Friday, November 09, 2007

Winged Foot, Baltusrol and Bethpage

A.W. Tillinghast has eight courses ranked in the world top 100, more than any other architect. I have just recently completed playing all of A.W. Tillinghast's courses that are on the top 100 list. Six of his top 100 are located within 30 miles of Times Square. Nowhere in the world is there such a large concentration of courses in the top 100 by the same architect. The next closest is Alister MacKenzie's body of work in Australia.

Before reviewing the New York area Tillinghast courses, I would point out that his best design might be one of his earliest efforts - San Francisco Golf Club. Tillinghast's major New York area courses are: Winged Foot West (ranked #18 in the world), Bethpage Black (ranked #30 in the world), Baltusrol Lower (ranked #45 in the world), Quaker Ridge (ranked #61 in the world), Winged Foot East (ranked #66 in the world), and Somerset Hills (ranked #69 in the world). Not surprisingly, Tillinghast did a lot of his work in the New York area since his practice was based in New York City and Englewood, New Jersey. Tillinghast was a legendary figure. He never graduated from college, liked to drink, and was a sharp dresser with a flamboyant personality.

A.W. Tillinghast
When you play a golf course designed by A.W. Tillinghast, you know it. Tillinghast's oeuvre is distinctive. His courses have what is called a "Tillinghast Polish". They are visually dramatic, especially his use of bunkering; his courses are a pleasure to look at.

Bethpage Black

The only public course of the six, Bethpage Black is the clearly superior of the New York area courses. It is built on the hilliest terrain of all his local courses and has the most variety. The 4th hole at Bethpage Black (pictured below) is a par five with three levels of elevation and is unquestionably one of the best in the world. A dog-leg left, you have to hit three good shots to get on the green. And you have to hit them to the appropriate side of the fairway, the right side being the more favorable coming in on your third shot. This great hole is immediately followed by the 5th hole, a very hard par four where you need to hit the ball a good 220 yards, albeit, downhill, to hit the fairway. Good luck if the wind is blowing at you as it was when I played. Your second shot plays very hard uphill. The beauty of the hole, among its visual splendor, is that the best shot off the tee should be played left to right and the best shot to the green should be played right to left.

DSCF4567
The world-class par five 4th at Bethpage Black

5th from tee
The difficult 5th at Bethpage from the tee box

Bethpage doesn't have an easy (or a bad) hole on the course. Another beautiful example of Tillinghast's design style is the par four sixth which plays 408 yards from the back. The tee shot is blind and the second shot is down hill to this well protected, beautiful green guarded by a swale.
6 green
Bethpage Black's sixth green

Bethpage doesn't feature any par three's where you hit a short iron. The 161 yard par three fourteenth is as close as you'll get to an easy shot. If you consider a green this well bunkered easy, that is.

14
Bethpage Black's par three 14th hole

The fifteenth hole at Bethpage is a 470 yard par four that plays MUCH longer than the yardage indicates. It is not a terribly difficult fairway to hit, but the second shot plays as uphill as any shot you will ever play. It's almost straight up-hill. Definitely one of the hardest shots I have had to hit (and hit and hit) thus far playing the top 100. To give you some sense of scale, the green sits about four stories above the level of the fairway.

15 from fwy

The exceedingly difficult 15th hole at Bethpage Black

I didn't experience any of the legendary waiting in line that the course is famous for. Nor did I have to sleep in my car the night before. I played with a friend who is a New York state resident and can book tee times up to a week in advance. I would comment that the Long Island male, though, is a unique breed. They are a cross between two distinct and not necessarily complimentary personality traits. Half the time charming, funny and entertaining and the other half in-your-face obnoxious. Staying to have a beer in the clubhouse after the round is mandatory so you can soak up the true attitude of the Long Island male in all his regal splendor. You will no doubt remember it.

Winged Foot

The opposite end of the universe from Bethpage from a social status standpoint is the Winged Foot Golf Club located above New York City in Westchester County. Along with St. Andrews, Pebble Beach and Pinehurst, it is an undisputed golf Mecca. When you turn off Mamaroneck road, Winged Foot has an impressive winding entry drive and a dramatic, beautiful clubhouse that sits in the middle of the site surrounded by tall trees. You know you are someplace special when you arrive at Winged Foot.


