The Kittansett Club
Massachusetts, United States of America

One of the game’s finest strolls is found at The Kittansett Club where there’s an ease of walking a heathland course void of hilliness, replete with the benefits of a coastal setting.

The Kittansett Club was selected to host the Walker Cup in 1953, which is just one indication of how long it has been highly regarded. Indeed, many consider its stature second to only The Country Club within the golf rich state of Massachusetts. However, when the author first played the course in the fall of 1986, such recognition seemed more attributable to its romantic location than holes of character/interesting features. True, the celebrated one shot third lived up to its pictures but the others were more pleasant than inspiring. That impression has now greatly changed, thanks to a twenty year, meticulous restoration project that The Kittansett Club has carried out with architect Gil Hanse.

The transformation began in 1998 and is distilled into three vital areas: tree clearing, recapturing unique features and green reclamation. Prudent tree removal has seen the club re-establish its seaside connection that black and white photographs showed it once enjoyed. Large pockets of the property, especially the southern third where the peninsula narrows, were allowed to breathe as trees were removed near holes four, sixteen, seventeen and two. In the mid-1990s the sixteenth was buffeted by a wall of trees down the left that also formed a solid backdrop behind the green. Now, Buzzards Bay is in full view from the sixteenth tee and the southern point is again open and seaside in nature. The hole’s playing merits have become starkly evident and only a fool would fail to recognize it for what it is: one of the best holes in New England.

The 16th in the spring 2019: hard to imagine that it was entirely framed by trees 20 years ago.

Vegetation clearing has also enabled views of Buzzards Bay from holes five, six, eleven, fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen whereas none were had there in the 1990s. Put another way, the golfer sees the sea from 1/3 more holes (!) than he did two decades ago. The significance of such work is far more than enhanced visuals. Wind is more prevalent across all eighteen holes and the turf throughout has benefited from increased air flow and sun. When the holes were forested, the fairways were soft and the golfer was robbed of playing the kind of low running shots that this 1922 design encourages. After new drainage and trees removal, options are again available to the golfer. In the members’ eyes, this has been the most dramatic improvement but like so many clubs, tree removal was the most contentious issue and the slowest to be embraced.

Distinctive design features have been recaptured, including many of Fred Hood’s novel grassed-over rock formations and cross hazards. Previously, several of the formations had been shrouded by trees. According to Hanse, ‘We removed hundreds of trees from the various mounds around the course. These were rock and debris piles from construction that Hood used as features to line many of the holes and as diagonal hazards on others. For the most part they had been swallowed up by the tree lines over the years. We cut back the trees and restored native grasses to the mounds for what is perhaps the most unique feature at Kittansett. When we got there you could barely see the mounds.’ 

The dogleg right 6th now features various playing angles from the tee. By taking the tree line well back from these mounds and restoring the fairway beyond, the strong golfer gains an advantage by carrying them from the tee. In the 1990s, every golfer was forced to play left.

Hood’s bunkering had lost its original size and rugged appearance, so Hanse and Jim Wagner, working side by side with Green Keeper Lennie Blodgett and his crew, re-constructed every bunker to its original shape and size. Fine fescue sod was largely used for the bunker faces but wherever possible they kept patches of native grass, moss, and even rocks to add some instant maturity. Three bunkers that had been lost were restored: one on the left side of first fairway in combination with the cross rough, another in the middle of the second fairway, and one to the rear of the fourteenth green. Not surprisingly, two of those three bunkers had been in the direct line of play. Hanse’s restored ninth greenside bunker, once again, extends back some forty yards toward the golfer. In 1998, the bunker was only greenside. From small pits where the golfer isn’t guaranteed a full swing like at fourteen to large cross hazards like at seven, variety is back on the menu at Kittansett.

