(Editor’s Note: We’ve done a new 2012 review of Chestnut Hill, but didn’t want to abandon this classic from the April 2011 annals of Rico’s Rants.)
Are you looking for a well maintained course with reasonable rates? A course that is well within the playability level of the average golfer yet offers enough challenges and hole diversity to keep you from being bored? Then I suggest you check out Chestnut Hills Country Club in Darien Center, NY.
Recently I took the 30-40 minute drive from Buffalo to play a round of golf at Chestnut Hills CC. As you make your way down Route 20 through Lancaster and then Alden, you soon find yourself in Darien Center. As you pass Darien Lake State Park, the course is a mile or so up the road on the right hand side.
Pulling into the parking lot, you will see what almost appears to be a maintenance shed. This is actually the back of the club house. Once you trek up the slight hill to the front of the building you will be welcomed by a spacious, handicapped accessible deck filled with tables (I’m guessing more than a few beverages are hoisted on the deck during the warmer times of the year).
There is a putting green just in front of the first tee box and a driving range to the right of the club house. In addition, there is a bar and restaurant. Throughout the year, the course is home to many golf outings and league play.
As you approach the first hole, the course appears relatively flat. This is very deceiving. Once you have played holes one and two, the course spills down some extremely sloped terrain until is bottoms out at the back end of the course. Interestingly enough, the back end of the course butts up against railroad tracks. Twice during our round a really long cargo train came rumbling through. While some may find this a bit disconcerting, I thought it added a bit of local flavor to the course.
The first hole (as is the 10th hole) is a par 5. This hole is not overly long, but a small pond around 150 yards from the green requires a fairly accurate approach shot. While this hole is no gimme, it does afford one a nice chance to ease into the round.
Hole number two is a non-descript par 3. It is fairly dull and not very interesting in my opinion. It could easily use some bunkering or other type of hazard to enhance its appeal. This hole in retrospect, is a bit of a let down since it sits between the nicely shaped first hole and a really neat third hole.
The third hole is a relatively short par 4 that is almost straight down a very steep hill. Unless you can unleash a tremendous tee shot, you will have a severe down hill lie to a smallish green. This is definitely a fun hole to play.
Holes four and five are straight away par fours that are very fair holes. Hole 6 is short, elevated par 3 with a pond in front and trees on the left side. If you miss the green to the right or short (provided you are not in the pond) you will have an uphill shot to the green. Any shots long or left will leave you with a difficult down hill shot to try and save par.
The 7th hole is a relatively long par 5 that cascades down the side of the course from left to right. The tee shot is blind and needs to be hit in the correct position for best results. Without local knowledge, it is very hard to tell where you need to hit this shot. Once you are down the hill, the hole flattens out and then it becomes a very mundane hole with very little visual appeal. I have to say, that it is a toss-up between this hole and number two as my least favorite holes.
The next hole (#8) is my own personal favorite hole. At 430 + yards and tree problems on both sides of the fairway, this hole is not for the faint of heart. But, if played well, it is a hole that a gives one a real sense of golfing accomplishment.
The ninth hole requires another blind tee shot that needs to be on the left side of the fairway to avoid what appears to be a cluster of fruit trees. A good tee shot should lead to a short approach shot.
Sandwiched around another medium length par 3 (#11) are holes 10 (par 5) and 12 (par 4). Both holes are interesting only because they have small ponds that can come into play with poorly hit shots while number 12 also has out-of-bonds to the left.
Holes 13 through 16 are all very playable holes for the average golfer although each one has a unique feature. Number 13 has an elevated green which requires a well struck approach shot. Anything left or long can easily be out-of-bounds. Number 14 has a ‘moat’ surrounding the green so distance control is the challenge on this hole. Number 15 has another pond on the left that can easily come into play on your tee shot while the 16th hole requires a blind tee shot that can result in trees coming into play if not hit in the right direction.
The 17th hole is a short par three that has a pond in front of the tee box that should never be an issue while the 18th hole is back on the upper, flat part of the course with a good view of which direction you need to be hitting.
All-in-all, I would highly recommend Chestnut Hills if you keep your expectations at a reasonable level. This is certainly not in the class of many of the newer, more upscale public area courses that have popped up in recent years, but, neither is it an un-enjoyable experience. A number of the holes are ‘fun’ to play; a few are quite challenging and a couple could use a bit of work. If I had to sum up this course in one word, I think unpretentious would do just fine.