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Bull's Bridge Golf Club a Feast for the Eyes & Your Game
I'd heard it said from educated sources that Bull's Bridge Golf Club, tucked into and onto the rolling hills of northwestern Connecticut in Kent among the rambling mansions of the rich and famous that have made Litchfield County their second home, was the best golf course between New York City and Boston.
The Opening Hole at Bull's Bridge
I have to agree with that assessment. I mean, I haven't played all the golf courses between the "Big Apple" and "The Hub," but I've played quite a few and consider Bull's Bridge to be the most visually stunning and well-routed layout I've had the pleasure of getting to experience up close and personal.
Bull's Bridge, which has a tad over 200 members for whom the club is a second, third, fourth and - well, you get the idea - club, is kept in immaculate condition, no small task for the superintendent and his crew because of the dramatic slopes of many holes and the fact that the course winds through what amounts to a nature preserve.
The course is challenging enough that the best players in the state tackle it every year and walk away shaking their heads. But when attacked from the shorter tees, Bull's Bridge is approachable and fair, although even when going down one or two markers you need to avoid hazards off the tee and on approaches to its undulating greens.
The genius behind the 6,992-yard, par-71 venue, which opened in 2003, is none other than Tom Fazio, who simply did a masterful job routing the layout over the hilly terrain he had to work with. Word has it that Fazio's son attended South Kent School - located a few well-hit drivers from the course, and that the architect was inclined to give something back to the community and school.
There's no doubt Bull's Bridge also went through some rather difficult financial times, with the finishing of the course delayed because of money problems and the original developer having to sell the facility to its members a few years back. There was even some concern that if this transfer of ownership hadn't happened, Bull's Bridge may have gone the way of the land surrounding it - natural and wild. Luckily, the members rallied to preserve this special golf course and the club is now on secure footing.
Because Bull's Bridge has a modest number of members, who for the most part play on weekends after traveling here from New York City, New Jersey or Fairfield County in southwest Connecticut, the course hosts only several thousand rounds a season. The club, run by director of golf and club manager Paul Ramee - who spent time as an assistant at storied Oakmont Country Club, allows play by several school golf teams and hosts a few tournaments a year. The University of Hartford's men's golf team recently held a tourney that drew almost a dozen Division I teams.
The 2nd Hole at Bull's Bridge
I've had the good fortune of playing Bull's Bridge several times with fellow writers and friends since it opened and, in each instance, feel like I've walked a golfing paradise, while those I take to the club have smiles on their faces as they see the course unfold before them. Heck, the practice range is a treat enough, with the target area back-dropped by the hills rolling through this scenic corner of the Nutmeg State. I've played Bull's Bridge twice in mid-autumn when the maples and oaks were in full color and the views are postcard-perfect.
The first hole, a par-5 that tumbles downhill, affords players the most spectacular view from any first tee in the region, and the second hole is almost its aesthetic equal. As I mentioned above, navigating Bull's Bridge is like wandering through a nature preserve that just happens to have 18 golf holes tucked into it. By the way, the club has a fairly new caddie program that adds even more distinction. It also features a charming clubhouse, an Adirondack-style building that houses a pro shop, lounge and bar, and dining area.
Eventually, plans are for the construction of a new clubhouse that will sit on a bluff overlooking Litchfield County. Once that comes to fruition, the current clubhouse will be converted into the first of several cottages where members will be able to bring family and guests for overnight stays.
The 5th Green at Bull's Bridge
The course is a challenging routing that offers elevation changes, no more so than on the opening two holes. We always take a minute before teeing off and gaze into the valley below and the hills beyond that reach into Massachusetts. I favor the left side of the fairway on the par-5 first as on the right there's a steep drop-off and bunkers. Big hitters can reach the green - which sits below the fairway - in two, but if you stray to the right you'll wind up in high grass or a pond. I've had playing partners drive the short, 322-yard par-4 second. The tee shot is downhill and it's such a cool sight to watch the ball sail into the air and land on the fairway or green, which are positioned some 60 feet below the tee.
The course continues with solid tests. I like the approach on No. 5, a par-4. The second shot must be struck to a green that sits below the fairway and the putting surface is framed by towering hills in the background. The par-5 sixth is an amazingly long hole. The drive must be threaded between rock outcropping on the left and a declivity to the right. The lay-up is downhill and the third must find an elevated green.
The seventh is a par-3 that plays slightly uphill almost 200 yards from the tips; the eighth is a dogleg-right par-4 that demands a tee shot left of the fairway to avoid a large maple that stands sentry on the right and blocks second shots to the green. I can't tell you how many times I've had my drive appear to be adequate only to have it drift off to the right, slide downhill and settle behind that tree.
The Tee Shot at Bull's Bridge's 12th
The front side ends with a pretty par-4 with gleaming, white-sand bunkers framing a snaking fairway that leads to a perched green. A note here: While there are elevation changes on most holes at Bull's Bridge, Fazio laid out the track so as to leave few side-hill, downhill or uphill lies on approaches, providing you put the ball in the proper place off the tee. I'm not a big fan of "mountain goat golf" with its tilted fairways, and Bull's Bridge could easily have turned into such a course. But Fazio prevented that by moving earth and crafting - for the most part - flat fairways, which allow you to make normal swings at the ball.
The inward half has a number of standouts, including the much-photographed 12th, a par-3 that stretches 200 yards. The tee shot must be struck over a ravine and stone wall to find a green sitting atop a rise. Miss it right and you have a downhill chip. Miss left and it's sayonara.
The next two holes are tamable and short par-4s to give you a false sense of security before the 452-yard 15th. This is the most difficult par-4 I've ever played; it's long with danger galore. The approach, which I usually hit with a fairway wood, is over a small ravine to a green partially hidden from view and dramatically sloped. A par here feels like birdie.
The climb to the 16th tee is monumental and always worth enjoying for the gorgeous view of the 15th from the back of its green to the tee. When the winds are down and there are no planes flying overhead you can literally "hear" nothing at this corner of the course. How many times while playing a round of golf is there absolute silence? Of course, you might have to shush your playing partners and tell them to enjoy the moment of quietude.
Bull's Bridge Practice Area
The 16th is a nice, downhill par-3, and the 17th is a testy par-4, playing 443 yards from the championship markers. The closer provides a solid finish to a round that has a match hanging in the balance. The 495-yard par-5 is reachable in two by longer hitters, but it's filled with hazards such as bunkers, a rock outcropping to the left and wetlands right.
If you're lucky enough to get an invite to play Bull's Bridge Golf Club, don't pass up the chance. It might just be the most enjoyable round of golf you've ever played.
For more information, visit www.bullsbridgegolfclub.com.
John Torsiello is an editor/writer living in Connecticut. He has written extensively about all aspects of the golf industry for a number of national and regional publications. He is a regular contributor to "Golf Course Industry," "Lawn and Landscape," "Golfing" and "Fairway Living" magazines as well as various online publications. He has strong, ongoing relationships with industry professionals and has worked closely with course owners, architects, developers, course superintendents and general managers around the country. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including first place from the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association for a piece that appeared in "Golf Course Industry" magazine.