In my humble estimation, Bull’s Bridge Golf Club, tucked into and onto the rolling hills of northwestern Connecticut in Kent, may be the best golf course between New York City and Boston. I consider Bull’s Bridge to be the most visually stunning and well-routed layout I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know up close and personal.
Bull’s Bridge, which has a tad over 200 members, for whom the club is a second, third, fourth and, well, you get the idea, club, is maintained in immaculate condition, no small task for the superintendent and his crew because of the dramatic slope on many of the holes (i.e. runoff from rainwater) and the fact that the course winds trough what amounts to a nature preserve. The course is challenging enough for the best players in the state to tackle every year and walk away shaking their heads. But attacked from the shorter tees, Bulls Bridge is approachable and fair, although even down one or two markers you need to golf your ball on a number of holes to avoid hazards both off the tee and on approaches to the undulating greens.
The genius behind the 6,992-yard, par-71 Bull’s Bridge, which opened in 2003, is none other than Tom Fazio, who simply did a masterful job routing a course over the hilly terrain he had to work with. Word has it that Fazio’s son attended South Kent School, located a few well-hit drivers from the course, and that the architect was inclined to give something back to the community and school. There is no doubt that Bull’s Bridge also went through some rather difficult financial times, with the finishing of the course delayed because of money problems and the original developer having to sell the facility to its members a few years back. There was even some concern that if this transfer of power and control hadn’t happened, Bull’s Bridge may have gone the way of the land surrounding it, natural and wild. Luckily for the golfing world the members rallied to preserve this special golf course and the club is now on secure financial footing.
Because Bull’s Bridge has a modest number of members, who for the most part play on the weekends after traveling up from New York City, New Jersey or Fairfield County in southwest Connecticut, the course hosts only several thousand rounds of play a season. The club ably watched over by Director of Golf/Club Manager Paul Ramee, who spent some time as an assistant at storied Oakmont Country Club. I’ve played at Bulls Bridge twice when the maples and oaks were in full color in mid-autumn and the view was picture postcard perfect.
The first hole, a par-five that tumbles downhill, affords players the most spectacular view from any first tee in the region, and the second hole is of almost equal aesthetic value. As I mentioned above, playing the course is like wandering through a nature preserve that just happens to have 18 golf holes tucked into it. By the way, the club has a fairly new caddie program that adds even more distinction to the facility. Bull’s Bridge features a charming clubhouse, with the Adirondack-style building housing a pro shop, a lounge and bar, and dining area.
The course is a challenging routing that has elevation changes, no more so than on the first and second holes. We always take a minute before we tee off and gaze down into the valley below and the hills beyond that reach into Massachusetts. I favor the left side of the fairway on the par-five as there is a steep drop off on the right and bunkers there. Big hitters can reach the green, which sits below the fairway in two, but if you stray to the right you’ll wind up in high grass or a pond. I’ve had playing partners drive the short, 322-yard par-four. The tee shot is downhill and it’s such a cool sight to watch the golf ball sail into the air and land on the fairway or green that sit some 60 feet below the tee box.
The course continues with several solid holes. I like the approach shot on number six, a par-four. The second shot must be struck to a green that sits below the fairway with the putting surface framed by towering hills in the background. The par-five sixth is an amazing long hole. The tee shot must be threaded between rock outcropping on the left and a drop off to the right. The layup is downhill and the third shot to an elevated green.
The seventh is a par-three that plays slightly uphill almost 200 yards from the tips, the eighth is a dogleg right par-four that demands that you place your tee shot to the left side of the fairway to avoid a large maple that stand sentry on the right and blocks the second shot to the green. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had my drive appear to be adequate only to have it drift off to the right, slide downhill and settle behind that tree.
The front side ends with a pretty par-four that has fairway bunkers (with gleaming white sand) framing a snaking fairway that leads to an elevated green. A note here: While there are elevation changes on most holes at Bull’s Bridge, Fazio laid out the track so as to leave few sidehill, downhill or uphill lies on approach shots, providing you put the ball where he asks you to put it off the tee. I’m not a big fan of “mountain golf” with its sloping fairways and Bull’s Bridge could easily have turned into such a track. But Fazio prevented that by moving earth and making the fairways, for the most part, flat, which allows you to make normal swings at the ball.
The back side has a number of standout holes, including the much photographed 12th, a par-three that plays around 200 yards from the back. The tee shot must be struck over a ravine and stone wall to find a green perched atop a rise. Miss it right and you have a downhill chip. Miss it left and it’s sayonara.
The next two holes are very tamable, short par-fours and give you a false sense of security before you walk onto the tee box of the 452-yard 15th hole. It’s the most difficult par-four I’ve ever played; long with danger all around. The approach shot, which I usually hit with a fairway wood, is over a small ravine to a green that is partially hidden from view and dramatically sloped. A par here feels like birdie. I’ve made a few.
The climb to the 16th hole tee box is monumental and it’s always worth turning as you proceed up for a view of the 15th hole from the back of the green to the tee box. Gorgeous. When the wind is down and there are no planes flying overhead you can quite literally hear….nothing….at this corner of the course. How many times while playing a round of golf can you have absolute silence? Of course, you have to shush your playing partners and tell them to enjoy the moment of quietude.
The 16th is a real nice, downhill par-three, and the 17th is a good par-four, playing 443 yards from the championship markers. The final hole is a sound way to finish a round that has a match hanging in the balance, a 495-yard par-five that is reachable for the longest hitters but one filled with hazards, such as bunkers, a rock outcropping to the left and wetlands to the right.