The University Club a Home for UConn Golfers

By: John Torsiello

Former University of Connecticut star and National Basketball Association player Donnie Marshall, along with business partners Chuck and Joe Grodovich, felt the time was right for UConn to have its own golf course.

Donny Marshall Holding Flag at University Club

That was the driving force behind the trio's decision to purchase the former Willimantic Country Club last year and rename it The University Club. Their aim is to make the club a home away from home for UConn alumni, staff and student-athletes and to bring the facility into a new era.

Chuck Grodovich, who has had a long tenure in the state's golf business, said discussion on purchasing the club began late in 2008 when it was learned the facility was up for sale. "I went to Donnie and we talked about the concept," said Chuck Grodovich. "We wanted to do something in association with UConn and its alumni and sort of pattern it after the University Club in Kentucky. They bought a nine-hole course back in the 1980s and they now have two fabulous courses called The Wildcat and Big Blue. It's all University of Kentucky alumni."

Marshall, an avid golfer, fell in love with the idea and the pair approached the University of Connecticut about the possibility of linking the school's golf interests with the Willimantic club. "We met with them and they liked the idea," said Chuck Grodovich.

The pair made a presentation to the members who owned Willimantic and they also approved of the idea. The club currently has close to 200 members and the new owners would like to see that number will increase to around 240 in 2010. The club will remain semiprivate and have tee times available to the general public certain times of the week.

Individuals do not have to be UConn alumni or affiliated with the school to purchase a membership. Membership costs $2,500 a year.

16th Hole at University Club

The University of Connecticut will play its home matches and practice at The University Club this spring and a number of UConn coaches, staff, and former players began frequenting the course last year.

The Grodoviches and Marshall are extremely pleased with how renovation work to the existing clubhouse turned out, and course conditions have become very good with the addition of well-respected superintendent John LaBrie, formerly of Gillette Ridge Golf Club in Bloomfield, Conn., and his staff.

"At the end of 2009, our course conditions and our greens were the best they have ever been," said Chuck Grodovich. The interior and exterior of the clubhouse were renovated and a parking lot repaved.

He continued, "Rounds were up because of the peaked interest in Donnie being involved with the club and because of the positive changes we are making. It's neat because on any given day you might see Donnie, coach (Jim) Calhoun, Travis Knight, Kevin Ollie or another UConn player playing here."

Initial plans were to bring in PGA Tour player Brad Faxon and course architect Brad Booth to lengthen the layout and give it more bite by adding pro tee boxes to many of the holes.

The club first opened in 1922 and was maintained as a private facility until only a few years ago when it was opened to the public. Thus, the conditions are very good for a daily-fee facility and well worth the modest greens fees. The putting surfaces are medium in size with some undulation. They roll true and reward good approach shots with makeable birdie opportunities. The rough areas are kept at a height to somewhat punish wayward tee shots but still allow you to advance the ball to the greens with a good swing.

The course demands precision off the tee, as mature trees line many of the holes. There is a pleasing mix of holes, ranging from short to long par-4s, reachable par-5s and demanding par-3s, the latter perhaps the strength of the track.

Examples of the shifting demands of the course are the first two holes. Number one is a 376-yard par-4 that plays uphill from the fairway landing area to a green protected by bunkers. The second hole is a really nice, 287-yard par-4 that offers several options off the tee. Big hitters can try and reach the putting surface, but the wise play is a long iron to set up a wedge into a green protected by high-faced bunkers left and right.

The third and fourth holes are tough par-4s, measuring 418 and 416 yards, respectively. Maybe the best par-5 on the course is the 484-yard sixth. A long drive to the right side of the fairway on this dogleg-left will allow the player to go for the green in two.

The seventh is a solid par-3, playing 191 yards, with the tee shot through a chute of trees to a slightly elevated green guarded by bunkers and woods to the left. The back nine is fun. There's the 120-yard par-3 10th, the 292-yard par-4 12th that has pond guarding the front of the green, which makes going for the putting surface with a driver much too risky, and the monstrous, 433-yard 14th.

The 17th hole is another long par-4, measuring 430 yards from the tips. The back nine ends with a 220-yard par-3 that plays downhill.

For additional information about the course, renovations, daily fee rates and membership packages, visit

This story originally appeared in Cybergolf on January 15, 2010.

John Torsiello is an editor/writer living in Connecticut. He has written extensively about all aspects of the golf industry for a number of national and regional publications. He is a regular contributor to Golf Course Industry, Lawn and Landscape, Golfing, and Fairway Living magazines as well as various online publications. He has strong, ongoing relationships with industry professionals and has worked closely with course owners, architects, developers, course superintendents and general managers around the country. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including first place from the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association for a piece that appeared in Golf Course Industry magazine.