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At Canaan Country Club, It’s All About the Golfer April 20, 2016 By Scott Lipsky, USGA

Fran Marrello, head pro at Canaan Country Club, has competed in the U.S. Senior Open, but his focus is on the everyday golfer. (USGA/Damian Strohmeyer)

As spring begins to bloom in northwest Connecticut, Fran Marrello, the head professional at Canaan Country Club, is starting to welcome back familiar faces while also  introducing himself to new ones at the picturesque nine-hole layout that borders the Blackberry River, less than 3 miles from the Massachusetts border.

But thanks to some unseasonably warm weather, many of Canaan Country Club’s members have enjoyed an earlier-than-normal start to the golf season. Since the course’s soft opening on March 8, more than a month earlier than last year’s first day, Canaan has not had to utilize temporary greens or tees. And the locals are taking full advantage.

“It’s been atypical this year with the March start,” said Marrello, who returned to Canaan in 2015 after an eight-year stint from 2004-2011. “There’s been a lot of increased play. There was an extended fall, and now we’ve got an early spring, so it’s been quite a little boom to get some extra business.”

In a state where nine-hole courses are abundant, Canaan is a shining example of how a non-traditional facility can provide a variety of options to engage golfers. The casual golfer who only plays a handful of times per year can take advantage of an affordable course, while regulars can pay one rate for unlimited play throughout the year. Early risers can get in a quick nine for a discounted rate on weekdays. Leagues use the course four days a week, and there is also a Friday evening co-ed scramble in which two-player teams – different each week – compete for pro shop credit.

For those who want an 18-hole experience, golfers can pay as little as $3 to go around again. 

Photos: Nine is Fine at Canaan Country Club

With 43 nine-hole courses in Connecticut, nine-hole rounds are quite common, and the golfers who frequent Canaan fall right in line says Marrello.

“I would say probably 90 percent of our rounds are nine holes. We have leagues that are nine holes, seniors in the morning tend to just play nine for the most part,” he said. “The younger guys and some of the weekend guys will play 18, but most of the time it is nine.”

Canaan Country Club’s routing takes players through inland wetlands, and if the weather cooperates they are often treated to views of nearby Canaan Mountain along with visits from different forms of wildlife. (View infographic)

Marrello and his team ensure that the positive experience entails more than the beautiful scenery. Regardless of a player’s skill, Canaan offers four sets of tees, with the forward tees tapping out at a manageable 4,662 yards. The tees for both par 3s, which play uphill, have been moved up for 2016.

Infographic: Golf Courses and Wetlands

“Those traditionally have been holes that most of our players aren’t reaching with drivers,” Marrello said. “You want people to have a chance to reach a green in regulation, to maybe on occasion have a birdie putt, without having to hit a driver or a hybrid or whatever it might be into a par 3.”

A 2013 inductee into the Connecticut PGA Hall of Fame, Marrello is a valuable ambassador for the nine-hole round and accessible play. One of the most accomplished players in his section’s history, Marrello has been named the Connecticut PGA Player of the Year seven times, and the senior player of the year eight times. He also has competed on some of the largest stages. He has qualified for two U.S. Senior Opens, including last year’s championship at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento, Calif., as well as two Senior PGA Championships. Yet, it is the experience of the everyday golfer that Marrello is constantly working to improve.

“Our forward tees have been red, and I’m still thinking about changing them to another color because of the stigma that exists,” he said. “[People think] that it’s the ladies’ tees. We’re trying to change that to a forward tee and changing the color to be gender neutral. It provides the possibility to get more people to play that tee.”

Tee it forward. Play nine. Play 18. Play early. Play late. Play in a league. Play recreationally. At Canaan Country Club, it’s all about making sure golfers can do what they want to do most: Play golf.

Scott Lipsky is the manager of websites and digital platforms at the USGA. Email him at