It was almost unthinkable. Early in 2006, chatter was rampant that there would be no place for Hartford on the 2007 PGA Tour schedule. Impossible! Could it be? How could the Tour just dump one of the oldest, best-attended tournaments on Tour? Well, business is business. Look what NASCAR did to Rockingham.
Fortunately, the denizens of this central Connecticut city caught a break. The folks who run the 84 Lumber Classic decided to pull the plug on their 2007 event, leaving a hole in the schedule. The Tour, perhaps sheepishly, asked once-jilted Hartford if she wanted to dance in 2007 after all. A new title sponsor, St. Paul Travelers, will replace Buick for next year’s event. The tournament will be called the St. Paul Travelers Championship and will be played June 18-24, 2007. No one ever really likes these purely corporate names for golf tournaments (give me the Sammy Davis Jr. Great Hartford Open anytime), but at least it’s an appropriate sponsor for an event known for its first 15 years as the Insurance City Open. Honestly, I don’t care what it’s called. I’m just happy Hartford is going to be around for awhile.
The list of players who have won professional events in Hartford is long and illustrious, ranging from Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Jack Burke, Jr. to Lanny Wadkins, Nick Price, Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson. Brad Faxon, who posted a final-round 61, won last year’s event and electrified galleries not only with his score, but because he is a native of nearby Rhode Island. Tiger Woods has never played at Hartford. Why Woods hasn’t attempted to add his name to the victory roster is a mystery, especially given that one of his biggest financial supporters, Buick, has sponsored the event since 2004. It would be nice to see him put his skills on display for the Tour’s biggest crowds-such as those at Hartford.
While you can’t play Wethersfield or the TPC at River Highlands unless you know a member, here’s a fistful of superb area public courses to sample.
Wintonbury Hills, Bloomfield
It took seven years of bureaucratic negotiating, but the northern suburb of Bloomfield finally got to celebrate its new municipal course in 2003. Designed by Pete Dye and his one-time protege, Tim Liddy (with help from architecture writer Bradley S. Klein), Wintonbury sports open and forested holes alongside the Tunxis Reservoir, plus 125 bunkers, 90 acres of protected wetlands and firm fast greens.
Gillette Ridge, Bloomfield
Critics harped that this 7,200-yard Arnold Palmer design opened too early when it debuted in 2004, but these days, it’s recovered nicely. Crisscrossed with lakes and streams and built on the CIGNA compound, the course calls for accurate driving through well-wooded terrain and equally precise approaches to boldly bunkered greens. Trivia buffs will note that the course was named for Frances Gillette, a 19th-century firebrand politician and businessman.
Rockledge, West Hartford
A vintage old-school design from the 1940s, with small greens and fairways that meld to the property’s natural slopes, this 6,436-yarder was a private club in the days when Julius Boros was an apt pupil to mentor Tommy Armour. This parkland layout is easily walkable and dotted with ponds and streams. Perhaps the most memorable hole is the 422-yard, par-4 11th that doglegs to the right, but many come just to sample the Lobster corn chowder and steamed clams at Angelo’s, overlooking the 18th green and the Farmington River Valley.
Fox Hopyard, East Haddam
30 miles southeast of Hartford, within shouting distance of the Connecticut River and Devil’s Hopyard State Park is this Roger Rulewich layout that is full of temptation-and lost balls. It’s a gorgeous, but difficult track, thanks to narrow fairways lined with hardwoods, and multiple forced carries over water, wetlands and massive bunkers.
Lyman Orchards, Middlefield
Two distinct courses, a 1969 Robert Trent Jones Sr. offering and a 1994 Gary Player track demand different skill sets. The Player course is extremely scenic, with holes winding through apple orchards, but is narrow, hilly and difficult to walk, with a handful of blind shots. The Jones is more open, with more water, making it a mixed bag for folks fighting a slice or hook.
Blue Fox Run, Avon
The Farmington River divides the home course of LPGA teaching pro Suzy Whaley, who teed it up with the men in 2003 at the Greater Hartford Open. This layout sits 10 miles west of Hartford and is 6,800 yards of pure fun, unless your irons fail you at the newly redesigned 167-yard, par-3 17th, which plays to a near-island green.
|Joe Passov is the Architecture and Course Ratings Editor of GOLF MAGAZINE. E-mail him your questions and thoughts at [email protected]|