If you’ve never played Raceway and think you may want to play it, you need to be committed to the process. If you’re departing from anywhere west of the River, the trek to Raceway GC is about as far as you can travel within Connecticut without leaving the State. As you spend the better part of 40 minutes getting to Raceway GC after you’ve exited I-84, it’s a quiet, pastoral ride down some secondary roads; a good chance to decompress, take in the scenery, and whatnot. The “quiet and pastoral” trip ends when you’ve passed the billboard for the speedway.
This is the turn? It seemed odd to GNT that when he saw the billboard for Thompson Motor Speedway, his GPS said “turn here” to get to the golf course. He ignored it as usual; the course couldn’t be that close to the race track. Then he had to reverse course. Truth in advertising; Raceway GC is adjacent to Thompson Motor Speedway.
“Have I passed through the middle of nowhere to the other side?” The GT review of Raceway GC, Thompson, Connecticut. Reviewed July, 2016.
Part of the intrigue that led to the review of Raceway GC on GoatTrackGolf.com was based on the fact that it was the second course presented with the “Walter Lowell Public Golf Course Distinguished Service Award.” Of course, Canton Public GC was the first. For those of us who grew up playing Canton Public, mentioning that name (we always called him Mr. Lowell, out of respect) was like catnip, Pavlov’s bell, or something similar.
The pre-tee experience:
Pro shop: Could be mistaken for a kwik-e mart, if it didn’t have a sign saying “Pro Shop.” Similar construction to a 7-11, which was great. Throw in a few carbon-dated hot dogs and they’d be almost interchangeable.
Practice green: Genius of a higher order. There was something so overly-organized about it that just made it unpredictably awesome. Most practice greens have randomly placed pins, but not at Raceway. They’re organized into a 4 x 4 grid (maybe 4 x 5, maybe 5 x 4, maybe marked off like a checkered flag; a level of minutiae not to be delved into, even on this site), equally spaced at about 15 feet. Why? This is the best part. Because if you’re screwing around trying to sink 30-footers on a practice green, you have absolutely no shot on the course. Raceway tries to provide you a useful practice opportunity, if you’re up for it. If you can consistently make some putts from pin to pin, or even halfway in between, you’re going to be cashing in at the end of your round.
Before the start of our round, the esteemed Tracker known as Friar Tuck offered, “I thought that GoatTrackGolf.com reviewed Goat Tracks and crappy muni’s. What are we doing here?” Obviously, he didn’t really understand the importance of reviewing this course.
Onto the review of the Raceway GC layout
The first hole is harmless enough, but you can shank one into oncoming traffic if you try hard enough. A motorcycle rider approaching your slice into the road from the first tee can present a tense moment or two. Don’t be a moron, keep it in play; it’s a short par-4.
As you cross the road to #2, you can see that the Raceway layout just gets better and more interesting, but you won’t escape the constant humming sound of cars going around the track nearby anytime soon. If you can’t tune that out, you’re probably in a world of shit, at least until you hit the quiet corner (11 through 15, the holes farthest away from the track). As Friar Tuck noted somewhere on the front 9, “Why am I worrying about making noise by moving the cart in someone’s backswing?”
Signature hole, #6: We’ve read a lot of complaints elsewhere about this hole. Number 7 is no picnic either, but let’s focus on the 6th. We played it when the white tees were playing short, which didn’t do us any favors. There’s an oak tree that’s tempting to hit over on the corner, but you have to be in the right mood to do it. The oak tree to the left of it is taller, so you really have a narrow window to put your stamp on this hole from the tee box. What this hole really comes down to is your ability to not complain about not using your driver off the tee on a par-5 and your ability to stick a short iron shot into a green sloping towards you. It’s an expansive green left to right, elevated above a pond and 5, yes 5, separate bunkers between the pond and the green. We noted that pin placement in the front right corner would probably get most players unhinged.
Some General Tracking Minutiae (don’t overthink the general/minutiae bit, you’ll only hurt yourself)
Greens: A great mix of shapes and sizes. One thing we noticed was that the narrow greens were narrow for a reason, mainly to test your ability to stop a ball if you missed wide and needed to get up and down.
