Golf course review: Fox Hopyard, East Haddam, CT

          You can approach Fox Hopyard Golf Club in a number of ways.  We took the ferry, after the antique GPS system in my car dead-ended us at the Connecticut River.  Lucky for us, the state of Connecticut runs a car-ferry service back and forth between Chester and Hadlyme.  The trip is all of five minutes -- and just $3 each way -- and it is a nice way to relax before a challenging round at Fox Hopyard.  Other drives to the course are more conventional, winding along roads lined with trees and rock outcroppings.  The land immediately around the golf course, including the Devil's Hopyard State Park, seems inhospitable for golf links of any kind, but long ago some farmer, with golf probably the farthest thing from his mind, cleared the land for other purposes, most likely corn growing and a little dairy farming (some great cheeses come out of this part of the state).

Public club, private feel

         Getting to Fox Hopyard is only half the fun.  Although not cheap (we paid green fees of $89 each, cart included), public course golfers will feel treated like members for a day.  Fox Hopyard management has a lot of practice providing a brand of personalized service; the club boasts 200 members, and I could detect not a scintilla of distinction in the way that staff treated members of the public and their club members.  All facilities, including a large practice area and clubhouse with an active and excellent restaurant -- we had a nice lunch and met the new chef -- are open to all, and the food is good enough to attract non-golfers from the surrounding countryside.

         Initiation fees for members are currently on "special" at $5,000 plus an $8,000 bond, returned in full when a member resigns.  This compares quite favorably with fully private golf courses within a half-hour radius that charge many multiples of the $5,000.  We were invited to tour one of the three homes built adjacent to the Fox Hopyard course (see below for more on the surrounding community) whose occupants maintain a winter home in Florida.  Judging from the large size and beautiful layout of the quintessentially New England style home, the couple can afford the big ticket membership at one Fairfield County's private courses.  But they have chosen to make their summer home at Fox Hopyard, which says something about the beauty of the landscape, the dedicated service of the staff and the challenge of the golf course.

         I found the course, which was designed by Roger Rulewich, difficult without being unfair.  The first hole is anfoxhopyardteemarker.jpg appropriate warm-up, a slight dogleg right, downhill from the tee, the rough down the left side being the only trouble if you hit the ball mildly offline (the tees are tilted in that direction so the trees up on the right should not be a factor).  The green complex at #1 portends the rest on the course; that is, slightly elevated and with large, if not too menacing, sand bunkers protecting misshapen greens, some dramatically shaped.  The 4th hole, a par 3, features a green shaped, well, a bit like Mickey Mouse's head (no disrespect intended).   The middle area juts down toward the marsh beneath the green, with two large ears extending left and right from the middle of the green.  This provides the superintendent with various options for pin placements, none of them easy from tees 172 to 202 yards away and about two stories up.  Club selection here is difficult because of the elevation and the need to get your ball to stay on the third of the green with the hole.  Any putt from one area to another, given the sloping, will leave a second putt way beyond tap-in range.

Ace in the hole

         All the par 3s are a treat at Fox Hopyard, the 4th followed by the shorter but no less treacherous 8th, 180 yards from the back tees to clear water and a bunker to reach a two-leveled green that is much wider than it is deep.  For those who want to play it "safe" with a shot to the back of the green, a large, amoebic-looking bunker awaits.  I was ecstatic to wind up pin high right, just off the green, but no one was happier than one of my playing partners for the day, Sandy Marcks, who handles marketing for the club.  From 100 yards out, she hit a perfect pitching wedge that found the first third of the green and trickled into the cup for her first ace.  Trust me, the hole is not that easy.


All ears:  The 4th green may look like Mickey Mouse, but pin positions on the hole are no laughing matter.


         Water is really not that much a factor at Fox Hopyard, its hazardous effects felt most on the par 4 7th and the finishing hole.  The 395-yard 7th, a dogleg left, is the trickiest driving hole on the course, requiring enough club off the tee to clear a "vernal pool" a little less than 200 yards out, but not too much that you reach the hazard beyond, about 240 yards out.  Assuming you make dry land off the tee, the 150-yard or so approach must negotiate deep bunkers left and right of the narrow entrance to the green, as well as the lake that juts in from the left.  The 7th is the #1 handicap hole on the course, entirely justified in my opinion.

