Taconic Golf Club
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Taconic Golf Club is owned by Williams College and is currently rated the #1 collegiate course in the nation by Golfweek Magazine. It also claims the 28th spot in the best public courses in the United States according to Golf Magazine. Taconic is located at the southern edge of campus at 19 Meacham Street, next to Weston Field. It is less than a 5 minute walk from Spring Street or the Odd Quad, and it is not uncommon to see students carrying golf bags across campus down to the course.
History and Trivia
The club opened on September 5th, 1896 as a 7-hole course, including the present diabolical 17th green. The primitive course layout was upgraded in 1928 by Wayne Stiles and John Van Kleek to an 18-hole par 73 test. When the clubhouse was forced to move from South Street to its present location, the 2nd and 3rd holes were changed and the course became its current 6640 yard, par 71 design.
Taconic is a venerable golf course, having hosted numerous national and state championships. The U.S. Junior Amateur was held here in 1956, and Harlan Stevenson of California defeated Jack Rule, Jr. of Iowa 3 and 1. Of note, Rule beat 16-year-old Jack Nicklaus in the semifinals 1 up. The 1963 U.S. Women's Amateur was won by Anne Sander of Seattle, WA over 16-year-old Peggy Conley of Spokane, WA. More recently, in 1996, the U.S. Senior Amateur came to Taconic, and Gordon Brewer's par on the 18th hole beat Heyward Sullivan 2 up. National college championships have been held several times in Williamstown - in 1999 Methodist College took home the division III national title with a team score of 1190 - Williams College came in 10th place with 1246 strokes. The Massachusetts Amateur was contested in July 2004, and won by Frank Vana with Williams College golfer Zach McArthur '05 as his caddy.
Williams College supports both men's and women's varsity golf teams - the women are a first year varsity program as of 2005, while the men have long been one of the best division III programs in the country. In the April 2005 District Shootout at Taconic, the Williams Men's Golf Team set a team single round scoring record of 289 counting a 70, 71, 71, and 77 as their best four scores. The course record from the back tees is 67 -- surprisingly high for a relatively short course that has seen hundreds of high quality players compete the past half century. Chad Collins of Methodist College in the 1999 Division III National Tournament shot a 66 included in his total winning score of even par 284, but several tee markers had been moved up from their normal back locations on that day.
Taconic is renowned as one of the most beautiful places in the world to play golf in the fall, as tees and greens throughout the course provide stunning vistas of the Berkshire Mountains. The long views on the course combine with the wonderful small-town atmosphere of the club itself, highlighted by a faded sign on the pro shop reading "No Preferred Lies, We Play Golf Here." Golfers at Taconic pride themselves on quick pace of play, and the compact routing allows singles and twosomes to often play 18 holes in closer to 2 hours than 4. Though the course is hilly, almost all golfers walk and carry their bag, so seeing 90 year-old members walk is not an uncommon sight.
Other unique oddities of Taconic include a mirror behind the 10th tee to see the blind fairway, a birdhouse labeled "Suggestion Box" smack in the middle of the pond on the 4th hole, and the Latin phrase "medio tutissimus ibis" written on the scorecard, translating to "safest from the middle."
Taconic Golf Club defends par on and around the greens; it is possible to go rounds and rounds and rounds without losing a ball and still struggle for good scores. Almost every green is contoured to accept a shot accordingly from one side of the fairway or another, and on many holes there are certain areas around the greens that leave only the opportunity for the occasional miracle up and down. Experience is very important in knowing which direction a particular green is safe to miss so as to leave the opportunity to recover. Following is a hole by hole description of the course from the back tees.
Par 5, 475 yards. The first tee is only yards from the door of the pro shop and outdoor patio, providing an intimate setting to begin the round. A wide fairway greets the player, only narrowing to a 20-yard wide neck at a shallow gully 275 yards off the tee. In the Fall of his sophomore year, this generous fairway did not help Will Sirignano '06 as he blocked a ball to the right, over the trees, over the 18th fairway, over the out of bounds fence, and onto the football field. He then proceeded to salvage a miraculous par. The green tilts left to right and the bunker 30 yards short of the green left is a poor place to leave second shots.
Par 4, 391 yards. A short hike up and across the 17th tee brings the golfer to a secluded, elevated tee box for the second hole. Though the hole bends to the right, the tee shot favors a slight draw over the creek into the left hand side of the fairway from which the green angles to. Faded balls into the right rough contend with a depression from which the green may be blind and reached only over the right hand greenside bunker. The green itself is on the crest of a hill, and except for the front portion, is extremely flat and hard to read. The 360 degree view from this green is hard to top in the game of golf.
