Monday, June 11, 2007

Golf in the Hamptons - Shinnecock, Maidstone Club and The National

I am not in the habit of re-posting previous write-ups but I couldn't resist this one. I was fortunate enough to visit The National Golf Links again and this time went crazy with my digital camera. This post has been updated for your viewing please with a rare insiders look inside the National Clubhouse. Enjoy.

Inside the National Golf Links of America clubhouse

"The National” is how those inside refer to it. Those not familiar could be excused for assuming the reference is to Augusta National. However, within golfing circles, the National is just as exclusive as Augusta. The full name is The National Golf Links of America (ranked #20 in the world) and it is located immediately adjacent to its better known neighbor in Southampton Shinnecock Hills.

View of the fifteenth and sixteenth holes at the National Golf Links of America

The National was the brainchild of Charles Blair Macdonald, one of the founding fathers of golf in America. Macdonand's idea was to build an "ideal" golf course and he modeled most holes after famous holes in the British Isles from courses such as Prestwick, The Old Course at St. Andrews, Sandwich and North Berwick.


The Library at the National

The National has been dominated by financiers and bankers since its inception. The founding members were senior executives at Guaranty Trust, National City, First National and the House of Morgan. Given its proximity to New York City, the club retains its ties to Wall Street and the houses of Morgan to this day.


17th hole at National looking back from the green

Like the other great risk/reward course on the East Coast of the United States, Merion, you must play the National with your head as much as your clubs. Macdonald's design philosophy was to provide a safe line of play if you want to play cautious, but also to offer a more difficult but rewarding shot to those willing to take risk. How many times have you heard that a certain piece of land is perfect for a golf course? In the case of the National Golf Links it is true. Every hole at the National is good. After playing the National I felt that at least five holes are truly world class: the third Alps, the fourth Redan, the fourteenth Cape, the sixteenth Punch Bowl and the seventeenth Peconic. The seventeenth is a 360 yard risk/reward hole that, along with the tenth at Riviera, are probably the two best in existence.

C.B. Macdonald remains a commanding presence in the library today

I could write pages of accolades about The National but won't. Instead I will share what many of the game's greatest writers have to say about it and I agree with them all: Bernard Darwin calls it: "endearing"; Herbert Warren Wind calls it: "a majestic monument"; John de St. Jorre calls it: "the most scenic in America"; Horace Hutchinson says: "it has no weak points".


The card table in the "green" room at the National

The National has a large windmill set on a hill overlooking Peconic Bay. You aim at the windmill as you play the uphill sixteenth hole. The sixteenth has a punchbowl green sunken into the surrounding land. When you are finished putting out on the sixteenth you can't see much of anything except the sides of the punchbowl. It is also very quiet because you are sunken down into the landscape. To proceed to the next tee you walk up the hill and at the apex you see the beautiful expanse of Peconic Bay out ahead of you; the windmill and clubhouse are on your left and the seventeenth hole is beneath you. I know there are those who won't necessarily share my view that The National is one of the very best courses in the world. However, it would be hard to argue that standing on the seventeenth tee here, along with walking up the ninthth fairway at Royal County Down, is unquestionably one of the finest views in all of golf. I invite those who differ to post something that you think is better.

The ambiance of the "green" room, a national treasure

The National is also famous for its lunch, which hasn't changed since the course opened. It is a lobster lunch that includes fishcakes, crab cakes, beef and kidney pie, shepherd's pie and macaroni and cheese. The overall ambiance of The National is very good, if a little formal. If you get the chance to stay overnight at The National and experience the full treatment you are among a very select and privileged group.

The dining room for the finest golf lunch in America

For me, an overnight stay at The National and a round of golf is as good as golf gets, bar none.


The view of the fifteenth green, looking up the sixteenth toward the windmill at the National Golf Links


National's Grand Clubhouse


Shinnecock Hills Golf Club (ranked #4 in the world) deserves a special place in the world of golf because it was the first club incorporated in the U.S. in 1891 and one one of the five founding member clubs of the U.S.G.A. It has a rich and storied history and is unquestionably a championship course. I have had the honor of playing Shinnecock Hills several times and think it is a great golf course, but not necessarily in the top five in the world, in my estimation. Perhaps, like the Old Course at St. Andrews, it takes a longer period of time to reveal its greatness. I must say that I have appreciated it more each time I have played and can see how it has many subtleties and nuances that have to be mastered. The Redan seventh hole is probably the hardest rendition of this hole design anywhere outside of the original at North Berwick. In the five attempts I have made thus far I have been unable to hit the green, which tilts sharply away from you.

