Crumpin-Fox Club: Berkshire's Beauty

By Kiel Christianson, Senior Writer

BERNARDSTOWN, Mass. - Roger Rulewich, lead architect of Alabama's acclaimed Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, oversaw the construction of the original 18 RTJ Trail courses in just two and a half years -- perhaps the largest, most ambitious and intense golf construction project in the history of the world. In stark contrast to the RTJ Trail stands Crumpin-Fox Club in Bernardstown, Mass., Rulewich's first solo design during his 34 years with Jones, Sr., construction of which took 21 years from conception to completion.

Fortunately, in New England, patience is a virtue, and we know that good things come to those who wait. In the case of Crumpin-Fox, make that excellent things. Ranking 93rd on Golf Magazine's 2003 "Top 100 You Can Play" list, and as a perennial 4.5-star track according to Golf Digest, Crumpin-Fox is one of those rare courses that lives up to the title "modern classic."

In 1969, David Berelson had a grand dream of a world-class golf destination ensconced in the understated splendor of The Berkshires. The centerpiece of his 600-acre property was going to be a championship public course, modeled after the legendary Pine Valley. He contracted Robert Trent Jones, Sr.'s design firm to stake out the course. Roger Rulewich, Jones's right-hand man, took on the project and discovered immediately that it would be both a privilege and a challenge.

The land itself was the first mixed blessing. "There is no topsoil on the site," explains Rulewich. "We covered the entire course with sand in order to fit the holes into the land. If you wander off the fairways a bit, you'll see why the hole wasn't over there instead."

The second challenge was Berelson himself. "David had some distinct ideas about how the course should be," chuckles Rulewich. "Play was originally going to be limited to lower handicaps, and there were not going to be any carts." Rulewich admits that Berelson's plans were "bigger than the area could hold."

For this and other reasons, the construction stalled until 1977 when, under new ownership, the first nine holes (today's back nine) were finally built. In 1990, under yet another new owner, William Sandri, the second nine (today's front nine) was completed. "We had to clear some of the same land all over again," Rulewich recalls.

Yet even as a nine-hole course, Crumpin-Fox (named after the old Bernardstown Crump & Fox Soda Company) had, in the words of Rulewich, "a mystique about it." The course was -- and still is -- practically isolated. Other than Sandri's log cabin overlooking the 15th green and a nearly hidden building off the 17th -- there are no homes on the course.

That building off the 17th actually houses Rulewich's offices, from which he 's been working since 1995. "This area is special to me," he says. "My brother lives here, I met my wife here, and we've built a home." And with Crumpin-Fox outside his office window, he can keep a close eye on the course that holds such a special place in his heart.

Ask anyone who's played it, and you'll find that Crumpin-Fox is in just about everyone's top five public Bay State courses. Most will argue that it' s one of the best in New England. John Demko, the admittedly biased first assistant PGA pro at "The Fox," says, "Of modern golf courses, it's one of the best-designed that I've ever seen."

At 7,007 yards, with a rating of 73.8 and a slope of 141, The Fox is all the course any scratch golfer could want. And with four sets of tees ranging all the way down to 5,432 yards, the course offers challenge and playability for all skill levels (despite Berelson's original plans).

Some big hitters might not like the fact that the driver can stay in your bag until the 5th tee, but this is the real beauty of the layout: From a shot-making perspective, The Fox presents you with options and decisions from tee to green. "You can find wayward shots," says Demko, "but you'll be penalized." Local knowledge and good familiarity with your own game are also essential, as many holes require you to land in certain areas to gain the best access to the pins. And there are many elevated greens, placing a premium on club selection because, Demko warns, "you'll have to fly the ball to the green on most holes."

From the first tee on, the routing leads you into a picture-book golf world with perfect conditioning, eye-pleasing contouring, and arboreal majesty. The first few holes allow golfers to warm up and soak in the surroundings, culminating with an impressive 193-yard downhill par-3.

The 392-yard 4th is the first hole to highlight the layout's strategic nature. The landing area of the dogleg right is hard to hit, and if one lays too far back, and too far right, the result is a long, blind second to a green which cannot be missed under penalty of death (or at least double-bogey).

The only hole where the shot-making smorgasbord turns into a continental breakfast is the 592-yard 8th, which is ironically also one of the most picturesque holes. The problem is that the long, straight par-5 is hemmed in by water left and thick woods right, making the only option off the tee the center of the narrow fairway. The approach redeems the 8th, however, as the green curls tantalizingly around the far end of the lake, and one can choose to carry more or less of the water.

Beginning at the 388-yard 12th (which offers more choices, risks, and rewards than Monty Hall on his best days), Crumpin-Fox really comes into its own. The variety of holes and the natural beauty of The Berkshires are simply dazzling. Very often the best views are from the green back up the fairway, so as you're contemplating the break on that four-foot par put, take a moment to reflect on the wonders of this great game.

The Verdict

Polish every club and practice every shot in your bag because Crumpin-Fox will ask you to use all of them. Repeated play of this course only makes you appreciate it more, and will also help lower your score. Take note of pin placements, and weigh all your options carefully. The bent grass turf from tee to green is immaculately maintained, and the staff, clubhouse, and grill are first-rate.

Since the course was not laid out with carts in mind, the cart paths are rough. On the other hand, despite the elevation changes, it is walkable. With maximum green fees of $69 on weekends, this may constitute the best quality at the best price in all of New England.

Stay and Play

The Fox Inn (Tel: 800-436- 9466) is owned by William Sandri, who also owns the course, and is just one mile from the course. Contact the Inn for current stay and play packages.

Dining Out

Sandri also owns Bella Notte (Tel: 413-648-9107), an Italian restaurant with breathtaking views of the Berkshires. Bella Notte offers golf and dinner packages for up to 35 people.

Fast Fact

Directions: From I- 91 Northbound, Exit 28A; Southbound, Exit 28, Take Route 10 North 1 mile, Left on Parmenter Road & follow signs.

Head Pro: Michael A. Zaranek

Kiel ChristiansonKiel Christianson, Senior Writer

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.


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