The Golf Club at Equinox in Manchester Village, VT
Tee Time: July 22, 2015, 11:50, 69 F, scattered showers
Designer: Walter Travis, 1926/Rees Jones, 1991
Playing Partners: Bill and Rich (I said BILL and Rich, not these guys…)
Tees: Gold, Par 71 (70.8 rating/129 slope/6,423 yards)
Course Handicap: 9 (8.2 index)
Stats: 86 (44-42); 28 putts; 6/15 fairways; 6/18 greens; 4 penalty strokes
Finally the journey to new states resumes. It’s July 2015 and the last new state I had visited prior to today was New Hampshire in July 2014. A year later I’m about a par-4 west of Portsmouth, in the Green Mountain State, Vermont. Located in the small town of Manchester Village, The Golf Club at Equinox was an easy target for me. I spent the last couple weeks in Cooperstown visiting my parents and rubbing elbows with Hall of Famers (or in Bert Blyleven’s case, having bunny ears cast upon my head) for induction weekend. A top rated course in Vermont, Equinox is a scant 99 miles from my parents’ new cottage. Of course, if that’s 99 Arizona miles, this is about an hour. In New England, it’s 3 hours of winding upstate two-lane highways in a soft-top Jeep that is as quiet and comfortable as a John Deere tractor.
Equinox is not a very long course, there are many holes where driver stays in the bag. The opening par-4 1st is a good example. Playing 351 yards downhill, the fairway is generously wide and leaves a wedge shot to a shallow green. The 398-yard 2nd plays longer and uphill with a green well-guarded up front by sand (hard, clay sand). The 385-yard 3rd is a sneaky dangerous hole. A big tree can mess with tee shots on the left, and then there’s a street on the right. The green is large and deceptive. The 4th is an uphill par 3 of 159 yards that plays at least a club longer, maybe a club and a half. The 5th is the bell hole! There weren’t enough groups to get to ring the bell, sadly. This is a scary tee shot to a first timer. As blind as they get, it calls for just a 180-200 yard shot and not an inch more. From there it’s a straight down 100-yard shot to a back-to-front green. Ring the bell three times before that to give the all clear. Ring the bell four times and, well, I’m not supposed to talk about what happens when you do that.
The 6th is a tough, short par 4 because of what’s going on around the green. It’s very wide and guarded by strategically placed bunkers as well as some tough chips. The par-5 7th is the “road hole”. Any tee shot will do, and going for two is possible. About 180 yards from the green crosses the main road into Manchester Village, so make sure to carry that and not dent a minivan carrying a family of five on their way to apple picking. That wouldn’t be good. And then the rains came. After I ran off the 7th green, par in hand, my group and I sat huddled under the weather station for a good 15 minutes while buckets dumped from the skies almost out of nowhere. Thank God it was timed perfectly with that weather hut, because in shorts and a polo, I was not equipped for a New England summer shower. When the rain finally switched from ‘full’ to ‘drip’, we teed off at the elevated 8th tee way down to the fairway. The approach is back up to an elevated green that is very large and not an easy two putt. The front side closes coming back to the clubhouse with a 363-yard par 4 that plays to a tough back-to-front green. Also, that dining porch feels like it’s right on the back of the green, so don’t go long on the approach and spoil someone’s BLT.
The backside opens with more rain. And a 355-yard downhill dogleg-right. The corner is well bunkered, but from the fairway there’s a good angle to the green. The 11th is one of the wider fairways to aim for, especially relative to how they narrow up the rest of the round. This 379-yard par 4 has another tough green to attack, as it’s elevated and doesn’t hold approaches well.
The 12th is a fun, short par 4 that plays to a very elevated green. You get a nice view of the old church steeple in the background before your approach.
The 14th is a 126-yard par 3 tucked behind the 12th tee and 13th green almost as an afterthought. Like they only built 17 holes and had to shoehorn this one in. It’s a scary little shot, with a small green and trouble coming up quickly wherever you miss. The final par 5 is birdie country. Any tee shot will do, and from there it’s about 230 or so downhill to a large green guarded to the front by bunkers that bottleneck the approach to just a few yards. Go over the green and have a safer chip back on if you miss and get that birdie. The 16th is a nasty, long par 3 of 197 yards that plays much longer with a back pin on this uphill shot. There are bunkers along the right that grab mishits of all distances and a false front. Put a good swing on it because this hole is sponsored by Land Rover Driving School, who offer a free two-hour driving lesson to anyone who records an ace. The 17th is a sharp dogleg-left that leaves a lenghty approach with a large sand trap guarding the right. The closing 18th is a tough shot to shape around a large tree that blocks the left side. From there, it is uphill to a relatively narrow green, and a really big bunker guarding the left.
While I was actually out playing Equinox, I didn’t feel like I was playing anything that special. Maybe it was the rain, or being a little tired from the three hour drive, or just a million other things. But while writing this post, and especially looking back at the pictures, this place is beautiful. I’d definitely come back. It’s so green and lush. Being a Troon-managed course, you know it’s going to be in good condition. Maybe I should come back in a couple months when those hills are golden with the changing colors of fall and see what all the fuss is about with these New England autumns. I recommend this course if you’re wandering through with some golf clubs in Vermont. This little town has an awesome course and a perfect change of pace from all the hustle and stress of the big cities up here.
#13, Par 4, 423 yards, 4-handicap, My Score: 6
The 13th is the beautiful, signature hole at Equinox. The fairway runs off to the right and the approach is a long one way up the hill to the green. If you leave it short at all, it’s a very steep chip up the hill and may take more than one attempt.
Layout: B; it’s an old school design and a fun one; there are some memorable holes here.
Amenities: B-; not much in the way of a range, or at least I didn’t see one. The old clubhouse is nice and the diner has some great food options.
Staff: A-; they were all friendly and accommodating, even searching all over when I asked for a yardage book.
Difficulty: C+; the back nine is much tougher than the front, but other than the rain it wasn’t overly difficult
Scenery: B+; while nothing strikes you as an amazing view, the atmosphere is the highlight. With Vermont’s famous green mountains rising on all sides of the horizon into the afternoon clouds that were blowing through, it felt like being alone in a secret forest on some holes. The way they can appear all shades of green, and even a shade of blue is pretty cool. I bet come the autumnal equinox at the Equinox, this scenery gets exponentially more stunning.
Value: C+; not the most memorable experience for $79, but you do get a round at a well-maintained course and a chance to play a couple fun holes
Overall GPA: 2.88 (B-); I’m satisfied using this is my course for Vermont. I didn’t have any leads to get into the private clubs like Ekwanok right across the street, nor did I want to drive further north up to Canada because I’d never get back home in time to sleep in some more in Cooperstown.