Bloomfield (August 3). Wintonbury Hills has made hundreds of “top” lists over the years, and it’s still getting fresh praise.
In GolfWeek’s recent 2019 “Best” issue Wintonbury, owned by the town of Bloomfield, is No. 1 among Connecticut’s “Best Courses You Can Play.” Ninety-seven percent of the players who have posted a rating on Golf Advisor have recommended it.
One reason, says Head Professional Ciaran Carr, is that architect Pete Dye, knowing it would be a municipal course, made the site of the 34th Connecticut Public Links Championship, August 6-7, extremely playable off the tee. “You may have a 100-yard wide fairway in places,” says Carr. “The challenge is the greens, and where you put it on the greens. It is definitely a second-shot golf course.” On a course that is usually firm and fast those greens can run at well over 10 on the Stimpmeter in early August. Mastering speed, however, is only the first half of the challenge. “Pete made some greens look like they break right when they break left, and appear to be uphill when they’re really downhill,” says Carr. “He was tricky like that.”
At about 6700 yards and par 70, Wintonbury will test the Public Links field, then, far more on approach-shot accuracy, and placement on those greens, than on length off the tee.
And within that test, Dye’s final six holes are likely to identify the winner. For Defending Champion John Abbott and the field of 117 players, holes 13 through 18 offer a heady mix of opportunity and misfortune. The stretch begins rather benignly, with the uphill par-5 13th, a birdie opportunity, but transitions quickly to longish par 4s with bunkers and penalty areas. The 14th is 455 from the back, with a watery penalty area to the right. The 427-yard 15th features one of Dye’s favorite deceptions, a bunker about 70 yards from the green, that may fool players into hitting less club than they need. After another par 4 of about 410, finishers will face the 230-yard 17th and then a 414-yard par 4 final hole that offers a birdie chance if one’s approach is deft. In 2017, when Wintonbury hosted a U.S. Open local qualifier, 68 (-2) advanced to sectionals.
Carr, and the Wintonbury Men’s Club, hope that the Public Links Championship will promote a course that, despite its high and continuing honors, is still unknown to some Connecticut golfers. “I played not long ago at Stanley,” said Ciaran. “A fellow asked me where I was from. I said, ‘Wintonbury’ and he hadn’t heard of it! So you don’t ever rest on your laurels. We work hard to keep the golf course in great shape. We can’t quit promoting it. We think fellows will play in these events and go back and tell their friends about how good it is.”
Promotion is also a byproduct of Carr’s and the men’s club’s passion for growing the game. A native Irishman who came here in 1985, Carr is one of about 350 Master Professionals who’ve been recognized for advance expertise in one are of the game. In Carr’s case that’s instruction.
When he helped Bloomfield High School form its golf team and discovered that too few students had any experience at all, he helped establish a rare Middle School “feeder” program to build future high school teams—and to get more pre-teens and teens involved in golf. Play Wintonbury in the fall and you’ll likely see them in the afternoon on the practice putting green learning to master Dye’s difficult surfaces.
It’s a course, a club and a passion that suits the Public Links, a 36-hole stroke play event open to players of 9.0 handicap or less who have no private-club privileges. The low 30 players and ties on day one advance to the second 18.
8 Players to Watch
The 2019 Public Links field includes the winners of eight Public Links Championships, (okay, Dave Szewczul of Tunxis Country Club accounts for five of them), but with a field of strong players to watch. Our list of eight to watch has to start with Szewczul, returning to action after a year of surgery and recuperation:
1. Dave Szewczul, Public Links Champion in 2017, 2011, 1995, 1993 and 1992, and owner of more than a dozen CSGA championships.
2. Defending Champion John Abbott, who tied 11th in the 2019 Russell C. Palmer Cup at the Country Club of Waterbury.
3. Richard Dowling, 2017 and 2019 Connecticut Amateur Champion, who, with partner Nick Taylor, has won the past two Connecticut Two Man Championships. Dowling made the quarterfinals of the recent Met Amateur Championship.
4. Kyle Nolin, 2016 Public Links Champion, who with partner Eric Briggs finished T4 in last month’s Connecticut Four-Ball Championship at Yale.
5. Glen Boggini, 2014 Public Links Champion from Manchester Country Club, who made the U.S. Mid-Amateur field last year.
6. Nick Waddington, who made match play in the 2019 Amateur at Fox Hopyard, after tying for eighth in this year’s Palmer Cup.
7. Justin Beal, who also made match play at Fox Hopyard and who, with partner Michael Thompson, finished runner-up in the Connecticut Four-Ball.
8. Dan Murphy, the long-hitter from H. Smith Richardson in Fairfield, who, with brother Tim, competed in this year’s U.S. Four-Ball at Bandon Dunes.