Par 4, 407 yards. One of the best holes on the course, both strategically and aesthetically. The tee ball is over the corner of a field of wildflowers to a fairway that dramatically narrows and twists to the right at the 140 yard mark. The prudent play is often a 3-wood to the left side of the fairway which leaves a perfect angle to the difficult green. If deciding to hit a driver, you should fade the ball slightly, yet a ball too far to the right may kick into the creek that meanders 20 yards right of the fairway. This tee ball would be better if three large oak trees on the right were taken out, as they block the landscape of the mountains and only help contain balls that would otherwise find the hazard on the right. The hole concludes with a great hilltop green with Gale Road out of bounds hard on the right and Phoebe's Creek gathering balls hit too far left of the putting surface. The green itself is severely slanted to the front of the green on the first half, and then right to left on the upper tier.
Par 4, 358 yards. The first of three excellent 360 yard par fours, the 150 yard walk back to the tee takes the golfer as far from the clubhouse as he will get during the round. A slight dogleg left with the creek along the left before slicing in front of the green, a long iron or 3-wood to the right side of the fairway is preferred. If the tee shot is too far right, though, the short iron must avoid a large old willow tree guarding the right side of the hole. The approach should stay below the hole, yet anything short of the putting surface will roll back toward the creek for a blind pitch back up the hill. Friendly kicks onto the green can be found off of the slightly elevated and beautifully sculpted left hand greenside bunker.
Par 3, 172 yards. Another good green cascading from back left to front right, the mid-iron approach should be careful not to short side the pin. The front left bunker gets a lot of play for shots going to middle left pins, and is quite deep.
Par 4, 361 yards. The uphill tee shot may look tight at first, but the sixth hole in fact is one of the easiest driving holes on the course. Both fairway bunkers are out of play for the good player, just 200 yards off the tee, and many tee shots will end up within only pitching or sand wedge distance. However, now the approach is with a spinning club to perhaps the best green on the course: a large false front, a hump on the middle right, and a tongue extending to form the back left portion of the surface. A shot finishing anywhere above the hole will require perfect touch just to keep the subsequent putt on the green. Many seasoned Taconic members will lay up short of a front pin even with a wedge and rely on chipping to produce a 4. In a 2004 Massachusetts Amateur match, Frank Vana and Jim Renner (who recently lost to Michelle Wie in the PubLinks) halved the hole with bogeys after both being 100 yards from the green with their drives. Commented Renner to Vana, "I don't know how to hit a shot into that green!"
Par 4, 402 yards. The seventh tee shot is the hardest on the course: the tee box annoyingly slopes to the left while the hole angles sharply right and demands a fade. The approach plays uphill, so most players hit driver to minimize distance for the second shot. Once in play, the second shot calls for 1-2 clubs more than the yardage would indicate for an aerial approach into a wild 2 tiered green complete with a 3 foot mound in the back middle section. This combination did not prove tough enough the weekend of homecoming in 2002 when Zach McArthur holed out an 8 iron for an eagle two.
Par 4, 394 yards. The second of back to back dogleg rights, this hole complements the seventh by tumbling downhill with the campus as a backdrop for the tee shot. Amazingly, in 2003, Williams senior Aaron Flink drove the green from the tee with a driver that somehow avoided every tree and bunker to end up amidst another team on the putting surface. For mere mortals, the drive has no reason to go too far right, as the second shot plays short down the hill and should be bounced on if the ground is firm. The green is wonderfully sloped from front to back foiling many first time players. An approach or chip that uses the ground contours to slowly feed to a recently recovered back left pin location is great fun to watch.
Par 3, 188 yards. The ninth is a drop shot par 3 to the back side of the clubhouse, and often is played with a crosswind left to right. This wind takes many a ball into the front right bunker which is almost as big as the bowled green itself. Overcompensated shots to the left will find an unkempt hillside or two squiggly bunkers that are difficult sand saves. The benches on the hill 40 feet above the green are prime viewing areas for college and club matches.
Par 5, 506 yards. This hole may best identify the thinking golfer as he places his three shots to the green. The drive is partially blind down a hill that often leaves the good golfer with 220-250 yards to the green. Now, the golfer is put to the test. Should he go for the green, even off a slight downhill lie? Should he attempt to clear the bunker 40 yards short of the green? Should he hit to his favorite wedge distance? These questions are relevant because the green is sloped 5 feet back to front and any second shot going for the green misplaced right, left, or long will have much work just to make par. Case in point, during the 2005 District Shootout, Matt Slovitt was sitting at 4 under par through 9 holes and chose to lay up from 220 yards out, making birdie with 2 wedge shots and a putt instead of a reckless long iron or 3-wood. Fifty years ago, however, a young man made a different decision, going for the green, and it paid off: 16 year old Jack Nicklaus eagled the hole in a practice round.
