Review: Bristol Harbour Golf Club

Course Name: Bristol Harbour Golf Club

Designer: Robert Trent Jones Sr. (Front 9)/Rees Jones (Back 9) (1972)

Location: Canandaigua, New York

History: Built by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and his son Rees in 1972, this resort course offers lodging and dining as well as golf. With two very distinct nines, the front and back sides were switched in 2008 to facilitate pace of play. Although not included in any official New York state ranking, Bristol Harbour is considered one of the top public courses in the Finger Lakes region. Jack Nicklaus holds the course record with a 67.

Conditions: 7/10, Although I played early in the season, I was impressed by the conditions at Bristol Harbour. The fairways had been recently mowed and were in remarkably good condition, as were the teeboxes. The greens were on the slower side, but rolled true. I will also note the rough was particularly thick and healthy compared to most public courses.

Value: 7/10, the early season and twilight rates are pretty great as 18 and a cart is under $50 until May 7th even at peak times. While the price does creep up to $85 at peak times in the summer, there are definitely still good deals available.

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Black                       72           6532               72.9              136

Blue                        72           6138               71.4               132

White                     72           5847               70.0               130

Green                     72           5462               68.3               126

Red                         72           4583               68.3               125

Best Score: 81 (Blue Tees), 4/15/2017 with Uncle Tom and Dad

Front 9 Best: 38 (Blue Tees), 4/15/2017 with Uncle Tom and Dad

Back 9 Best: 43 (Blue Tees), 4/15/2017 with Uncle Tom and Dad

Hole Descriptions: Wow! I will preface by saying that I’ve never played a course with two nines that played so differently. Outside of the fact that the front contains three par fives and is a par 37 (compared to 35 on the back), the front side was links-styled while the back side is tight and tree-lined. The resultant course makes it feel like you’re playing two different courses, and the variety of holes at Bristol Harbour is remarkable.

At 352 yards, the uphill, blind opening hole bends slightly to the right and is pretty open outside of two bunkers that line the fairway on both sides at about 230 yards from the tee. This elevated green is well-protected by deep bunkers in front and to the left. The 2nd hole runs downhill next the 1st as a 164 yard par 3. A bunker to the right and a waste area to the left guard this heavily sloped green. The 3rd hole is another wide-open blind uphill par 4 that features no real danger off the tee except for a tree just in the left rough about 190 yards from the tee. This green slopes hard back-to-front and plays longer than it looks. The first of three par 5’s on the front 9, the 4th hole is a fascinating short par 5 at 481 yards. While this hole plays downhill, the wind is a big factor here and is usually more important than the downhill. This narrow fairway is guarded by bunkers on both the left and right near the landing area. Hitting this narrow green in two is extremely risky – two bunkers protect the right side of the putting surface while a pond guards the left side. This green is further protected by several plateaus that create some nightmare putts.

One of my favorite holes on the front side, the uphill 358 yard 5th hole offers yet another blind teeshot. Three bunkers cluster in the left rough about 240 yards from the tee and appear very prominent from the teebox. This green slopes hard back-to-front and might be the highest point on the course; you can see for miles along Lake Canandaigua and the Bristol Mountains if you look back to the tee. At only 446 yards, the downhill par 5 7th was one of the most memorable and fun holes at Bristol Harbour. This risk/reward par 5 features OB left and tons of room to the right although this fairway isn’t particularly wide. Going for the green in two is tempting, but a pond running 75 yards before this shallow green complicates things. Three bunkers guard the back of this green and are common spots for those who overclub to avoid the water. At 469 yards, the third par 5 in four holes is a veritable three-shot hole due to its serious uphill slope. This hole is pretty straightforward with few obstacles until you reach this elevated green, which is guarded on all sides by five bunkers. The 183 yard 8th hole is similar to the 2nd as a downhill par 3 with scenic mountains in the background. Wind should play a big factor in club selection here. I was a big fan of the finishing hole on the front, which plays parallel to the 18th and is a better hole than the 18th in just about every regard. This strong 394 yard dogleg right is open off the tee but narrows considerably, as water lines the right side of this hole for the final 100 yards. This green is shaped like an hourglass and is extremely narrow. A bunker to the left is a common bailout for those who fear the creek to the right.