Bunkers: Sure, there was some pebbly stuff in about half of them and we read some complaints online, but…this just in…you don’t have to hit into them. They’re all pretty playable, if you’re not a whiny douche. On the flip side, since a lot of them are expansive, a few more rakes added to the mix would probably be a pace of play improvement.
Pace of play... what a smooth segue. When we played/reviewed Raceway, it was as a twosome, behind another twosome, behind a foursome, which set the pace. As far as we could tell, we could’ve added 4 players to our group, played as a six-some, and still finished in around 4 hours, not sure what all the pace of play complaints are about.
Maybe we figured out part of the perceived pace of play problem. Was it due to poor or slow play? Difficult to say. What we think may be a contributing factor is…
Condiment Saturation at the Snack Shack behind the 13th tee. Bear with us here. The snack shack is in a great spot and well-attended; two thumbs up. Here’s the potential problem: some variation of “dog… beer… onto the next box…” is how the most efficient snack shacks operate. We can see where this goes awry at Raceway. We appreciate the customer-centric approach, but who ever heard of a golf course concession stand with 3 or 4 sriracha sauce options? Rhetorical question. Only because things were moving more slowly than they should have at that time, GNT was able to count 20 condiment options. Twenty. Yes, twenty. It’s not going to be a four-star dining experience no matter what. We’re all in favor of providing options, but we can also see where the guy who can’t decide between a 7 and 8 iron may have difficulty selecting the right mustard.
Finishing hole: While on the 18th tee, you can not only hear Thompson Speedway, but you can also smell it, with a subtle waft of burning rubber carried toward you with a gentle breeze. Enough of that prose. What’s great about this finishing hole is that you have to decide how much you want to nut up. The mound strategically located about 40 yards in front of the green discourages “bail and wail” drives that some hope can reach the green. The 18th here requires some shot placement from the tee and pin-seeking to knock it stiff. It’s a different type of finishing hole, but we like it.
Winding it down: (returning the cart and heading to the 19th)
Raceway GC is very particular about how you return your cart after your round. We don’t like it, but here’s why it makes sense (it’s practical, if not ingenious, from a liability management standpoint):
As a reference point, when we finished our round and the leagues were gearing up in the cart corral, it sort of looked like the Daytona 500, except that the carts were 4 wide in a row, instead of 3.
Usually, taking the cart to the parking lot before/after the round is acceptable, but think about it. You’re next door to a race track with cars running at high speeds all day long and the parking lot looks like fun with a golf cart, and who doesn't like that? Chances that something goes wrong after, let’s say, happy hour, or some other cooler-emptying experience are: a) possible, b) probable, or c) “metaphysical certitude.” Raceway GC nips that in the bud; you have to walk your bag back to your car after returning your cart along the approved path. They know that the parking lot is set up too well for you to drive laps after your round and have crushed that opportunity. On the other hand, if you want to test the waters, there’s a barely-navigable opening in the fence behind the 18th green and a curb just waiting to be jumped, not that we recommend doing that.
There’s a clubhouse with an awning on one side and an ice cream bar named “Bogeys” on the other side of the parking lot. We weren’t heading to the ice cream bar. In other reviews, we may have complained about insufficient outdoor seating layouts. Not here. Partly because we played Raceway GC on a 90+ degree day, we were strongly in favor of an indoor, air-conditioned 19th. Apparently brick construction dampens the ambient exterior noise. Go figure. We appreciated it. There’s some interesting stuff hanging on the walls and from the ceiling that will give you a history lesson on the track… and the track next door (1st asphalt high-banked oval in the U.S.), if you’re so inclined. It’s as interesting as you want it to be.
In summary: We understand why Raceway GC is a “Walter Lowell Public Golf Course Distinguished Service Award” winner. They organize a lot of youth golf events, etc. and provide a great place to do it. Even though we’re no longer in that demographic, we like the course. It provides a unique experience. After GNT mentioned that the course had received some negative comments online, Friar Tuck noted, “There are trolls everywhere; that’s not going to change anytime soon.”
An unpredictably good layout to play, very good conditions, with some background noise, which may grate on you, if you have rabbit ears.
We’re awarding Raceway GC ….
...out of 4 GT logos