LINCOLN – Just up the road from Lincoln High School is Kirkbrae Country Club, a private golf course measuring 6,549 yards from the back tees that plays to a par of 71 (and 74 for the women).
Kirkbrae has been home to many great players since its inception back in 1960. Several of its members have captured the R.I. Amateur championship, including Marc St. Martin (1976, 1984, 1988), Mark Zyons (1985) and Tom McCormick (2005).
Ed Kirby, a Cumberland High grad who turned professional in the mid-1980s, owns the course record of 63.
The course also features a solid contingent of women golfers led by Lincoln’s Jenna Masnyk, a strong RIGWA player who won the Kirkbrae club championship last week over Elizabeth Rubino. Masnyk is a collegiate golfer at Hofstra University on Long Island while Rubino, who just graduated from Bishop Feehan High School, will take her game to the University of Richmond later this month.
“Our golf course is a good fit for the members,” said Kirkbrae golf pro Mike Bradshaw. “The greens are fast and the rough can be plush and thick. We have some long par fours but there are a number of short holes, too.”
The golf course winds its way through a tree-lined landscape featuring sloping hills and tight tee shots.
“Some of our greens are pitched from back to front,” Bradshaw said. “You don’t want to hit your approach shots above the hole. We just hosted the Rhode Island Open and the winning score was 9-under par for three rounds. Mark Stevens, who is from New Hampshire, won the tournament. On the final day, Mark hit his approach on the 13th hole over the green and we thought he would make at least a bogey but he chipped in for birdie and went on to win the tournament.”
The toughest hole on the golf course is No. 8, which plays to 444 yards from the back (gold) tees. The hole slopes off to the right in front of the green and there is out-of-bounds beyond the green.
The 14th hole ranks as the No. 2 handicap. This is a 502-yard par five that features a tight landing area off the tee. Shots hit left of center on the sloping fairway can roll into the woods. The green is elevated and there’s water on the right.
Kirkbrae also has its “easy” holes, so to speak. The first hole plays to 330 yards from the white tees. Hit your tee shot left of center, though, and the second shot can be blocked by trees lining the rough.
The course gradually gets tougher. The second hole, another short par four, requires an accurate tee shot. Anything hit left goes into the omnipresent woods.
Trouble lurks just about everywhere at Kirkbrae, especially for shots that stray off line. On the 500-yard par five third hole, the fairway slopes off to the right, taking stray shots with it. There’s a large green to shoot at with trouble all around for those who miss their target.
The fourth hole, a par three measuring 129 yards from the middle tees, has an out-of-bounds marker to the right of the green.
On the back nine, No. 10 is a dogleg left. Super long hitters can try to go straight at the green by carrying the trees on top of the hill. Warning: don’t try it!
The back side features par fives at No. 12 and 14 with par threes at 15 and 17. The course closes with a long par four 18th that boasts a wide fairway. There’s water to the right of the green, waiting for errant shots from careless golfers.
The name most associated with Kirkbrae, is longtime professional Stan Baluik, a native of Thunder Bay, Ontario who came here in 1959 to play pro hockey for the Rhode Island Reds and never left.
“I retired six years ago,” Baluik was saying last Friday morning while sitting in the pro shop with his successor, Mike Bradshaw. “I was the pro from 1963 until 2005.”
Baluik, who was inducted into the R.I. Golf Hall of Fame in 2005, smiled as he spoke about his life in golf.
“My job now is to play golf with the members,” he said. It is a job this personable man does effortlessly, mingling with everyone who comes into his path during a day on the golf course.
Baluik and his late wife Marg raised their three children – Karen, David and Darren – while Stan ran the pro shop. David is now the golf pro at Glocester Country Club. Karen works in the pro shop at Kirkbrae and Darren is living the good life in Palm Beach, Florida, working on a golf course.
“I had worked on a small course in Thunder Bay,” Baluik said, recalling his own start in golf. “I came up through the ranks, doing all the jobs. I was the pro there while still playing hockey. Kirkbrae had just been finished in 1960 and they were looking for a golf pro. I took the job in 1963 and have been here ever since.”
Stan Baluik captured the R.I. Open and Vermont Open during his competitive career, even as he served his members at Kirkbrae. He was named New England Professional of the Year in 2004.
Mike Bradshaw and his two assistants, Nick Maresca and Chris Bohac, worked on Stan’s staff, making for a smooth transition for the golf operation at Kirkbrae, a multi-faceted country club that hosts weddings, dinners, Chamber of Commerce events and the annual “Welcome Home” luncheon for the Pawtucket Red Sox every April.
The club offers family and single golf memberships, social memberships, and limited corporate golf memberships.