RBC Heritage

Harbour Town Golf Links

Shennecossett Golf Course

Groton, CT Public


From Golf Digest Architecture Editor Emeritus Ron Whitten:

As they say, there’s no fool like an old fool.

This old fool knew going in that the old Donald Ross-designed Shennecossett Golf Course in Groton, Connecticut had undergone some changes over 20 years ago. It was offered a land swap by its neighbor to the north, Pfizer Pharmaceutical. The pharma got major parts of old holes five and seven and the entire par-3 sixth, and in exchange it gave the city of Groton a hunk of riverfront land on which to build three replacement holes. Those were subsequently designed by Mark Mungeam, who learned the business from Geoff Cornish and Brian Silva and served as Geoff’s partner during the last decades of Geoff’s life.

So when I teed it up at Shennecossett, I did so in anticipation of those three new holes, which come late in the round. I was anxious to see if Mungeam tried to emulate the Ross style, or did what many architects before him have done when working on a Ross course (Pete Dye and Tom Fazio come to mind), and simply disregarded the original design.

Until I reached those new holes (the 15th through 17th), I was content to scrutinize the original Ross holes, holes built in 1914, not 1898 as the scorecard read. (The original course was by Tom Bendelow and had been totally replaced by Ross.)

The 345-yard first (where the tee shot plays across Plant Street, named for Morton Plant, owner of the Griswold Hotel and Ross’ client on this project), has a great old Ross bunker clear across the front of the green. Actually, it’s 30 yards short of the green and nailed me (who plays sans range finder) as my 7-iron shot looked pin high, but ended up on the front collar. The tee shot on the par-4 third seemed rather bland, but the shot downhill to a canted green tucked into a hollow was appealing. The uphill 208-yard fourth was a brute, although its bunkers need some deepening.

The fifth was the first really classic Ross hole on the course, a downhill 565-yard par 5 with a fairway that twists and turns around clusters of fescue-edged bunkers left and right. This is risk-reward strategy at its finest. Following two very good par 4s was another fine par 5, the 490-yard eighth, a narrow shot uphill between trees, then over a string of bunkers that splits the fairway into right and left halves midway between landing area and the green. It's probably a pushover for big hitters, but for most golfers who frequent Shennecossett, this is a fine pick-your-avenue par 5. That Donald Ross knew what he was doing.

The ninth was another good par 3, 175 yards long, with great Ross bunkers that they'd obviously deepened in recent years. The 10th tee sits on the edge of Plant Street, with a fairway across the pavement and down a valley. After a series of parallel par 4s (interrupted only by the tiny, nasty 125-yard 12th), I walked through a tunnel beneath another street to reach the Mungeam trio.

He did a fine job on the 195-yard par-3 15th. For the uninitiated, it could pass for a Donald Ross hole. On the dogleg-left 400-yard 16th, Mungeam created a wonderful Ross-like green, where the horizon line is the green surface itself. The backdrop is the Thames River and Long Island Sound, as glorious a spot as there is on the Connecticut coastline. (Turns out the 16th green sits on a spot formerly occupied by that once-majestic Griswold Hotel, built in 1898 along with a rudimentary six-hole golf course. The hotel fell into disrepair in the 1950s, and when it was razed in 1962, the city bought the golf course and Pfizer bought the hotel site.)

Only a string of pointy mounds to the right of the sixteenth fairway, mounds obviously installed to keep tee shots from rolling onto the 17th hole, keep Shennecossett's 16th from truly passing as a Donald Ross creation. The 17th bears the unmistakable mark of the late 20th Century, a stretch of wetlands short of the green that could not be touched. That's not something Donald Ross ever had to fuss with. In his day, he would have just filled them in.

I concluded with one last walk with Donald Ross down the 500-yard 18th, which plays well past the clubhouse to a sunken green benched out onto a slope. As I threw my clubs in my trunk, I remember thinking that Mark did okay on his three-hole addition, but his holes were no match for authentic Ross holes like five, eight and even 18.

Little did I know. When I got home, I dug out an old Ross routing of Shennecossett from my files, one showing 12 holes north of Plant Street. I compared it with the present layout. The fabulous fifth wasn't there. Oh, its green was there, serving the old par-4 eighth, but the twisting, turning fairway and clusters of bunkers were obviously added by Mungeam.

The par-5 eighth (with its center string of bunkers) wasn't there either. In its place was the uphill 170-yard 11th and the dogleg-left par-4 12th. The present eighth is a totally new hole from tee to green. The par-3 ninth is also a new hole. Its predecessor played from the same tee straight over Plant Street to the present 10th green. It was the old par-5 13th.

And the 18th had been a 315-yard par-4, with a green snuggled next to the clubhouse. A new tee and green, both by Mungeam, makes it a much more dramatic finishing hole.

I called Mungeam, who took delight when he heard how he'd bamboozled me. Most of the Ross features and Ross strategies I had admired were actually Mark's. He did confess that he incorporated old existing fairway bunkers as the center string of bunkers on the eighth. But Ross had them on the right of a hole. It was Mark's idea to use them to split a fairway.

I'd like to think that when I played Shennecossett my game had distracted me from discerning the difference between the old and new holes. But to be honest, Mungeam integrated those new front nine holes so well, I had no clue. That's either the sign of a befuddled golf course critic or the technique of a talented architect who took pains to emulate the existing style of a Donald Ross course. I desperately want to believe it’s the latter.


Holes 18
Length 6562
Slope 124
Price $72
Facility Type Public
Year Opened 1898
Designer Donald J. Ross, ASGCA


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