The Golf Club at Equinox

6,069 yards, 125 Slope from the Whites

Course: Manchester Village, Vermont.  This is where The GC at Equinox is located and it happened to be the first time I had visited the great state of Vermont.  GCE is a Rees Jones/Walter Travis design and is nestled in the green mountains that is part of the Equinox Resort and Spa.

As part of my quest to play in all 50 states, I met a friend in Albany and we headed to the course on a perfect summer day.  While I had played in New Hampshire over a decade ago, there were a lot of New England states I had not yet ventured to for a round, so my friend volunteered to take me to a few of them over the weekend.  Being from California and driving through the Sierra Nevadas, I had yet to see an impressive mountain range out on the East coast, but driving up to the course took us through some nice ones.  And I suppose they don’t call it the green state for nothing, as these hills were verdant and sizable.  Vermont had a very fresh feel about it and as we arrived at Manchester Village, I couldn’t help but feel immediately relaxed.  The classic colonial hotel sits above the village and at the base of a rather high peak while the course runs over and through the hills and woods below.

Resort courses (at least where the golf isn’t the focal point) run into some quandaries, as the developer probably would like it to not be over challenging and frustrating, would like to showcase views as much as possible, but would probably also like the course to have interest and complexity so it doesn’t become boring with repeat play.  There are many ways to go about this, but I think Equinox struck the right note with a course that has diversity and intrigue without being overly penal.  Most tee shots are fairly generous while greens are mostly pitched, with a few sunken, from the fairway.  There are very few forced carries and although the course is set in mountainous forestland, does well at providing wide corridors where the trees structure play without stifling it.  There are a good amount of elevation changes, which should be expected, the views are indeed there and add to the enjoyment of the round and the bunkers are typically on the larger side and smartly placed near the greens.

The other thing I noticed, was the quiet.  Sure most courses are relatively serene, but as the course is surrounded by larger mountain peaks, I felt more of an isolated tranquility here.  The course did well to blend in to this ambiance.

After having lunch in the rustic clubhouse that included some of the famous Vermont cheddar, we headed to the First tee and jaunted around the mountainside for a few hours on what would be one of my lowest scoring rounds ever.

The First is a 334 yard par 4 (from the Whites).  The tee shot is elevated to a generous fairway that runs downhill to the green.  The treeline along the right side penalizes any slices while the left side is fairly open, even going further on to the Ninth fairway.  The green is tame, with a single bunker along the front left.  The hole is a gentle handshake, giving you a chance to take in the scenery and properly unwind, all while warming up for tougher challenges ahead.

Approach shot at the First, with the green hills abound in the background.

The Second is a 385 yard par 4.  The hole proceeds in the same direction as the First, but is on flat terrain.  The fairway squirms a little, but all the action is near the green, as there are several bunkers protecting it and it’s some what pitched, creating some nice undulation.  Also, watch out for the road on the extreme left of the green.  It is possible to hit over there, not that I know from personal experience…  A little more exciting than the First, but the warm up continues.

The Second, on the left side of the fairway

Approach shot territory

The Third is a 346 yard par 4.  The Third is a 346 yard par 4.  The fairway dips before reaching the green and trees are placed nicely along the left side.  The green undulates a little and any shot too far of the sides is penalized adequately.  Off to the left, you can see the church peeking out of the trees where the nearby village is.  The tranquility continues.

The Fourth is a 141 yard par 3.  Before you reach the hole, there is a rest room for your use.  It was one of the nicest portable bathrooms I’ve seen.

As for the hole, the green is elevated from the tee and sits perpendicular as well.  The green is well-sized, but anything long of it faces a tricky down hill chip shot out of rough.

The Fifth is a 316 yard par 4.  The course starts to get a little unique with this fun short par 4.  The fairway bottlenecks then descends from view of the tee, creating a blind tee shot that demand precision.  The fairway continues to fall to the green, which makes most approach shots face a downhill or sidehill lie.  There is lots going on here and there are fun decisions to make.  The long hitters can certainly reach the green since it’s downhill from the tee, but the slope to the green makes most short shots bounce and roll past the green.  Fun, beauty and a little thinking.  Nothing wrong with that out of a round.  

Approach shot territory

The Sixth is a 323 yard par 4.  This hole switches back in the direction of the Fifth, but the trees and angle of the Sixth makes this an acceptable switch back since the Fifth is no where to be seen.  The hole does proceed uphill and is on the narrow side, with a fairly more difficult approach shot, which must carry a green side bunker and cascades to either side from the center.  Two very nice short par 4’s back to back and now we’re cooking.

Approach shot territory

The Seventh is a 502 par 5.  Uphill.  The fun continues as this hole climbs up the mountain.  There is a forced carry as the fairway has a break in it and the green, tucked in towards the left side, tightens up a little with bunkers lining either side.  It’s a bear of a hole, but provides relief with the amount of room between the green and fairway.

The Seventh

Looking back from the green

Another look at the town

The Eighth is a 380 yard par 4.  The fairway is set to the left of the elevated tee and while it is tree lined on both sides, is generously wide.  The view from the tee is exhilarating.  The green rises above the fairway and sits perched above it, with bunkers at the bottom on either side, making for steep bunker recovery shots.  The house behind the green is gorgeous as well.  I kept trying to figure out if it was apartments, but I believe it may be a single house.  Stunning.

