Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Campo de Golf El Saler


My expectations prior to playing El Saler (ranked #93 in the world) were not high. I have talked to several golfers who have completed or are playing the top 100 and they universally said El Saler was over-rated. Golf Magazine re-ranks courses every two years and El Saler was a one-shot wonder. Its only appearance on the list was in 2003, which happens to be the list I am playing. I none-the-less went there with an open mind.

El Saler is located just south of Valencia, Spain along the Iberian Peninsula on the Mediterranian coast. Valencia is a city with great modern architecture. One of the premier architects of our generation, Santiago Calatrava was born here and went to architecture school here. He designed a bridge over the Turia river, the opera house and a science museum. For the architecture fan, Valencia is a must visit city.


Calatrava's Valencia Arts and Science Center

The golf course at El Saler was built in 1968 by Spanish architect Javier Arana. The course is located in the El Saler nature reserve, between a protected wooded area and sea-side sand dunes. It is one of the few courses in the world outside the British Isles that is truly a links course by the strict definition.

The course's design took into account its integration in the protected landscape with native plants such as the famous pale stonecrop plant, locally called "cat's claw". The course layout is varied, ranging from a links layout reminiscent of the famous British and Irish golf courses, to areas of typical Mediterranean forest. The par 72 course measures 6,468 meters (7,110 yards). Bernard Langer won the Spanish Open twice at El Saler, in 1984 and 1989.

I have also heard that the course was difficult to appreciate because its conditioning was not very good. I found the course to be in excellent shape when I played it this fall on my way back from France. I played the course with two locals who spoke as much English as I speak Spanish. I gathered that it was a father-daughter team since at the end of every sentence she called him "papa". It was a nice round, and he tried to help point out to me which way the holes went. Everyone showed good etiquette, and it is one of the great things about golf that you are able to play anywhere, with all level of golfers and have a pleasant time of it, even if you don't speak the language.

The course has an interesting routing that starts out in a pine forest with unique Arregle Piques trees. The first four holes play in the trees: then, beginning at the fifth hole you start to approach the Mediterranean and get the links feel of the course. Arana designed some interesting and challenging greens with many contours, like the second, seen below.

El Saler 2nd green

The third is a world-class par five with a blind tee shot and a double dog-leg left that plays to a narrow green. The green has deep bunkers on both sides and two trees protecting the front of the green. The fairway slopes left to right. This hole is ranked as one of the 500 best in the world according to George Peper's book of the same title. The difficult green is oblong and protected by deep bunkers on both the left and right. It is a very good strategic hole with a narrow fairway from tee to green that requires precision the entire way.

El Saler 3rd green

Bunkering on the third green
El Saler 3rd approach to green

3rd approach to green with trees on both sides

After playing the fourth hole, you walk through a clearing in the trees up a rise in the hill and hit a blind tee shot on the fifth. As you walk up the fifth fairway and over the crest of the hill, the feel of El Saler changes as the water and mountains now become visible. The next four holes play along the water. Both the fifth and seventh greens are set in dunes near the water.

The eighth is a very good short par four that plays along the Mediterranean. There is a sand dune about twenty feet high to the right of the green. The fairway snakes along to the right and then to the left prior to getting to the multi-tiered green that is sighted between the big sand dune on the right and the sand dunes protecting the ocean on the left.

ES 8th

8th green

It is a very nice hole that plays directly along the water while the sound of the waves crashing is audible from tee to green. The other benefit of this hole, that I probably should have mentioned first, is that you can see the beach from the tee box. It is the only hole in the world´s top 100 where you can see topless sun bathers from a tee box.

El Saler 8 green

Uphill fairway to 8th green with sand dune on the right

Holes nine through sixteen are average, but seventeen is an outstanding par three that is set within the sand dunes and reminded me of playing at Maidstone in the US and Sandwich in the UK. In a stroke of luck, I was just able to finish playing El Saler before a major thunderstorm hit. As a result, the picture below is a bit darker than I would have liked, however, you can still see the large natural sand dunes surrounding the green that is elevated and very well bunkered.

El Saler 17th

Par three 17th hole


As you can see below from a close-up of the green, once you hit it, the challenge continues with the big contours.

El Saler 17 green

17th green

So, how would I rank El Saler? It's probably not a course worthy of being ranked in the top one hundred, especially since some fabulous courses have been built in the last ten years, although I liked it and it's a very nice golf course. According to Tom Doak, El Saler's high point was when a Spanish Open was played there and the course was in great condition and was still fresh on the minds of panelists that rank courses.