Par 4, 470 yards. A classic driving hole from an elevated tee, the drive will probably end up about 200 yards from the green at the base of a slight hill. From there, the green is partially blind, and the long iron shot should be played short and right of the green to allow the ground to funnel the ball left to the hole. Because many second shots start to the right, the right greenside bunker gets a lot of play - it is a large horseshoe style bunker that is shared with the 8th green. A grove of pine trees in front of this bunker should be taken out to enhance the feeling of openness between the 8th and 11th holes.
Par 4, 363 yards. More than 100 yards shorter than the eleventh, but often plays harder stroke-wise. The tee ball offers a cape dilemma, with the option to hit 3 wood or driver long left near out of bounds to reward a straightforward wedge into the green, or bail right or short for a more difficult approach over the edge of the menacing right hand greenside bunker. From the right of the fairway, a fade is preferred into the green to best hold the putting surface. Balls just carrying the right hand side bunker will funnel to the center of the smallest putting surface on the course. The front pin here is extremely difficult to stay underneath of without having the ball take the false front 10 yards back down the hill. A great challenge for 360 yards.
Par 4, 391 yards. World-class. The view off the 13th tee is of three hills rising in the distance and a fairway canted left to right. The ideal tee shot will hug the left side, perhaps even getting over the ridge 250 yards off the tee for a look down the length of the green. This is a very bold shot though, as the out of bounds along the left certainly discourages such a play. Most approaches come from the right hand side of the fairway to the elevated green benched into the hillside. The green slopes hard back to front and left to right, and it is common to see putts from the front tier wind up 20 or 30 feet short right of back hole locations for first (or second or third!) time Taconic golfers. Great hole locations abound, including the back right which turns the hole into more of a par 5 than 4.
Par 3, 173 yards. The narrowest target on the course, the 14th green is accessed with a short to mid iron hit from the most elevated spot on the course - a spot very prone to strong crosswinds. The hole plays along a ridgeline and is defended by 6 bunkers, some simply candy for the eyes. Of interest, the green and its surroundings were the basis of an illustration on the cover of Money Magazine a number of years ago. Between the gold and blue tees is embedded a plaque honoring Jack Nicklaus's hole in one here in the 1956 Junior Amateur. Bunkers right and left take soft sand shots to get out and find the pin, as their shoulders help kick blasts across the green.
Par 4, 426 yards. The fun continues with a significantly elevated tee, where drivers hang against the distant face of Pine Cobble on their way to earth. Despite a wide fairway, Taconic pro and Williams varsity golf coach Rick Pohle believes the 15th fairway to be the most missed on the course. Maybe it is the lack of focus from the gorgeous view. The iron approach will bounce to the left once on the ground, and right pins on the green are difficult to access without a hard fade holding the right to left slope.
Par 4, 430 yards. Equally long to #15, but playing much longer back up the hill that #15 came down, the sixteenth hole is a demanding second shot hole. A good tee ball leaves anywhere from a mid to long iron up a 50 foot incline to a hilltop green. The green, as with many at Taconic, flows with the land back down the hill making the green very quick back to front. Many second shots end up short, which leaves simple pitches up to the hole - second shots long leave the golfer a delicate lob back to the green with the hope of just holding the green, let alone entertaining thoughts of par.
Par 3, 221 yards. A challenging and exacting long iron is a must for the penultimate hole, which features a heavily tilted green back to front. The green was part of the original course in 1896, and while green speeds have quickened a bit since then, the slope of the land has not changed, producing many bogies and double bogies around this green. The tee ball should be played short of the green - a hill short right of the green can be used to kick the ball up onto the surface if the pin is back. Once the tee shot is in play, hopefully below the hole, the second shot must stay below the hole as well to leave an uphill putt for par. In the 1970's, the house behind the green was occupied by a Williams student, who also happened to be the Shah of Iran's son. Any shots long of the green in this era were subject to inspection by security and bodyguards who made sure golfers did not threaten the house in any manner!
Par 5, 510 yards. A great home hole to finish the round as large swings between competitors are possible on this reachable par 5. Though slightly longer than #10, the green is not nearly as diabolical and thus more players do go for the green in two shots. The drive is over a pond to a plateau fairway, where the right center acts as a speed slot propelling the ball closer to the hole. The risk in hitting a long shot to the green is the out of bounds parking lot 5 yards left of the green. Years ago, a Williams College golfer hit 3 balls out of bounds, eventually taking a 12, resulting in a lost Little Threes championship to Amherst by one shot. In 2004, Coach Rick Pohle pulled off a little magic, winning beers off of captains Matt Slovitt and Zach McArthur by sticking a 5 iron one foot from the hole for birdie after a topped 3-wood. Anything can happen on #18 at Taconic.
