Bretwood keeps golfers down on the farm
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 17th 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?
The highest rate at Bretwood is $38 to walk 18 on weekends--unless you count the $48 all day weekend rate. Bretwood is a good walking course, but the all-day fanatic may want to see how many holes can be crammed in by springing for the $70 all-day cart fee.
August 23, 2005