BALTIC, Conn. -- Less than an hour from Providence, R.I., Mohegan Sun Golf Club at Pautipaug stands on its own as a serious golf course, much more than just an amenity for the casino's high rollers.
Just 20 minutes from Mohegan Sun's big-time entertainment facilities, the golf course (formerly Pautipaug Country Club) was purchased by the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority in 2007. In 2010 the Tribe brought in course designer Robert McNeil to upgrade the 50-year-old Geoffrey S. Cornish design that had already had some tee and bunker upgrades completed by Stephen Kay in 2002.
To bring it up to PGA standards, McNeil reconfigured six holes, renovated the greens and fairways replacing the turf with bentgrass, added bunkers, mounding, ponds, native grasses and irrigation and added 125 yards to its length bringing it up to 6,790 yards from the tips. The clubhouse too received a facelift.
When the course reopened in 2012, those who had played it before generally agreed that the greens were much more undulating, the course was in much better shape, roughs thicker, bunkers larger and hairier.
This is a course you should play more than once as there are some tricky decisions to be made off the tee and beyond.
It would help to know on hole no. 4 there is a hidden pond behind the green. It kind of shows in the course guide, but you don't have a sense of how quickly your ball can disappear off the steep back side of the green down to the the water.
Then on no. 6, a dogleg right par 5, first-timers tend to play more left as they see the bunker complex looming at the right elbow of the turn. Still low handicap, heavy-hitting players will want to go more right and even carry the bunkers to open up a chance to go for the green on their second shot. Or not. For even when you get to the green, the multi-tiered putting surface running uphill is another test, not to mention the steep drop to a pond on the left and brook running in front. This hole has put everything including the kitchen sink into the challenge.
There are other strategic decisions to be made as you play. Do you lay up or go for it. It helps to have a good grasp on how far you hit your clubs as fairways like the second and 15th are pinched midway while the seventh hole presents a split fairway with a huge bunker in the center.
With several doglegs, there are corners to be cut, water to be avoided, and your approach shots to the greens demand precision. Insider knowledge helps.
One of the more interesting new holes, the 12th, a dogleg right over a pond presents bunker trouble if you miscalculate. while the behemoth buried under the green causes putts to roll back to front.
Finally on the last hole, flags herald safe passage to the green part of a fairway squeezed on both sides by wetlands.
Local wisdom suggests you stay below the hole as most putting surfaces go uphill; play from the tee that best fits your game (with four tees you have choices); and leave your ego at home. Running out of balls? Take a quick look in the rough on no. 16, a par 3 with some formidable shaggy stuff on the left.
We found it rather clever that the halfway house was located at the confluence of the eighth, 14th, 16th and 17th holes. And although some of the greens seemed severe, Mohegan Sun has to be one of the best public golf courses in Connecticut. Home course for the University of Connecticut, Mohegan Sun has a strong junior program. It also has about 130 members, many who have carried over their memberships from the days when the club was private.
Be sure to order a breakfast sandwich. It's just about the best one we've ever had.
Amenities at Mohegan Sun
Mohegan Sun boasts three casinos, a 34-floor tower hotel and several dining, shopping and entertainment venues.