The Kittansett Club
Massachusetts, United States of America

Seventh hole, 545 yards; An auspicious moment is reached at the seventh as the golfer turns his back to the bay. How much will he regret the inland foray?  If it is ‘considerable,’  then the architect has failed. Happily, for the author, the answer is ‘not at all.’ In fact, the loop from seven to twelve has become a favorite section. It begins here with the monumentally improved seventh, previously claustrophobic with trees pinching in from both sides. Today, its expansive nature and intelligent bunkering pattern make it a highlight of the round and a three shot hole where the second is once again meaningful.

A glorious long hole, one could be forgiven for thinking he is in England.

The second shot on too many Golden Age par 5s is fairly commonplace, with the need merely to advance the ball. That is not true at Kittansett, especially the 7th where the above bunker intrudes into the proceedings 170 yards from the green and …

… farther ahead, a long cross hazard cuts across the left half of the fairway some 100 yards shy of the green.

Eighth hole, 210 yards; Kittansett’s routing enjoys more than a passing resemblance to The Old Course. The first and last holes play across a shared field, there’s a ‘crook’ near the turn and two one shotters (eight and eleven at both venues) that go in opposite directions to navigate a tricky part of the property. At Kittansett, Flynn expertly used the eighth to get the golf into the property’s far corner and eleven to adroitly navigate out. Both holes emphasize Flynn’s philosophy of placing hazards directly on the intended line of play. Over a full playing season, it would be interesting to see how the one shotters play compared to one another. While the third is the most famous, it might well prove to be the ‘easiest’ of the quartet, which is saying something. One of the best hole location that resulted from the green reclamation is found here where Hanse expanded the back right plateau.

The long one shot 8th shows a favorite design ploy of Flynn: a short bunker pulled 30 to 40 yards off the putting surface on holes that are approached from 200+ yards.

Tenth hole, 350 yards; Flynn designed Kittansett in the age of hickories. When he positioned a superb diagonal row of grass-covered rocks in the fairway, he did so at the appropriate distance for the equipment of the time. No surprise to find the farthest and tallest mound must be carried to achieve the optimal angle into the green. However, the far mound was only 190 yards from the back tee, and with today’s equipment, the rock formation had lost its strategic importance. Sliding the tee back farther wasn’t an option so in the fall of 2019, Hanse Design essentially picked up and moved the rock formation an additional 50 yards away from the tee. As the tee ball plays uphill, members will have something new to mull over during the 2020 season; carrying the newly located mounds is no longer a given. No doubt Flynn and Hood would approve of the move as the mounding works in perfect concert with a pair of bunkers along the right to give this short two shotter bite off the tee. Hanse Design did the same at the sixth, pushing that diagonal formation back as well. Combined with their work here at the tenth, it is a sterling example of Kittansett’s design being as relevant and challenging this century as it was last century.

A drive over the mounds and toward the man with the trolley opens up the approach shot nicely.

Eleventh hole, 255 yards; Interestingly, the two greens with the boldest contours are found on one shot holes that exceed 200 yards in length, here and at the eighth. Meanwhile, modern architects tend to reserve their wildest greens for short holes. Talk about a different approach!  At Kittansett, its two most severe greens make their respective holes much more than long slogs as the invariable recovery shot is often both fascinating and delicate.

The view from the 11th tee holds mystery and therefore, appeal.

The cross bunker above is 35 paces shy of the putting surface and …

… a bullet three wood that just carries it sends one’s ball scampering down the slope and onto the open green. Today’s hole location is front left but when it is back right, using the slopes to access such hole locations is richly rewarding.

The kick slope beyond the cross bunker is evident in this view from behind.

Twelfth hole, 440 yards;  If it wasn’t for the third hogging the spotlight, the twelfth would be much better known as it is a master class in playing angles, featuring an impressive fairway bunker that pushes the golfer right, from where he has to carry a cluster of mounds and bunkers. The golfer who stays left is rewarded with a simpler approach and better optics.

Flynn expertly positioned the bunker in the foreground between the tee and green. A quandry is presented as the closer the golfers stays to it, the easier his approach shot. As he shys right, the hole becomes progressively more difficult as the bunker complex farther ahead obscures a view of the green.

The high backsides of the bunkers are evident in this view back down the 12th. In some ways, the bunkers remind the author of those at Walton Heath in that the bunker walls are built up versus the bunker floors being built down.

