The Lore and Lure of QCC
In the original township of Killingly, Quinnatisset, the Indian word, was used to identify the area now known as Thompson Hill—claimed by the Nipmuck tribe in 1670. A small brook, circuiting the course from an adjacent meadow and flowing into the French River, carries the same name. Early missionaries persuaded Quinnatisset residents to gather into a village on the “Great Hill,” now the town of Thompson, where a huge wigwam was constructed, visible as late as 1730.
The soil in Thompson at the time was described as “broken and diversified,” thus making cultivation laborious. Granite ledges underlie the hills and myriads of detached stones overlie the fields and pastures. Despite conditions, the building of original homesteads was granted in 1721 by the town of Killingly to early residents of the “Great Hill,” and log homes followed as the area was developed.
The location of the developing town was traversed by those traveling by daily stage coach or on horseback from the "south" to Boston, and from Providence to Springfield. Current route 193 was originally a toll road known as the "Boston Turnpike." A convenient overnight or dining stop was the "Stiles Tavern," claiming more stage passengers stopped there on a daily basis than any other house in New England. The popular rest stop was named for its owner, Captain Vernon Stiles, described as the "beau ideal" landlord—big, hearty and jolly. The tavern, now known as the White Horse Inn, is still serving diners in the center of Thompson Hill.
Echoes from the past include development of historical Thompson and later its choice as a summer residence for wealthy patrons through the Victorian era. The picturesque colonial homes of yore, surrounding the "green" on the "hill," continue to impress today.
When rail travel increased in the country, the Thompson Railroad Station, located only a mile from the center of town, welcomed those summer visitors from metropolitan areas on the Worcester division of the old New York and New England line.
Unable to build his mansion on the water at Newport due to health conditions, financier and industrialist, Norman B. Ream, settled in his summer estate on Thompson Hill, which he called Caroline Hall. He entertained friends and business associates in his private railroad car; and, frequently drove through the seven miles of roads on the grounds of his estate in horse and buggy to discuss business deals with fellow financiers. These grounds are now the campus of the Marianapolis Preparatory School.
Ream’s business associates included numerous famous financiers, many of whom spent time at his estate. He began construction of a nine-hole golf course near his estate in 1901 for entertainment and recreation purposes. Over 200 craftsmen and laborers, imported from Italy, cleared 100 acres of woodland, built magnificent stone walls, and, laid out what was probably the first significant golf facility in Northeastern Connecticut.
Work to complete the course extended over a period of two years. A pair of partially connected ponds furnished water for the course which boasted its own natural beauty. Included in the work was a stone dam and controlled spillway lined with rock, which created a picturesque pond of about twenty acres which now borders five holes at Quinnatisset.
In addition to the huge walls surrounding and running through the course, the Italian craftsmen constructed a large stone water tower standing alongside the first tee, and four large stones cairns around the pond. The water tower and wells not only supplied water for the course but for several area farms and houses. The massive stone walls, which greatly add to the beauty and uniqueness of the property, were large enough for Ream to walk his horse on as he supervised the construction of the course.
Mr. Ream’s daughter, Marion, though independent in her own way, was a talented and cultured woman. Heiress to the 12th largest fortune in the United States, she left the family estate to volunteer as a relief worker for the YMCA in post World War I France. There she met and married "“Count" Alex V. Vonsiatsky, a White Russian Army Officer. They returned to Thompson in 1924 and settled into the three-story house across the road from the Quinnatisset entrance.
While Mrs. Vonsiatsky became renown for her brilliant gatherings of people prominent in the theatre and musical world at the Ream mansion, Count Vonsiatsky gained notoriety for his White Russian fascist political views. These views and associations with paramilitarists who met in Thompson, ultimately led to his incarceration as a spy in 1942.
When Norman Ream died in 1915, Marion became the owner of Quinnatisset Farm, the property on which the course was located. Since its inception, play at the course had been by invitation only. However, in the late 1940’s, a group of thirty-five business and semi-retired local professional men leased the property for an annual rent of $1.00 and the stipulation that it would remain a private club. When she died in 1963, the first codicil of her will devised the golf course acreage to the then organized Quinnatisset Country Club.
In September of 1964, the Club purchased additional land from the estate bringing the total ownership to a little more than 170 acres. This purchase made possible the construction of an additional nine holes. And in 1966, Geoffrey S. Cornish of Amherst, Massachusetts, an internationally recognized golf architect, was engaged to design and supervise the construction of this major undertaking.
In writing resembling the words of James Fenimore Cooper, "the project cut through primitive forests formerly inhabited by Indians, creating a Quinnatisset over beautiful terrain which proved ideal for a designed golf course." This new "nine" provided sharp contrast to the "Old Course." In addition to raised tees set back into the woods with sweeping views of the surrounding countryside, it featured many sand traps, tight fairways, sculptured greens and two challenging water holes.
In 1995, an additional 55 acres of land bordering the course was purchased, and this led to a second major renovation in the transformation of Quinnatisset. The original plan was the lengthen and reconfigure some of the holes on the "original nine." However, when architects were consulted, the decision was made to completely overhaul and reconfigure that layout which had served so well since 1903.
Roger Rulewich was contracted to design and oversee the construction of the new layout, and when the project was completed in 2004 the finished product received a major stamp of approval. It is now a course which rivals all in the area. Quinnatisset Golf Course has contributed to the cultural significance and played a colorful role in the lifestyle of the community for over a century. Today it provides a means of recreation for over 400 members residing in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, who come to challenge the par 72 layout.
The private golf club is owned by the membership; managed by a Board of Governors elected by the members; and, maintains association with the United States Golf Association and Connecticut State Golf Association. Quinnatisset is not a “country club” – it is a Golf Club. It has no tennis courts, swimming pool or dining room. It was built and continues to be for people who enjoy the company of others and have a desire to share a common interest in a game which is played on a course of outstanding quality.
As you gain membership into the Club, you will find companionship and enjoy a rewarding and memorable experience in your rounds of golf at Quinnatisset. And, hopefully, you too will discover the "LORE AND THE LURE OF QUINNATISSET."