Course Rater Confidential: What are New England’s best inland and coastal courses?
GOLF’s Top 100 course panelists are among the most respected and well-traveled course evaluators in the game. They’re also keen to share their opinions. In this GOLF.com series, we’ll unlock their unvarnished views on all questions course-related. The goal is not only to entertain you but also to give you a better understanding of how to understand and appreciate golf course architecture. You can see GOLF’s latest Top 100 Courses in the World ranking here, and meet all of our Top 100 panelists here.
With the FedEx Cup Playoffs underway this week at TPC Boston, now seems like a good time to talk about golf in New England. In past roundtables, we’ve discussed the best private, public and sleeper courses in the region. So that’s out. Let’s look at New England golf in another way. What, in your opinion, are the two best New England courses with water views, and what are the region’s two best inland courses?
Michael Pelliccione (panelist since 2020; has played 60 of the World Top 100): Some would argue that the wicked best golf in North America can be found within New England. The region stretches as far as Maine down to the tip of Connecticut. With the abundance of mountains, ocean and grassland, there is no shortage of new and classic golf courses you can play. So this is no easy task!
When thinking about the best courses with water views the first that comes to mind is Prouts Neck Country Club in Scarborough, Maine. I can’t think of a course that flies under the radar as much as this Wayne Stiles masterpiece. Not much has been written about the place and nor will it appear on any Top 100 list. But it should! This piece of land is just flat-out perfect. Tucked on a small peninsula just a few miles south of Portland, this course has it all. The round takes you on an adventure carving in and out of the woods with endless water views. Don’t let the length fool you. What the course lacks in distance it makes up for on the greens.
The Kittansett Club in Marion, Mass., gets my second nod as the best course in New England with water views. The name Kittansett comes from the Native American words “near the sea.” Frederic C. Hood was the founding member and the one who actually constructed the course while William Flynn provided the routing plan. The course starts and finishes at the tip of a peninsula jutting out into Buzzards Bay, which can be seen on almost every hole. The bulk of the property navigates you through the woods with treacherous greens and wonderful angles to come in from. If you catch it on a blustery day the course is everything you could ask for. Kittansett is about as pure of a golf experience as you can get.
Moving inland, the possibilities are endless. But you would be remiss without making a stop at Cape Arundel Golf Club in Kennebunkport, Maine. It’s no surprise former President George H.W. Bush vacationed here. This Walter Travis design is about as fun to play as any golf course around. Just a few yards shy of 5,900 (from the back tees) this place has everything. The variety of holes is endless. Travis was known for one thing and that’s his green complexes — and Cape Arundel’s greens don’t disappoint. It’s the true defense of this property and some could even argue it’s his best 18-hole collection.
Rounding out the best two inland courses, it’s hard not to go with Yale Golf Course in New Haven, Conn. This C.B. Macdonald/Seth Raynor collaboration is truly one of golf’s national treasures. The second you step foot on property you instantly feel like you step back in time. The topography is perfect for them to lay out their canvas of template golf holes. The fairways are wide and rolling, the greens are treacherous and the bunkers are strategically placed. There are so many blind shots and elevation changes that even the scratch golfer can be challenged. Any golf architecture enthusiast must play and study Yale. It’s truly one of the game’s greats.
Steve Lapper (panelist since 2009; has played 84 of the World Top 100): This is a no-brainer for me. Eastward Ho is the walk-off home run, even rivaling a Big Papi poke at Fenway’s mighty Green Wall. It’s a private yet warm and inviting club and rivals far more famous links found throughout the U.S. Its terrain, on a spit of land on Cape Cod alongside an Atlantic bay, is an adventurous, tactfully routed rollercoaster of joy that weaves between waterside and woods. This finest work of Herbert Fowler (on this side of the pond), and renovated by Keith Foster in 2004, is pure genius, complete with a built-in wind tunnel and nary a flat lie to be found anywhere ahead of any teeing ground. The stealthy under-the-radar and out-of-the-way nature of this place eludes even the ardent of golf course aficionados. Find a way, anyway (try the charity outing route?), to get a ticket to the first tee. You won’t be disappointed.
On the public side, and near the shadow of its famous neighbor, Fishers Island GC, Donald Ross’ Shennecossett GC sits in Groton, Conn. It’s an easily accessible municipal, rich in history, that will neither beat up an average golfer, nor concede much to a scratch player on any windy day. Technically on the tip of the Thames River, it has views that extend out to the L.I. Sound. On any typical day, it’ll yield sightings of the sleek silhouettes of the U.S. Nuclear Submarine fleet, schooners from the 1800s, the Fishers Island ferry and hundreds of sport fishing boats. Play here is swift and courteous, with good conditioning, and it’s more than reasonably priced. Make this under-the-radar muni a must-play when you find yourself with a few hours to spare.
Inland golf in New England is steeped in great golf course architecture and has dozens and dozens of viable candidates. Well-known names like The Country Club, Ekwanok, Taconic, Yale, Essex County, Hooper, Salem, Boston Golf Club, Shelter Harbor, Cape Arundel, Wannamoisett, Crumpin-Fox, Wintonbury Hills, The Orchards all qualify.