Thirteenth hole, 390 yards; Since the 2008 financial crisis, restoration work has been a dominant theme in North America as clubs sought to get their biggest asset (i.e. the golf course) in order. Exceptional work has been done coast to coast with scores of courses dramatically improved. Yet, there aren’t too many instances where a hole goes from being in the bottom third pre-restoration to rising into the top third post-restoration. Kittansett potentially has two (!) such holes as the seventh and thirteenth join the sixteenth as most improved in the eyes of the author. Flynn designed the thirteenth as a teaser position hole, bending right past a series of attractive bunkers and mounds. The tiny, narrow green was ringed by sand and was best approached from the inside of the dogleg. In 1985 when the author was first here, the hole lacked merit; it was tree-lined to the point that approach shots from the inside right of the fairway were walled-off, necessitating a rifle straight drive to the outside of the dogleg. Only that one shot would suffice and that is the definition of uninteresting architecture. There was no deliberation as to what club to hit from the tee, where to place the ball in order to best access the long oval green or any worry about wind, which the forest muted. Today, the golfer enjoys multiple angles and club selections from the tee. Hoisting one’s short iron approach is no bargain either as the deforested hole/green is only sixty yards from the bay. Kittansett’s sub-400 yard two shotters (e.g. the fourth, tenth, thirteenth and seventeenth) play an integral role in making Kittansett a delight to play on a frequent basis.

This view from inside the dogleg was once of tall, thin, undistinguished trees. Now the fairway again doglegs around a marvelous bunker and mound complex.

As seen from behind, the miniscule 2,966 square foot 13th green is a vexing target to find, even on a calm day.

Fourteenth hole, 185 yards; Generally, this one shotter plays downwind. When the hole is in the front or right portion of the green, the play is straightforward but if the hole location is back left, the hole calls for an exacting draw. Too long or a little short leaves a pesky pitch from sand or long grass.

The kidney shaped green affords hole locations as hard or as easy as the club desires. The restored back bunker is barely visible above, and is the course’s deepest greenside bunker.

Today’s front middle hole location is more straightforward to approach than a back left one.

Sixteenth hole, 410 yards; A panoramic view of great beauty unfolds from the tee and stands in stark contrast to the wall of evergreens to the left and behind the green that masked the coastal setting when Hanse arrived in 1998. From a design perspective, the real marvel is found over the last seventy yards: a pair of bunkers pinch the fairway from either side and stand sentinel over a Biarritz style swale that swoops down before rising to the small bunkerless green, perched some four feet from its surrounds. This green complex enjoys design characteristics of Macdonald as well as Ross’s infamous turtlebacks at Pinehurst No. 2.

The fairway dips down past the cross bunkers before rising to the putting surface on top of a knob.

The two bunkers well short of the raised green pad muddle one’s depth perception and make hitting the 4,282 square foot green all the more difficult.

The prospect of an up and down from around the 16th green probably constitutes wishful thinking more than reality.

Seventeenth hole, 390 yards; Typically played into the prevailing wind, the seventeenth often times – shockingly – requires a long iron or utility club for the approach. That the approach shot is from an uneven lie to an elevated horizon green does little to assist the golfer in successfully finding the putting surface. As at St. Andrews, the penultimate hole is perhaps the course’s sternest test while the Home hole offers consolation. It’s the author’s favorite kind of pacing for a finish.

As seen from this aerial looking back down the 17th, the fairway is bisected by wetlands some 300 yards off the tee. An approach from the right portion of the fairway is ideal.

Kittansett’s allure as a feature rich design has been re-established as the club’s restoration project nears its final stages. Its appeal stands in marked contrast to many modern designs. At some point this decade, architects started pandering a bit much to the player by offering excessively wide fairways. Lost was the need to play positional golf and hit less than driver on the odd occasion. Additionally, as modern greens expanded to match the course’s scale, a variety of fiddly little recovery shots were replaced by the monotony of long putts. Somewhere in the mix, the pendulum swung too far with one playing style (the bomber) becoming favored over another (the tactician).

Kittansett is different and strikes a better balance between tempting the player to play boldly while still meting out a penalty for rash tactics. Pressure is applied on the tee, as the golfer is keenly aware that a missed fairway diminishes the prospects for hitting the intermediate size green. Errant approaches don’t miraculously find such targets but rather leave a variety of interesting recovery shots. In short, no one playing style is favored at Kittansett. The thinking golfer who positions his ball well off the tee invariably has the option to chase a ball onto the green. As such, Kittansett represents the rare design that is a delight through all stages of life. At the same time, this much is for sure: the golfer who develops the composure and skill to play well here will find that his game travels well anywhere in the world.

Located seaside, the short game area is a welcome addition as the player is likely to miss more greens in regulation at Kittansett than normal. very much thanks Todd Richins for the use of his photographs throughout this profile. 

The End