As a public course that costs 100 Euros, El Saler is a good value. If you are in Spain, I recommend playing El Saler as it has three world-class holes: #3, #8 and #17. I would most certainly rather play El Saler than either Medinah or the TPC at Sawgrass, particularly in high season when the sun bathers are out on the beach.

Spain

This was my first visit to Spain and I found the Spanish people to be very gentle, pleasant and likable. I flew out of Valencia after playing El Saler and stayed in Madrid before flying home the following morning. I was exhausted after playing and traveling, so I went for a walk to get something to eat. It took me all of about five minutes to get into the Spanish way of eating. I went into several tapas bars and enjoyed the atmosphere, food and drink immensely and since I was alone on this part of the trip, I wrote this while enjoying the evening.

Madrid1

Madrid

One of my favorite things to do is to explore cities early in the morning. I went for a pre-dawn walk in the old quarter near the Prado. I wandered into a smoky little cafe before seven AM while the locals were enjoying their morning coffee, cigarettes and pastry. The Spanish lifestyle seems very nice. There is such a difference in the way they lead their lives here. It is a more civilised and less hurried way to live. There were hundreds of little unique shops spread throughout the quarter that were the antithesis of most American cities that are becoming an alarming amalgamation of chain stores without character. As I do in almost every European capital I visit (except Brussels), I can envision myself living here quite easily.


Madrid

Madrid

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Somerset Hills Country Club



Many people form their impression of New Jersey based on driving down the New Jersey Turnpike after leaving New York City or arriving at Newark Airport. The impression is not a pretty one with the unsightly Pulaski Skyway, industrial wastelands, refineries, landfills and a generally miserable look to that area.

The reality of New Jersey can be quite different than the first impression, particularly as you get away from the Turnpike. Somerset Hills is located about forty minutes west of Manhattan in an affluent part of the state, in the town of Bernardsville. The Bernardsville-Basking Ridge-Far Hills area is New Jersey's equivalent of Greenwich or of Manhattan's Upper East Side. This is horse country, made up of gently rolling terrain and sprinkled with mansions made from Wall Street and pharmaceutical fortunes. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Meryl Streep were one time residents of Bernardsville. The area is also home to the U.S. Equestrian Team and the U.S.G.A. The course takes its name from the name of the county it is located in. The club's logo incorporates the crest of the (English) Duke of Somerset. Given its proximity to the U.S.G.A., located about ten minutes away, and its storied place in the game, Somerset Hills has a long-standing tradition of letting executives from Golf House play the course. For the rest of us, we have to be invited by a member.

Somerset Hills represents the type of club that I like very much. It is old, traditional and conservative. It reminded me of Myopia Hunt Club in Massachusetts with its original, reassuring and discrete clubhouse and civilized and understated approach to everything. In other words, it is the antithesis of the nearby Trump debacle, which is overdone, tacky, ostentatious, crass, coarse and over-engineered in its need to show how impressive it is. At Somerset Hills, they don't have to try to impress, because they are the genuine article. The small clubhouse, pro shop and outdoor deck fit perfectly into the landscape and have a patina that can't be bought and only develops with age and a respect for the past. The course has two perfectly manicured grass tennis courts, confirming its gentrified and genteel approach as a private club.

The Golf Course


The golf course at Somerset Hills Country Club (ranked a beguiling #69 in the world) was built by A.W. Tillinghast in 1917. Part of the course was carved out of a former racetrack. A par 71, Somerset Hills plays to a total yardage of 6,659 and a slope rating of 132. As was Tillinghast's tradition, each of the holes at Somerset Hills was given a name by the architect.


Redan #2


#2 Redan - hard start to the round

Tillinghast went with the 'difficult start' philosophy at Somerset Hills. The first hole, "Orchard" plays through an old orchard and is a very testing 448 yard par four that doglegs to the right. The second hole is a classic "Redan" hole, seen above, and it's a beauty. At 175 yards it has all the classic elements of a Redan and it plays very difficult, even though it is rated as the #15 handicap hole.

3rd green

Uphill approach to the 3rd green

The third hole, named "Bunker Hill", is a shortish, 378 yard par four that plays to an elevated green that is well protected by bunkers.

