My goal this year was to play all of Golf Week’s Top 5 courses you can play in my home state of Connecticut. This post isn’t really a discussion of whether or not I think they should be rated in the Top 5, but rather a comparison and my own ranking of different characteristics for these courses. Honestly, this is probably useless to anyone not in CT or the surrounding states, but I thought it would be cathartic, a good time killer, and hopefully helpful to anyone in the area or visiting that wants to play.
The most current list has the following rankings with Lake of Isles (North), Wintonbury Hills, Fox Hopyard, Great River, and Oxford Greens as the top 5 in that order. All five courses have been on the list in different positions for the last few years (I think Shennecossett snuck on one year). Below are the course characteristics I find important, my own ranking for each, thoughts, and a final summation with my favorite.
(Wintonbury Hills, Oxford Greens, Fox Hopyard, Great River, Lake of Isles):
This ranking is strictly based on price and availability of deals through various websites. I really don’t like to pay full price for these places if possible, as if anyone would. Oxford, Wintonbury, and Great River are all on ezlinks, and offer discounted rates for specific tee times every day. Typically, you are saving 25% or more. We just played Great River for $84 last week, instead of their normal rate of $120 on weekdays, and $150 on weekends. The only drawback is that the times are usually less desirable, early afternoon, and you need to prepay. However, they are fully refundable up until 24 hours prior to your tee time. Fox Hopyard has good deals on Golf Now. I was able to play for $75 instead of the normal $110. For Lake of Isles, you really need to take advantage of the off peak season deals and get on their email list. I didn’t get to go in April, but they offered a deal on a round for $120, but you could play the next day for free. $60 per round at that course is a steal. I plan on playing Lake of Isles again on Nov 1 as the rates drop down to under $100.
2) Club House & Surrounding Area
(Lake of Isles, Great River, Fox Hopyard, Oxford Greens, Wintonbury Hills)
This is your real first impression of the course. Although it has no bearing on what you will find out there, many times it’s a good indication of what’s in store. The top spot was a hard decision for me here. Great River has so much going for it, that is unless you’ve walked down behind the clubhouse out to the lower deck at Lake of Isles overlooking the lake. Neither Lake of Isles nor Great River spared any expense in these properties. Lake of Isles seems more organic and rugged whereas Great River has the look and feel of a Trump property, even throwing in an old fashioned tee time clock for good measure. Fox Hopyard comes in at third, not really for the clubhouse which I find ordinary, but rather the restaurant on top of the hill overlooking the 18th. It’s an impressive looking building. Oxford Greens and Wintonbury round out the bottom two, both very adequate clubhouses and pro shops, but certainly not quite on the level of the top courses.
3) Practice Facility
(Fox Hopyard, Lake of Isles, Great River, Oxford Greens, Wintonbury Hills)
I’m not one to do much practicing before a round, but do appreciate a good facility and know what I would look for. I judged the courses on driving range surface, cost, greens, and any additional features. Overall, I rated Fox Hopyard the best as I feel like they have the most comprehensive offering with an extra large putting green, nearby bunker and chipping area, large grass range, and inclusive range balls. Lake of Isles is a close second, with very similar amenities, although I can’t remember a bunker. Great River has the best short game practice area, and does provide inclusive range balls, but you are hitting off of mats on the range, which for me takes it down a notch. Oxford and Wintonbury take the lowest spots as the range is not included. Wintonbury is by far the bottom of this category as you need to drive a car to their range which is about half mile up the street.
(Lake of Isles, Great River, Fox Hopyard, Wintonbury Hills, Oxford Greens)
This is a difficult category, because I am really working with such a small sample set, playing these courses only a couple times each. The clear winner here is Lake of Isles. What separates Lake of Isles is that although they are a top golf course, they are directly tied to the casino across the street, which is an organization that thrives on customer service. They need to treat everyone like a high roller, so you get unmatched treatment. You have the top golf course quality without any country club air, as gamblers come in all shapes and sizes. A nice amenity at Lake of Isles is the ice filled coolers attached on the carts with complimentary water. Great River came in second, mainly from an interaction I had in the clubhouse. I had a very friendly staff member check me in, and even with my ezlinks discount treated me great. She asked if I had played there before, and when I told her no, gave me a complimentary yardage book. Fox Hopyard and Wintonbury were close behind. Oxford was on the bottom here due to an issue I had with an accommodation request my first time out. I won’t go into details, but sometimes it’s not the “no”, but how you say it. I completely understand not being able to accommodate my situation, but the worker was not particularly nice about it. The second time I went, the person I dealt with was very nice and even let us out ahead of our tee time. The mixed bag was really the only reason they are on the bottome here.
