BY KEN MORSE
There are several intermediate 18-hole courses in the surrounding area where golfers can test their skills on the links. Due to time constraints during a busy workweek, many players are looking for a quick fix on the 9-hole circuit.
Hop Brook in Naugatuck and Highland Greens in Prospect are the diamonds in the rough for local golfers looking to challenge themselves. Both courses are chock-full of programs geared towards youngsters just starting out looking to improve their game, while mid-afternoon and Friday night leagues are full of spirited rivalries.
HOP BROOK CAMPS AND CLINICS
Hop Brook, the par-36 course with an expanse of 2,887 yards, has been a gem to local players on the links for generations. The municipal course has a rich history. It opened in 1923, and it was the home of 1931 U.S Open winner Billy Burke.
Junior students of the game enjoy PGA instruction through golf camps and clinics throughout the season. The fundamentals of putting, chipping, pitching, bunker play and full swings are highlighted during the five separate camps in the summer and the weekly clinics held from the spring through the fall.
“The junior teams are competing again and we have three matches left for the season,” said Hop Brook golf pro Bryan Nixon. “We have 11 players on the U13 team and four on the U17 team.
“We more than doubled the amount of junior players from last season. That bodes well for the development of the high school team. All of our camps and clinics are filled to capacity and we are very happy to see that.”
The junior instruction is open to all skill levels as they learn the rules and etiquette of the game. Equipment can be provided if needed. The 2022 Junior Championships will be held in August with separate divisions for boys and girls.
“We have done the Ryder Cup the last three years,” said Nixon. “It’s a little separate from the Players Club. We take on the boys from Western Hills in Waterbury, and it’s a real fun competition.
“The Players Club we introduced two or three years ago, that has expanded as well, along with our annual membership. Those numbers have also increased this year. We are definitely headed in the right direction as far as participation goes.”
The Hop Brook Players Club and the Ryder Cup Team play a tournament schedule. The Players Club was formed to promote playing golf and participation in related social activities. Membership requirement is to be an active member in good standing with paid annual membership. There are weekly sign up sheets in the pro shop for scheduled tournament events. Also new this year is the 2022 Player of the Year award determined by a point-based system throughout the season.
“We just started the qualifications for the Hop Brook Championship,” added Nixon. “We are expecting to see the same number of participants and hopefully maybe even add to those numbers. “The Player of the Year is a new edition. That is a little added attraction to increase the Players Club. The winner will get a free 2023 membership and we also take the top five point players for spots on the Ryder Cup team going up against the Western Hills team in October.”
The 2022 Hop Brook Championship tournament first and second round matches are to be held July 31 and Aug. 1. The semifinal and finals will be played on the weekend of August 7-8. In September the Senior Championship tournament will be held, along with the 2022 Super Senior tournament for those 70 and older.
HIGHLAND GREENS OFFERS NIGHT PLAY
Highland Greens was opened in 1967 by George Sabo Jr., and is the state’s only par-3 course lighted for night play. Nestled among the Prospect hills the former farmland has been a favorite hot spot for golfers looking to get in that extra round without worrying about sunset settling in on their game plans.
The biggest drawing card is the lighted course, which is a perfect fit for the many leagues that have taken advantage of the unique atmosphere playing under the lights.
“My late father was in a league at East Mountain or Western Hills and it was so crowded sometimes they didn’t get to finish their round before the sun set,” said Highland Greens owner George Sabo, “so that gave him the idea to come up with this course. It’s been 56 years now that we have been going with this offering the opportunity to local golfers and leagues in the area.
“That’s the thing that makes us stand out. Not only is this a great layout of the course but we have the ability to have tee times right up until 9 p.m. This course allows you to sharpen your game or even enter this game if you are a beginner. We have the night golf Monday through Saturday. There is no night golf on Sunday.”
Several leagues utilize the confines of the quaint Highland Greens surroundings with a busy schedule Monday through Friday.
Beginning with a mixed league on Monday and highlighted by a Thursday night Ladies Fun Night League and a Friday Senior Men’s Club League.
“I realize what a natural disaster COVID has been and how it has affected all the small businesses,” added Sabo, “but golf has boomed. People were given the opportunity to get outside with everything else pretty much closed up and our numbers showed that growth. We have seen an increase as people have come out and reconnected with the game of golf.
“We use to be strictly a walk-up golf course but starting in early 2020 we made it specifically so you needed a tee time and we have been able to maintain that tee time reservation system. We do have monthly passes where you can play unlimited golf for $125 for the month.”
Highland Greens did have a youth golf program with The First Tee of Connecticut for several years. This year they have not resumed their association with First Tee.
“They have not reached out to us this year to resume that program,” said Sabo, “but we do have some really good junior rates and always encourage youngsters to come out and work on their game and have fun.”
“We do have a program where children ages 8 and under can come out and play for free as long as they are accompanied by an adult 18 or older. We have special junior rates for 14 and under and 16 and under.
“Going much further back we used to run our own youth program until First Tee came along and took over the program. At that time Highland Greens was a feeder program to the bigger courses like East Mountain.”
Whether you are looking for a challenge to hone your game during the mid week or even looking to venture out with a group of your friends for a weekend of rivalries on the links, Hop Brook and Highland Greens are two local hot spots that have proven to be diamonds in the rough.
BY KEN MORSE