A Gadabout’s Guide to Great Golf in New Hampshire

There are all kinds of golfers — beginners, intermediates and scratch golfers. Some wear pants with whales on them, do everything just so and take themselves way too seriously. Others are like Rodney Dangerfield in “Caddyshack,” just using a friendly match to satisfy a desire to make a wager or two. Some are satisfied with how they play and others will never be the player they wish they were. Finally, there are the wanderers.

The latter search for all the experiences one can stumble on in New Hampshire. And since there are more than 90 golf courses from Coos to the Sea, it’s a state offering many different experiences. There are resort courses in the North Country, like the Mt. Washington Hotel and The Balsams, with views of mountains and valleys and more lies than you get on a busload of fishermen on the way home from a bass festival. You can be surrounded by large bodies of water and places with just enough to come into a play at just the wrong time. And there are enough hometown courses to mix things up from round to round.

The one thing all real golfers have in common is they want to play as often as possible when the season arrives. For wanderers, though, it’s more about exploring; be it for degree of difficulty, beauty, geography, the company they meet from place to place and even for new courses to learn on where you can stop for a nice dinner on the way home. So here’s one man’s guide to discovering new experiences at public and private golf courses around New Hampshire.

Most Likely Place for a Hole in One

Might as well start with what almost everybody would sell their soul for. The number one hole for a one is 13 at Manchester Country Club, where five different players once got one on the same day. It’s 145-ish from an elevated tee to scary sloped green. Stop your tee shot on the top of the slope and forget par. Once it gets rolling downhill you have no prayer of stopping your putt in the same area code as the cup.

If you miss short or right you’re looking at five, as you’re in a nasty trap or have an up and down from a 90-degree slope below the green. But, if you land on the hill when the cup is in just the right spot, it’s like a funnel and it can roll right in. And, since I once lost a match like that, I have the scars to prove it.

However, since an ace is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most, why waste it on a par three? If you’re selling your soul for all eternity, why not do it on a par four, where you’ll get the usual bragging rights and a double eagle to boot?

It’s doable at Amherst Country Club and The Derryfield in Manchester. Each has a par four that’s less than 300 yards. At Amherst it’s the 11th and, if you get lucky at DCC right before the weekend, it’ll happen on Friday at the 13th. A harder par four ace is number 18 at Plausawa Valley, where you’ll need a wallop to carry a large hill to a plateau green 245 yards away. But, is it worth selling your soul when you can’t see it go in?

Views From the Course

There are a lot of contenders, and I’ll confess I’ve been to the Panorama at The Balsams too long ago to really remember, so here are a few from more recent sightings. The par three downhill second at Sky Meadow in Nashua, with views for as far as the eyes can see to the west. If you look south it’s like the scene in “Jurassic Park” when you first see the dinosaurs all over the meadow. You’ll see a good chunk of the course spread out in front of you, but you’ll have to imagine the dinosaurs.

It’s private, but it has a lot of charity tournaments, so play in one of them. One notch better is standing on the 10th green at The Country Club of New Hampshire in Sutton looking out at Mt. Kearsarge. The pond at the par three 11th hole below reflects the sight like a mirror. It’s gorgeous enough to make you forget just playing the 10th hole, which is a killer. As for one entire course, try Canterbury Woods. It has views of the Merrimack Valley to die for, especially on the par five 10th where a good tee ball puts you in position for eagle if you follow it up with another good shot.

On Target Golf
My favorite target hole is 13 at Lochmere in Tilton. You’ve got to drop an iron into a small landing area way down below. There the big problem is you’re not sure what to hit, since the ball carries so much farther, thanks to the hugely elevated tee box. Go short or long and it’s death. If you land OK, your second shot is all carry over a hazard. If you make par on the 394-yard signature hole you’re feeling pretty good.

A Really Cool Water Hole

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so try 16 at Wentworth-by-the-Sea in New Castle. It’s a gorgeous risk-reward par five dogleg, bordered on the right by an ocean inlet. Cut the dogleg just right and you’re hitting a mid-iron to the green and playing for birdie. Miss short or right and you’ll wind up like Kevin Costner in “Tin Cup,” saying, “I know I can make that” and looking at double digits. If you think about playing it safe, don’t — it’s worth 11 for just trying.

Do’s and Dont’s for Duffers

Don’t Wear Black Socks and Shorts: It’s one thing to know everybody had to play a first time, but it’s another to look like a doofus. Black socks and shorts are the number one signal you’re new. So wear a pair of shorts, a collared shirt and half white socks and you’ll blend in like 007 on a covert mission.

