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4.9
4 Reviews (4)
5 Stars
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4 Stars
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2 Stars
0
1 Stars
0
Conditions
4.4
Value
5.0
Layout
5.0
Friendliness
4.9
Pace
5.0
Amenities
4.1
100.0%
Recommend this course
4 out of 4 reviews
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5.0
1 Reviews (1)
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1
4 Stars
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1 Stars
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Conditions
4.0
Value
5.0
Layout
5.0
Pace
5.0
Amenities
4.0
StaffFriendliness
5.0
100.0%
Recommend this course
1 out of 1 reviews
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Average Rating
Avg Rating
5.0
1 Reviews (1)
5 Stars
1
4 Stars
0
3 Stars
0
2 Stars
0
1 Stars
0
Conditions
4.0
Value
5.0
Layout
5.0
Pace
5.0
Amenities
4.0
StaffFriendliness
5.0
100.0%
Recommend this course
1 out of 1 reviews
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About

Holes 9
Type Public
Par 36
Length 3033 yards
Slope N/A
Rating N/A

Course Details

Year Built 1927
Fairways Blue Grass
Greens Blue Grass
Golf Season Open: 4/01 Closed: 11/01
Architect Wayne Stiles (1927) John Van Kleek (1927)

Rentals/Services

Carts Yes
Clubs Yes

Practice/Instruction

Driving Range No
Pitching/Chipping Area Yes
Putting Green Yes

Policies

Credit Cards Accepted VISA, MasterCard Welcomed
Metal Spikes Allowed No
Walking Allowed Yes

Food & Beverage

Snacks, Restaurant

Reviews

4.9
4 Reviews (4)
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Overall Rating
Recommended
Handicap
Age
Type of Golfer
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Played On
Reviews 103
Handicap 0-4
Skill Advanced
Plays A few times a week
I Recommend This Course
5.0
Top 100 Contributor
Connecticut Advisor
Previously Played
Perfect weather
Used cart

Golf Distilled to Its Purest Form

When driving into the Hooper Golf Club today, the first thing I couldn’t help but notice was the view of the ninth hole and green. It’s a postcard image of the sort that New England golf at its best may deliver. The green, in close proximity to a yellow manor house and to a towering stand of pines, is pitched and rolling, giving way to a fairway that trundles down a large hill to the inviting terrain below. A stone wall runs behind it, bordering the winding country road. Walk into the unpretentious but pleasant pro shop and lounge at Hooper and you’ll be greeted by someone—I can virtually guarantee it—who is friendly, as the two staffers I met here were today. Before playing, I conversed a bit with Kevin about the course. He summed the layout up beautifully when he said that "Everyone who plays here says they have fun out there.”

And I agreed with Kevin, knowing exactly what he meant. Last year I probably derived more enjoyment out of this golf course than any other of the many I played. Still, my own use of the word ‘fun’ in conjunction with the game of golf always makes it something of a relative term.

The ninth hole, though, is a kind of a microcosm of the entire Hooper golf course: it synthesizes design features that merge the tough with the tempting. On this uphill par-4 of 350 yards, I’m enticed to drive the ball up the left side of the hole, hard against a line of trees and a dirt road (out of bounds): this route yields the ideal angle of approach to the green even though the drive risks a penalty if erring too far left. But it’s far safer, instead, to favor the right side. By doing so we must accept a more conservative and perhaps shorter drive, with two big fairway bunkers urging caution. But from the right we also face a tougher angle to the green. Further, from this angle two large and deep—but more importantly tall-lipped—bunkers are encountered in front the green.

The ninth also tells us a great deal about how the rest of this layout looks and plays. The architects, Wayne Stiles and John Van Kleek, often use trees boldly, and the trees often define your task. Oftentimes they need be respected carefully. Second, Hooper’s most distinctive feature is its striking use of bunkers. These are applied not only as visual threats but also very literal ones. Third, the fairways here tumble and heave over imposing terrain, and the architects—to all appearances—modified little what they found, but rather employed the landscape adroitly. Finally, the mostly open nature of this closing hole is typical of the majority here. Six of these form the upper part of the course, probably converted from rolling (and quite beautiful) farmland. The other, lower three holes of the course, dropping sharply away to the south, take us into the New Hampshire forest.

Strategic Par-3’s:
Despite a course brimming over with excellence and challenge, it remains fun to play. In modern course design, par-3’s often can be point-and-shoot holes—pure target exercises. These two at Hooper are anything but, instead requiring strategy to get close to the hole. At the fourth today, my tee shot succeeded when I flew the ball all the way to the small upper-level, instead of rolling it upward after a landing on the first tier. The latter option turns out to be, counterintuitively, the harder one because you’ll need to fly the ball low and land it with momentum to roll up the steep incline to the upper tier.

The sixth, a bit longer, will allow multiple options for flying the ball into the green—there are no interfering trees nearby. Yet a fade is the better option to curve the ball onto the surface: only one bunker guards the green’s left side; four are lined up on the right. Further, the steep back to front pitch on this green makes distance control critical because it’s incredibly easy to three-putt from above the hole. Of all these nine holes, par may be most elusive at number 6.

