6/1/12 by GolfonLongIsland.com
Bogey golfers and higher handicappers have a true friend in Medford. Mill Pond is the golf-course equivalent of your most dependable pal, always there in times of need. When you're reeling from that brutal round in which tree-hugged fairways left you with nothing but frayed nerves and hardpan lies, or that grueling 18 full of elevated greens and water carries, Mill Pond waits with a helping hand.
Those who love to swing the driver with abandon can count on its limitless fairways, where the next fairway over is just as good as the one targeted. Strong iron players rely on its short rough and shorter yardage, allowing them the opportunity to get off the tee comfortably then attack the flag with their preferred tools. Touch players who thrive around the green appreciate its playable rough and generously sized, though at times tricky, putting surfaces.
That's not to say Mill Pond is a total pushover. Like any good friend, it doesn't hesitate to razz when your guard is down. Mounding and an abundance of fescue can leave uphill, sidehill and buried lies that can go from tough to terrible with one bad bounce. Big bunkers, many scattered around the fairways, are stroke stealers. Water hazards ripple along the left side of nearly a half-dozen holes. But at the end of the day, Mill Pond usually leaves you with a nice score and a pat on the back.
With just under 6,000 yards from the middle tees and a rather benign slope rating of 115, Mill Pond is a tame links course that impresses with its impeccable conditioning and still challenges with troublesome bunkering, fescue and an ever-present wind. Advanced players may find a tougher test elsewhere -- even the back tees have a low slope at 117 -- but overall Mill Pond provides a fun, forgiving round in a prime setting.
Mill Pond is laid out across both sides of Mill Road -- the clubhouse and the first 11 holes sit on the north side, while the finishing septet play on the south side. The opener (formerly #10) tees off behind the clubhouse. Players on holes 1 and 2 find the same pond and tiny creek waiting for them as they prepare to drive off each of the elevated teeboxes. The drink plays a limited role on #1, a 348-yard par-4, but the creek that traces a thin line between the first two fairways can absorb an unlucky bounce. The second hole offers the best view of the course from the tee as you prepare for the 388-yard par-4. This time the pond is more of a deterrent, especially for those who drive balls to the left. Staying right is best here for an optimal angle to the green.
Two tough holes differing in style reside on the front. The par-5 third's modest 458 yards stretch much longer when the wind is blowing back at you and you're caught up among the mounds on each side of the fairway. Plus overzealous approaches can easily find their way through the rear rough and into the fescue that separates #3 from #4. Later, #8 sneaks up on you as the front nine draws to a close. Circular bunkers dot the right side of the fairway, poised to sabotage a solid drive. Your approach will be aimed at a smaller green with very little room around it from a fairway that curls around another pond. Right of the green -- or long, depending on your angle -- are several bunkers and fescue-covered mounds. Behind the green lays more fescue and thicker rough. It is not an easy place to recover from if you miss a clear shot at the putting surface.
Mill Pond's first risk-vs.-reward debate arises at #5, a unique dogleg par-4 where the inside of the turn is occupied by a fescue-strewn berm blocking any view of the hole's green and far fairway. The conservative play leaves a short iron or pitch with a chance to score, but the daring play provides the drama of trying to blindly drive the green over the hill and a wide-mouthed sand trap. Poor execution nets the risk-taker a miserable lie -- or worse -- with or without a view of the green, depending on just how poor we're talking about. But oh the payoff...
Like the front side, the back nine begins by asking players to carefully navigate away from water hazards. Anything in the air and lengthy enough to reach the front of the green on the 179-yard 10th will stay dry, but short shots to the left will likely splash land. There is ample room away from the water on the right side, but this safer section is covered with some of Mill Pond's heaviest rough. The 353-yard 11th features another pond short and left off the tee, as well as a creek that weaves across the width of the fairway within wood distance. Long drivers can clear the creek with strong execution, but the risk may not be worth the reward. The hole turns to the left after the creek; staying short of it along the left side of the fairway potentially leaves just a wedge or 9-iron into the green anyway.
Continue through a tunnel and underneath Mill Road to the southern segment of the course, which starts with a tough three-shot assignment, specifically a 512-yard par-5 with a series of small bunkers in the fairway, fescue and mounds on the right, and a tremendous three-pronged trap protecting the entire width of the green. Big hitters with aspirations of putting for eagle will have to clear the bunker, which is sunk below the elevated surface.
