The Burnside Building in Bristol
Other than the TPC up in Norton, most of the golf courses around here don’t get much national attention. And they may be thankful for that after reading what The New York Times has to say about the Bristol Golf Club.
“There is no such thing as a really terrible golf course,” writes Times veteran Charles McGrath. “But if some courses are indisputably better than others, then inevitably, some are worse. Quite a bit worse, in my experience. So bad they’re worth a detour – if only because they make you grateful for the other better kind.”
McGrath apparently spends a lot of time in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which he describes as “the Bermuda Triangle of New England” when it comes to golf. “For some perverse reason, the land there – stony, boggy, sandy, full of scrub pine and poison ivy – has given rise to a surprising number of little nine-holers. Some are unmemorable, a couple are just plain lousy, but a few have some genuine distinction. They’re bad in good ways – or at least unusual ones.”
McGrath’s honor roll includes Marion Golf Club, Pine Valley in Rehoboth, Touisset Country Club and Wampanoag Golf Course in Swansea. “But quirky as these courses are,” he writes, “none can compare with the Bristol Golf Club, in nearby Bristol, R.I., which is of a worseness so extreme that you occasionally wonder if it’s not ironic. Maybe, like certain fashion trends, it’s bad on purpose?”
Bristol has also been stuck — blighted, you could say — with some of the least likely golfing terrain imaginable. The course is in the middle of an industrial park, so that the opening hole, for example, an otherwise flat and forgettable 137-yard par 3, is enhanced by the sight of a blue metal warehouse building behind the green. When I played here recently, there was a guy out in back welding, and the sparks brightened a day otherwise overcast and dismal.
More warehouse buildings line the left side of No. 2, and if you have trouble finding the green here — it’s partly hidden by stumps and a fenced-in transformer — just aim down the power lines that straddle the fairway. …
The fifth, sixth and seventh are the apogee — or maybe the perigee — of Bristol. I used to dream about them all the time, and in my dreams, the fairways were lined on the right side with old aircraft engines. What a surprise, then, to discover that where I remembered some scattered pieces of rusting steel, there was in fact a full-fledged junk yard, with two large orange cranes dipping and poking into mountains of metal and plastic pipe like giant prehistoric birds picking up straw. …
You don’t need to play Bristol more than once, but that it’s there at all is sort of miraculous. Whoever designed it was no George Thomas, certainly, but he deserves credit for stubbornness. He built a golf course where nobody else would have thought it possible.
(photo: Town of Bristol)