Superb Four-Par
Another fantastic hole is the 2nd, a par-4 in the fullest sense of that word, running straight downhill 427 yards to a green flanked by two deep bunkers. The road to the right is OB, threatening the pushed or sliced tee shot. From the high tee, the tumbling fairway looks slippery and narrow, but it’s fairly generous in dimensions.

Most Memorable Hole:
Hooper's opening par-5 hole makes a dramatic impression—broad, its vista is, with a wide, sweeping fairway accepting a well-played downhill tee shot, while also promoting a deep drop-off leftward which should be, at all costs, avoided. Miss left and your deepest fears will be realized. And further down the left side is a tall, prominent tree and a trio of bunkers, but none look welcoming, although they may save an errant second shot from the deep woods. The hole's undulating nature is further typified by a steeply pitched—back to front—green, its contours sloping off in all directions but the front, where the approach still can be run on without fear. A large, somewhat hostile bunker crowds the right side of the putting surface. I missed to the right here twice and found that pitching over this trap onto the green demanded, when short-sided, the utmost skill. The hole is toughened further as a par-4 when these nine are played twice (the second time slightly revised by tee positions). As unrelenting as the first may seem, it's still a pleasure to play, as well as a good birdie chance.

Most Cleverly Designed:
The third is a short but steeply uphill par-4 playing only 285 yards. We both drove to a scant few yards from the front bunkers. But consider it a successful hole only after your lofty pitch lands onto this shallow, plateau green, then stops, and leaves you within a two-putt of the cup.

Although neither long nor tight nor too predictable, Hooper is anything but one-dimensional. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a water hazard is never encountered. None is needed. The ground game will definitely play a part of how well you score here, especially around the greens. The end result, for me, is the experience of golf distilled to its purest form. This is one of the finest golf courses—nine holes or otherwise—that I've played anywhere.

VARIED OPINIONS ON HOOPER : Hooper has receive due praise from myriad respected sources, ranging from Golf Digest and Links Magazine, to the great American architect Tom Doak, to the fine and wise New England golf writer (and historian), Anthony Pioppi, who featured Hooper and nineteen other exemplars in a collection of classic nine-hole tracks entitled “To the Nines.”

Just as important as all of this is what typical golfers who’ve played it think. A foursome we encountered near the clubhouse said they had a great time playing here today. The group included a grandfather—from what I gathered—and three of his grandkids, ranging from about seven to twelve in age. My sixteen-year old son, always a tough golf course critic, rated Hooper ten out of ten.

Other comments, facts & opinions:
(1) Course was moderately busy for the middle of a weekday.

(2) Conditioning ranged from very good to excellent on fairways and greens, on the tees, and in the rough. The one weakness—mainly for purists—is some minor patchiness on the fairways, brought about in the aftermath of club’s efforts to kill crabgrass.

(3) In the “What’s In a Name?” and the “Very Slight Mystery” departments: The scorecard contains the phrase, “Wayne Stiles designed.” I looked back at last year’s scorecard and realized I’d missed something: What about John Van Kleek (?), who is named co-architect in the “Hooper Golf Course Membership Handbook.” Hmmm, there’s got to be a reason for it this omission.

(4) Architecturally speaking, the clubhouse (formerly the Watkins Tavern, circa 1788 and now restored) sitting just behind the first tee is a masterpiece. It adds an element of high culture to the setting: For a second, I experienced the illusion of teeing off at a professional tournament. The setting reminds me of Hartford TPC next to tee one, but the architecture betters that of the less spectacular (former, now replaced) Hartford clubhouse. This design combines Palladianism with Early Classical Revival detailing, and there's a handsome veranda in back. The nearby proshop/lounge is a study in contrast: barn-like and yet attractive, but basic New England.

Conditions Good
Value Excellent
Layout Excellent
Friendliness Excellent
Pace Excellent
Amenities Good
Played On
Reviews 103
Handicap 0-4
Skill Advanced
Plays A few times a week
I Recommend This Course
5.0
Top 100 Contributor
Connecticut Advisor
First Time Playing
Walked

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.

Conditions Excellent
Value Excellent
Layout Excellent
Friendliness Excellent
Pace Excellent
Amenities Good
Played On
Reviews 71
Handicap 0-4
Skill Advanced
Plays Once a week
I Recommend This Course
4.0
Top 250 Contributor
First Time Playing
Perfect weather
Walked

Superb

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.

Conditions Good
Value Excellent
Layout Excellent
Friendliness Average
Pace Excellent
Amenities Excellent
Difficulty Somewhat Challenging
Played On
Reviews 6
Handicap Don't know
Skill Beginner
Plays A few times a week
I Recommend This Course
5.0
Verified Purchaser
First Time Playing
Excellent weather
Used cart

beautiful large greens

Course in great condition. Large greens and great fun.

Conditions Excellent
Value Excellent
Friendliness Excellent
Pace Excellent
Amenities Excellent
Difficulty Somewhat Challenging
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