Don’t Get a Bag the Size of a Packard: They’re an unnecessary early expense and a leading cause of back trouble. Plus, it’s an excuse to use a cart on Sunday and the idea is to get a little exercise. So get a decent bag and walking will be a snap.

Know that Golf Shoes are Overrated: I only wear them when it’s wet or I have to look like I know what I’m doing. Beyond that sneakers are more comfortable. Plus, if you’re usually late like me, you don’t have to change shoes in the parking lot.

Don’t Buy Gadgets On the Golf Channel: To know why, rent “Tin Cup” and go to the part when Kevin Costner has the “yips.” Instead of spending on junk take a few lessons from a golf pro. It might seem pricey but they’ll make a difference getting started and cheaper than chucking a $400 driver in a pond like I’ve seen more than one frustrated person do.

Keep Your Sense of Humor: If it’s going bad, think of that episode in the “Honeymooners” when Ralph Kramden is learning to play to impress his boss at the Gotham Bus Company. “The first thing you have to do, Ralphie boy, is address the ball,” says Norton as he stands in Ralph’s dingy kitchen. Then he looks at the ball and says, politely, “Hello, ball.” Naturally, Ralph responds, “Get out, GET OUT!”
So remember, it’s all about having fun!

Golfing Road Trip

Venturing Up Interstate 89: There are tons of nice courses heading up I-89. First is Country Club of New Hampshire, then Newport Golf Club, Lake Sunapee CC, Eastman in Grantham and, finally, the Hanover CC. Each offers its own challenges to make the trip worthwhile. The most interesting may be the landing strip just off 17 at private Lake Sunapee, where I once thought a plane was crash landing behind me because I didn’t know it was there. One thing all have in common is you better be straight or you’ve got trouble. Take the par five second hole at Eastman Golf Club, where the collection of golf balls my friend Sue Jamback has found in her back yard is now more than 400. That’s about three dozen a year, so it’s not just penalty strokes for OB that add up there. And if you like hickory smoked, try the Flying Goose Brew Pub in New London on the way home. Yum.

Hardest Course While Still Having Fun

Portsmouth Country Club reminds me of what Reggie Jackson said to Carlton Fisk entering Boston’s locker room after the famous Bucky bleeping Dent playoff game. “I hate to play you guys, but I love to play you guys.” Likewise, Portsmouth CC can seem like an old friend turned to a rival, but it always provides an exhilarating experience. With the Great Bay bordering many of its holes it’s beautiful, and the bay breezes make it most agreeable when conditions are just right. However, it’s the state’s longest course with 10 par fours over 400 yards so you better bring your driver. You’ll need your long irons, too, as the grass around the green doesn’t allow for a lot of run up, so you’ve got to stick if you want to make par. And, if the breeze is in your face, a cannon might be a better choice off the tee. Yes, it’s tough, but the layout’s interesting, it’s in great shape and the bay makes it enjoyable even if you’re struggling.

Where to Teach the Little Woman

Yes, that sounds like something Archie Bunker might say, though if you want to get technical, can you really see Archie teaching Edith to golf? If you want to teach a spouse or your kids where there aren’t impatient players (who’ve somehow forgotten everyone, including them, had to play for a first time), start in an out-of-the-way place like Highland View in Holderness. It’s all short par threes tucked up on a hill just past the prep school. If you go in the afternoon you can hit more than one shot off the tee and play a pace that’s perfect for someone getting their feet wet. Once ready for the next step try Twin Lake in Springfield, a scenic spot between New London and Grantham. The holes are longer, the trouble’s minimal and it’s on the shore of Twin Lake, which makes for a pleasant day with the breeze coming off the water. And when you’re ready for a regular-length course head to Crotched Mountain Golf Club in Francestown. It’s just 5,400 yards from the whites and has a nice variety of shots for emerging players, and the mountain view from the tee box at 18 is picturesque.

Best Municipal Golf Course

With all due respect to everywhere else, it’s Beaver Meadow in Concord. It has a perfect mixture of hard holes and ones you can score on. Of special note are the “string of pearls,” which is what my friend Charley Cannon never fails to call it as we get ready to face the tricky par four 14th, monstrous uphill 423-yard 15th and 583-from-the-blues par 5 16th. Plus, it has a twilight rate at 3 p.m., but go at four and the tee is generally free.

So, In Summary…
There are all sorts of experiences out there. Start with this list and then chart your own path to find courses that will make your golfing summer a great one. And one more thing: Put the top down on the ride to get there because on some golf outings the winding roads and out-of-the-way places you’ll see along the trail are the very best part of the day. NH

Dave Long is a freelance writer and talk show host on All Sports WGAM who lives in Hooksett.