(Lake of Isles, Wintonbury Hills, Great River, Oxford Greens, Fox Hopyard)
In terms of condition, I had to be really nitpicky to separate these courses. All of these courses are maintained very well. I tried really hard not to let other factors start to weigh in on this category. It’s easy to let the appeal of some of the holes, or my love of the layout, overshadow the facts that condition is condition. Lake of Isles again is the leader here. The fairways and greens are in great condition. Coming in at a close second, I find that Wintonbury is the next most consistent with little burnout or blemishes throughout most of the course. They really restrict where you go with their GPS carts and I think that preserves some of the areas that get damaged by cart traffic. Great River is in the middle of the pack and overall was on par with Wintonbury. I think Oxford and Fox Hopyard may have been damaged by the heavy lingering snow cover this past winter as they had some noticeable issues in certain fairways and around greens especially in low lying areas. Again, these were nitpicks, and Oxford and Fox Hopyard still absolutely kill most other courses, but when you are comparing the best, you need to be critical.
(Great River, Lake of Isles, Wintonbury Hills, Fox Hopyard, Oxford Greens)
The top spot for me here was an easy choice. I have limited exposure on Great River’s greens but these were by far the best condition I have seen this year. The coloring, roll, speed, and quality were all perfect. On the day I played, they were probably a touch slower than typical, but I was very impressed. After Great River, the other four were all very close. All the greens are kept short for a firm feel and fast roll, which I prefer. They were graded based on slight differences in condition, with not much difference between Lake of Isles and Oxford. I just found Fox Hopyard and Oxford to be slightly more beat up than Lake of Isles and Wintonbury, but really negligible.
(Fox Hopyard, Lake of Isles, Oxford Greens, Great River, Wintonbury Hills)
I find this category very important. Although based on rankings, Fox Hopyard does not look like it will come out on top for me, I think if it didn’t suffer from some slight condition issues, it would be by far my favorite course. I think one trend in these top courses is that they are cut out of the woods or natural area in a way where one hole rarely interferes with another, and that is definitely the case with the first three courses. Fox Hopyard for me is on top because not only is it cut out of the woods, but also offers a great variety of hole types. As a shorter hitter, courses with some position golf holes mixed in suit me better, as I have the opportunity to hit my scoring clubs into the green. The finishing hole is really the best of the five courses as well. Although the 18th at Lake of Isles comes close, the par 5 finishing hole at Fox Hopyard feels like a real tour finishing hole with a pond running the length of the right side nestled up against the green. Lake of Isles and Oxford Greens are a close second and third here. There’s something special about the natural separation of holes combined with the silence of electric carts. Great River comes in at fourth as you definitely are packed in more tightly with the other golfers. Wintonbury rounds out the bottom here, mainly because the first four holes on both sides are pretty much carbon copies of each other. You start out with a straightaway par 4, uphill par 4, short downhill par 3, and an uphill par 5 on each side. I’ve actually had trouble remembering a shot on a particular hole because they are so similar.
