Can’t Get Enough

Photography by Gilberto Natareno

If you are a ‘core golfer’ which, in golf industry largess, means when an operator, a club salesman, or anyone (with a profit motive) sees you coming with a dollar sign embossed on your forehead like a big green stamp, then we have something in common! 

I’m a sucker! Golf is everything, if not the only thing. I live it, breathe it, and am terrible at it! But I keep on coming back for more. I just can’t get enough. I just can’t get enough of Sterling Farms.

The late Geoffrey Cornish, a Canadian, designed Sterling Farms back in the late 1960s. He was hired by Stamford people who wanted another golf course  other than what was then Hubbard Heights, and his guy was a pretty prolific golf course architect, known for having designed more venues, in these parts, than anyone else. In 1972, what we play today was born. I can still remember big piles of dirt, and I think even snow, around the construction site, when I was a tiny kid.

Sterling Farms blossomed and thrived in the early days, and I can still remember the ‘adults’ playing there, as I walked by the then paddle courts, on my way to day camp at the Italian Center. Back then: we played Midget, Tiny, and Little League… not golf!

By the 1990s, Sterling Farms needed to be updated. So, the powers that be, in fact the power that be to this very day—Stamford Golf Authority executive director Paul Grillo—got another designer, Robert McNeil, to revitalize Mr. Cornish’s original work. Hmmm… “revitalize’… what does that mean? Bear with me, and I’ll explain.

Normally, when I play a golf course, I could not care one hoot who the designer is, but for some reason, these men (dead or alive) actually do, and did matter, when golf courses were, and are, created… or recreated, renovated, or redesigned.

Just think about how much the Fox Channel had golf course architect Gil Hanse ‘on the set’ during their coverage of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach this month…. Why? Well, Pebble Beach has a nice beach, but if you or I had designed that golf course, would we have blown it to pieces? Probably.

Same goes for guys like Frank Lloyd Wright… do you wish he was your own personal architect? Likely. Could he have increased the value of your home? Certainly. 

Or, back to golf, think about St. Andrews, or Augusta National, or any other famous golf course, and all of a sudden the designer is in the foreground. Well, Sterling Farms had two, not one, but two architects. Each had a reason for doing what they did, and combined, they made Sterling Farms into the layout we play today. I don’t know about anybody else, but I think they did a fine job. How about you? Got an opinion? Let me know!

At Sterling Farms the design is unimposing, but you still need to hit the ball well to reach the par 5s in two, even with your most-modern golf clubs. You still need to use other than driver on holes, to hit the ball from left-to-right, or up a hill. You need to run shots, carry shots, and hit them softly. It takes finesse. You need to play golf shots. Ya… ever heard of a golf shot?

When you putt on the greens at Sterling Farms, they can befuddle you. The breaks are often nuanced. They seem flat, or barely undulating, and compared to some of the more-outlandish greens in creation, they are docile in comparison, but yet… you can three- and/or even four-putt out here. Sometimes. The greens at Sterling Farms can get you!

Back in ’69, Cornish was the man who really organized where holes go at Sterling Farms. He routed the holes so the par 3s would face every Cardinal point on a compass. He made long and short par 4s, par 5s that are reachable in two great shots, and kept the forced carries to a minimum. 

To protect Old Man Par from the young buck with the newest golf equipment money can by, Robert McNeil came to the rescue, with his revitalization in the mid-2000s. McNeil Tiger-proofed (well, maybe it’s more-fair to say he ‘Bobcat-proofed’)  Sterling Farms into a freshened design, with sleeker bunkering, expanded tees, newer turf grasses, and other changes.

And, while Cornish’s basic style —to preserve the natural lay of the land, as much as possible, which was a sort of classic/minimalistic approach that of the time-tested ilk (think old parkland courses like Baltusrol, Bethpage Black… only more docile, of course)—was his penchant.

McNeil (to his credit) built upon Cornish’s original design. “Embracing and enhancing the cues that a site communicates is what responsible golf course design is all about,” he told an audience at UH some years ago. “When executed within the framework of a measured stewardship ethic the results will be exceptional and long lasting,” he said.

Given the man comes from a Massachusetts golf family, and grew up with his mom’s hickory in his hands, with that kind of mindset, it is no surprise that we have a golf course at Sterling Farms that we don’t think about (too much)!

