At GOLF.com, our hobby is also our job. That means, just like you, we spend a lot of the year holding it high, swinging hard and trying to avoid the double bogey. But some courses we find are simply more memorable than others. Here, for the second year in a row, we’re revealing our favorite public courses to play in 2022.
Vermont is known for many things: cows, peaks, creamy maples, country charm, Bernie Sanders.
Not on the short list: pizza and golf.
However, just off Route 103, in the cozy ski town of Ludlow, at the southern tip of the state, you’ll find the perfect marriage of two wonderful life indulgences. Enter Off the Rails, a brick-oven pizzeria and bar in the shadows of Okemo Mountain that about five years ago installed a par-3 next to its parking lot. And not just any bar -3: a comical homage to The iconic #17 green island at TPC Sawgrass.
“I built him,” said a gruff voice on the other end of the line.
It had been nearly four months since my Labor Day weekend visit to Off the Rails when I finally called the restaurant this week to find out about the genesis of the pit. Fortunately, he chose her designer. This will be Casey Crompton, who is also the director of the foundation. Crompton is a lifelong golfer from Boston’s South Shore. In his day, he was a top level amateur and scratch player. His idea was to build the crater, which took about two weeks, to attract apres– Golf crowd from local courses. (ApresSkye, not so much. Green in the water only from May to October.)
“I knew guys who play golf sure love to partake in a few drinks after a round, and I thought of a floating green,” Crompton said. He also presumably knew the idea would resonate with his boss, Troy Caruso, who not only owns Off the Rails but also a road golf course, Fox Run.
“We use foam golf balls,” Crompton continued. “It’s probably about a 30-yard shot. When people go green they get really excited. Sometimes people come in and say they got a hole in one but that might be once a month.”
When people go green, they get very excited.
Having taken about 10 swipes myself—and having also watched the all-ages crew of 14 family and friends with me take their share of swings—I can vouch for the challenge of the shot. The green is small—perhaps 10 yards wide by five yards deep—and sloping from back to front with the flag at the right rear. A false alligator mounted on the trailing edge of the deck acts as a prop but only for well-hit balls that roll softly next to the hole. The aerodynamic weight of the foam balls also takes some getting used to, as does the compression IPA patrons sipping seen from the yard.
“It’s very difficult,” Crompton said. “A man came in at once betting he could hit the green at once with three balls.” Crompton took action—dinner was at stake—not knowing he had just made a bet with a professional golfer. “He just missed the leading edge on first, and he just missed the trailing edge on second,” said Crompton. “Third, hit it and if the green was six inches deeper, it would have stayed, but it just started.”
Take Crompton? He did not accept anything. Seeing his clients enjoy piercings, he said, is pay enough.
And they enjoyed it, or at least they did the day my troopers flew in to graze hearty pancakes with exotic fixings like wild mushrooms, sautéed eggplant and caramelized onions, washed down with fresh barrel-aged local brew. The big kids loved the challenge of the shot, while the little ones had more fun retrieving balls from the water with a fishing net. The Trumpian Fountain right in front of the green helps in this regard. “The little ripples from the fountain bring the balls back to the edge of the pool,” Crompton said. “I take them out the next day, and we start over.”
Crompton has other hopes for the fossa, including visions of a “tiger loaded” in the jungle. “It’s like a 60-yard bullet,” he said. “That’s probably coming. Gotta get the right balls, the right materials, it’s a lot of work.”
In the meantime, he can still enjoy the satisfaction of building what is if not Vermont’s only par-3 green island then certainly the only par-3 green island in the Green Mountain State where you can also enjoy wings, crunchy Brussels sprouts, and watercress-topped pizza. .
“I imagine so,” Crompton said. I haven’t seen this anywhere in the country. I google it all the time. I really have to repeat this.”