SSH 5th green



5th green with the big hump cutting across

The fifth hole, oddly enough named "Nairn" (I guess it reminded Tillinghast of the town in Scotland?) has a green design that Tillinghast used on several holes at Somerset Hills. As can be seen in the picture above, there is a very large hump running across the green. As a short course by modern standards, Somerset Hills is by no means an easy course. Part of the reason is green designs such as this, and also, very fast greens.



6th ravine1

Old race-course running through the 6th hole

I liked the par five, sixth hole ("Plateau"), which has the outline of the old racetrack still running through the fairway. You can see where the track winded around the edge of the property, through the sixth and seventh ("Racetrack") fairways and where it turns at the end of the seventh fairway and heads back toward the clubhouse. You can see the big dip in the fairway in the picture above.

6th racecourse


You can still imagine the races running through the 6th hole

Many thanks to my caddy for providing the proper perspective and sense of scale to this unique hazard. You can get a good feel in this picture of how Tillinghast used the racetrack to great effect. It was a brilliant design decision on his part.

Some courses have a front and back nine that are reasonably similar in feel and style. Somerset Hills does not. It has two distinctly different sets of nine. The front nine is relatively flat and plays on relatively open ground in the area where the former racetrack was situated. The back nine is set within the forest, has many tree-lined holes, and has much more change in elevation.

11th green

Approach to the 11th green

The eleventh hole, aptly named "Perfection", is rated as the #4 handicap hole at Somerset Hills, but in my book is clearly the most difficult hole on the course. It is a 412 yard par four that requires the golfer to hit his/her tee shot through a narrow chute of trees to a landing area that slopes left to right down a hill. Shots hit too far to the right are blocked out, leaving no approach to the green, so the tee shot requires precision and the appropriate position.

11th green

The hole is a sharp dog-leg to the right after the tee shot. The second shot plays from an uneven lie, over a creek, to a difficult, elevated and well-bunkered green.


View from 11th green back up to clubhouse

In addition to being a difficult and brilliantly designed golf hole, the eleventh hole is also scenically beautiful. There is a pond left of the green and right of the green is a sharp hill that rises to the clubhouse and is covered in fescue (seen above).

12th green



#12 par three named "Despair,"

The next hole, a 151 yard par three named "Despair", shows off a design feature Tillinghast didn't use often, which is a green set within/around water. It requires a precise shot because the area you hit from is narrow and there are trees encroaching on the right side.

#13 green

The thirteenth green, above, shows that even on relatively straight forward driving holes, there is no letup at Somerset Hills, given the big undulations used strategically by Tillinghast. This one looks like a wave rolling in from the sea.

The par four fifteenth hole, named, "Happy Valley," joins a small list of truly world-class holes that I have found in my travels playing these elite courses. See the entire list here. The 407 yard par four is seen from the tee below.

15th from tee



15th from tee "Happy Valley"

You can see the strategic options off the tee, which allows a player to hit safely to the left, or to choose a bolder line over the bunker and be rewarded by cutting off the corner of the dogleg and advancing the ball significantly down the hill toward the green.

15th from tee1

15th hole sloping fairway

You can see the big left to right slope in the fairway as it plunges down the hill toward a small green protected by water in front and on the left side by both water and a weeping willow tree.

15 green

15th small green down in the valley

It's during this stretch of the course that I realized why I like Tillinghast routings like this one, Quaker Ridge and Baltimore Five Farms. There is so much change, variation, brilliant use of terrain and character to his routings that they just charm you into submission. I appreciate this type of layout more than a Winged Foot or Baltusrol where so much of the character and challenge is in the greens only.

16th green

Par three 16th "Deception" green

The back nine meanders through the hills. The fifteenth plays down the big sweeping hill. The next hole, the 170 yard par three sixteenth, is carved into the side of a hill. The hole after that, the seventeenth ("Quarry"), a par four with a blind tee shot over a hill, features a second shot down the hill to a tough green. The back nine has a set of holes that fit together like a glove and are as good as any you'll find.

The eighteenth is a short, 335 yard par four that plays up a big hill toward the clubhouse and is not that hard. It is the only hole that is worthy of the slightest bit of criticism on the back nine.