(Lake of Isles, Fox Hopyard, Great River, Oxford Greens, Wintonbury Hills)
Lake of Isles takes the cake, especially in the fall. There are numerous water holes cut around the main lake area. The 17th and 18th in particular are difficult carries over the pond, but the views are spectacular. Some of my favorite moments on the course are actually driving the carts through the winding and undulating wooden bridges cut through the forest. The holes are spaced out in such a way that you really appreciate the scenery on your drives between holes. Fox Hopyard comes in close second and has a very similar feel to Lake of Isles. I think the thing that separates the two courses for me is the natural feeling of the water at Lake of Isles versus a more manmade pond feel on the 7th, 8th, 17th, and 18th at Fox Hopyard. Great River is a mixed bag to me. As I said earlier, this course reminds me most of a Trump property, which has its pros and cons. Sikorsky, a helicopter company is nearby, so you have a fair amount of air traffic. There is also a commuter train line that travels right along the edge of the property. On the 11th hole, they have a manmade water feature adjacent to the tracks, which is like trying to cover a shag carpet with an area rug. I think Oxford Greens has some very attractive holes. I enjoy the 2nd and 3rd and 14th and 15th in particular. The negative here is that the club is built in conjunction with a housing development. I like developments, but for some reason, the portion on the right side of the 12th reminds me of something that would be blown up in a nuclear bomb test. I think it has been the lack of people out and about around the homes. It’s an eerie feeling. I have Wintonbury last here because of the large power lines running through the center of the course. They don’t come into play at all, but distract from the natural surroundings.
9) Pace of Play
(Lake of Isles, Fox Hopyard, Great River, Oxford Greens, Wintonbury Hills)
I’ve had good luck in terms of pace of play at most of the courses. A lot of this has to do with where and when I’m playing. These top places have a couple things going for them. First, the price keeps a lot of people away. It’s not a busy muni track as the demand is just not there. Second, I find that a couple of these courses spread out there tee times to allow for a more natural flow. All of these were really close. I ranked Lake of Isles first as there is 10 minutes between every tee time. I’ve never felt rushed but have always finished quickly. Fox Hopyard and Great River came in just behind. Oxford comes in 4th as my round last Sunday slowed down on the back 9. Wintonbury rounds out the bottom as I’ve had a 5 hour round. For some reason, I’ve run into a log jam on the 12th tee twice. I don’t know if it’s the combination of short par 3 and then par 5, with folks not being able to judge when they can/should tee off on the par 5. I’m not sure what the proper flow is for a course in terms of hole types and pace of play, but something is not working. Wintonbury does have one thing going for it. Their cart GPS tracks your time, letting you know how many minutes you are behind pace, which is good for the oblivious.
10) Food Cart & The Turn
(Wintonbury Hills, Great River, Fox Hopyard, Lake of Isles, Oxford Greens)
The food situation on the course is a funny. With my mid and late morning tee times, I’m often looking for some lunch time item quickly during the round. I’m always concerned with pace of play, so speed is of the essence, and I don’t want to affect the play too much. In terms of drink cart frequency, I think if I see them 3-4 times per round, it’s a good thing. All courses in the top 5 have cart girls with similar frequency, so that really didn’t factor in. The hotness of the girl also did not. I find that the nicer the course, the more clothing on the cart girl, so that can be a con for these places. Wintonbury is top for me here, because the GPS enabled carts prompt you to place an order for food on the turn that will be ready for you when you finish 9. I think this is the way to go for any course. If it’s not on a GPS, have a direct line phone on a tee box, or even a sign with a phone number. This is the most efficient way to stuff your face and keep pace of play moving. Great River and Fox Hopyard come in a close second and third as they have a quick snack bar easily accessible at the turn. I believe you can stop for something at Lake of Isles, but am never sure where to go as it seems like it too far out of the way. They do have nice sandwiches on the drink cart though. I have Oxford at the bottom as they make it a point to tell you no stopping at the turn. The beverage cart has food items, but I’m not sure if there is anything but snack foods.
Overall, here are the rankings out of possible 225 points, lowest being the best. Value, condition, greens, layout, and scenery were weighed twice as much as the other categories....drum roll please...
Lake of Isles (31 pts)
Great River (42 pts) tiebreaker was condition
Fox Hopyard (42 pts)
Wintonbury Hills (52 pts)
Oxford Greens (58 pts)
Honestly, I think this is a case of you get what you pay for. Lake of Isles has a lot more going for it as their pockets are deeper than just the course revenue. Overall, it is an awesome experience. Would I rather play there once peak season versus three times at Wintonbury Hills? I don’t think so. However, I really enjoy getting to all these courses as least a couple times. If you look for the right deals, you’d be surprised what kind of courses you can get out on for relatively low costs.
Please post your thoughts on any of these courses and any courses you think deserve to be on Golf Week’s list.