Another hallmark is the number of fairways that are either interrupted by broken ground or sand (e.g. the first, second, ninth, seventeenth, and eighteenth) or cross hazards that sweep in from one side or the other (e.g. the sixth, seventh, tenth, twelfth, fifteenth, and sixteenth).  80% of the non-one shot holes are so configured. Such well-placed hazards (we ignore the definition change of 2018 to ‘penalty area’ and continue to use the time-honored term ‘hazard’) makes Kittansett a placement course. In this day when modern courses feature 60+ yard fairways, it is a delight to find a course like Kittansett, that readily identifies sloppy tactics and rewards proper golf. Simply put, the golfer needs to find fairways to hit the intermediate sized greens.

The reclamation of the green pads was the final piece of course’s metamorphosis to a thinking man’s course. Numerous square feet have been recovered and appealing interior contours revealed like the back of the fifteenth green.  Some of the course’s most vexing hole locations were returned (back right on eight, back left on fourteen). Some like the knob sixteenth green saw the putting surface moved to the very edges of the green pad where soft shoulders actually make the green a smaller target!

Who deserves credit for all the neat design features that Hanse uncovered? It should be shared. While William Flynn routed and designed the holes on paper, Fred Hood (who owned the property and hired Flynn) was on site and drove the construction process. He fine-tuned the course for an additional twenty years until his death in 1942. Many of the world’s great courses have evolved over several decades (e.g. National Golf Club of America, Oakmont, and Pinehurst No. 2).  So it is with the wonderfully distinctive Kittansett, as we see below.

Holes to Note

Second hole, 445 yards; Length is not the primary issue as the second generally plays downwind. Rather, can the golfer successfully judge how far short of the small, 4,000 square foot green to land his approach? It is a timeless question that the golfer never tires of trying to solve and to do so, he must fit it between two front greenside bunkers. His chances are greatly improved if he first hits the fairway.

Kittansett enjoys one-off features including the rough covered three foot knob to the right of the middle golfer. It is one of a variety of center line obstacles that must be avoided.

A common occurrence at Kittansett: the golfer needs to carry broken ground with his approach. Additionally, note the lack of framing around the green, which is located but a few paces from Buzzards Bay. Steely nerves are required to chase after back hole locations.

Third hole, 165 yards; Apart from the obvious, what the author enjoys about this world famous hole is the random treatment that can befall tee balls. The typical summer wind is left to right across the hole and many a golfer misjudges its effect, especially here early in the round. Hence, the green is frequently missed. One tee ball can land on the beach and gain a perfect lie on a slight upslope where the recovery splash is straightforward and a par the result. Another might land in a heel print on the beach and that player might struggle mightily for a bogey. Such serendipity is as nature would have it and how each man reacts is telling.

Looking from the tee across the bay to the island green surrounded by beach, one senses another defense: the wind.

It doesn’t get any more coastal than a green pad built … on the coast!

The course’s most famous hole uncompromisingly calls for an aerial approach; every other green on the course allows for a run-up and yet this is the hole that leaps to mind when thinking of Kittansett.

Seen from the edge of the green back toward the tee on the point, the golfer can only hope that an errant tee ball finds a good lie on the beach.

Fourth hole, 375 yards;  In a manner similar to to St. Andrews, the first and last holes emanate and return to the clubhouse across a shared field, some 170 yards wide. That was sufficient for Flynn to place two playing corridors but nowhere near wide enough to have considered returning nines. Therefore, Kittansett enjoys a venerable out and back routing. A knock against such a configuration is that the wind punishes one way while the player rides it in the other. If the holes don’t shift directions, then the golfer can too easily establish a bead on the wind and play his shots with growing confidence. To avoid that, Flynn provided holes that either dogleg or bend enough so that the golfer needs to continually make adjustments. Indeed, the fourth kicks off a quartet of such holes and at nearly 75 degrees features the sharpest angle from tee to green. However the wind impacts you on the tee, it is guaranteed to bother your approach shot differently.

This uncovered handsome mound was once treed and now gives way to a typical Kittansett green: open in front, intermediate in size, and dropping off three feet in the rear.

Continued >>>