Getting everything right at a golf club is more art than science, but at Somerset Hills they have it all figured out. The small locker room and bar, the discrete, respectful staff and a refined approach to everything. Maybe it was hard for me to be objective playing here. As you can see from my pictures, I played it on such a nice fall day that the course really shined. I love to golf during the fall with its shorter days, crisp weather, diffused light, the sound of leaves crunching under your spikes and the sound of birds flying south (yes, I'm still a fan of Canadian Geese despite what they've done to Medinah). Since this was a home game for me I made it back home in time for dinner to appease my delightful wife who is becoming increasingly irascible about my golfing travels. I wonder why?

After having now played all of A.W. Tillinghast's courses, I would personally rank them in the following order: 1. San Francisco; 2. Somerset Hills; 3. Bethpage Black; 4. Baltimore (Five Farms); 5. Quaker Ridge; 6. Winged Foot (East); 7. Winged Foot (West); 8. Baltusrol (Lower).

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.


Interested in learning the methods I used to play all these spectacular golf courses around the world? then my forthcoming book may be of interest, in details how a mortal golfer may be able to do the same. The book is available from Barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com. Click on the image of the book below to order on Amazon:





Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Quaker Ridge Golf Club






I am blessed to live within a three hour car ride of fourteen of the top one hundred golf courses in the world. For someone seeking golf's holy grail, there is no better place to live. I recently played Quaker Ridge Golf Club (ranked #61 in the world) on a beautiful, crisp fall day. I have now completed playing all eleven of the world-ranked courses in New York.

Quaker Ridge is located in New York's Westchester County, immediately adjacent to Winged Foot, in Scarsdale, New York. Scarsdale is an extremely affluent suburb of New York and has a bit of a New England feel to it with its rolling terrain, low stone walls bordering many properties, and its stately, mature trees. Quaker Ridge takes its name from a group of Quakers who used this land for farming beginning in 1726. The "ridge" part of the name becomes obvious when you play the course. Quaker Ridge is blessed with much better terrain that its nearby neighbor Winged Foot, which is on more-or-less flat ground.

Quaker Ridge is one of the least well known of the world's great courses. I like to research courses prior to playing them and had a hard time finding much information about Quaker Ridge. They have published no club history; it is hard to find pictures of the course and they shy away from publicity. As is their right, the members like to keep it a low-key affair.




John Duncan Dunn designed a nine hole layout here in 1916, and A.W. Tillinghast was brought in during the 1920s to redo the course and expand it to eighteen holes. Tillinghast is responsible for the course we find here today. The course was rebunkered, and some other minor alterations were made by Rees Jones before the 1997 Walker Cup matches, which were held here.

The defining characteristics of Quaker Ridge are the trees, the out of bounds and the greens. The greens are very good, subtle and very fast; sixteen of them slope back to front. The course is in many ways a typical course found in Westchester County, which are all tree-lined. I mean this in no way to be a negative, because Quaker Ridge can hardly be described as a typical course. The other thing you notice about Quaker Ridge when you begin playing is that the angles you take coming into the greens are of paramount importance. This is the sign of a brilliantly designed and thoughtfully laid out course.


Approach to the 4th green


A good example of why the angles coming in the green are important can be illustrated with the fourth hole above. The fourth is a 384 yard par four with a narrow fairway and a green that falls sharply off a hill on the left side. As you can see above, if you are on the right side of the fairway, the trees come into play, making your approach shot likely to fall off left of the green in a large bunker. In the interest of good blogging, I actually field tested this scenario (by design, of course!) and ended up in the bunker.


4th fairway from the tee


The smarter play on this hole is to hit the ball to the left side of the fairway off the tee. Well, that's easier said than done. When you stand on the tee, you see a big grass bunker that slashes across the fairway, creating an intimidating line that you have to hit over to a blind landing area. This is a good example of the type of strategic Tillinghast design you will find at Quaker Ridge.

The same principles apply at the signature eleventh hole. There are two trees on the left side of the fairway that block your shot to the green if you are not correctly positioned on the right side of the fairway. The shot to the green tightens up your anus ever so slightly because you hit to a narrow green guarded by a stone-wall lined creek (burn for all my Scottish fans) that meanders in front of the green. Meander might be too nice a word to use because it is quite a menacing little stream, seen below.


11th green


My guess is that if Charles Blair Macdonald ever played at Quaker Ridge he would have had a tough go of it. Macdonald was famous for designing his courses to favor a slicer, a category he was prominently featured in. Piping Rock, The National Golf Links of America and Chicago Golf Club, all Macdonald designs, penalize those that hook the ball, but are friendlier to the slicer. The first eight holes at Quaker Ridge have an out-of-bounds along the right side of the hole.