The Eighth

Approach shot territory

The Ninth is a 344 yard par 4.  It’s almost too similar to the Eighth, except the tee shot isn’t elevated.  The fairway climbs back to the clubhouse and bunkers in front of the green create a forced carry approach shot.  You could just pull your approach shot around the bunkers into the left rough, then have a downhill pitch shot from the rough, like I did, but I’d rather carry the bunkers next time I play here.

The Ninth

Approach shot territory

The front nine sets the tone for a serene round in a scenic atmosphere.  While the beginning holes gradually acclimate you, the short par 4’s and par 5 make things memorable.  Ranking them for me would be 5, 7, 6, 8, 3, 2, 4, 1, 9.

The back nine starts with the 336 yard par 4 Tenth.

The tee shot is elevated and the hole juts off to the left at an angle.  The tee shot is vital to hit well or otherwise the tree lines will interfere with a proper approach shot to the green.  The green itself is mild, but the rough around it seemed to be a little nastier than in other spots.

The Eleventh is a 361 yard par 4.  The hole snakes around bunkers to the green, with trees lining both sides.  There are a nice pattern of bunkers placed in assorted areas, most of them coming into play with the approach shot.  The bunkering actually shapes the hole well, and dictates shots.  The rough starts becoming more of a factor, as hitting out of it to carry the bunkers and reach the green is a task.

The Eleventh

The Twelfth is a 347 yard par 4.  The course now seems to be all business, as placement off the tee is crucial and bunkers continue to crowd the green.  The same formula applies; any bad shot off the tee exponentially toughens the approach shot, especially with the bunkers.  This hole starts with an elevated tee shot to a sunken fairway, then rises yet again to the green.  The bunker to the right of the green is fairly severe.

The Twelfth

Moving down the fairway

The Thirteenth is a 401 yard par 4.  The theme of “valley” holes continues, as the tee shot is once again to a sunken fairway, then the green is elevated.  The theme for this course works though.  You’re in the mountains, amongst the hills and through them, so it makes sense for the holes to have the same bounding effect.  This hole dog legs slightly to the right, with the tree line on the right blocking out the right side.  The green is probably the most elevated, sitting on a terrace of a larger hill.  It’s one of the best approach shots on the course.

The Thirteenth

Approach shot territory

The Fourteenth is a 112 yard par 3.  It’s the shortest par 3 on the course by far and as the green is below the tee area, is even shorter than the stated yardage.  I actually enjoyed the pin placement on the front of the green, which runs from back to front.  Any shot going past the hole would be left with a pretty tough downhill putt, making par far from guaranteed.  Unlike most of the other holes, a poor shot is penalized severely.

View from the Fourteenth tee, looking back at the Thirteenth and Twelfth

The Fourteenth

The Fifteenth is a 462 yard par 5.  The course continues to assert its identity at this point, all while revealing some of the more riveting views and scenery.  This hole is a double dog leg, turning wildly to the left before back to the right, down to the green, which is protected well by trench-like bunkers. The hole rises then falls consistent with the theme here.  While it’s a fairly short par 5, the narrow fairway, twists, turns and green side bunkers ensure there is sufficient challenge to making par.

The Fifteenth

The green

The Sixteenth is a 181 yard par 3.  The green sits uphill form the tee, lengthening the distance a little, with bunkers lining either side proceeding up to the green.  While the hole screams at you to not end up short, going long leaves you with a tough putt running from back to front.  And going to the right because most of the green is on that side means you face not only a putt that runs back to front, but also right left.  A nicely done par 3.

The Sixteenth

The Seventeenth is a 403 yard par 4.  The hole is a hard dog leg left, putting a lot of emphasis on the tee shot.  The green is likewise raised and has bunkers placed around it.  It’s a tough hole and at this point, it is obvious the course is all in on challenging you.

The Seventeenth

The Eighteenth is a 395 par 4.  The toughest tee shot is on the final hole, with a large tree place on the left side of the fairway, forcing you to either draw around it or carry over it.  The fairway is narrow with a OB treeline along the right side and a large bunkers on the left, which pinches the fairway at the green.  The green is deep but narrow.  It is certainly a difficult closing hole, but the difficulty is placed where it is expected you to be playing best.  This is one of the better designed holes on the course IMO.

The Eighteenth, with the tree looming

Another look, from farther back on the tee
Moving down the fairway

The back nine held a lot more interest for me than the front, although my interest seems to correlate with difficulty, which is clearly ramped up as the round marches on.  The par 4’s were very good, the par 3’s contrast as sharply as possible and the par 5 defends itself well.  I’d rank them 18, 13, 15, 17, 16, 12, 11, 10, 14.

Generally, I enjoyed the course, the area, and the state of Vermont, a lot.  The day typified what I look for in a summer round, as it was relaxing and the course guided you along, slowly introducing more challenging elements to the holes until outright shoving it front of you, literally, on the tee of the Eighteenth.  While relying too much on the scenery and churning out an overly player-friendly course, but Equinox does well to inject character and intrigue, as well as meld the course within the surrounding hills, peaks and valleys.  I’m pretty sure I would have enjoyed myself even if I didn’t play well, I liked the area that much.

Gripes:  Not much.  There isn’t a driving range.

Bar/Grill:  A nice outdoor porch area to eat and drink with a similar indoor area.  Views of the mountains abound.

Practice area:  Only a putting green.

Nearby:  The rest of Manchester Village is walking distance away.  There’s also a private course next door that looked pretty nice.

Getting there:  I am no help here; my friend drove.