Clark breathes new life into Hop Brook

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Bob Clark of Naugatuck became the head pro at Hop Brook Golf Course in May and has been putting his personal touches on the nine-hole course ever since. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

NAUGATUCK — Hop Brook Golf Course’s new head pro, Bob Clark, says his course is in its best shape ever. But if the 41-year-old Naugatuck resident realizes his future plans, Hop Brook could be the area’s top golfing destination.

Clark, a recent graduate of PGA of America’s golf management program, became the full-time pro at Hop Brook in May and quickly started working to improve what the 89-year-old course has to offer.

“Living in town before I become the head pro, I talked to a lot of the golfers I know,” says Clark, who was an assistant pro for seven years in Newtown. “They were telling me the concerns they had. I felt by being open to the members’ suggestions, I would know what they wanted.”

For a while, though, Clark didn’t know exactly what he wanted. He was in the restaurant management business until he decided it wasn’t for him about seven years ago.

“I was basically getting sick and tired of getting home at 3 and 4 a.m. from the restaurant business,” Clark says. “I had young kids at the time and I wanted to do something I love.”

Golf was the answer.

Clark gained his affection for the links from his parents, Bob Sr. and Nancy, who were longtime members at Crestbrook Park in Watertown.

“My father got me started and my mother won all the championships,” Clark says. “If you go to Crestbrook, she’s mentioned about 18 times for winning tournaments. But two years ago, my dad became the oldest member to win the club championship at Canaan Country Club.”

Since he began, Clark says “95 percent of the golfers have given rave reviews” for him and the improvements he’s been instituting. He’s worked on expanding the pro shop to include balls, clubs and apparel, and hopefully repair and lesson programs in the near future.

“I’m developing a merchandising program,” Clark says. “I have some stuff, and I’m getting more as the year goes on. Instead of going to courses outside town, I’m trying to keep people in town and that’s an attraction for others to come. I can promote my junior program and I want to develop men’s and ladies’ associations.”

In addition to weekend kickers, a club championship, and other member outings, Clark says he wants to take a hands-on approach to the game when possible.

“I’m going to give some playing lessons and take people on the course if it’s quiet,” Clark says. “When I take people on the course I can help people adjust the ball flight, which is something I can’t do in our open space [behind Jesse Camille’s Restaurant].”

Hop Brook has never been in better condition, Clark says. He attributes the fresh layout and bright look to course superintendent Joe Malay.

“He has done a great job,” Clark says. “It’s the best I’ve ever seen it.”

The course’s nine holes cover just fewer than 3,000 yards, adding up to a par-36 configuration. For an additional $7, golfers can expand their round to 18 holes.

Clark’s favorite hole is the par-3 fifth, which plays anywhere from 110 to 150 yards, because of the great view from the tee box. Overall, he thinks the course is very fair for players of all skill levels.

“For the better golfer, it’s not a big challenge but it’s a good test,” Clark says. “You have to hit the ball to score here. For a beginner or someone looking to come out just once a week, I think it’s the perfect spot.”

Clark has a part-time staff of six in the pro shop while three more work with Malay on maintaining the course. He understands the borough needs Hop Brook to function as a business, so he knows the more golfers who come to play, the better the course and pro shop will be.

“The biggest thing is that we need to look at our budget every year,” Clark says. “We’ll need constant evaluation of how we’re doing and the weather. I’m trying to keep staff on as long as I can; as long as the play keeps coming I can keep everyone here and happy. If the play doesn’t come, I have to do what I have to do.”

But Clark thinks the new breath of life into Hop Brook will not only keep Naugatuck golfers in town, but attract visitors from throughout the region.

“My plan is to make Hop Brook a first-class experience in the golfing community,” Clark says. “Come to the pro shop and see we have a knowledgeable and friendly staff. In order for us to survive down here, we need to — and we will — go above and beyond.”