At long last, golf is finally back in Bristol

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 9/6/23

Part golf course, part beer garden, part ecological restoration project, the Bristol Golf Park will be opening for tee times on Monday, Sept. 11, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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At long last, golf is finally back in Bristol


At long last, the greens are green and the new, very much improved (and renamed) Bristol Golf Park will be opening for tee times on Monday, Sept. 11, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

To celebrate the opening, a community open house will be held this Saturday, Sept. 9 from noon to 5 p.m. Visitors will have the opportunity to walk the course, enjoy live music, food trucks, a beer garden, and virtual golf at the adjacent Vigilant Brewing Company.

It’s the cumulation of a tremendous amount of work that pulled in professionals from many different disciplines, from our own Town Community Development Department to environmental scientists and stewards, and golf course design experts. As Town Planner, Ed Tanner said during one phase of the project, “There’s a lot going on here.”

It all began as a water quality project
Tanner and Community Development Director Diane Williamson have long sought ways to address the fact that the course, purchased by the Town in the 1980s as open space, was not serving as the best point of origin for the massive Silver Creek watershed. The creek runs from a high point on Tupelo Street all the way through town, collecting all manner of contaminants in its travels and dumping it all in Bristol Harbor.

Williamson and Tanner knew that if they wanted to take steps to manage the quality and flow of this watershed, they needed to start at the top.

For more than a decade, they discussed the project with Wenley Ferguson, Director of Restoration with Save the Bay, and a longtime consultant with the Town on all matters relating to the health of the harbor and bay.

Ferguson had long assumed any plan would begin and end with restoring the natural wetland on the course, and she admitted she was “depressed” when she first heard that the Town was still interested in maintaining a golf course and not going to completely return the property to wetland.

The Town consulted with Wright-Pierce, an engineering form which has worked on projects at the Guiteras School and the Town Beach, along with Landscape Architect Tim Gerrish. Ferguson soon warmed to the plan she saw coming together.

“This has amazing water quality benefits,” she said at the time. “And Tim is a landscape architect who gets it.”

What’s more, thanks to the fact that the project’s primary goal was wetland restoration, federal and state grant money covered the lion’s share of the costs.

Peel back the bright greens and the foundation of the Bristol Golf Park is a meticulously planned storm water management system. Water from Ballou Boulevard, an industrial cul-de-sac, used to go down the drain and dump into the grass on the course, but that runoff has now been intercepted and routed through a series of ponds, interconnected streams, and natural features that comprise a sand filter treatment system.

With a natural stream and water trickling pond to pond, surrounded by natural plantings, the course will be dry, and much of the southern extension of the course has returned to its natural state. Wildlife, including turtles and herons, have already made the course home.

And now for the fun part
Billy McNeil is the Operations Manager for Northeast Golf Company, the company that was selected to manage the course for the town. Based out of North Kingstown, the growing company runs several golf courses in the northeast. “That’s the Golf Hut,” said McNeil of a hut on wheels (permanent structures aren’t permitted on site) that will serve as the check in spot after golfers turn into the course and parking area accessed at 96 Broadcommon Road. It’s there that golfers can pick up carts, clubs, merchandise and refreshments. The first of nine holes begins steps away.

McNeil estimates most golfers will play the par 3 course in about an hour and 15 minutes.

Steps aways from the Golf Hut, Kevin Amaral of Vigilant Brewing Company has laid down some wood chips, the foundation of an outdoor beer garden that he hopes will become a popular “19th hole” and a successful cross-marketing opportunity for both companies.

“Having a beer garden and utilizing Kevin's connections with the food trucks and the local music scene, we're really excited to be doing all this stuff together,” said McNeil.

Amaral’s status as a lifelong Bristolian also came into play when it was time to name the holes thematically, marked with the same style wayfinding signs found on downtown streets: names like Parade Route, Converse Corner, King Philip’s Climb, and Colt’s Drive.

A long season
As long as there’s no snow, golfers should be able to avail themselves of the Bristol Golf Park late into this season and early the next. Going into next year, McNeil hopes to organize league play and establish a consistent events schedule — though right out of the gate they will hold a closest-to-the-pin contest on a daily basis.

“There’s still a lot of details figure out, but with the town, we'll implement programming like kids’ clinics,” said McNeil. “We'll have a nice programming calendar with the town.”

Pricing is very accessible, with discounts for Bristol residents and seniors, and special promotions on Monday for first responders, military, and veterans in honor of the 9/11 anniversary.

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