Appeared in 2010 LINKS Premier Clubs
Geographically, Connecticut is a part of New England. But in many respects—landscape, sensibility, lifestyle—it is a state divided.
The southwest corner of Connecticut is occupied by Fairfield County, which is very much a suburb of New York City and is marked by subdivisions, packed commuter trains, malls and rush-hour traffic. But as you head north toward Litchfield County, the cul de sacs turn into rolling farmland, malls become charming villages out of Norman Rockwell paintings and highways narrow to two-lane country roads that traverse the rolling landscape that is quintessentially New England.
And Fairfield’s tight parkland golf courses with parallel fairways give way to the expansive Tom Fazio layout at Bull’s Bridge Golf Club, which sits atop a ridge that delivers long, panoramic views of the surrounding Litchfield Hills.
Although it is located no more than a 90-minute drive from New York City, Bull’s Bridge is a world apart. In a marked contrast to congested weekend playgrounds like the Hamptons on Long Island or Nantucket in Massachusetts, Litchfield attracts city denizens who are truly looking for peace and solitude.
They find it by exploring the area’s hiking trails, by visiting the small towns that are perfect for galleries and antique shops, and by whiling away lazy summer days at scenic Lake Waramaug. But until the opening of Bull’s Bridge in 2003, golfers’ choices in the area were limited. There were only a few courses, and most of them were nine-holers. Which meant that serious players didn’t have a suitable course on which to tee it up.
“We have a home five miles away,” says Los Angeles-based actor Peter Gallagher. “When our kids were small, we belonged to a beautiful nine-hole family club. Bull’s Bridge was one of the first championship courses in the area and it’s perfect for someone who loves golf as much as I do.”
Located down the road from its namesake, a covered one-lane span dating from the colonial era that is still in use, Bull’s Bridge Golf Club melds the past and present to great effect. Fazio’s layout is modern enough to challenge today’s long hitters, flexible enough to be enjoyable for all levels of players and natural enough to be the first course in New England to have been designated a certified Audubon International Signature Sanctuary.
In addition, Fazio was able to route a 7,012-yard course around old stone walls that are a vestige of the site’s farmland past. Not only did the club preserve this piece of history, it has been able to integrate new sections with the old ones seamlessly to make the walls an integral part of the course’s visual appeal.The dominant landform of the layout is a ridge on which the clubhouse, practice area and the 1st, 9th, 10th and 11th holes sit. Much of the front nine is located in a valley to the east, while the closing holes sit in a hollow to the west. Despite the site’s elevation changes, Fazio’s artful design asks golfers to make surprisingly few climbs, whether while playing a hole or heading to a tee box.
The course starts with a welcoming 534-yard par 5 that gradually tumbles downhill, offering even medium hitters a chance to reach the green in two and start the round with a confidence-boosting birdie.
“The 1st tee is breathtaking,” says founding member Peter May. “The view is the best of any opening hole I’ve ever played. You feel like you can see forever.”
Players can build on that start at the 322-yard 2nd, which plays downhill from the elevated tee on the ridge to a wide fairway in the valley. Players attempting to drive the green must avoid a pond to the right, while those laying up must place their drives precisely to set up the best angle to the green, which slopes from front to back.
Several other holes, like the 432-yard 5th and 607-yard 6th, play slightly downhill, before the 358-yard 8th climbs the ridge to an elevated green that is protected by bunkers. Back on top, Fazio designed a succession of strong holes, including the 495-yard 11th, the longest par 4 on the course.
The following hole, the intimidating 204-yard 12th that plays over wetlands, was the opening hole when the club used a nine-hole routing for preview rounds for founding members, who were so eager to play the only Fazio-designed holes in the state (and just the second in New England) that they wouldn’t think twice about treating their luxury cars like off-road vehicles as they climbed the dirt road that was the only way up the ridge during construction.
“I had never seen a golf course being built before,” says President Peter Rothschild. “And before construction started, we got a chance to meet with Tom in New York City. To learn about his vision and hear his passion for the project got us so excited about playing it.”
During construction, Fazio made as many trips to Bull’s Bridge as he could squeeze into his schedule. Because every site visit was a family reunion of sorts: Logan, Fazio’s eldest son, was the project manager while another son, Gavin, was attending the South Kent School, located across the street from the club entrance.
Fazio was able to oversee a strong stretch of finishing holes like the 433-yard 17th, which narrows gradually from tee to green, making a longer drive more likely to be blocked by the trees and placing an emphasis on placement. Just as the layout starts with a good chance at birdie, so it finishes. Although it moves uphill, the 495-yard 18th hole is a par 5 that gives most players a chance to go for the green in two. Although narrow, the long green offers a chipping area to the left, giving players missing the green on this side a chance to get up and down to finish the round memorably with a birdie.
But even if players make double bogey on the finishing hole, the quaint, comfortable clubhouse that is the hub of the club’s social scene gives them a chance to recover and regroup in agreeable surroundings—and even better company.
They can sit and eat lunch or sip a drink. Or they can have Director of Golf Paul Ramee Jr. take a look at their swings on the large practice area, which has the best views of any range in the Northeast.
“We really have a great course and great facilities,” says Rothschild. “But Bull’s Bridge is all about the people, from the staff to the members.”
In fact, the Bull’s Bridge family is more tightly knit than the memberships of most clubs. That’s because the members had to band together to keep the club moving forward during a difficult transition in ownership from the developer.
“Ultimately, the membership was able to pull together,” says Rothschild. “We rallied together for a common cause, and that brought us closer together.”
Although Bull’s Bridge is just seven years old, its bucolic setting and the way Fazio’s layout has matured make the club seem as though it has been a part of the northwest Connecticut landscape for decades. Similarly, it has made a lasting imprint in the golf lives of its members.
“I don’t get a chance to visit very often,” says Gallagher, “but I always look forward to the experience. It just gets better; it just gets deeper. It’s like how the stone walls became exposed during construction. The more I play it, the more I discover about the place.”