of the few Pete Dye-designed courses in the region, and in its June issue, Golf magazine calls it the “most US Open-worthy public course in the US.’’ It is a characteristic design by Dye, once nicknamed the “Marquis de Sod,” who is famed for TPC Sawgrass and the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, which will host this year’s PGA Championship. Though it is officially in New York, a few holes (Nos. 5-7) straddle the Connecticut border. It features wetlands, rock outcroppings, and boulders, including “Pete’s Rock,” a massive boulder that sits in the middle of the fairway on the par-5 13th hole. “Bring a lot of golf balls,” Dye advised players at the course’s grand opening, though with five sets of tees, it can be manageable and even — dare we say — fun. The course is owned by Ken Wang, brother of designer Vera Wang, and lots of other luminaries from the sports and design fields play there. A stay-and-play package offered by the Stamford (Conn.) Marriott Hotel & Spa starts at $214 on weekends and includes free rental clubs and shoes. 18 High Ridge Road, Pound Ridge, N.Y., 914-764-5771, www.pound
ridgegolf.com, $160 Mon-Thu, $195 Fri-Sun and holidays,
includes cart and range balls