Klein: Forse steadily restores Brooklawn

Brooklawn Country Club, founded in 1895, is undergoing a sustained renaissance.

Brooklawn Country Club, founded in 1895, is undergoing a sustained renaissance.

FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- Signs of revival these days are rare in the decrepit Connecticut city of Bridgeport. Once an industrial center for sewing machines, milling machinery and brass fittings, the state’s most populous city became a poster child for deindustrialization, evidenced by the miles of hollowed-out manufacturing plants that Amtrak trains pass here on the route between New York and Boston.

But just west of the city, where Capitol Avenue leads urban traffic into the leafy suburban comforts of Fairfield, there’s reason for optimism – 110 acres of it, in fact. Brooklawn Country Club, founded in 1895, is undergoing a sustained renaissance. Restoration specialist Ron Forse has been working with the club since 1998. Piece by piece, he’s bringing it back to the point where it should get the respect he thinks it deserves.

Forse, 56, is a modest, soft-spoken fellow, someone who is understated by the standards of his profession. But his heart flutters over the charms of this A.W. Tillinghast layout. Forse’s redesign plan involved keeping much of the existing routing but providing all new greens and bunkers. Tillinghast’s original plan, now hanging in the clubhouse, is auspiciously dated September 1929, just as the stock market started a slide that culminated in the Oct. 29 crash. Maybe that’s why the planned fairway bunkers were never built. Luckily, the greens and surrounds were, and it’s here where Forse gets inspired.

“The strength of this place is amazing,” Forse said. “It was the next-to-last major design work Tillinghast ever undertook. And it shows off – or showed off – his talents at the peak of his career.”

Forse points to the greens, which show broad, sweeping, steady slopes rather than ridges or swales. Forse is enamored with how most of these greens have four knobs – two at the back, two on the sides or up front – of different heights and with different effects. And he finds it a blessing that while the surfaces have shrunk, the basic features are intact and retrievable through greens expansion. He’s not worried about those broad slopes proving a bit too much for today’s golfers. With the par-71 layout all but maxed out at 6,711 yards, the challenge and interest will have to come from ground features.

“With those sprawling, spectacular greens,” Forse said, “we’re going to avoid softening their contours and encourage moderate green speeds.”

Along the way, he’s redoing the bunkering to recapture the bold angularity and variety of Tillinghast’s features. His guide for these shapes is a 1931 aerial, from which Forse, with archaeological acumen, can discern relative depths of features. He also hopes to introduce to Brooklawn the full scope of fairway bunkering that the club never was able to build. Add some considerable tree work to open lines of play and improve conditions for turf cultivation and you have the makings of a classic golf course that deserves, in Forse’s view, renewed attention.

Brooklawn is no stranger to the national spotlight. The course has been home to four significant national events: the 1974 U.S. Junior Amateur (won by David Nevatt); 1979 U.S. Women’s Open (Jerilyn Britz); 1987 U.S. Senior Open (Gary Player); and 2003 U.S. Girls’ Junior (Sukjin-Lee Wuesthoff).

Now Brooklawn is poised to recapture its design heritage.

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