The Kittansett Club
Massachusetts, United States of America

Fifth hole, 445 yards; Here’s a textbook example of a central hazard adding great interest with a large bunker literally splitting the fifth fairway and being located precisely where the golfer wishes to place his drive. Oddly, while The Old Course at St. Andrews has a multitude of such hazards, modern architects have been reticent to employ them. Beginning in the 1960s with man being able to shape the earth in any manner possible, an odd notion took hold that the fairway was meant to be a ‘fair way’ that extended nearly from tee to green and should be free of trouble. This appalling break from the Golden Age and the writings of Tom Simpson and others had hazards placed to the sides and the task merely to drive it straight.  Classically, the central hazard is a quandary, carried in certain winds, layed up to or skirted to the left or right under other conditions. The fifth’s central bunker presents those very appealing/perplexing options. It is another old school feature that emphasizes that one is playing a Golden Age design.

This central bunker was expanded to its original size and forces the golfer to think tactically, as well as execute physically.

Sixth hole, 425 yards; Hood grassed over several piles of rock and debris to produce a unique diagonal hazard on the inside of this dogleg right. Hanse made the feature relevant again by extending the low profile tee backwards to pick up an additional 30 yards. Such a move was not a mindless attempt to add length for length’s sake (like Riviera’s twelfth hole) but brought a specific feature back into play. Indeed, the new tee actually shortens the green-to-tee walk from the prior hole, so this was a shrewd move on two counts. All told, Kittansett measures 6,935 yards in 2019 as compared to 6,545 yards twenty years earlier.

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. No more! 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.

The view down the 7th is so enticing that one could be forgiven for imagining golf in England.

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 of that section. Both holes emphasize Flynn and Hood’s shared philosophy of hazards directly on the intended line of play. Over a full playing season, it would be interesting to see how the one shotters play as a set and compared to one another. While the third is the most famous, it might well prove to be the ‘easiest’ of the quartet.

Tenth hole, 350 yards; Hanse’s new bunker is at the 235 yard mark from the tee and is twenty paces beyond Flynn’s original one. Never ending gains in technology necessitated its addition. Again, the golfer must contend with an impressive grassed over rock formation that pinches the fairway toward this pair of bunkers.

Golfers steer away from the grassy formation only to find themselves in one of the two bunkers on the right.

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. Such an approach is long gone from most modern architecture where ‘fairness’ seems to rule the day. These two severely tiered greens make their respective holes much more than a long slog as the invariable recovery shot is often fascinating.

This thirty yard cross bunker is well short of the putting surface; a bullet three wood that just carries it scampers down the slope and onto the open green. The left of the green is three feet higher than the right and working a ball onto the lower right shelf is one of the day’s most rewarding shots.

Twelfth hole, 440 yards; This master class in playing angles is another standout hole in golf-rich New England. The twelfth features an impressive fairway bunker that pushes the golfer to the right, from where he has to carry another cluster of bunkers. The bold golfer who plays down the left is rewarded with a simpler approach and better optics.

From the new back tee, most golfers shy right of this bunker but that makes the hole progressively more difficult.

Thirteenth hole, 390 yards; The author visited Kittansett in 1986, 2002 and 2019. This hole, along with the seventh and sixteenth, has improved the most. In fact, the author struggles to think of many instances where a hole that was in the bottom third has risen to the top third! Flynn and Hood designed this as a teaser position hole, bending right past a series of attractive bunkers on the inside of a dogleg. The long, narrow green was ringed by sand and was best approached from the inside of the dogleg. In 1986, the hole lacked merit; it was so treelined 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 is no bargain either as the deforested hole/green is only sixty yards from the bay. Sub-400 yard two shotters (e.g. the fourth, tenth, thirteenth and seventeenth) are absolute highlights of the round – and make Kittansett a delightful course to frequent.

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.

Sixteenth hole, 410 yards; A panoramic view of great beauty unfolds from this 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, a 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’ infamous turtlebacks at Pinehurst No. 2.

Seventeenth hole, 390 yards; Typically played into the prevailing wind, the seventeenth 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.

Kittansett’s allure as a feature rich design has become all the more evident as Hanse’s work nears the late stages of completion. Ironically, its appeal has also increased over the past twenty years relative to many modern designs. At some point this century, architects went too far in extending fairway widths. Lost is the need to play positional golf and perhaps hit less than driver. At some new courses, golfers are routinely left with putts well in excess of 100 feet as greens have been expanded to match the scale of the course. This doesn’t occur at Kittansett where errant approaches create a variety of fiddly recovery shots. Finding these small to intermediate size greens is no mean feat, even in still conditions. However, if you have the temperament and skill to find the fairways and greens at Kittansett, your game can travel anywhere in the world.

Seaside, the short game area is a welcome addition since the player is likely to miss more greens in regulation at Kittansett than normal.

The End