Hooper Golf Course
|White/Blue M: 68.8/119 W: 74.6/128||456||427||285||155||474||194||311||381||350||3033||6028|
|Red/Yellow M: 61.9/105 W: 71.2/121||447||380||243||123||389||161||302||365||326||2736||5418|
Lives Up Fully to Its Praise
How is it that a golf course can still be challenging when it lacks narrow fairways, lacks multiple doglegs, lack small and/or unreceptive greens with ultra-fast surfaces, and when it contains not a single water hazard? Or when its length is modest, and it features several open, even spacious holes? How would the course’s designer(s) achieve this while still creating the ideal conditions for an exciting experience? This is precisely what the team of Wayne Stiles and John Van Kleek, architects who were practicing their craft some 100 years ago, achieved at their 9-hole Hooper Golf Course in Walpole.) Clearly, these designers were thinking outside the box, long before anyone was mentioning boxes and thinking in the same breath.
What is it, then, that makes Hooper such an unusual and cleverly conceived challenge? Generally, it is that accuracy is valued, but the architects didn't seem to want to put too fine a point on this facet. Thus, the course doles out some fairly harsh penalties: Miss the fairways, which on the whole are generous, and you'll quite often find yourself frequently behind a tree, in the woods or the sand, or with some other predicament. Still, no high premium is placed, except perhaps on two holes, on laser-straight driving, though well-positioned drives will go a long way to generating a lower score. Another attractive feature is that nearly every hole has an opening to its green, giving the player a choice between either a pitched or run-up shot to get at the target. And while most of the greens here are generously large, that is essentially where the charity ends: they are ably defended by numerous bunkers; they are sometimes raised; and they are frequently surrounded by mounds or hillocks.
The Hooper Golf Club Membership Handbook notes that “Tom Doak…ranks Hooper as the second best 9 hole course in America.” (There are an estimated 4,900 nine-hole tracks in these United States.) And who is Tom Doak, you may ask? Doak, one of America’s greatest living architects, himself has the second and seventh-ranked “100 Greatest Public Courses,” according to Golf Digest, in the current-year June issue. These are Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes, respectively, both in Oregon.
Hooper’s par-five opening hole features a broad, offset fairway, curving gently to the left, the hole sloping precipitously downward from the high first tee. The opening drive is bracing, but the hole itself, designed to tempt you to play down the left side for the shortest route home in two, is nonetheless fraught with peril should you hit a hook or pull, letting your ball leak a bit too much left. Moreover, a knobby hillock on the landing area's left side may assist in kicking marginal drives down a steep slope and, possibly, into the deep woods. Similarly penal is your second shot to this reachable green: hit one of the three traps, two of them coffin-shaped (an ominous omen?) on the same left-hand side, or worse still, fly it further left, and you are staring at major obstacles to making par. The green here drops steeply from back to front, and its added side-tilting make three-putting possible outside of twenty feet (stay below the hole, instead). The antithesis of number one, in some respects, number two is a proverbial 'white-knuckle' hole, a tight downhill par four of 427 yards that tested both my patience and ability to hit a very straight fairway wood off the tee, which proved a workable strategy. Here, driver is always an option, but the lengthy downhill flight between trees on both sides will magnify any curve before a ball touches down. Did I mention that the road to the right is OB? Shot number two must be equally precise and thread a pair of greenside bunkers, not an easy task for most golfers (from longer range).
The opening two holes, then, make for an exhilarating start, but the thrills keep on coming: #3 is a teasingly short two-shotter fronted by a massive and steep-faced trap. The fourth further tests your clubbing and shot-making skills, as this 155 yard par-three travels straight uphill to a well-defended green. The two –tiered green itself, part of a beautiful woodland setting and framed by a semi-circle of trees in the back, has three magnetic traps, two of them deep-set and on the green's left flank. When the pin is back, I found the steep slope at mid-green—prefacing the smaller, shelf-like upper level—to be designed to reject high, soft approaches, which are shuttled back down to the bottom level.
After these holes, #5 comes as something of a breather, even though you'll be ascending a hill following your tee shot. And here the course’s character changes: now you're enjoying spacious, open vistas, and the open hilly fairway, broader than the previous two, seems to be hewn from what had been farmland. But number five, like every hole in the stretch, still challenges all the way to the cup, requiring two stout blows to reach its green. This straightforward hole may play tantalizingly out of reach for those who aren’t big hitters, but a solid wedge game may well compensate and net a birdie here, as well.
The word “awesome” is subject to overuse, but it perfectly fits hole #6, a 195 yard three-par played by traversing a swale to a green protected by five sizeable bunkers, four on the right, but the largest on the left. Here, it seems as if Stiles and Van Kleek had a third partner—Mother Nature—with whom they collaborated, for the green aligns almost imperceptibly with the slope of the hill into which it is set, and is pitched severely from back to front, making putts above the hole a bit like outright murder, and, when your putting is not razor-sharp, you’ll be cast in the role of victim. From every aspect—appearance, design, strategy—this is a near-perfect golf hole, stacking up (from my own playing experience) against the likes of the world-famous Redan hole in North Berwick, Scotland, though not mirroring it.
After this hard-act-to-follow that is the sixth, hole #7 seems a bit tame by comparison. Your wedge or short iron into this green had better be good, though: five bunkers surround it. The 381 yard par four eighth is another impressive hole, adding a splash of drama with its semi-blind drive to a fairway that sweeps downward from tee to green. Get a good kick on the hill's far side and you may find yourself with a short iron or wedge, even if you're not Jason Day (who would be trying, no doubt, to drive it), to this classic golf hole, its contoured green framed by mature trees and a pair of gaping bunkers.
The closing ninth ensures a solid and satisfying finish, along with a picturesque uphill walk toward the stately Watkins Tavern, situated next to the clubhouse. Appearing at first glance to be a drive and pitch hole at some 350 yards, this required for me an 8-iron into the breeze to reach the green, a green defended by two formidable right-side bunkers and another on the left. The final green's contours and its considerable size again make the act of two-putting from outside of 25 feet a difficult task.
Serious players, especially those with a sense of golf history, will love to play these nine holes (twice, preferably: I found this to be just as much fun as the traditional practice of playing two discrete nines). But Hooper should also appeal to a wide range of golfers who want a course to try out, a course set in a beautiful, country locale. The holes may lack some of the flash you see in today’s golf course ads—featuring greens and fairways imperiled by water, or bunkers that appear to be the size of your cellar (assuming it is quite large)—but they more than make up for this brand of visual hype by favoring substance, subtlety, and strategic value. Other pluses: I found everyone around the clubhouse extremely polite, helpful, and well-informed, and the town of Hooper appealing. Just before leaving, I gazed again on a message, stated in a mere three words, that appears on a banner tacked to a building adjacent to the clubhouse: "Experience Hooper Magic." From one through nine, it is magic, indeed.
Course is superb. Two great par 5s, two great par 3s, and some good 4s. The course rolls across the land in an excellent way. It looks like they've cut some trees down recently and that has helped the course a good bit. Not a weak hole on the course.
beautiful large greens
Course in great condition. Large greens and great fun.