Why Berkshire Hills Country Club is the best course you’ve never heard of
Our knowledgeable crew of course raters have played golf just about everywhere. Many of those courses you’ve probably heard of, but some are less renowned — at least for most golfers. In Best Course You’ve Never Heard Of, we celebrate those sneaky-good designs.
I finally played Berkshire Hills Country Club in Pittsfield, Mass., last August, and let me say publicly — I was wrong to be so circumspect. Friends in Western Massachusetts have recommended this semi-private course for years — always adding that A.W. Tillinghast designed it. Time can obscure the provenance of Golden Age designs, of course. I figured maybe Tilly dropped by one day during construction and tapped out his pipe on the 9th green. Pittsfield? What would ever lure him so deep into the Berkshires?
Well, Pittsfield just happens to have been the birthplace of General Electric. There was plenty of money sloshing around this former mill town during the Roaring ‘20s, and the patrons of Berkshire Hills were wise to spend some with Mr. Tillinghast.
Berkshire Hills CC opened in 1928 and, to this day, occupies a broad valley of magnificent scale. Each of the two par-5s on the front side, 2 and 4, traverse nearly the full width of this wooded basin. One is unlikely to find better down-and-up par-5s anywhere. The backside features its own trio of stupendous three-shot holes, each one distinct and resting comfortably on nevertheless dramatic terrain.
Everything about BHCC is grand. The putting surfaces are enormous and elegantly contoured. A dozen times during the round, one is treated to vistas sweeping up and down the valley. The place is teeming with honkin’ big specimen trees, and yet the fairway corridors never feel the least bit confined. One is most struck, however, by the canny way Tillinghast routed holes through this environment. Capable counters have already deduced that there are five par-5s at Berkshire Hills. There are five par-3s, too (headlined by the thrilling uphill 17th). That’s an unusual combination (35-37), but Tillinghast never forced anything here. Every hole links up sensibly with the next. Each one departs from the last in character and length and elevation. In a valley that is quite dramatic, no shot ever feels steep or goofy.
I feel terrible having doubted BHCC and Pittsfield all these years. Play it on your way to or from Wayne Stiles-designed Wahconah CC (both courses are semi-private) in Dalton, Mass., another once wealthy, now obscure New England mill town whose bigwigs had the good sense to pay top dollar for expert, on-site design services during the Golden Age.