The 10th hole immediately provides you with a stark contrast from the open, linksy front 9. This downhill 491 yard par 5 is heavily tree-lined and feels more claustrophobic off the tee than it should because you’re not used to such a tight hole. At about 225 yards, this tight fairway turns slightly left and stays downhill and straight until this green. The green and lay-up are well-protected by several bunkers and a small pond to the left of this green. The 11th hole is a beautiful downhill par 3 at 173 yards that features a diagonal, skinny green. Two well-placed bunkers guard the front and back of this green. At 350 yards, the 12th hole features a tight, blind uphill teeshot. This green is elevated and has two deep bunkers in the front. The straightaway uphill 349 yard 13th hole is a bit more generous than the previous few but still lined by trees and houses on both sides. This hole features only two bunkers but they are strategically placed on the left side of the fairway and just in front of the green. The 14th hole at Bristol Harbour is their signature hole, the number 1 handicap hole, and the hole most players will probably remember best. At 381 yards, this hole requires an accurate teeshot through a chute of trees and houses. With about 140 yards to the green, this hole turns sharply left and runs straight downhill to the green (seen below in pictures). This skinny green is framed by four bunkers on the back of it. This was indeed a fun, memorable hole, but I’m not sure it’s the best design I’ve ever seen.

After the difficult and confusing 14th, the 15th is a very challenging par 3 at 164 yards. You’re required to carry your teeshot the entire way to avoid a gorge and several creeks. If you look to the left of this green, there’s a steep, rocky embankment and river visible. The 16th was my favorite par 4 on the course. Only 319 yards on the scorecard, this uphill dogleg right is a beautiful hole framed by large trees and a creek that runs along the entire right side. This elongated, elevated green is guarded by bunkers on both sides. The 17th is another visually attractive hole at 350 yards. This teebox is elevated and requires a forced carry over a valley to fairway lined by trees on both sides. This fairway runs severely uphill to an elevated green that takes smart club selection to reach. This green not surprisingly runs hard back-to-front and left-to-right. Running parallel to the 9th hole, the finishing hole plays only 331 yards and straightaway. Water comes into play on the left side about 115 yards from the green and is definitely something to consider when choosing your club to tee off with. This water runs all the way to the left side of this difficult, sloping green.

Best Par 3: 15th hole, 164 yards, 7th handicap. The best of a very solid collection group of one-shotters, this excellent hole requires a carry the entire way over a gorge to a narrow green framed by trees. My affection for this hole wasn’t hurt by the fact that I almost aced it.

Best Par 4: 16th hole, 319 yards, 13th handicap. The 14th hole is their signature hole with its severe downhill approach, but I particularly enjoyed the 16th for its simplicity. This uphill dogleg right plays longer than the scorecard indicates and requires an accurate drive and approach to avoid several hazards along the way. A creek hugs the right side of the hole while two bunkers guard the left side of the fairway and force long hitters to choose their club wisely off the tee. A picture of this beautiful hole can be seen below.

Best Par 5: 6th hole, 446 yards, 6th handicap. An excellent short par 5, everything is right in front of you on this severely downhill hole. For those able to hit this tight fairway, the green is probably within reach in two, but there are numerous factors to consider. Most of the lies in the fairway are on a downslope, and a large pond requires a carry all the way to the green. To make matters more difficult, this green is wide but very shallow, with a string of bunkers guarding behind it. Tons of birdies and tons of blowups will be seen on this scenic risk/reward par 5, and that’s exactly how a good short par 5 should play.

General Comments: Although we didn’t utilize them, Bristol Harbour is home to some fantastic practice facilities with a full range and expansive chipping and putting area. I can’t speak for in-season play, but pace of play was great when we played. In addition to some of the friendliest staff I’ve ever met, the golf carts at this course were top notch, with accurate GPS and scoring in every cart.

Verdict: With breathtaking views of Lake Canandaigua and an interesting, fun design, I highly recommend Bristol Harbour and all it offers to anyone visiting the Greater Rochester area.

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