Quality of play aside, the ingredients for a great round of golf are weather, pace of play and an interesting and challenging layout. Oh, and if you can stop at the world’s best donut shop on the way to the golf course, you are bumping up against perfection.
It doesn’t get any better than my round on Tuesday at The Ranch Golf Club in Southwick, MA.
First, the donut. Mrs. Murphy’s is in an unassuming building in the center of Southwick, less than two miles from The Ranch. It is always crowded with locals huddled at the counters, sipping on excellent coffee and often chomping on a second donut of the morning. Every donut I have had at Mrs. Murphy’s over the last 20 years has nailed the combination of crispy/crunchy on the outside and perfectly cakey on the inside (except for the jelly or cream-filled varieties, which substitute a tasty center, or the glazed donut which has the slightly bouncy sponginess indicative of the genre). On this day, I chose the jelly stick, essentially a long cruller injected with jam; I ate it on the way to the course, even though I was an hour early for my online generated tee time.
The Ranch, which was designed by someone few of us have heard of, Damian Pascuzzo, is set at the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, and its most dramatic holes – the 9th, 16th and 18th – play off a steep mountain down roller coaster fairways toward greens that are well protected by water hazards. The drives from on high are real testosterone restorers, as a well struck ball can bound down the hill as many as 300 yards out. That means on the par 5 9th, for example, you have a shot at the green in two strokes on the 500 yard hole, as long as you can loft your approach shot over the pond that guards the front of the putting surface.
I love short par 4s, and two at The Ranch are a mixed bag. The 2nd hole, at 341 yards from the white tees I played (6,103 yards total) plays much shorter since it is a sharp dogleg right and the trees between tee box and fairway are easily surmounted by a fairway metal. I skied my 3-wood over the trees and had just 75 yards into the green. The 6th hole is another story. It is about the same distance but with bunkers guarding the entire straight line to the green, and a narrow spit of fairway to the right. Options from the tee are either drive over the bunkers to a narrow neck of fairway or play short on the right, leaving a tricky approach to an elevated and narrow green.
I have seen the community of nicely landscaped homes beside a few holes on the course grow incrementally over the two decades I have played the course. I noted three new homes were in various states of construction as I made my way around the course. It is anecdotal, but this could be an indication that the local housing market is pretty strong. Massachusetts is a high tax state, and Southwick is a bit off the beaten path, although the medium-sized city of Springfield is a half hour commute away. Lots for sale in the community run about $100,000, with the few homes I have seen listed for sale anywhere from $500,000 to $900,000. There are no condos or townhouses on the property.
The temperature at game time for my round was 54, and it gradually warmed up to the mid 60s as I came down the last fairway. Sunshine was abundant and the leaves on the surrounding trees and the distant mountains were probably at peak, vivid in their oranges and reds mixed in with the green of those trees that either hadn’t turned color yet or never will, like the sugar maple. (We have a few of those in New England.) My tee time was set for 9:48 a.m. but I arrived just before 9 and the pro shop attendant told me I could play whenever I wanted and that I would probably catch the foursome in front of me in six or seven holes. (I did, but they graciously invited me to play through.)
I don’t get all spooled up about slow play as long as my own pace is consistent. Don’t get me wrong; if I have to wait three to five minutes on every shot, I am as angry as the next guy. But less than a minute or two is well within bounds; it takes a minute to choose a club, assess my options and swing the club a time or two. On this day, though, I did not wait at all except for when I caught the two foursomes that waived me through. Any rushed shots – there were a few – were of my own doing. When I checked my phone just after putting out on the last hole, it read 12:05, under three hours from when I had started. I felt a bit of schadenfreude as I looked at the groups heading for the first tee; they were about to take at least an hour longer than I had.
The compelling features of my round at the Ranch on this day were the greens, which are large and typically challenging. But because nights are cool at the foot of the Berkshires, greens superintendents feel comfortable cutting the grass a little tighter than in the heat of the summer. It took me half the round to stop hitting 12-foot putts four or five feet past the cup. The greens were the fastest I had played all year, but they putted true and left me with no excuses for my multiple three putts.
Located less than a half hour from Bradley International Airport and, combined with a few other outstanding courses in the Hartford/Springfield area, The Ranch could form part of a terrific homemade golf trail. Combine rounds at Keney Park in Hartford, Wintonbury Hills and Gillette Ridge in Bloomfield with one at The Ranch, and you have yourself a long weekend of splendid fly-in golf. If you live in the Greater Hartford/Springfield areas, you are even luckier.