         The two par 5s on the front are reachable for big hitters, but Rulewich's design exacts a severe penalty for those who take the risk to earn the reward. At 517 yards from the tips, bangers should have no problems clearing the deep marsh that extends to 200 yards out.  If they position their tee shot down the left side, they will see the green clearly.  Anything down the right will require a fade for the second shot and bring a stream into play if the fade turns into a slice or a scull.  The 5th hole, even shorter at 506 yards from the tips and downhill, will tempt the prospect of an eagle putt, but the stream that crosses the fairway about 50 yards from the green could spell bogey or worse.


The par 3 8th hole is all carry.  Our playing partner, Sandy Marcks, carried her 100 yard tee shot into the hole for her first ace (hers in the ball you can't see).


         Fox Hopyard ends with a par 5 of 551 yards from the tips.  The finisher is all about water after a drive to a wide-open fairway that is interrupted by large bunkers on both sides.  A large pond covers the entire right side from 180 yards out to the edge of the green, and the two large bunkers guarding the other side from 90 yards in make even a "safe" approach shot look slightly more challenging than it is.  Stay dry to about 120 yards from the green, and you will have one of the best opportunities at Fox Hopyard for a birdie putt and a nice finish to an entertaining round.

No foolin' with the Fox

         Given the upscale green fees, conditions at Fox Hopyard should be excellent, and they do not disappoint.  The turf is tight and well clipped on both fairways and greens, the only flaws being of the manmade variety (pitch marks on greens and fairway divots ignored by boorish players.  The large granite tee markers with the foppishly adorned fox add a touch of both class and whimsy to the course. 

         Richard Marcks, who manages all three Fox Group courses (the others are in Massachusetts and Florida),foxhopyardclubhouse.jpg maintained a watchful eye over his domain as we made our way around the course.  A residential architect and turf scientist who also trained in automotive engineering, Marcks runs a tight ship in all areas of club management, both on the course and in the clubhouse, where he proudly introduced me to his new chef.  During our round, a number of drove carts around the course, including head pro Ron Beck, to ensure that players make their way through the 18 holes in less than 4 ½ hours (and, I am sure, to school them in fixing divots if they fail to do so).  As I reported here a few days ago, Mr. Beck, who has been named by Golf Digest as one of the best golf instructors in Connecticut, has escorted ungentlemanly golfers from the course.  The staff at Fox Hopyard does not fool around, and both daily fee golfers and members get their money's worth.

         The Sandri Corporation, which built the three Fox courses, owned the land adjacent to Fox Hopyard until just a couple of weeks ago.  The original intent was to sell each lot to builders, but with only three homes built in the last few years, Marcks and Sandri decided to get out of the residential development business and sold the remaining lots to Uccello Development, a local residential builder.  I met Nick Uccello during my visit, and he explained his intent to build 50 homes on lots ranging from ½ to 1 ½ acres adjacent to the 270 acres of open space and golf course.  The homes will all be Energy Star rated and include geothermal heating and cooling and other "green" features. Ranging in price from the $400s to the $800s (or higher, if the buyer insists),  The Residences at Fox Hopyard will provide views of golf course or woods, and in many cases both.  A new home, for example, is about to go up adjacent to the 13th tee, next door to the aforementioned home we toured.  Golf club membership is included with the purchase of any Uccello home.

         I have one tiny quibble about Fox Hopyard, and that is the stakes at 100, 150 and 200 yards out from the greens.  The stakes are designed to speed play, especially on public golf courses that receive a fair share of traffic, but to my eye they interrupt the sweep of the impressively contoured fairways at Fox Hopyard.  The existing concrete slabs at 100, 150 and 200 are easily visible from most spots in the fairways.  That minor issue aside, Fox Hopyard has certainly put a stake in the ground as one of the premiere publicly accessible golf courses in New England.          


Fox Hopyard Golf Club, East Haddam, Connecticut 


     Black tees: 6,912 yards/74.1 rating/136 slope
Blue: 6,512/72.6/131
White: 6,109/70.7/124
Gold: 5,657/68.5/119
Red (W): 5,111/70.9/127.  Peak rates: $120 (weekend mornings in summer/early fall, including cart), although specials available, including packages with area hotels.  Web:  Phone: 800-943-1903

    Sister courses include Crumpin-Fox in Bernardston, MA; and Fox Hollow in New Port Richey, FL.  All courses designed by Roger Rulewich.

    Homes from $419,000 to $810,000 an up.  For more information on real estate at Fox Hopyard, contact me and I will be happy to put you in touch with Uccello Development.


Fox Hopyard can boast one of the nicest looking pump houses on any golf course.  It provides a nice background at the par 5 18th. 

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