Course Review: New England Country Club – July 17
I had the opportunity to play New England Country Club (NECC) in Bellingham, MA during the week of July 17. NECC is a public course with various levels of inner-club membership options.
A few of the holes border Woonsocket, RI (number one, 4, 5 and 15 and 16 are adjacent to Rhode Island.
Everyone should play this course at least once.
My history with this course – and its predecessor course – go back to my first introduction to golf. Woonsocket Country Club was transformed into New England Country Club in 1990. My first experience on a golf course was on Woonsocket Country Club in 1983.
In my first time ever on a golf course, I was hit in the arm by an errant tee shot from another fairway~ the first and last time to date I have been hit with a golf ball. I guess you remember those things.
New England Country Club was created with big fanfare in the late 1980’s. At the time, I worked for a company that financed golf courses. In reviewing credit applications, we were told to watch out for three traits that could negatively impact the financial success of a new golf course:
1 – overspending on a new clubhouse
2 – overspending on the course architect fee(s)
3 – depending on projected home lot sales to finance the course.
NECC was guilty of number two and three. Rumor has it that 20 time PGA Tour winner and three time US Open winner Hale Irwin was paid $950,000 to design the new course. Since I love the layout and it wasn’t my money, I was all for it.
Moreover, the home lot sales were designed to be rolled out in 1990-1991 and this little thing called the Rhode Island Credit Union Crisis hit new construction hard and the initial owners filed for bankruptcy.
Eventually the golf course management group of Chi-Chi Rodriguez and Jim Colbert ran the course for a few years and that was probably its heyday. Chi-Chi would run an annual golf clinic at the course to promote it and I attended several of them. 300-400 people would show up for his annual complimentary NECC event and the showman was fantastic.
One year a member of the audience asked Chi-Chi how he stays so calm on the course with so many people watching him. Chi-Chi made the guy join him on the tee and hit balls in front off everyone. In minutes, with Chi-Chi’s guidance, in front of everyone the guy went from a nervous wreck duffing balls 50 feet to lacing them long and straight down the middle ~ to this day it is one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen in golf.
Back to NECC of today:
When I checked in, I was treated warmly at the front desk. It is fairly obvious that the NECC team is customer focused. I took a cart for the long drive down to the driving range ~ which use to be adjacent to the old 1st hole.
The range is in much better shape than I can ever recall. The club disliked the abuse of the honor system at the range where people would take many extra range balls.
The range now has a pre-paid token system but the balls are among the worst I have ever seen anywhere in my golfing career. If you like to warm up before a round like I do and you can go elsewhere, do so. The range balls are that bad.
After warming up, my group went to the first hole which used to be the second hole. When the course first opened up in 1990, this hole was so tight that play reached a standstill so they opened up and extended the right half of the fairway.
The new first hole requires a precise approach shot and my second shot here is one of my favorites anywhere.
The course is usually described as “target golf”. If you know the course and know where to miss, you can take a C game and make a B+ score.
I told my group that I was going to write this review and we all came up with the same thoughts about NECC:
1 – A fantastic layout.
2 – Very nice but slightly slow greens (likely due to protect them from the extreme heat). The tee boxes were excellent and mostly nice fairways.
3 – An extremely nice staff*. One of my playing partners sliced his approach into the woods on number 8 and one of the maintenance employees stayed in the area to point out his ball (I found this very upsetting as he found his ball and chipped on to the green and one-putted for a par and tied me!)
4 – there are some very dry areas just off the fairways that could use some more watering.
We played in 3:50 ~ a perfect pace ~ no rushing or slow play. The greens fees were $70 with a cart (I generally like to walk but the course cannot be walked). We had one drink and as the cart girl approached, she knew where to go to protect herself and not distract us from our tee shots.
I shot an 80. I just knew where to hit it and where to avoid, combined with a few good up and downs.
Over the years NECC has gone though a lot of iterations. The day we played the course wasn’t that busy. In the past few seasons. management significantly increased the annual fees for the inner club members (a full unlimited membership is $5,200 per annum) and many of them left. Many went to nearby Maplegate Country Club (maybe another review soon).
New England Country Club has many more pluses than minuses and my recent round at NECC may have been my most enjoyable round of the year.