The fifth green at Winged Foot West


Winged Foot has perfected that uniquely American art of the country club. There is a ritualized process to everything about the club. You arrive and the caddie master takes your clubs out of your trunk and welcomes you. After you park, you go into the locker room where the attendant organizes a locker for you and offers to change your spikes if needed. While playing, he cleans your street shoes off. Next, your caddie awaits to guide you around the course. After the round, you enjoy some food and drink in the grill room where the elegant wooden boards proclaim the past winners of championships held at the course. You are served by employees that have perfected the art of service and making you feel at home. Winged Foot is known for being very generous with its employees, many of whom have been in long service at the club and are treated like family. When Henry Longhurst wrote "one of the great unpurchasable assets in any golf club is the continuity of staff", he must have been thinking of Winged Foot.


The entry drive at Winged Foot
Winged Foot is the only club with the distinction of having two courses ranked in the top 100. I played the East and West courses at Winged Foot on different days and at different times of the year: The West on a brilliant summer day. The East on a cool, drizzly, fall day. Both times I very much enjoyed sitting around the clubhouse, the first time on the outdoor patio, under the awning, with its signature green-and-white stripes near the 18th green, at the end of a great day's golf. The second time, in front of the over-sized fireplace in the grill room with the fire crackling as the outside temperature dropped and a slight drizzle was falling. Sitting in that room with the dark woods and rich tones is a nice way to take the chill off and savor the overall Winged Foot experience.
Winged Foot Clubhouse
Despite the grandeur and majesty of the club, however, I would not rank the West Course at Winged Foot as one of my personal favorites. After the round as I tried to think back about the holes, many of them blend together as being tree-lined par fours and fives with slight doglegs. I know certain fellow aficionados and technical analysts pile on to anyone who doesn't love Winged Foot West. They will sight how the genius of the course is in the green complexes, and I understand how dramatic and artful they are. But even if you take that as given, it leaves 80% of the golf course as being not all that distinctive and somewhat repetitive.

The par three 10th hole at Winged Foot West
I don't hate the West course. I think the par threes are among the best in the game, especially the 3rd and 10th holes. And the 11th hole is a very interesting and memorable hole. Sixteen is also quite a good hole as well. Thus far, it is my only eagle playing the top 100. Overall, I didn't come away awe-struck by the West Course. When a course ranks in the top 25 in the world, I think it should have a distinctiveness that jumps out at you like at Merion, Sand Hills, National Golf Links or Crystal Downs.

Even if you disagree with my assessment of the West Course, you must admit, points are to be subtracted from any club that has Donald Trump as a member.
Baltusrol

In the same vein, Richard Nixon was a one-time member of Baltusrol. The club is also old, exclusive and proper and like Winged Foot has a brilliant club-house. Baltusrol, along with Cypress Point, Augusta, Los Angeles Country Club and San Francisco Golf Club requires long pants to play, although they recently loosened up the rules so that you can wear shorts between the 4th of July and Labor Day. The Lower course at Baltusrol is a lot like Winged Foot West. A lot of relatively straight tree-lined holes without much variety, in my view. Again, yes, interesting and challenging greens, which is why the USGA likes both courses.



These two courses are frequent hosts to major championships and have revered history and no doubt I'm missing something, but to me, they lack that special quality that distinguishes them from some of the other really good and interesting courses on the list. Both get an A+ for conditioning and fast greens, but I wouldn't put either on my short list of courses to play again quickly. Bethpage Black is a course I would return to. It has better terrain, more change in elevation, a more varied and interesting routing and is a more imaginative design.

The East Course at Winged Foot, by comparison, is an under-rated course, especially compared to the West. I found that the East Course had more shot variety and more interesting holes. I especially liked the par three 13th hole with its elevated green and massive fingered bunkering.

On my own personal rating scale I would place the courses in a different order in the world rankings and rank the West Course somewhere in the thirties or forties and the East in the fifties. If I returned to Winged Foot, I would play the East course again ahead of the West. I would rank any number of courses ahead of both Winged Foot West and Baltusrol Lower including Carnoustie (#26), San Francisco (#27), Kingsbarns (#65), Sunningdale Old (#44) and Royal St. George's (#32), to name a few. Like at Baltimore Five Farms, Quaker Ridge and Somerset Hills, I feel that some of Tillies best work was done on courses that are not as well known as those that play host to major championships.

32 comments:

dhi said...

I have been following your reports for the past year and must say that I am very envious of your tour. I agree with your assessment of Winged Foot. I walked the course during the 2004 US Amateur and was not that impressed - too many holes the same. I have played Merion and would agree that it much better both visually and from a playing standpoint,

world class said...

