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        My return to Simsbury Farms after a couple of years away brought back long-buried memories, mostly pleasant. The only unpleasant memory was lining up in the Simsbury, CT, course’s pro shop at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday mornings in 1984 to secure a tee time for the weekend. My wife and I had just moved to town from New York City and, on my way to work that first year, I would stop at the pro shop and wait in line for a Saturday tee-time as the pro alternated between those in line and those who phoned in. Obviously, this was decades before Golf Now and online tee times. Thank god for progress. (I’ll bet the pro is also happy about the streamlined process.)
        Like most municipal courses, Simsbury Farms attracts a convivial group of mostly locals who don’t seem like strangers, even if you have never met before. That was the case on my recent visit as a single; the starter matched me up with a threesome that turned out to be the last group of 11 known as the Dye Hards. We had a grand time and, at the end of the round, the group’s organizer asked me if I would like to join the Dye Hards (no entrance fee, no commitments, just a name and email address). I am now a Dye Hard who can sign up to play any weekday with the group. (The Dye Hards got their name from the first course they regularly played, Wintonbury Hills in Bloomfield, CT, whose layout is credited to Pete Dye. For the last few years, the Dye Hards have maintained a standing set of tee times at Simsbury Farms five days a week.)
        Built on an old apple orchard, the course features significant elevation changes, many tree-lined fairways and the dogleg par 4s ubiquitous on hilly New England layouts. The best time to play is October when the leaves are at peak color and the nights are cool enough that the greenskeepers can cut the putting surfaces shorter than typical. I don’t remember the greens being as fast years ago as they were on the three days I played recently. The toughest holes tend to be those with elevated greens where distances, especially on breezy days, are difficult to manage and chances are you will be seriously challenged by an up and down chip shot. 
        Some of those greens are multi-level, and I found that putting from one level to the next pretty much guaranteed three putts. On my first “official” round with the Dye Hards a week later, I managed to three-putt nine holes and still break (barely) 90. The layout we played was from the “Combo” tees – 5,952 yards, 68.3 rating, 125 slope. You would expect the slope to be a little gentler, say 121 or 122, from under 6,000 yards and a 68.3 rating, but those greens tend to un-level the playing field. Oddly, the White tees play only 200 yards longer, or an average of just over 10 yards per hole, almost not worth the ink to print another line on the scorecard. (The rating is 69.2 and the slope 126, just a tick more than the combo tees.) The back tees, for longer hitters, are a mild 6,597 yards with a rating of 71.2 and slope of 129.
        Water is not an issue on the hilly course, but sand is well placed, with most greens protected left and right leaving a run-up shot as a viable strategy. The greens were firm, as well as fast, pretty much assuring that if you short-side yourself, you are looking at three or more shots to get down. Some of the holes are backed by the West Mountain in the distance, not exactly Mount McKinley but high enough to make distance calculation on approach shots a bit confusing. On those holes, I found myself hitting well struck shots that wound up one club short of the greens. (On future visits, I plan to ignore the mountains and take an extra club.)
        The par 5s offer longer-hitting septuagenarians a shot at birdie putts. Three of the four par 5s are under 490 yards from the combo tees, and the fourth just 513 yards. Their degrees of difficulty are mostly in their modest length and tree-lined fairways; I noted fewer bunkers on the longer holes than on the more modest par 4s.
My favorite hole at Simsbury Farms, as it is for many of us, is the one I tend to play the best most consistently. And that just happens to be the finishing hole, the most severe dogleg (left) on the course, but with the trees at the dogleg just far enough out from the tee box to invite cutting the corner. Except for the dogleg, there is nothing remarkable about it, especially as a finisher. Our Dye Hard scorekeeper, Jeff, gave his three partners a bit of a pep talk on the tee box, suggesting we might need four points (two pars) on his Stableford scorecard to have a chance at beating the foursome we were competing against. Mindful that the greens were killing me, and I needed to have the shortest approach possible, I skied one over the trees on the 372-yard hole, leaving just a 116-yard shot to the green. Two putts later, I had a rare par for the day and broke 90 by just one stroke. (Side note: The grounds crew has done a fabulous job of keeping the fairways and rough clear of the millions of leaves that descend from the trees that surround the fairways.  They are out at sunrise every morning to make sure none of us have to invoke the "Leaf Rule." For the uninitiated, that provides a free drop for a ball presumably lost in the leaves...accent on "presumably.")
        After my disastrous day on the greens, I was pleased I could contribute possibly to a victorious outcome. It turned out our competitors did not play their best and, in fact, we probably had the match in the bag by the 16th hole. My initial outing with the Dye Hards turned out to be a $5 bonanza that I look forward to repeating – if I can re-teach myself how to putt.

As Rated by Reviewer: Very Good

Simsbury Farms

100 Old Farms Road
Simsbury   Connecticut

Greens Fees: Weekday Senior Rate: $30 walking, $45 with cart; non-seniors $40 walking, $50 with cart.

Architect(s): Geoffrey Cornish (1972)

Layout: Yardage: 6,597/6,178/5,952/5,781/5,388 Rating: 71.2/69.2/68.3/67.8/70.8 Slope: 129/126/125/124/122

Photo Credit: Larry Gavrich

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