We can just get out there and have a great time. We don’t need to worry about falling off a cliff, or seeing our golf balls disappearing into a black hole, and we can’t (really) blame anyone but ourselves! That’s one positive, the other is… Sterling Farms is a good golf course. You want to play it again. You remember the holes. I loathe the second shot on No. 14, with that water everywhere. In fact, the tee shot is hard too! 

I want to go for the green on 16, but it isn’t a percentage shot. I can reach 18, in two, sometimes. There are some dandy holes that can leave a golfer scratching their head at Sterling Farms!

Hole No. 11 is one of those holes that forces you to hit a fade. You can still hit a draw, but you won’t have an easy time of it if you do, as the hole bends hard toward the right, with OB staring you in the face if you go long straight or left. 

This is golf, and we are supposed to be golfers, and golf courses are not here to please our swings! Instead, we are supposed to learn how to hit golf shots, which means we have to ‘work the ball’ to succeed. It takes practice, effort, but oh so rewarding it is when we can ‘pull it off’.

I wonder how many Sterling Farms golfers have a similar hole in mind that gives them trouble. Can you name a few? Please let me (Each month, we’ll spend a little time talking about Sterling Golf in this column….)

Now, the last thing anyone wants to do is shoot ourselves out of the game at the beginning of our rounds, but it is so easy to do! Have you ever noticed how the first three opening holes at Sterling Farms are short, downhill, or level? All three holes are a good warm-up, before we must face the music over water on No. 4, or thrash at the long par 3 5th, or hump ourselves up the hill on No. 6! They are fairly benign openers… on paper. But, what happens in the real world can vary.

In early June, Darien tennis pro, Jonathan Engelbrecht tolerated my duffs as we trotted around the course. It was a nice day, and I asked if he would tell me which opening hole he liked most. He consented….

Talk abut a gentleman… Jonathan is a fine golfer and a pro tennis player with such personality.

“My favorite [opening] hole at Sterling Farms is No. 1 because it’s a par four, downhill, about 300-yards, and have driven the green a few times. I’ve also got into a lot of trouble a few times, but I’ve driven the green more times than I’ve gotten into trouble, and it’s nice putting for eagle on the par-4,” the affable, and extremely talented, golfer said (after thrashing me for 17 holes).

Also in our foursome, that day, was the infamous Gary Fox (the unofficial Sterling Farms Book of World Records holder, for most rounds ever played on this golf course, measuring in the low billions, or so I imagine), as well as North Stamford resident, and Sterling Farms golfer, Bob Clemenns. Bob put on a great face all day, but it was apparent he was unhappy with his ball-striking. Nonetheless, he was kind enough to tell us about his favorite opener: No. 2.

Bob was… well… unimpressed. Still a heck of a nice guy though….

“[The] second hole really let’s play open up,” Bob, a tennis player and a mighty strong fellow began, “as long as players keep moving,” he said.

“Having the spotter down there at the bottom of the hill to pick up any errant balls helps immensely to keep the pace of play going, and it’s a great hole. It’s a challenging par-5, but eminently doable.” Hmm.

Of the three openers, I will confess I find No. 3 to be wanting for me to yank my tee ball OB left. There is plenty of room to hit the ball right, but it is a magnet on that left side, oh yes it is, for me. How about you? What opener and why? Let’s compare notes.

The golf course at Sterling Farms has so many fine holes, and there are many golfers who know it far-better than I, so if you are out there reading this, and care to opine, for the benefit of all golfdom, please send me a note and say ‘hi’. Then tell me what you think about this great golf course. 

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough of Sterling Farms! I plan to write about it often. I hope you will too.

From the desk of Paul grillo, executive director, Stamford Golf Authority

Welcome to Sterling Farms Golfer. Over the past five decades, Sterling Farms has evolved into one of the premiere golf destinations anywhere in the region. We continually strive to maintain, if not exceed, that distinction, and know we owe it all to our Stamford families, friends and neighbors, as well as our patrons like you. Now is the best time of the year to play our spectacular 18 hole championship golf course. Our Golf Course Superintendent, Mike Golden, and his whole team, are leaders in the world of greenkeeping, and we are very proud of the quality of their hard work. I think you'll find our putting greens, fairways, tees, roughs—and every landscape feature here—reflects their devotion and hard work. It is spectacular. Sterling Farms is home to the area's top driving range facility. You won't find a better value, or level of quality, anywhere! We take great pride and joy serving you, and our local community. On behalf of all of us here at Sterling Farms, welcome and thank you!
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