Waubeeka Golf Links: A Berkshire bargain

By Kiel Christianson, Senior Writer

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- Whether they come to escape the summer heat or to marvel at the explosion of autumn colors, visitors to the Berkshires who want to tee it up should take the extra effort and seek out one of the Bay State's hidden gems -- Waubeeka Golf Links in Williamstown. Snuggled into a picturesque valley, Waubeeka is a golfer's Shangri-La, with a courteous staff, dazzling views, and a lovely collection of 18 pleasant, playable holes.

The 6,394-yard, par-72 Rowland Armacost design opened in 1966, and has been a New England favorite ever since. The course even hosted an LPGA event in the early 1970s. Despite its remote location and low profile, Waubeeka continues today to rack up accolades. Golf Boston rates it as the 35th best public course in the state, and the New England Journal of Golf ranks it as #93 in their "Top 100 Courses You Can Play in New England" list.

General Manager Mark J. Mills oversees not only the course itself, but also the full-service restaurant and bar and banquet facilities. According to Mills, Waubeeka began life as a stockholders' course, which was eventually sold back to course architect Armacost. In 1986, Ed Stawarz took over ownership. Since Satwarz's passing in 1996, the course has been run by the Satwarz family trust.

The family trust is doing a fine job by all accounts. Recent upgrades include a full irrigation system installed four years ago and cart paths this spring. Improvements such as these have been welcomed by the 300 club members, who travel from as far away as Long Island and Connecticut to play this idyllic gem. Memberships cost approximately $940. The rate entitles members to unlimited free tee times throughout the season, which runs from April to whenever the snow starts to fly.

"We also get a ton of events, tournaments, and outings," says Mills, "especially from upstate New York, western Massachusetts, and Vermont. But we work hard to ensure plenty of tee times for members and daily fee guests."

The layout itself, which features up to four different tee stands on each hole, is eminently playable for golfers of all skill levels. The fairways are not overly generous, but not claustrophobic, either, and allow even big hitters to break out the driver often throughout the round. The bent grass greens are generally small, and on the front nine, relatively flat.

One weakness of the layout is the rather close proximity of many of the holes, especially on the front nine, where several tee boxes are shoehorned together at one point. One hears a lot of golfers screaming "Fore!" and the occasional curse word as tee shots begin straying onto adjoining holes.

On the back, both the elevation and undulation of the greens turn markedly more severe, and the course opens up some. A picturesque brook winds and gurgles its way across at least a half-dozen holes, and combined with assorted other ponds, provides plenty of hazards to deal with.

The first round here can be somewhat of a guessing game. Take, for example, the first hole. Although the yardage (360 yards from the tips) would seem to call for a fairway wood off the tee, the sharp right-to-left dogleg about 225 yards out can very easily be driven through. And the pond at the knee of the dogleg is more than happy to swallow up the golf balls of even cautious big-hitters.

The best stretch of holes on the front are numbers 4 through 7. The tee shot off the elevated tees of the 431-yard 5th appears tighter than it really is: There's plenty of room to roam off to the left, which is actually a good angle into the green, too. The 176-yard 7th is a pretty downhill par-3 over both the stream and a small, reedy marsh.

On the back nine, the aforementioned 11th through 13th are quite memorable. At just 343 yards and 293 yards, respectively, the par-4 12th and 13th both present some choices on the tee and precision on the second shots. The downhill tee shot on the 523-yard 15th is actually blind from the tips, and calls for both power and accuracy to avoid tree trouble on the second shot.

The Verdict

Head Pro Erik Tiele, who offers lessons on the course's practice range and also manages the fully-stocked pro shop, calls Waubeeka "straightforward yet demanding." "Everything's in front of you," says Tiele, "but no one tears it up. In order to score well here, he recommends bringing your best short game, especially on the undulating greens on the back nine.

Overall, Waubeeka Golf Links is a wonderful summer getaway-type course. The course's tightness and strategic doglegs will keep all but the most precise scratch-handicap ball-striker from overpowering it. Putting on the front is a cakewalk, and rather abruptly changes into a horse of a totally different color on the back nine.

In order to just enjoy your round at Waubeeka, however, all you need to do is take a moment on every hole to appreciate the understated splendor of The Berkshires.

Stay and Play

Contact the course for stay and play options. Suggested local hotels include Jericho Valley Inn (Tel: 800-JERICHO) and Willows Motel (Tel: 413-458-5768). Book well in advance during the summer months. The Berkshires rank as one of the most desirable vacation destinations in the nation, and the area gets crowded with city folk escaping the summer heat. Off the course, check out Tanglewood, the Norman Rockwell Museum, and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.

Dining Out

Being a vacation hotspot, there are lots of options. For a nice steak or seafood dinner, try Captain's Table (Tel: 413-458-2400). For a casual lunch or dinner, try Michael's Restaurant & Lounge (Tel: 413-458-2114). And don't forget the fine food and exquisite views at the Waubeeka clubhouse.

Fast Fact

Walking allowed any time, and the course is very walkable.

Directions: On Hwy 7, just south of the NH state line. From the Mass Pike, take exit 2 (Lenox), north on 7

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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