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Intervale Country Club in Manchester. Kelly Sennott photo.




Go green
Local courses, from beginner-friendly to tougher stuff

08/14/14



Beginners often think they’re not ready to play on a golf course, said Matt Thompson, golf instructor at Town-line Driving Range in Merrimack, but everyone has to start somewhere.
 
“Any type of experience is good experience. When you go out, you get a sense of what the experienced players are doing out there. It’s a good time, and at the very worst you’re out there enjoying nature.”
Still, it’s best to know what you’re getting into before you set foot on the fairway, as each course has its own challenges and difficulty level.
 
For beginners, Thompson suggests Ponemah Green in Amherst. It’s not too long, and there are a lot of par fours, he said — plus, it’s right across from the Amherst Country Club, which tends to attract more experienced players. Thompson’s students often tell him they like Whip-Poor-Will Golf in Hudson. 
 
Thompson also recommends Brookstone Golf in Derry. 
 
“It’s a par three course, and it’s very pretty. You drive up and there’s a waterfall in the front and it’s very pleasing to the eye,” he said. “It’s really not crowded, and I bring my wife there because she’s a beginner.”
 
Here’s a look at a few more options in southern New Hampshire, from popular nine-hole courses to tricky “thinking man’s” games, from an eco-friendly green to a great place to practice swings. 
 
Practicing for par
In golf, like anything, practice makes perfect.
 
Built in 1996, Legends Golf in Hooksett is a local landmark when it comes to golf, and it doesn’t even have a real course. 
Instead, it has a 300-yard driving range with 45 practice mats and 35 grass tees as well as a challenging 18-hole mini golf course known as “The Rock.”
 
Both the range and the minigolf course attract golfers who want to improve their skills, said owner Bob Underhill. 
 
“Golfers practice their mechanics and swing. We have lots of targets, and everything is measured so you can tell how far you’ve hit,” Underhill said. “You only get one shot on fairway at the green and you either miss it or not. Here you can practice that shot.”
 
Don’t expect to find spinning windmills or clown mouths on the minigolf course. This one was built to play, with none of the automatic funneling holes that some other courses feature.
 
“You’ve got to learn putting strokes — the distance and feel of them,” Underhill said. “Our course is more a playable feel, not a tourist course.”
 
A taste of the real thing
Golf can be a time-consuming sport. Most 18-hole games take at least four hours, and choosing to play only half can still take too long for many people’s busy schedules. 
 
But there’s another, short-and-sweet option: nine-hole, par three courses. 
 
Beginners love these courses because the holes are shorter and less intimidating, said Joe Vaiknoras, superintendent of  Brookstone Golf and Driving Range in Derry. In all, the course takes about an hour-and-a-half to finish. 
 
“It’s a lot easier to learn on the shorter hole, so if a hole is 500 yards it can be very frustrating,” he said. “Here a hole is 165 yards and not as overwhelming.”
 
Shorter courses foster a more relaxing environment than longer courses might. 
 
These elements makes them great places to bring the kids, especially the younger ones. Players younger than 13 don’t have attention spans developed enough for a full-length game,the golf pros say, so they might lose interest on longer courses. 
 
“We have four different tee boxes on every hole, which allows advanced [players] to play from further back and beginners to play from
forward tees,” Vaiknoras said. “One of the new things that everyone is pushing is ‘play it forward’ — go to the shorter tees and make it more enjoyable.”
 
But more seasoned golfers like these smaller-form games too. They aren’t without their challenges and allow time-crunched players to get their golfing fix. 
 
Players can fly around a course in an hour and 15 minutes before hopping in the car to get to work or home for dinner. 
 
These lean greens average about an hour and a half to finish, and there are quite a few in New Hampshire, especially around the Derry area, said Vaiknoras. There’s Apple Hill Golf Course in East Kingston, Atkinson Country Club in Atkinson, and Hidden Valley R.V. and Golf Park in Derry. Londonderry and Hudson and now Pelham also have nine-hole options.
 
Tricky, tricky
Until a couple years ago Brandon Kear, pro shop assistant at Shattuck Golf in Jaffrey, had never played on the course, even though he grew up in the town. That changed after attending Keene State College, where friends from Connecticut always talked about it. 
 
“It’s a pretty legendary course,” Kear  said. “We get a lot of people from Connecticut, a lot from Massachusetts to play the course, because it is so challenging.”
 
After trying it out, he quickly became an addict. He got his membership to the golf course and then became an employee. He says he’s played the 18-hole target golf course, carved into the foothills of Mount Monadnock, probably 500 times. 
 
“It’s a thinking man’s course,” Kaer said. “You’re thinking about your second shot before you even hit your first shot. We say it’s a humbling course, where you might think you’re better than you really are — then you play, and you leave humbled.”
 
The course features lots of lateral hazards like swamp water and brush. The holes are also narrow, so pounding the ball and driving it long distances won’t really help and golfers need to be calculating their swing for distance and location.
 
The course will be frustrating, Kear said, so it’s important to mentally prepare and try to keep a level head. Beginners shouldn’t be discouraged from experiencing the fun. There are multiple tee pads on every hole, which provide options for those who want shorter greens, and a set of markers was recently added for true beginners. 
 
Other courses that offer challenging fun include Stonebridge in Goffstown, Souhegan Woods Golf Club in Amherst, Passaconaway Country Club in Litchfield and Owl’s Nest Resort and Golf Club up in Thornton, Thompson said. 

 






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