The tee shot on the 15th hole at Butter Brook
Walking a golf course generates a relationship between the golfer and the golf course. Arriving to a tee after climbing a steep hill is rather different than pushing the gas peddle on a cart. The lungs might thud in your chest, making the next shot just a little bit harder. Turning the corner of a dogleg, or dipping down into a fairway only to crest the hill and see your ball resting on the green after a blind shot makes the round more enjoyable.
It pays to tune into the land you’re walking. Sometimes, the way a golf course is routed will push you away from the course. You’ll notice little things that don’t make sense. Flat land or uninteresting views or feeling surrounded by housing complexes can expose a bad golf course pretty quickly.
Some of the most enjoyable walks are the ones that give the sense of a hike over vast areas and changing landscapes. Not only are the holes different, but the surrounding land makes us the feel that we are indeed on a five or six mile hike.
These differences can be subtle, discovered after multiple times on the same course, or they can be dramatic, smacking the golfer in the face during the round.
In Massachusetts, one public golf course that never ceases to surprise golfers is Butter Brook. It is not a top-end, high-class golf course, nor is it your average bland public golf course. It’s set back in the Westford woods, you’ll pay your greens fees inside of a double-wide trailer. There is a good driving range and short game area, though, separating it from other daily fee courses.
The first eleven holes at Butter Brook weave through tall pines. Wayward shots will require punch outs or heroics. The land shifts and moves, asking golfers to hit shots uphill and downhill. Water and marshland loom in a couple areas. The front nine has three par 3s, three par 4s, and three par 5s.
An easy complaint about Butter Brook is the walk from 9 green to 10 tee. It’s a monster. It’s probably about a half-mile walk along the edge of the driving range. However, that walk is a bit of preparation that you’ll be playing something a little different on the back nine.
The tenth and eleventh holes mimic the first nine. Stately trees line both holes, it’s hard to imagine that there is anything but pine trees for miles in this part of the property.
Then you walk to the twelfth hole. It’s another long walk, but this time along a boardwalk through the forest and wetlands. On a hot day, it’s a respite
The 7th tee shot at Butter Brook from the sun. It also customary for cart drivers to
ask the walkers if they’d like a ride.
This long walk delivers the golfers to a completely different landscape. From the twelfth tee box, players can see all, or parts of, the next six holes. It’s wide open, and somewhat flat, but has enough roll and pitch to hide bits and pieces and keep things interesting. Waste bunkers offer a touch of Florida golf vibes.
Typically, the wind has a huge impact on these holes, too. The twelfth is a par five that plays into the prevailing wind. But 16, the other par 5, plays in the exact opposite direction. A scoreable hole on the home stretch when the wind is right.
Holes 12, 13, and 14 circle this section of land, almost like you are circling a sink. Then holes 15 and 16 cut right through the middle of the sink before 17 pushes the players back into the woods and toward the clubhouse, the tall pines awaiting your arrival home.
This section of six holes is not unique to Butter Brook’s routing, plenty of golf courses wind and weave through different landscapes and environments. However, Butter Brook’s transition isn’t distracting; it doesn’t feel forced either. Tee shot on the 12th hole
Mark Mungeam designed Butter Brook, one of his associates for many years was Brian Silva. Many of Silva’s courses that I’ve played have land that changes with the round. Renaissance in Haverhill, MA is on some wild land. He built holes there through tall pines, across terraced cliffs, and around what feels like the sand hills of North Carolina.
Kettle Brook, another Silva design, is a course in central Massachusetts that a lot of people like. It’s big and brawy with punchbowl greens and split fairways and blind approaches and forced carries. Like Butter Brook, it also has six holes that sit on what feels like a completely different piece of land. The 12h hole is a par three that sits right next to the clubhouse. A newbie to the course might assume it is the 18th hole. After playing the challenging par three, the players walk about a quarter-mile to the 13th tee. However, instead of a lovely walk through woods and over marshland, it’s through a parking lot and along the main road that leads to the clubhouse.
The 13th hole is a wonderful short par 4, with a barn on the left, similar to Butter Brook’s 13th which plays over a barn-like farm structure.
The push and pull of a course’s routing can add, or deter, from either the whole experience or little moments along the way during the round. Kettle Brook’s odd walk through the parking lot is memorable. Does it deter from the entire round? A lttle bit. A collection of those experiences can make a course less enjoyable. Roads have never been something that ruin a golf course, just look at Shinnecock or Oakmont. Worcester Country Club is dissected by train tracks.
It’s up to the architect to try and make those transitions seamless, yet noticeable enough that they might draw a reaction during the round, in the clubhouse, and on the drive home afterward. Butter Brook's routing is engaging and interesting and if you're in the metrowest area of Massachusetts, go give it a visit.