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BELLINGHAM â€“ New England Country Club is a hidden jewel among public golf courses in the Blackstone Valley.
â€śWeâ€™re located just on the edge of Woonsocket,â€ť said golf pro Mark Copithorne. â€śIn fact, part of our second hole is in Woonsocket, behind the Sears store on Diamond Hill Road. When I first came here, I couldnâ€™t believe you could be driving through Woonsocket and then within three blocks you are in this wooded area where a championship course was built.â€ť
Two-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin put his golf architecture skills to work while redesigning the course back in the 1980s. Taking advantage of the rolling hillside on which the course was originally built, Irwin produced a championship course that currently plays to 6,483 yards from the back tees. It is 6,148 from the middle tees and 5,867 from the front tees. The womenâ€™s tees play to 4,927 yards.
The golf course features sloping fairways, sidehill lies, double-tiered greens, tree-lined fairways, multiple tee boxes and electric golf carts fitted with a GPS system that gives yardages and suggestions on where to hit your tee shots.
Bellinghamâ€™s Mark Higgins, the reigning New England Amateur champion, plays often at the local club. He gives a scratch handicap golferâ€™s assessment of how to play the course.
â€śYou canâ€™t overpower the golf course,â€ť Higgins admitted. â€śYou really need to manage your game. You have to know where the pins are and whether you can go at them. You have to know which holes that you shouldnâ€™t hit driver on, and which holes you can get aggressive on.
â€śFor a public golf course, it is in tremendous shape,â€ť Higgins added. â€śI love the layout, now that I understand how to play the golf course. The ball rolls well on their greens, even if they werenâ€™t super-fast when I played there in a tournament last week.â€ť
Copithorne, who has been the head pro at NECC since 1997, spoke about how the course has changed over the years.
â€śThe former owners wanted to make it an ultra-private course back around 1989 or 1990,â€ť he said, â€śbut the funding fell through. In 2000, our owner, Rod Walkey, bought the golf course. Over the years, we have taken some trees down so that the course would play a little easier. When I came here in 1997, it was a very hard golf course. Now, I think good players can get a lot out of this golf course, but the average player can enjoy himself and shoot good scores, too. The course is not especially long. We have a lot of mounds and sloping fairways.â€ť
The golf course features between 35-40 sand traps. Water comes into play on five holes.
â€śThe 18th is probably our signature hole,â€ť Copithorne said. â€śThe tee is elevated and balls land in a fairway that slopes severely from left to right. There is a mound behind the green where people can sit in almost an amphitheater type of setting.â€ť
The 18th hole plays to 428 yards from the back tees. It is the fourth hardest hole on the course, according to the handicap listings on the scorecard. The 11th hole is second. That is a 534-yard par five.
On the front side, the par five fifth hole is the No. 1 handicap on the golf course, playing to 521 yards from the back tees.
â€śNumber five is almost a double-dogleg,â€ť Copithorne said. â€śGood players can reach this green with two shots. But there is a lot of trouble around the greens. And the green itself is double-tiered. Itâ€™s really a fun hole to play.â€ť
New England Country Club has hosted many professional and amateur tournaments over the years, including a U.S. Senior Open qualifier, a NCAA Division II regional, a U.S. Amateur qualifier, and the New England Public Links championship.
â€śMost of the golfers who play here come from Massachusetts,â€ť Copithorne said. â€śWe seem to get a lot of players from Bellingham, Medfield, Millis and the Worcester area.â€ť
The club hosts corporate outings and other tournaments.
â€śWe host tournaments for as small as 32-36 players and full tournaments with 152-156 players,â€ť Copithorne said. â€śWe do a lot of outings.â€ť
The club offers a variety of memberships for players, with a full membership of $2,900 allowing unlimited play. Tee times can be booked on-line (www.newenglandcountryclub.com) or by calling the pro shop (508-883-2300).
The golfing experience at New England C.C. can end with a trip to Eganâ€™s Pub, a full-service restaurant located next to the pro shop.
â€śWe have a great menu at Eganâ€™s Pub,â€ť general manager JoAnn Upham pointed out. â€śThereâ€™s an outdoor deck that overlooks the course. It is 4,000 square feet. Itâ€™s really a great way to relax after playing a round of golf.â€ť