I would have preferred a more lengthy asessment of Bethpage Black , the course, rather than the somewhat veiled and patronizing attitude toward Long Island public golfers.

Not everyone can be as lucky and spoiled as yourself to have played so many of the top private courses in the world. I am sure you are more accustomed to associating with men who have large bank accounts to match the rather large sticks lodged up their asses.

No one at Bethpage walks around with a sense of "airs" or a need to conform or kiss anyone elses entitled behind. This isn't a club where wealthy men dictate how everyone else should act. Joe sixpack says and does what he wants, and answers to no one. It is what it is, we are what we are. Welcome to Bethpage, the peoples club.

world class said...

Another observation about Bethpage. You definitely played from the whites (ladies tee's) if you say 220 is the carry on #5. In fact, the blue tee distance over the vast sand bunker and fescue is 250+in most cases.

That's one of the hardest tee shots in golf right there and the ensuing approach is either reachable or a layup for instant bogey or worse. This is the point where you see the Black bare it's teeth. Get a beer at the concession before #6 and contemplate whether you want to conservatively have an OK score or go for it and get your ass kicked in.

I love the authors effort on this blog. Great work. But he seems more impressed with the ass kissing behind the hedge and the culture of elitist country pampering rather than the golf itself.

That's fine in that he gives us "simple folk" a view into the somewhat untouchable world of elite country club living. Cool. Maybe some us will strive and get there one day. But for us hardcore medium incomed golf athletes, the analysis here can get a tad pretentious, rather than focusing on the golfing of each hole. But, he said "travelogue, so I may shut up.

Anonymous said...

HI, great blog!! ... just something you need to fix. The picture you posted of the "4th hole at Bethpage Black" is actually the 15th, the famous "Corral" hole with the fence running up the right side. It has the toughest green on the course and is generally considered one of the hardest par 4s in the world. You should put up a picture of the 4th hole, the world's greatest and most fascinating par 5 from the tee! Congrats on all your work and the courses you've played!

Mr. Fritz said...

I don't know which I prefer more - the original Bethpage Black entry or World Class' commentary. Both are equally enlightening.

Although I grew-up playing my golf primarily elsewhere, I have been fortunate enough to spend at least three dozen rounds over the span of thirty years on Bethpage Black (including twice during tournament set-ups [A severely pre-pubescent Len Mattiace once roasted my backside 3&2 in a nine hole match back in the day, but I had enough game to dally around the second tier of junior achievement for awhile and it's amazing, in retrospect, all the great layouts we got to play gratis as a result]). I'd add these hopefully insightful - or at least amusing - comments:

1.) The course today is as far different as almost humanly possible than which one encountered in the late '70's. Not only in condition (including on one occasion an artifical mat in the par three tee box due to excessive wear), but the shape of some of the key holes.

2.) The Black is truly magnificent, but the Red is almost it's match for at least half its holes. The opening hole on the Red, in fact, is a real stunner that should be used (unreal logistics aside) in lieu of a couple of holes on the Black.

3.) The collective conglomeration of Starters on the Black must be culled from genetic screening not seen since the heyday of Soviet Olympic team assembly process. For thirty years they have not yet let any drip of enthusiasm or stern warning lapse for any golfer approaching the first tee of the Black, but ...

4.) ... the Starters can be forgiven in part because there is, really, a distinct minority of yahoos who get tanked in their cars for most of the night before, aren't that good even when fully coherenet and should be stopped at the sign-up line when they can't produce a valid handicap card.

5.) The blog author's 'Joey Bag Of Donuts' encounter aside, Bethpage is a great place to find a tradesman. I got my electrician there and flipped him a box of then the bomb DT Titleist low compression when my box mysteriously came back up to code the day before the Inspector's re-appearance. Gotta luv it.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your blog - I congratulate you on your strong opinions, obviously you will step on a few feet, but it makes for much more interesting reading.

A couple of thoughts - I agree with your analysis of Winged Foot - Quaker Ridge is probably better than both as the terrain offered the architect a little more to work with. If this was manicured at a WF or Baltusrol level it could be even better.

Too bad you missed Baltusrol's upper course - much like WF East for the average player, it's much more interesting and has better greens than the Lower. It was at some point rated in the Top 100 and has also hosted USGA events. The Baltusrol member certainly has great options - the monster Lower with subtle greens, and the more beautiful and technical Upper - maybe even a better total golf experience for 36 than WF.

