Great bones: Manchester long on pedigree, short on pretension and distance


Manchester Country Club presents options on many tees.  At the par 4 13th, you can take your drive over the trees (risk) for the possibility of a lob wedge to the green (reward).  Or aim down the right with a five wood and you will still have less than 125 yards in.   


    Manchester CC, just outside Hartford, CT, has a high-class pedigree but aims at the average Joe, charging reasonable green fees and offering a membership program that, for the three-day-a-week player, cuts the pro-rated green fees even further.  It is a nice alternative to higher priced private clubs, some of which would love to boast a layout originally designed by Devereauxmancccupola.jpg Emmet (Hartford GC, Congressional, Garden City) and reworked by the renowned A. W. Tillinghast (Winged Foot, Baltusrol, Ridgewood).  Besides a discreet nod to the two famous golf architects on the front of its unfussy scorecard, the very public Manchester puts its emphases in the two best possible places -- service and the golf course.  So organized are the folks at Manchester that, as we arrived yesterday, the starter informed us they were running a little ahead of time on the first tee.  I have never been greeted that way at a public or private golf course.
    Manchester is a delightful course, in fine condition and short enough from the tips at 6,300 yards that I was able to play a competitive round against my son, Tim, yesterday (his stroke index is nine better than mine).  The course plays to a rating of just 70.6 and slope of 128.  The longest par 4s, both at 410 yards, are also the #1 and #2 handicap holes.  Blind tee shots, of which there are a good number, are not of the tricky variety, and a newcomer can play straight over the hills without fear of going into woods or other hazards (as long as the tee ball is straight).  The course presents plenty of birdie opportunities for disciplined players, no matter their length off the tee.  Some holes take driver out of the long hitter's arsenal.  Right off the bat, on the first hole, a 324-yard par 4 that slopes right to left toward a lake, a long iron is the right play.  My 3-iron hybrid left me with less than a 100-yard approach into the green.
    With one exception, the par 5s are reachable in two shots for most players.  (Oddly, the two par 5s on the front nine run consecutively, as do the two on the back.)  The first three par 3s are all short (under 155 yards)mancc15approach.jpg but the last one, the 18th hole, is a splendid one-shotter, one of the toughest holes if you don't hit the ball straight to the severely two tiered green.  If the pin is on the smaller back tier and you miss the green right or left short or long, you must pitch toward the cup along the steep ridge.  If the pin is at bottom, as it was yesterday, you can use the hill between the tiers as a backstop from the tee, but if you are pin high either right or left of the green, as I was, your chip shot will hit hard against the hill and keep going (as mine did).  If you are long, your chip shot down the hill will put you off the front of the green.  In short, miss the green and you will be reconciled to bogey.
    Manchester uses elevation changes to great advantage, but the only elevated greens that inspire a little sweat from the fairways are those with pins near the front.  The greens held shots, but even mid-irons that were well struck rolled 10 feet beyond their pitch marks.  A few of the short holes at Manchester are excellent birdie opportunities, even with something less than a driver off the tees, but others demand precise placement.  Most memorable for me was #13, a 343-yard par 4 with encroaching trees on the left that dare you to fly over them to the fairway just below the steeply elevated green.  From there, a simple lob wedge to yesterday's front pin position was the best play.  But most players will opt, appropriately, for a five wood or rescue club aimed at a lone tree on the right edge of the fairway.  From there, the approach is about 120 yards, short enough to loft a shot to the green and stop it.  It is a beautiful hole, filled with risk and reward.
    For those of us who don't hit the ball as far as we once did but still want the rush of playing from the tips,mancc9behindgreen.jpg Manchester is the perfect kind of course, challenging yet short enough to offer the promise of breaking 80 if all things go well.  Some might complain about typical slow play at popular public courses, but the round at Manchester took us 4 hours and 20 minutes on a Sunday afternoon, certainly within the realm of acceptable, if not speedy.  The experience reinforced my notion that, for many, membership in a fine public course can be more rewarding, literally, than private club membership (to the tune of around $300 or more saved per month).  The little cupola behind the first tee and overlooking the adjacent reservoir is a very nice touch, worthy of any private course.  
    Although it is 30 minutes from my home, I may just consider making Manchester my club of choice next year.
    Manchester Country Club, 305 Main Street, Manchester, CT.  (860) 646-0103. .  Annual membership:  $2,000 (approximately).  Not much in the way of locker room facilities, but most open their trunks, lace up their golf shoes, and head for the first tee.  Only a few homes are within view of Manchester's fairways, and none are close enough to affect play or distract the golfer.  Housing stock within a few miles of the Manchester course runs the gamut from apartments and condos to single-family homes, neat, well kept and priced low enough to be contenders for a summer home close to a classic golf course.


From 192 yards away, Manchester's 18th green (above) appears benign and approachable, but if your shot does not find the correct tier (below), bogey is almost inevitable.



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