Golf in Connecticut: 'The Wheel' Keeps Rolling On
D. Fairchild Wheeler: 'The Wheel'
D. Fairchild Wheeler's Logo
Foursome Golfing 'The Wheel'
Torpey on Tour
Editor's Note: This is the fourth report in a series on area golf courses. Hour copy editor William Torpey provides readers with his comments on the courses he has played.
D. Fairchild Wheeler Golf Club, the Bridgeport owned, 36-hole layout that's located on the border of the Park City in Fairfield, has been around a lot longer than most municipal golf courses in and around our area.
"The Wheel" -- as it's called by old-timers -- and now is being used as a logo, was established in 1932. By comparison, courses like Oak Hills in Norwalk, Sterling Farms in Stamford and Smith-Richardson in Fairfield were without a divot until the mid-to-late 60s.
It was on the afternoon of June 16 that I traveled to the Bridgeport municipal course and picked up a ticket to play 18 holes with a riding cart.
Before getting started, I remembered the course was one of the few that remained open all year through thick and thin in the old days -- at least you could always play The Wheel on days when the temperature dropped below 40 degrees and the rain and snow kept golfers away from most other courses, which would close.
Take a cart
It had been a few years since I played Fairchild, but I didn't fail to remember its hilly terrain. Unless you're young and vigorous, I wouldn't recommend walking -- and that goes for both courses, the Black and the Red.
A handful of golfers were putting on the large practice green outside the clubhouse when I arrived. I didn't bother to work on my putting and, although I had heard there was a driving range down the path, I decided to forgo practice balls as well (in my case it rarely helps.)
I had been unsuccessful in my attempts to obtain a tee time for this piece, so, eventually I wandered up to the starter in the hope of joining up with a local threesome (who might share their "local knowledge" with me.) I got lucky.
The starter put me together with three Bridgeport area residents who play the course more or less regularly. Curtis Wilson, Billy Washington, "Popsey" and I made our introductions. We headed for the first tee on the 6,559-yard Black course, universally considered the better conditioned of the city's two side-by-side courses.
As we stepped onto the tee, I was pleased to see a flower arrangement that hadn't been there before, and, looking around, it was clear there had been a number of recent improvements. Even as golfers plied their way around the course, workmen could be seen cutting and trimming and doing routine maintenance.
Off to a Good Start
Hole No. 1 is a slight dogleg from the tee and appears to be pretty uncomplicated as long as you stay away from that big tree on the left and the woods that seem to infringe on the fairway from the right not far from the driving range.
I was delighted when I struck a solid drive off the 351-yard hole (middle tee), but it soon became clear I was out of my league. All three of my playing partners hit their shots so hard I thought they'd knocked the covers off, or at least knocked their balls out-of-round -- even if the drives weren't all straight down the middle.
For "weekend golfers" the first hole is always toughest, after all we haven't hit 300 balls a day all week the way pros do. Nevertheless, we got through the first hole without embarrassing ourselves and meandered over to the second tee ready to do battle with the rest of the course.
My partners invited me to join them in a little game of skins, but, fortunately, I was wise enough to decline (I would have lost my shirt.)
You need a solid drive off the second tee if you expect to reach the crest of the hill and roll down far enough to get a flat lie (My drive stayed on top.) If you get out there, it's just a short iron to the green. The third hole is a 125-yard short iron with a bunker short and right and -- Watch out! -- a huge downhill plunge along the left side that you'd better avoid.
If you hope to get a good look at the green with your second shot on the par 4 fourth hole, you need to drill your tee shot long and straight. A grove of trees on the left catches many a ball, so you'd be a lot safer staying a bit to the right.
A Great Layout
The next four holes are among the best layouts anywhere. A short fifth hole calls for a drive over an outcropping of trees on the left or straight down the middle and, on the 411-yard sixth, you would be well advised to keep away from the left side all the way down and, on your drive, avoid that hunker with the big magnet in it. By the way, don't overshoot this green.
The seventh is a great 212-yard par 3 from a tee that's so elevated it's almost as high as the hole is long, or at least it seems so. On the 451-yard eighth hole, you work your way up the longest hill you'll ever want to see (or walk up) on a golf course.
If you hit a solid shot from the ninth tee, you'll want to avoid that nasty old tree that blocks innumerable wayward pulls or hooks. But the hole can't be all that tough; I parred it myself.
Twin Links Restaurant
After a brief stop for hot dogs and soda at the Twin Links Restaurant, a nice little place with lots of seats -- and even an outdoor patio -- we headed for the 10th tee. My playing partners were a bit nonplussed to find out from the starter that four slow groups had just gone off the 10th.
It's not uncommon at"The Wheel" for groups to switch courses in midstream, especially from Black to Red, so when this friendly group decided to switch to the Red Course, I went along for the ride. Even so, I knew I would miss some interesting golf holes on the Black Course, especially the signature 10th, a 408-yard layout from an elevated tee and the recently redesigned 508-yard 16th that demands a long, straight drive down the fairway and a tough shot to an elevated green.
Red Course Or Black Course?
The front nine on the Red course was always the stepchild of the Black course, so I was pleased when the condition of the course, except for the numerous chewed up tees, turned out far better than I had thought. The greens are in good shape and relatively true. And the Red presents a challenge similar to that of the Black. You won't find too many "easy" holes on either course.
On the first hole of the 3,568-yard Red course, you drive from still another elevated tee to a flat area only to have a second shot up and over a steep hill to a flat green. Except for the tee, you generally have a good lie on the fairways. You head back up the hill on the ninth hole -- that is, after a severe dogleg from the tee where you're hitting into the hill. The back nine on the Red course, as I recall, has some interesting layouts as well.
It is my understanding that the city of Bridgeport, through its board of park commissioners, has a long-term lease on the Fairfield property and National Fairways has a contract to run the facility.
I wrote this final part of a four-part series titled, "Torpey on Tour," for the sports pages of The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on July 2, 1999. The information cited reflects the facts as they were at that time. Some no longer pertinent material has been edited out. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages.
Do You Play Golf?
Series Part I – Longshore Golf Club, Westport, Connecticut
Series Part II -- Oak Hills Golf Course, Norwalk, Connecticut
Series Part III -- Sterling Farms Golf Course, Stamford, Connecticut
"The Golf Tour -- On a Small Scale" (A parody of my "Torpey on Tour" series written by The Hour's Assistant Sports Editor George Albano.)