Having seen most of the Tillies - I would strongly recommend you to get on Alpine in Demarest, NJ - host to 2008 NJ Open. Here on the side of the Palisades, just North of Englewood, he had everything to work with. There are some quirky holes but basically it is a world class hilly parklands course, with memorable holes, and Pine Valley quality greens. This one is by far my Tillie #1.

Final thought - another course you should definitely see in this area is the unfortunately named Essex County Country Club in West Orange. Often confused with an Essex in Massachusetts and in England, as well as with many public county facilities. This is a Charles Banks layout on top of the ridge, which used to be linked with the public course adjacent to it. Apparently this course was refurbished several years ago. It has a very English feel on the grounds, with a dramatic and varying landscape. The first 2 holes are the only weak point, and it builds from there into arguably the best back 9 in the Northeast - strong opinion but go give it a try.

Anonymous said...

That's a pretty weak analysis of some of the top courses, including Baltusrol (only the Lower?) and Winged Foot among others.

Anonymous said...

Winged Foot does not have 1 weak hole out of its 36. Too bad you did not like the West Course as much as I do. The East is no slouch either, you get to hit every club in your bag during the round.

Anonymous said...

I am shocked by your commentary - Winged Foot is simply the best course ever built. Forgetting the greens complexes for a moment, it challenges every shot in the bag. You must demonstrate length and an ability to work the ball - good shots are rewarded and poor shots are punished. The entire course plays directly in front of you - no tricks, several risk reward options on the doglegs and no gimmicks.

Plus, one of the greatest par threes anywhere, a drivable par four on the front and plenty of good old fashioned golf - hit it long, hit it straight and make your putts.

If you cannot appreciate the greatness of this golf course, you are surely asleep at the switch.

Anonymous said...

From my experience WF East and West, Sommerset Hills and Quaker Ridge are enjoyable rounds of golf for the avergae golfer. Within this context, The Black is just a death march.

Anonymous said...

Having played wf, bb, and baltusrol u&l i think that baltusrol is the best of the bunch. The others are no joke, but the contrast of the pga lower with scenic upper make for a great 36. The upper is being renovated and lengthened and looks fantastic. I would not be surprised if it was top 100 next year.

Anonymous said...

The Lower Course will be hosting the 2016 PGA for the second time and will undergo a benign renovation by Rees Jones prior to then (bunkering and roughs). The Upper did just undergo a serious renovation that will no doubt put it back in the top 100 in the US where it belongs. It has been lenghthened to 7,300 yards and is arguably as strong a test as the Lower now. I'd put these two tracks up against any other club's two courses any day. What other club out there has 36 holes that beat it? Winged Foot? try again. LACC? nope.

Anonymous said...

having recently played winged foot west and many other tillinghast courses in the tri-state area, there is none better than fenway golf club. a great variety of par 4's and not a bad hole on the course.

Anonymous said...

you suck at describing golf courses, joe public like all of us reading, dont give a flock about the grandeour of the experience, we want the nitty gritty of the golf course. what its like to hit an uphill sidehiller from 2 bills plus in a sidewind out of the thick rough with a long iron, not how good it felt to take a dump in the locker room. were golfers man, get real, litterally

nbryden said...

Personnaly, I like the way that you provide your insight into the broader aspects of a course. However, I would have liked longer reviews on all of these NY-based courses, which are familiar to me.
One correction: the first course picture follows your discussion of the 15th at Bethpage, but the legend indicates it is the 4th. The picture is the 15th from the tee-box.

Anonymous said...

On the whole,well done. Of course I disagree with your rankings as I would rank the newly renovated Baltusrol Upper as the best of the bunch. The blogger who called WF west "the best course ever" is clearly nuts. (i would not rank it in the top 20).

I would hope that everyone who reads this petitions The World Golf Hall of Fame for Tillie's inclusion. Imagine this; Pete Dye is in but Tillie is not. I think that speaks loudly about the lack of credibility of the clearly commercial nature of this "shrine".

Brian said...

Love to hear the criteria you use for your rankings.

I live in the NYC/NJ area and have played many of the courses you name.

BethPage Black is simply the hardest golf course I have ever played. Period. The length, the penalties and the bunkering are terrific - and if you play it when the course isn't running fast... As you point out, there simply is no breather out there. The course is immense in scale - and it is great to see it now in such great condition.