The Future of Taconic
The greens committee of Taconic is currently considering a course restoration project to be completed during the winter of 2006-2007. They are working with architect Gil Hanse, who has had a hand in restoring such classic courses as Merion East, Kittansett, and Fenway. One exciting proposed change is adding a lower tee for #12 to the left of the existing tee. This would make the tee ball more intimidating, as the angle would be sharper and the shot semi-blind up and over the steep falloff; hopefully Hanse will also consider removing the huge oak that currently constricts the dangerous long left driving alley. The second major change will involve the third hole - adding fairway bunkering on the left while reconfiguring the landing areas. This proposed change alters one of the best par fours on the course, so hopefully the resulting hole will not fall anything short of excellent. The third drastic proposed change is to cut down 37 pine trees behind the 16th green to make it a "skyline" putting surface - this will provide a thrilling long iron shot to a flag flapping against the sky while also opening up dramatic views across the front nine. Other changes include adding fairway bunkering on 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 15 while removing the current bland oval fairway bunkers on 6, 7, and 8; adding greenside bunkers on 5, 15, and 18; recapturing lost green space on almost every hole; stretching fairways back out to their original width to tie them to bunkers that now lie disconnected in the rough; and adding new back tees to 2, 3, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, and 18 - in total adding 200 yards to the course. The tees on 16, 17, and 18 will bring those already punishing holes to 460 yards, 245 yards, and 535 yards, respectively - should be quite the tough finish to the already demanding back nine! Sketches of the master plan can be seen here: http://www.taconicgolf.com/CourseMasterPlan/index.htm.
From an interview on golfclubatlas.com, a few of Hanse's thoughts on restoring classic courses such as Taconic:
"I think that the restoration of any classic courses should not be constrained in any way by what is considered reasonable in this day and age. I think that the true charm and character of these courses can often be found in what has been removed or altered from the original design. Most often the reason that these features have been removed is that they were considered unfair or obsolete. It is our contention that what is often considered unfair by the mainstream member, is the very stuff that you want to reintroduce. Because these features must have had a very real influence on the playability of the golf course for them to be so controversial. The fact that someone had to think about a feature is what every architect should be striving toward.
So often these courses have been emasculated through the removal of 'controversial' features, and then tree lined so that the destruction of any form of recovery or angle of attack is removed from the course. In essence, golf on many of these courses has been reduced to hit it in play or in the trees. If you hit it in play, it would be unfair to have anything in front of you i.e., cross bunkers, berms, or a natural feature that obscured your view. If you hit it in the trees, you really don't deserve a chance at recovery, so chip it out sideways. I truly believe that the introduction of way too many trees and the eradication of classic features have seriously eroded the quality of these old courses. The beauty of many of these courses is that the architect set the course up to make recovery shots more difficult, through the angling of a green, the locations of bunkers, etc. Difficult, yet not impossible as it is from the tree lined courses of today."
Hanse's ideology and experience appear to be an excellent fit for Taconic as it moves forward with course changes. Thinning out trees and adding long-forgotten cross bunkers such as on the par four 7th are a necessary step in making Taconic an even purer golden-age golf course than it is currently. With well-thought out restoration strategies completed, Taconic will shine even brighter as one of the few true jewels of New England golf.
Taconic and Williams
Taconic Golf Club is a great resource for Williams College, and the students, faculty, and staff seem to treasure their opportunity. The course is very popular with students, who pay just $165 a semester for unlimited golf and club storage - compare this to Yale University which has a similarly excellent golf course and charges students $725 a semester. The unique opportunity of students playing with their professors is reinforced by the current college president, Morty Schapiro, who hosts a scramble tournament each spring and fall pairing staff, faculty, and students together. In recent history, teams including Kevin Kellert '07 have been particularly successful.
The varsity men's team competes yearly against the best members of Taconic in the Shultz Cup, a match play competition named after Williams alumnus George Shultz. After losing for decades, the college kids claimed victory against the savvy members in the Fall of 2002 for the first time, and have not lost since. The Taconic experience is completed by Cathy and Rick Pohle's welcoming environment in the clubhouse for all, Greg Canales' excellent selection of BBC beer and food in the restaurant, and Kent Lemme and Matt Berger and the grounds crew's work keeping the course in pristine condition.
The golf at Taconic Golf Club and the academics at Williams College are both among the best the United States has to offer. There is nothing better than a Saturday afternoon spent golfing on Taconic with the crisp air, changing leaves, and the roar of Williams College football reverberating across the entire course. Every student should make it a point to play a round at Taconic sometime during their four years here.