Three of the next four holes are short and relatively simple -- the tinier-than-listed 344-yard 13th is driveable for some, scoreable for others, as long as the plethora of bunkers can be avoided; #14 and #16, par-3s of 162 and 179 yards, present little danger save for a large trap in front of each green and significantly tacked-on yardage for those playing from the tips on the 16th (210 yards). But the hole in between is the stiffest challenge on the course, and quite an anomaly for wide-open Mill Pond. The 15th is a tight 428-yard squeeze between sections of thick woods, where balls can be lost on both sides of a fairway that fades slightly to the right. Bunkers line the left rough, ensuring that your path to the green remains choppy even if you do steer clear of the trees on each side.
Mill Pond wraps up with a 478-yard par-5 that cuts a path between high mounds on its way to a diagonal green. Like on the course's first par-5, overly aggressive approach shots can get sucked into penal thigh-high fescue if they breach the back rough.
Mill Pond is visually impressive. Colors and textures combine to form an aesthetically appealing golf course. The rich greens of the fairways blend with the deeper hues of the taller grasses, as well as the wispy browns and yellows of the fescue. The mounding on the course and the rolling of the fairways add to the classic look. A weathered red shed serves as a landmark near the creek in the 11th fairway. A windmill watches over the action on the fifth and eighth greens. Mill Pond is one of 642 courses in the world to earn designation as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary by Audubon International.
Greens are generously sized, and vary between generally flat, lightly sloped, ridged and tiered. Pin placement can be tricky, especially on #8, where a flag on the top shelf can be hard to find from a tight lie or one of the three large traps. A hump on the first green and a ridge on the par-3 fourth complicate putts on two otherwise affable holes.
Not surprisingly, wind is a major player here. Steady gusts will be your friend on some holes and foe on others. Many consecutive holes play parallel to one another back and forth, so the wind should help just as much as it hinders. Bunkers are a mainstay on nearly every hole, and some holes feature a series of bunkers along the edges of the fairways. They can be deep or sunk below elevated greens at times.
HOLES TO REMEMBER:
As described above, #5 offers two distinct routes to the green. From the tee, gentle waves of mounding line the left rough, and fescue protects the far end of the fairway as it makes a right turn toward the green. A berm on the right side of the fairway provides the risk as it blocks the view of a reachable green and throws up some obstacles of its own.
A long iron or hybrid into the fairway's turn is the conservative play. The farther right the better, as this will shave yards off the approach shot into the green. Left or long brings the mounding into play and lengthens the approach. A well-placed shot off the tee here can leave well under 100 yards to the pin.
But the glamour comes with the dramatic play. All it takes is a well-struck drive of 250+ with enough air underneath it to clear the short-side bunker and hang onto the green. Simple as that! If the effort fails, problems arise. A mishit into the front of the hill leaves a bad to buried sidehill lie and still no view of the green. Coming up short on the berm's backside will at least give you a look at the green, but you'll have to get there from a poor downhill lie. A popped-up tee shot that settles atop the berm could be a positive break, but chances are you'll still need to contend with landscaping and an angry foursome near the second tee.
AREAS TO AVOID:
The par-3 fourth is one of Mill Pond's easiest holes -- a 138-yarder that plays shorter from a tee above the green. But there is some trouble greenside where two large bunkers sit below the putting surface. A bad kick off the mounding between or in front of them could leave you with a tough shot from the sand and little chance at par on a green with a ridge running across its center.
Missing the eighth green anywhere but short is a hassle. Water left of the green will coax you into sending your approach farther right or deeper, but heading too far in either direction will land you in fescue, sticky rough or any of three bunkers. Good luck applying enough finesse from a bad lie to keep your ball on the right level when the pin is on the top tier.
Carts at Mill Pond have GPS units for yardage to the front, center and back of the greens, as well as any obstacles in the fairways. The clubhouse features a well-stocked pro shop and one of the best grills around. Mill Pond was once a 27-hole facility. The "East" nine was dug up several years ago to make way for the Meadowbrook Pointe residential development that now looks over the 12th and 13th holes.