The first eight holes circle the property in a counter-clockwise fashion, which is the mirror image of Chicago Golf, which circles in a clockwise fashion. The next six holes at Quaker Ridge circle back in a clockwise fashion, before play goes back toward the club house. I know that Royal Liverpool (Hoylake) is probably the most famous world-renowned course that has a lot of O.B. Having played both courses, I think Quaker Ridge is a much sterner test of trying to keep the ball in play. At Hoylake, the O.B. really doesn't come into play unless you are truly wild. At Quaker Ridge, it comes into play if you are only mildly off line.


Approach to the seventh green


As if all the O.B. on the right side of each hole is not enough, the 7th hole, a par four seen above also has O.B. if you hit the ball long. For the record, I didn't hit a ball O.B. while playing Quaker Ridge. A sigh of relief is in order when you get to the ninth tee box and most of the O.B. is behind you.

The best stretch of holes on the course are six through eleven. Six and seven are back to back, dog-leg right par four holes. Eight is a good 335 yard short par four and nine is a tough par three with a tiny green. Six and seven might be as difficult a pair of par fours as you will find on any course. They are the #1 and #3 handicaps, respectively. The sixth has a creek running down the left hand side and is in play off the tee. The right hand side of the hole has a grass slope on the right (with the obligatory O.B.), and the fairway between the slope and water is about twenty five yards wide. The hole plays longer than its 434 yards because the shot to the small green plays uphill. The dog-leg is quite severe and to add additional difficulty there is a big tree on the right side of the hole that must be avoided off the tee. In his book, The 500 Greatest Golf Holes, George Peper, ranks this hole in an unprecedented three categories of composite courses of eighteen holes. Among the 18 most strategic holes in the world, it ranks as one of the 18 best holes ever designed by A.W. Tillinghast and as one of the 18 most difficult holes in the world. I would have to agree on all counts.

There is no let-up on the next hole: a 419 yard par four that also has a sharp dog-leg, a stream running through the middle and also plays to an uphill green. This tee shot is also quite difficult because there is again O.B. right, and if you hit too far left your ball will run through the fairway.


8th hole from the tee


The genius of the routing at Quaker RIdge is how the holes fit brilliantly together. The eighth is a unique Tillinghast hole with a huge grass bunker in the middle of the fairway which rises up a hill and between rows of trees. This hole takes advantage of the typical Westchester County hilly, tree-lined terrain and is a welcome potential birdie hole after being beaten up on the last two holes. This type of varied layout makes for a continual change, and Tillinghast weaves together a coherent eighteen holes that are challenging without being overwhelming. Collectively, the layout is much greater than the sum of its eighteen individual holes.


Fourteenth green


As you come in to the closing stretch of holes, it becomes clear that there must have been a circus in town as Tillinghast completed the layout. Sadly, several elephants must have died as the circus came through New York since Tilly buried three of them under his greens. The 14th, 15th and 17th holes have major undulations in them and several ridges and humps reminiscent of buried elephants. If you look closely at the picture above, and to the right of the pin on the par five 14th hole, you can see one such hump. They are quite good and add a lot of character to the finish at Quaker Ridge. Most of the other holes at Quaker RIdge have very subtle breaks to the fast greens; these are not subtle.

Although Quaker Ridge doesn't have that "Tillinghast polish" that you see on many of his courses, especially with regard to the bunkers, the course is varied, interesting and world-class. It's a unique Tillinghast design that he adapted to the local conditions, creatively using the terrain, the elephants, the stream and the trees.

Between the 1920’s and 1940’s many prominent business leaders became members of Quaker Ridge. The list included Louis Gimbel and Samuel Bloomingdale, founders of the department stores that bear their names, and Alfred Knopf, the publisher. George Gershwin was also a member (with a ten handicap) and often entertained members of the theatrical community at the club.




I like the sense of humor they have here. Look at the suggestion box, put twenty feet up a tree, near the tenth tee. The club's yardage book has a quote from Ken Venturi, in which he states during a golf telecast that Quaker Ridge "is one of the greatest courses you'll never play". Then, it goes on to say, "clearly he was not talking about you. Enjoy."

We did indeed.



The par three 5th over water


The par three 9th with tiny green


Greenside bunker on par four 12th hole