My holy grail search for golf courses where the tee box arrangements make for competitive matches between golfers of differing abilities goes on. Recently, I played a golf course in Connecticut with a better-golfer-than-I that came as close as most.

Fairview Farm, a family-built course on former farmland in rural Connecticut about 45 minutes from Hartford, made me feel as if I could compete with my friend Pete from tee boxes 470 yards in total difference – without him giving me strokes. The Fairview Farm scorecard – see below – features five sets of tee boxes, pretty much average for most public golf courses. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The longest layout carries a rating and slope for men of 72.6 and 134. At 6,636 yards -- and given how narrow some of the tree-lined fairways are -- that routing is a challenge. The next two longest layouts, the white and gold, play to 6,174 and 5,705, respectively, and with ratings and slopes of 70.2/129 and 68.4/121, respectively. (The slope ratings imply that, for bogey golfers, the shorter routing is eight strokes easier and for better golfers, almost two shots easier.)

Fairview Farm 1 from teeThe opening hole at Fairview Farms is a tight one. The distances on the white and gold tees are 380 yards and 355 yards, respectively. The difference makes it fair for a golfer who can hit a ball, say, 190 yards off the tee, to compete with no strokes given against a player who drives the ball 25 yards farther.
But the major differences between them, as it is between tee boxes on most layouts, are in distances on the par 4s. The par 4s on the white layout are each as much as 70 yards longer than the same par 4s on the gold layout. Most of the differences are in the 10- to 20-yard range. On the par 4 1st hole, for example, a narrow downhill 380 yards from the white tees and 355 from the gold, the difference to me felt like more than the numerical 25 yards. I counted on maybe a 195-yard drive with the downhill roll. That still left me 160 yards downhill to the green; a #5 hybrid club was just enough for me but, without the hill, I would have been forced to play a 7-wood. My partner for the day, Pete, typically drives his ball 220 yards but held back with a 3-wood for accuracy to the narrow fairway. He was only a few yards ahead of me but in the rough on the right. He hit a 6-iron approach. In short, the yardage differences from the tee boxes made us competitive on the hole, although I had to hit the longer club. (I should note that from the back tees at 410 yards, a pro golfer would be chipping from the fringe after a straight drive down the sloped fairway.)

And that was essentially the way it was during the rest of the round. I had a distance advantage over Pete on every hole from the tee boxes, but on most, it was a modest advantage more than made up for by his longer play with every club in the bag. From those tees that were just 10 yards apart – there were five of them – he wound up a good 20 or more yards ahead of me off the tee, which meant about a two-to-three-club advantage given his relative length. (But those holes tended to be short enough that I could hit a 7- or 8-iron.) Only on one hole, #9, did I have a distinct advantage with my total yardage to the green of 285 yards while his was 375. I had only modest advantages on the par 3s except for #10, a bruiser over a gulf at 187 yards for him and 155 for me. Big advantage for me. The par 5s showed modest differences but took three shots for both of us anyway, with the third a short to mid iron for me and a short iron for him.

Fairview Farm 5 from teeThe 5th hole, a severe par 4 dogleg right, is 330 yards from the white tees and just 310 from the gold. The green is beyond the last tree on the right in the photo. A tee shot must be positioned down the left side at least 190 yards off the tee. With a fairway metal off the tee, the shorter hitter has an equal chance of wedge-shot approach as does his longer competitor.

At the end of the round, Pete posted an 81 from his longer tees and I posted an 86. I three-putted three greens and missed at least four putts inside five feet. In other words, if my green work had been up to par, we would have scored about the same. Fairness at Fairview Farm.

Many public golf courses and some privates have created hybrid layouts, combining holes from two different tee boxes into what they deem “fairer” routings. Those golf courses that have softened the distances on some of the par 4s on their hybrid routings have made the layouts easier for those of us who have lost distance off the tee over time. But the hybrid layouts often affect the integrity of the original design. To shorten distances on some holes, hazards – fairway bunkers, water, trees that make the shorter drives a little trickier -- come into play. But tee boxes built into the original design, as they are at Fairview Farm, produce a fairer and more entertaining round of golf for those of us who have lost a bit of juice off the tee boxes.

Fairview Farm Scorecard Layout


A developer who purchased a 500-acre island property in St. Helena Island, SC, keeps re-working his plans to develop a golf community there as local officials keep denying them. At issue is the protection of the centuries old Gullah-Geechee community whose descendants still farm the land and own other businesses there.

A decades-old zoning law on St. Helena Island bans golf carts, resorts and gated communities in an area that the enslaved Gullah-Geechee people, descended from Central and West African societies, settled as farmers and merchants at the end of the Civil War. The law was enacted to protect the Gullah-Geechee from the kind of development that had earlier pushed them out of other coastal areas like Daufuskie Island just to the east of Hilton Head, and Hilton Head itself. An estimated population of one million Gullah peoples live along the Southeast coast, but their populations are diminishing.

Developer Elvio Tropeano moved to St. Helena a few years ago and, earlier this year, purchased the land on St. Helena called Pine Island with the idea of building a golf course and luxury homes. Since then he, and dozens of concerned local citizens, have appeared before meetings of the town’s zoning commission. The arguments from both sides goes like this: Local groups object to the development because chemicals that are sure to be used on the golf course will leech into the local waterways and farmland and destroy the local Gullah people’s farms; and the 160 luxury homes Tropeano intends to build will increase property taxes. Ruining their farms and raising their taxes, the reasoning goes, will drive the Gullah from the area just as it did on Hilton Head and Daufuskie Islands.

Dataw geen and homesThe Dataw Island golf community is just six miles from the controversial zoning issues on St. Helena Island. With its 36 holes and mature population, the community should not see any big development nearby as a threat.

Tropeano counters by asking a rhetorical question at the local meetings: “How do I create recognition and generate resources in a manner that does not displace people?” Fair enough but, publicly, he has responded that if things don’t go his way with the golf course development, he will go ahead and build his 160 luxury homes and add 90 deep-water docks. That’s no way to win friends and influence people. His latest response to concerns about the golf course was to suggest he build three six-hole layouts on different parcels of land. As one of the Gullah supporters said in a local media report, “A golf course is a golf course, no matter how small.” The Battle of St. Helena Island goes on. (Here’s one local article about it.)

Meanwhile, a mere six miles away, the well-established golf community of Dataw Island must be looking on with some interest, if not concern. Dataw, which is home to two excellent golf courses -- one by Tom Fazio, the other by Arthur Hills -- and a beautiful low-country location, was opened in the mid 1980s. Located less than a half hour from the charming southern town of Beaufort (byou-fert) and the same distance from an Atlantic Ocean beach at Hunting Island, Dataw Island splits the difference between quiet, pollution and traffic-free living with access to the kinds of lifestyle embellishments retirees look for in a forever golf home. (I visited and published a full review of the Dataw Island golf community in 2015.)

Currently, local Dataw listings are showing five homes for sale and 15 homesites. The homes are listed from $439K to $875K, and the lots from $23,900 (that one is located on the Fazio golf course). If you want more information about Dataw or a referral to the highly qualified real estate agent I work with there, please contact me.