Yet nowhere else in New England, let alone the U.S., does a gem like Myopia Hunt Club exist. Its name stems from the commonality of its early founders all wearing glasses. They may have needed them for other sports, but the vision here was crystal clear. Just up the hill from its fox-hunting polo fields and steeped in golf history, this club was founded in 1882 and holds the distinction of the highest winning score(s) in the U.S. Open. Playing here today still feels like a trip back in time, and it’s a rip-roaring one at that.
The course probably has the most charming, quirky, and often penal 6,500 yards of golf existent on this side of the Atlantic. Never boring, nor predictable, it presents a wide spectrum from rustic beauty to stern test. Starting off with a short par-4, it’s ultimately followed by a well-guarded 253-yard par-3 beast and finishes off the front nine with a beautiful 136-yard par-3 over a mini Thoreau-like pond with a studio apartment-sized green. The course has a mix of exhilarating short and long par-4s and reachable par-5s, all defended by dastardly placed bunkers and tilted and crowned greens. Scoring here shouldn’t be about numbers, but instead about the experience of appealing to every intangible sensory perception any golfer could ask for. A dozen rounds later, I can still remember nearly every shot and spot on the course. Myopia Hunt is quite private, but occasionally available through various charitable outings.
Where Myopia is wonderfully historic, Old Sandwich, a Coore/Crenshaw design in Plymouth, Mass., is a brilliant representation of modern minimalism brought to New England. Set in a rolling mix of forest, field and bog, this big course takes you through a trip up, down and all over with large-scale features (wide fairways and large bunkers and greens). The nines feel interchangeable but never seem tedious or uninteresting. You need every club in your bag to tackle these holes. Hardly a walk for the meek or infirm, it’s an athletic course and although eminently playable, very tough to score on. That said, the genius of Bill and Ben doesn’t sacrifice beauty for brawn. Nor does it abuse the average mid-handicapper. The club is private and permissibly aloof, however it’s clearly a modern gem.
One quick note: Try your hardest to time any visit to New England from mid-September through the end of October. Most courses present fast and firm conditions, and once amidst the fall foliage season they combine to create an ecstatic assault on one’s senses.
Paul Rudovsky (panelist since 2015; has played 100 of the World Top 100): I think the prime reason that New England (and most of NYS) is such a fertile ground for golf has to do primarily with the glacial activity during the last Ice Age, which brought down huge rock outcroppings from Canada and created wonderfully rolling and heaving landforms. While I am not as familiar with the geological history of the Midwest, my bet is the encroaching glaciers had a lot to do with the wonderful land for golf in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan as well.
My two favorite water-view courses in New England are both in Massachusetts: Eastward Ho! (fabulous example of “heaving landforms” and wonderfully fun; and Kittansett (so much improved by Gil Hanse). For courses without water views, also both in Massachusetts: The Country Club, as the Championship/Composite course is now both big and fun, a very tough combo to achieve (full disclosure — that is our club up here); and Essex County, which was hugely improved by Tom Doak and Bruce Hepner’s tree-clearing recommendations and the guts of the club’s leadership in carrying them through.
For under the radar water views: Edgartown in Massachusetts — a proud, delightful nine-holer on Martha’s Vineyard, and Cape Arundel, the easygoing home club of the Bush clan. No water: Charles River (Mass.) with its devilish greens, Ekwanok (Vt.) for sheer beauty and tranquility, and Tamarack (Conn.) for interesting fun.
Hal Phillips (panelist since 1997, has played 71 of the World Top 100): As my colleagues have so ably covered the private realm, I felt compelled to detail New England courses one can more readily pay to play. When it comes to accessible ocean views, Farm Neck on Martha’s Vineyard is tops in my book: superb terrain, mint conditions and all sorts of holes that play along (or in plain view of) the Atlantic (and Sengekontacket Pond, the saltwater inlet where the shark nearly devours Michael, the sheriff’s son, in the movie “Jaws”).
There are a half dozen nine-holers that dot the Maine coast, but none of them are that great really. Blink Bonnie Golf Links in Sorrento, just north of Bar Harbor, is the best of the lot. There are 18-holes at The Samoset Resort in Rockland; they offer great views of the Gulf of Maine but not particularly great golf. The more salient point when seeking seaside public golf in New England is not “where” but “when.” They don’t advertise the fact but even more private clubs (seaside and otherwise) are accessible in “the shoulder season,” which generally means “after Labor Day.” This is particularly relevant in summer tourist areas like Cape Cod, which, you may have noticed, is surrounded by salt water. There are dozens of coastal privates to explore in this tactical fashion, so don’t be shy.
That said, if you get a game at Prouts Neck, just south of Portland, Maine, do it. Same for the underrated Wentworth by the Sea routing southeast of Portsmouth, N.H. Inland, there are far more worthy public options. I’m headed to Western Massachusetts this weekend, so I’ll go with Wahconah CC in Dalton, just east of Pittsfield, a stellar Wayne Stiles nine coupled with one nearly as good from Geoffrey Cornish. A bit north of there, in Williamstown, Taconic GC has always been top notch. It was once ranked among the U.S. Top 100, if I’m not mistaken, and a fellow named Gil Hanse renovated this Stiles design in 2009. Closer to this week’s PGA Tour stop, TPC of Boston, check out Red Tail GC, a super-inventive Brian Silva design on stunning terrain (read: multiple former sand pits), or maybe George Wright GC, a muni whose Ross routing has always been magnificent but, following a renovation from Mark Mungeam, has never been in such good nick.