Course Review: New England Country Club – August 19, 2023
I played New England Country Club in Bellingham, MA in mid-August. I played the course last year about this time and enjoyed it.
Two major things changed about the course to the negative: the greens fees apparently increased and the course conditions deteriorated.
I have played this course a few hundred times. In the early ‘90’s, the original developer of the course hired PGA Tour Player and Hall of Famer Hale Irwin to redesign the course.
This original design of the course has pretty much stayed intact and is a truly terrific one.
I was forewarned from their website that the weekend greens fees had increased to $99 per player on the weekend.
My recollection is that I paid $70 last year.
I took that as an excellent sign that the course would be in terrific shape. Sadly I was incorrect.
As you can see from the attached pictures, there are many rough spots on the tees and fairways.
I drove into the very familiar gates and went to check in at the counter. Three were three people at the in the pro shop.
The pro shop employee and one other member. I stood there for a good five minutes in bemusement that they couldn’t interrupt their conversation for 30 seconds to let me check in.
Even though the green fees are now $99, range balls are not complimentary and the tokens are about $10 for the equivalent of a large bucket.
I finally checked in and brought a cart to the car to get my clubs.
This year the carts have been updated with a nice GPS setting.
The new screens are very helpful and make it easier for newcomers to play the course and the system also lets you know exactly how far the player carts are ahead of you.
NECC has several blind shots and this is an extremely welcomed addition.
It seemed to work well for us and for the foursome behind us until the 18th hole when they hit into us (maybe screen fatigue?). I headed down the long trek to the driving range.
Even though the range is short, it is in the best shape I have ever seen it and the range balls are now acceptable.
In the past, NECC range balls might have been the worst I have ever seen and mostly un-hittable. That changed and I was hopeful of more course improvements.
The one major issue about the range is that the ninth hole (the old 1st hole) is adjacent to the range and it is extremely easy to pull a driving range ball into the first fairway.
About 6 years ago, the pro recommended that the club put in a protective net to protect players in the 9th fairway but was voted down due to expense of the project. After a good warm-up, I headed back to the clubhouse towards the 1st fee.
The 1st tee use to be the second tee and the current number nine is the old number one. For the entire history of the course, the current ninth hole was (usually) number one and number two was occasionally number one.
For most of my playing days at NECC, the par five first was the normal rout and players meandered through the main parking lot to get to hole number two.
The main issue now is after completing the old number 8, play moves to the old number one (par 5).
After completing the 9th, players must drive 750 yards plus to the 10th hole. This became an issue on the back nine.
We played the first nine in about two hours but the second nine was much slower – mostly from a foursome a couple of groups ahead – that inadvertently or intentionally – skipped the 9th hole and jumped to the 10th tee.
Once on the 1st tee, we were right on time for a our tee time and play was running on time as well.
Again, the course is well laid out and a blast to play. I found the greens to be in excellent shape and running nicely.
In the past, some years the bunkers were hit or miss but this year they all appear to be in good shape. However, the rest of the course left much to be desired.
There were many bare spots on the course and many of the tee boxes were in terrible shape.
When you play at NECC, it is pretty much a given that the cart paths are in disarray.
In the many years I have played the course, the only improvement on a path that I have seen is the long path from the clubhouse to the driving range (now the long path from the 9th green to the 10th tee).
I am worried about the golfing landscape of public golf in greater Rhode Island. Currently, NECC is charging $99 per person for a course in subpar condition.
Additionally, I was told that another nearby course charged $90 this weekend for terrible course conditions and a 5 hour and 45 minute round.
All in all, I might now play NECC every second or third year, but I won’t be heading back there soon.