Bretwood keeps golfers down on the farm

By Tom Bedell, Contributor

Pro Matt Barrett's stock answer when asked which of the two tracks he likes better at the Bretwood Golf Course, is, "Well, I live on the 12th hole of the North Course, but I actually like the South Course better."

Bretwood has become the premier public golf outlet in the southwestern Monadnock Region of New Hampshire, so named for the not-too-distant Mount Monadnock, said to be, at 3,165 feet, the second-most climbed mountain in the world.

Here you will find about as good an argument as can be made for turning the old family dairy farm into a high-yield golf plantation. Barrett's father and uncle were running the dairy farm back in the 1960s when a spontaneous combustion fire put the kibosh on farming. But the disaster proved to be a blessing in disguise. When trying to decide whether to rebuild the farm or take a flyer into golf, the family invited designer Geoffrey Cornish to come have a look at the property.

The dean of New England golf architects (and now the patriarch of the Cornish, Silva & Mungeam Inc. firm located in Massachusetts), Cornish came away enthused, and that virtually clinched the Barrett families' decision.

Cornish designed the original 18 holes, nine of which opened in 1968. The rest debuted by the following July. The Barretts built the course, and the golfers came. So the family began acquiring more property adjacent to the course and expanded to 27 holes 20 years later, with the new holes designed by Hugh Barrett, who had worked with Cornish. Barrett blended the new holes in with the original back nine, to create what is now the North Course.

The South Course was completed in 1995, with a new nine, designed by Hugh Barrett, again blended with the original Cornish front nine. Add lots of tinkering throughout the years, and that's the basic setup: "It's always been a work in progress," said Matt Barrett, "but I think we're set for a bit now. In essence we have two old-style courses that go out and back, since neither ninth hole really finishes by the clubhouse."

The New Hampshire Open camped out at Bretwood in late July annually since 1990, playing on the North Course, though now it's sharing the honors on a semi-annual basis with the North Conway Country Club.

Bretwood's North Course is generally considered the more interesting and challenging of its two routes, at least by various magazine rankings. Golfweek pegs it as the third best public offering in New Hampshire, as does Golf Digest, although the latter's Places to Play book gives it four and a half stars and the top ranking in the Granite State.

One of the attractions is undoubtedly the par-3 13th island green (OK, more accurately a peninsula and isthmus affair), not a long shot even from the back tees (145 yards), but if the ball doesn't land on the green, it's destined to land on (and then spectacularly off) the rocks.

There are other felicities to the course - not even counting the reasonable greens fee - such as the huge double green shared by holes three and 11, and short but tough par-5s at five and seven, which calls for pinpoint placement on every shot. The second hole, if played from the championship tees, is a long shot--a whopping 612 yards.

"Both courses have their pluses and minuses," said Barrett, who was 17 when the course opened and he took up the game. "The North gets more publicity because we tend to use it for most of our tournament play, and it's an easier walking course. But I prefer the South. I think it's a prettier course and, from the championship tees, more difficult."

The South opens with consecutive par-5s, and then sends golfers up a steep hill for an exciting downhill par-3. A series of short but tight holes ensue, and long irons may be the best choice off the tees. The course opens back up before the turn.

After a short par-5 10th, the inward bound nine on the South is particularly demanding. The 536-yard 13th seems like it will never end, and that's just a warm-up for holes that play around bends of the Ashuelot River or wetland ponds.

The 15th feels so naturally fecund that a sign posted before passing through a covered bridge (one of many dented by golfers on the course over the years), warns that one is entering Jurassic Park. And then the downhill 176-yard 16th is both as beautiful and terrifying a par-3 as can be found.

With Matt as the pro, and his cousins Tom (the head superintendent) and Hugh (the resident designer), Bretwood is still decidedly a family affair. Cousin Bonnie manages the snack bar--nothing fancy here, but good juicy franks and a fine house ale, Bretwood Brown, made for the course by the Long Trail Brewing Company in neighboring Vermont.

The chemistry seems to be working, and golf is proving decidedly more lucrative then farming.

For golfers who know that man cannot live by milk alone, Bretwood is good news. With 36 holes on hand, the wait is never that long even when the parking lot is jammed, which is always. However, they've found their way there, the prevailing motto remains: Got golf?

Tom BedellTom Bedell, Contributor

Tom Bedell has written about golf and golf travel for American Airlines' luxury magazine Celebrated Living since 1999, and has contributed to Travel & Leisure Golf, Golf Connoisseur, Virtuoso Life, Lexus Magazine, Acura Style, Tee It Up, American Way, The Met Golfer and many others. He is currently the travel editor at Troon Golf & Travel.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Bretwood golf

    Mark Soucy wrote on: Jul 15, 2011

    I'm from north central Massachusetts, (about a 70 minute drive to Bretwood) I started playing golf in 1974, and at the time only played a couple of courses local to myself. Every once in a while we would take the drive to Keene for a 'special treat' at Bretwood. (only 18 holes at the time). So in the mid-seventies it was my favorite course. Over the years, I began to play with different people and started to play many other courses, until our present roster of about 55 public courses in New England. And I've come to realize that after 37 years Bretwood is still my favorite place to go. With the most beautiful property of any facility I know, a totally relaxed atmosphere, and usually outstanding conditions, (not to mention more than reasonable prices), it's the best golf value in New England. Shhh! Don't tell everyone!


  • bretwood

    todd wheeler wrote on: Apr 30, 2010

    I have been golfing at bretwood for years, and have yet to find a course in the area that comes close to it's atmosphere and the shape of the course. Great job to the crew there.


  • lousy golf

    bob wrote on: Apr 6, 2010

    We had always played there and enjoyed it until last fall. We booked the South course and were not told that the entire course -tees, fairways, and greens had just been aerated. The course was in terrible condition and not worth playing. When we finished a lousy round we realized that the North course had not been aerated and could have been played for the same price. We were the ones "played" Not again


    • RE: lousy golf

      JT wrote on: Jun 29, 2010

      Bob I worked at Bretwood for the last 3 years, you should know that although a lot of stupidity runs it's course through the pro shop staff(with the exception of chuck) that something like aerating a course can't be determined until almost day-of because of weather, employee availability, other necessary maintenance to the course and other variables.
      Having always played at Bretwood, the blame falls on you for not considering the North course. It's not too much to ask, so to go forth with your round on the south course is your own fault. You should probably consider your own ignorance before publicly talking bad about a prominent golf course that aerated its course just like every other golf course in the world does.


  • bretwood golf

    mark soucy wrote on: Mar 27, 2010

    Feel like I shouldn't be telling anybody this


  • bretwood golf

    bill ryan wrote on: Sep 7, 2005

    to all golfers , if you have just one round to play this year, get to bretwood in keene new hampshire. we play there often. from the boston area it is worth the trip. go for the weekend. it is well worth it. there is not a problem getting tee times for either course. if the golf does not bring you back the 19 th hole will. take it from me even if your golf game is bad you will enjoy yourself.


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