Like so many others, Hunter Golf Club is struggling. Play is down at the municipal course in Meriden, Connecticut, so revenue is down.
Even though he’s working with a tiny budget, the golf course superintendent took advantage of the great weather this season and the 18-hole layout is in the best shape it’s been for years.
Hunter would seem like an ideal place for beginners of all age groups to learn the game — competitive prices, wonderful conditions and light play, especially in the afternoons.
But wander off the centerline of the golf course, which was designed by Robert J. Ross and redesigned by Al Zikorus, and you can see how Hunter is unfriendly to beginners and the neophytes, and how tree maintenance, or lack of, can keep or push people away from the game.
There are too many trees on Hunter. You could fell 500 and not a soul would know the difference. Many of the trees are so overgrown they impede play — more so for the duffer, the beginner and the higher handicapper than the crack golfer — making the game a grind instead of a gas.
Let’s take the lovely 400-yard (from the white tees) eighth hole that should be named “Claustrophobia.” A row of tall trees has overtaken the right side of the slight dogleg right. Twenty-five years ago a right-handed player who drew the ball had some room to use that shot. Not anymore. The trees are there to ostensibly protect the houses beyond the course border, but they don’t. The row of trees behind them do. The first line of trees now hang over the fairway and knock down in-play shots on the preferred side of the hole. The left side of the fairway drops off so sharply that golf balls that land in the middle or left kick left off the overly firm landing area, (caused by the roots of two large trees) then roll down the hill into the rough, often coming to rest behind the same two trees.
At least there is rough on the left. Under the dense canopy on the right there is remnants of turf, but little remains. It’s a veritable golf wasteland, with roots rising up out of a hardpan sea like the bodies of frozen serpents. A hideous location for so many who find themselves mired there.
The hole is so ridiculously narrow that the only way to intelligently play it if you’re hoping to score is to lay up off the tee with a 200-yard shot and hope another 200-yarder gets you close to the green. The object isn’t to make par, but to avoid double bogey. Sound like fun?
There are other debacles out there. The trees next to the seventh hang over so far that you can’t put a peg in the ground next to the tee marker. Yup, blocked out by trees on a tee. On a tee! At the eighth hole, a tree near the green so impedes play that from the left center of the fairway that the average golfer can’t hit a short iron over the hardwood behemoth. What are you saying to the golfer who’s trying to play in from the left fairway with a 5-iron in their hand? “Sorry that you don’t have a shot Mrs. 18 Handicapper. You should’ve feathered your 160-yard drive over to the right center, instead.”
I’m not laying blame. I have no idea who is responsible for the ever-encroaching disaster. The maintenance department is understaffed and under equipped. Maybe the collective hands of the city’s golf commission are tied. Maybe they all like trees.
What I do know is that this isn’t how you manage a golf course if you’re hoping to attract new players and sustain, never mind grow, the game. Hunter isn’t the only facility like this. I’m shocked at how many courses remain overgrown.
Hunter is a prime example of a universal problem that must be addressed if there really is going to be a concerted effort to bring in new customers. It used to be a much more player-friendly layout
A couple of friends and I like to look at Google Earth aerials of golf courses and use the timeline feature. It’s amazing how many affordable daily-fee and municipal facilities have become choked by trees in the last 25 years. As the trees expand up and out, the strategy disappears, while at the same time the difficulty increases. It’s a time-lapsed pictorial horror show of courses driving away golfers.