I see recently that WSJ ran a summary of the slope ratings of the most difficult courses in the US. Kiawah Island Ocean Course had a higher slope rating than the black course. I have played OC probably 20 times over the years and simply say - NO WAY is it a more difficult course than BethPage.

Next time you're feeling like you can play good golf, go there for a very humbling experience that has held up over the long years.

Anonymous said...

1st-the par 4 5th ...author says 220yds downhill ...the guy that commented its 250+ is correct and AFTER you hit it 275, if you dont fade the ball you are dead unless you can hit 190 yds uphill with roughly 30-40 ft incline with a draw and stop the ball.
Now of course if you fade it off the tee and carry the massive fescue bunker you have 200-210 up the same hill...good luck.
By far the toughest course this former golf pro has EVER played

Anonymous said...

The true brilliance of Tilly is increasingly understated and his impact on Amercian golf seems to be becoming unfairly neglected as designers cater to the masses by creating average golf courses next to prime locations rather than prime courses in average locations. The fact that great courses exist in Springfield, NJ, Mamaroneck, NY and Farmingdale, NY demonstrate Tilly's greatness. No views of the Peconic Bay, rock formations or railroad ties are needed; just amazing risk reward golf that continues to stand the test of time. To state that Baltusrol Lower and Winged Foot are not worthy of immediate return visits demonstrates how rating golf courses in this day and age is a waste of time as punters are drawn to where the golf course is rather than what the golf course is. At first blush Tilly's courses may look bland and straightforward but therein lies the mystic; tee boxes that seem to position the golfer down the fairway actually direct you to trouble (no 2 at Bethpage Black, no 10 at Baltusrol Lower). Approach shots hit pure find themselves next to the pin while ones slightly miss hit are gobbled in cavernous bunkers (5 at Bethpage Black, 18 Winged Foot West or 5 Baltusrol Lower) and the greens will often lure golfers into birdie putts only to make bogie as seemingly straight putts don't go straight! Tilly is like a classic suit; maybe he's not the immediate fad but he's likely to remain in style forever.

Bill said...

Quick Question. When looking at your pic of the 6th hole at Bethpage, I see that there are 4 golf carts on the next tee. I was under impression that it was walking only on the Black, it was when I played there. Any idea why those carts were there?
Thanks and love the site!
Bill

Top 100 Golfer said...

Bill - Thanks for the comment. Bethpage is walking only. I played in a Monday tournament there and for tournaments you drive the cart to your assigned hole and leave it there.

Anonymous said...

REALX with the photos YOU GOT THEM RIGHT !

That is indeend the 4th hole

good job

Anonymous said...

You are not a good golfer. If you want to offer people a look at these courses and analyze holes for their shot values, fine, but just because you went to winged foot and undoubtedly hacked it around for a day gives you no right to even comment on the course's golfing merits or lack thereof. This may sound pompous, and even maybe not in the spirit of golf, but to be brutally honest, if you play winged foot's west course from the forward tees and are already a poor golfer, you incapable of understanding any of the 70 shots required to play it as it was meant to be played. no wonder you so thoroughly enjoyed san francisco, it's a pushover.

Top 100 Golfer said...

It sounds pompus because it it pompus, just like you. Handicap does not equal intelligence. For the record I have the same handicap as Alister Mackenzie. Let's see, maybe he didn't know what he's doing because he's not a scratch golfer. NOT!

MRP said...

I can certainly respect differing opinions as that is what makes the world go 'round.

In regards to Baltusrol Lower, I recently played it (and it was the first Tilly I played) and I liked it very much. I thought his use of multiple bunkers around the greens with, usually, one not actually on the green to be fantastic.

I also loved his use of diagonal hazards (bunkers and streams) to be brilliant, as it opened up risk/reward decisions and options.

The greens were subtle, but equally brilliant.

I thought it was a great test of golfing accumen...strategic thinking and execution.

Like I said, we all like and/or dislike certain courses for a wide variety of reasons, but I really enjoyed my round at Baltusrol Lower.

jonathan said...

quingsypI am enjoying your reports of your journey and enjoying them immensely. As regards your "pompous" comments Peter Thomson once said "you rate golf courses like girl friends - It depends how you scored". World class needs a chip on both shoulders to balance himself up.

Anonymous said...

