Back a couple weeks ago, I finally worked out a time that Tony Pioppi and I could play. The capstone course of the day trip was Hooper, ranked the seventh best nine hole course in North America in Tony's book The Finest Nines, available here. From there, I found three other nine hole courses in close proximity to Hooper. One of them was discarded because of time constraints. On the day, we played Bellows Falls, Hooper, and Pine Grove Springs.
Bellows Falls was fantastic. Tony is vigorously researching as I write this to find out who designed the course. Whoever did the design knew what he or she was doing. The first two holes are incredible holes. I'm trying to remember if I've ever played two opening holes as good as these; I can say with certainty that the opening two at Bellows Falls are better than the opening two at Bethpage Black. The course could handle a bit of work, not even something a course architect would be needed for, just an expansion of mowing lines, a little tree thinning, and a good aeration/topdressing of the greens. That said, the course is stellar. Common statements during the round were "whoever designed this knew how to build golf holes" and "how has no one ever told me about this place?" It's not often that a true gem can be found by chance, but it certainly happened here. Full review forthcoming.
Hooper was the capstone course in the trip and did not disappoint. All the holes are good holes and the round works up and down, with easier shots followed by difficult shots. The opening par 5 is a fantastic hole. Well placed shots can give an excellent opportunity for birdie to start off the round. The holes have great variety, very long par 4s and short 54s, a good spread in yardage on the par 3s, and solid variety on the two 5s. This course was just purchased by a new owner, hopefully he can do some good work with the course. This is certainly a nine hole course worth a significant trip to see. Full review forthcoming.
Pine Grove Springs...Hole 1 and hole 9 are good holes with really good greens. The turf on the greens here was the best of the three courses we played. I don't want to write a mean-spirited review, so I'll just leave this one here.
Hooper was the best of the trip, but, in my opinion, not by a wide margin. Bellows Falls was very good. I asked Tony on the 8th tee if Bellows would be an honorable mention for his best 25 if it goes for a second addition or even in the top 25. I have not played all the courses, but I will say that I certainly think Bellows Falls is better than one of the courses on the list that I have played. Fantastic courses and a great trip. Oh, and the BBQ joint in Brattleboro, VT, Top of the Hill Grill, has decent pulled pork, good ribs, good brisket, and stellar scenery. Eat there. Great trip...Bellows Falls, Hooper, and Top of the Hill, I'd do that again.