I've been fortunate to play some of the great courses discussed in your blog, including both courses at both Winged Foot and Baltusrol. While Baltusrol will not wow the golfer who believes that the harder the course the better it is, or those that believe you need water views to capture beauty; what Baltusrol will provide are two great courses that you would want to play every day. Pine Valley, Plainfield, Winged Foot West, are great but are also too difficult for me to enjoy regularily with my 10 handicap. For me, a great course is one that is enjoyable even when your not playing your best, one where you can make mistakes. I have not found a course where this is true more so than at Baltusrol. This is a real testimate to the grounds superintendent and the board because the courses have proven capable of playing much more difficult, as in the PGA. I believe this playability is the true genious of Baltusrol.

Anonymous said...

I could be worng but it seems you have a dislike of courses that are laid out in front of you. My favorite course I have played is the National.

Trust me, I love original quirky golf courses that give you a memorable day with holes that "stand out" on EVERY hole.

But course like Medinah, Winged Foot, Baltusrol and even Hazleton are real flowing golf course that dont "shock" you but try to trick the golfer into a false serenity.

I think you miss the boat with these golf courses.

IanT said...

I got the opportunity to play the West course at Winged Foot and I will say this place is extremely special. From the second you step foot on the grounds, everything about this place is done with perfection. Just being able to walk into a club house that is steeped in history, play on a course that has held numerous PGA events is simply unbelievable. From the very first hole, you can tell why this place is a course that professionals love to play on. Each hole is unique, with different contours, a variety of green shapes, and an interesting layout it was an extremely enjoyable course to play. However, it is an extremely difficult track to get around on. Being a 1 handicap and playing in college, I found it extremely hard at times, but it did not take away from its appeal and its history. One of the coolest aspects of playing here was knowing that you are walking where pro’s have walked and being able to relive past moments of past tournaments. Everything about Winged Foot is done to perfection as the course is manicured beautifully. There are some extremely photogenic holes and once you get a chance to see the holes in person, you get a true appreciation for not only the game of golf but the people who can design a course so beautifully.

Daniel Afghani said...

The Black Course is arguably the best test of 18 holes I have ever come across. There isn't an easy hole in the lot. They are all memorable and most are just downright hard. The Par 3 14th used to be about the only break on the course. The new "top shelf" and I believe a small addition the front left corner have toughened that hole a fair bit. The course is big and it never stops. That being said it never seems unfair. I am a fairly low handicap golfer and I could see how this course would not be appealing to anyone in double digits. You must walk. There isn't a set of tees from where it plays short. You must be able to move the ball in the air and do so with some distance or it's gonna be a long day. For the low handicap golfer it's the ultimate test of your game. One of the best things about the course is that it can beat you up all day and does so with almost no water or OB.

Anonymous said...

I've heard mixed reviews about Balty for a number of years. A few months ago I played Balty, Winged Foot (West) and Merion (East). Marion is the sure #1, but Balty (lower) was solid #2 with Winged Foot #3. I've played Balty and Winged Foot multiple times and Balty suites my eye better. More memorable holes with shape and character, yet still the huge Tillie bunkers protecting the lightening greens. Both had old, gorgeous clubhouses. I could play Balty everyday.

Charlie said...

I'm a 12 handicap whose home course is a Raynor, and I've played only a handful of top-ranked courses in my life. For what it's worth, I agree with your assessment of Winged Foot West as a magnificent course that is nonetheless not quite as memorable as one expects. For exceptional golfers, it must be a spectacular test. The subtle angles of fairways and greens, and the complexity of bunkering and contouring of all 18 holes would force a scratch player to think clearly and execute crisply throughout the entire round. (The whole clubhouse experience is rich, too, but that's beside the point).

For this average player, however - even one who appreciates architecture - playing the exquisitely manicured course was an exercise in playing short of the greens, avoiding the bunkers, and trying to minimize three-putts. Rarely did I encounter a shot that offered options to a player of my ability. I was happy when my occasional punch or chip rolled close to the hole, and I was thrilled to make par on three of the par-3's, including the 10th.

But classic McDonald courses like Sleepy Hollow and The Creek, and even a brand-new course like Cabot Links, offer abundant strategy and 18-hole fun for mid-handicap players, as well as challenges to excellent ones. Though I don't disagree with the assessment of professional raters, with an eye perhaps to the best players in the world, I appreciate your reluctance to place Winged Foot West in the pantheon reserved for the greatest of the world's great courses.