The seventh hole at Shinnecock as seen from the bunker

The clubhouse at Shinnecock is certainly historic but I was taken aback at how close it is to both Highway 27 and the road running through the course. Don't get me wrong, I would at any time make the long drive out to Shinnecock to play the course, sit on the porch and look out at the landscape below, but in my opinion the clubhouse ranks only as the fourth best on Long Island behind those at The National, Maidstone and Garden City, although I am splitting hairs, they are all great. The Shinnecock clubhouse was designed by McKim, Mead and White, the designers of the Main Post Office in New York, the Morgan Library and the original Penn Station.


Comparing Shinnecock and The National is inevitable since the two courses are immediately adjacent to each other. It is in some ways like comparing Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. I will paraphrase the famous quote comparing Nicklaus and Palmer: "God will give you the talent (Nicklaus) but they will like you more (Palmer)". To my mind, Shinnecock is Jack Nicklaus and The National is Arnold Palmer. Maybe Shinnecock is a better course, but I like The National more.

As you can see from the photos, Shinnecock is a very different style of golf than the National. National has about a dozen blind shots, maybe more depending upon where you hit the ball. Shinnecock is a much more straightforward course. There are areas of brown fescue throughout the course, this view is from the tenth tee. Ten plays down into a very large swale and is a very difficult hole. Your second shot plays up a massive hill to a difficult green set at the top.


Shinnecock has one of the best routings in the game and there is a continual change in direction, an important consideration since the wind is typically a large factor in playing here. The greens are small and Shinnecock places a large premium on approaching the green from the proper angle in order to best hold the shot. The great hilly terrain at Shinnecock is seen on the twelfth hole, here:


The 447-yard par four at Shinnecock ranks among the composite best eighteen holes in the world in the book the 500 World's Greatest Golf Holes. This par four like almost all at Shinnecock is a dogleg with a difficult to hold green. Shinnecock is the ultimate test of a golfer's ability: hit good shots and be rewarded, mis-hit shots and be penalized.

Maidstone Golf Club (ranked #61 in the world) is the least known of the three top ranked courses in the Hamptons. The course is located about 10 miles further east of Shinnecock and The National in East Hampton. While the course itself doesn't have the grandeur of the National or Shinnecock, it is worthy of its world ranking. It is the only one of the six top ranked courses on Long Island that is set on the Atlantic Ocean. Designed by John and Willie Park Jr. in 1891, it is a short course that has a weak start and a weak finish but shines in between. The fourteenth hole, a par 3 set among the sand dunes right next to the Atlantic defies description. Even the pictures I have attached here doesn't do it justice. The views are from the tee, below the hole and the view of the ocean from the green. It is on the short list of fine one shot holes in the world.

14th hole from behind
The world class 14th at Maidstone

9th fairway
The world-class par four 9th hole at Maidstone

View of the Atlantic Ocean from Maidstone tee box

Maidstone is also a beach and tennis club and may be the most family oriented course on the list. One thing a married man needs to attempt this top 100 quest is an understanding wife. Mine is a saint and rarely complains about my golf trips. She accompanied me to East Hampton when I was invited to play Maidstone. Taking her for a nice weekend of laying on the beach while I played a guilt free round of golf got me at free pass for at least ten more courses! It was a perfect August day played with a member who was the perfect gentleman. I enjoyed the Maidstone experience very much. The place has an understated flair to it.

8th green back 
The eighth green at Maidstone from the 9th tee 

 For those not familiar with the level of wealth present in East Hampton and to understand the psyche of Maidstone a short anecdote sums it up best. Juan Trippe, the founder of Pan Am was an early member of Maidstone and served as club president. Juan used to fly his own plane with pontoons out from New York City and land on nearby Georgica Pond.. Fast forward sixty-plus years. Today's Maidstone members have their G-4s land at nearby East Hampton Airport and then take the five minute ride over to the course. A pressing issue currently is that the runway is too short to land a G-5. Any questions?

For a in-depth review of Maidstone with more pictures click here.


Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff, however Maidstone has history and heritage but few G4's. They are over at The Bridge and now Sebonnack.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the 14th at Maidstone is spectacular. Unfortunately my friend Greg Brousseau was so distracted by the stunning scenery yesterday that he carded an 8.

Anonymous said...

Shinnecock Hills could whip the National and stand on it.

golfer said...

i wonder how a golf course with a weak start and a weak finish gets into the top 100. are ocean views and club exclusivity given too much weight. hole by hole this course is fair at best and last i looked 18 holes make a golf course.

ridaam said...

Shinnecock can whip the golfer on his head but National stands far above the Shinnecock as a course, as a layout and as a design. Played all three mentioned here along with Sebonack last weekend and Shinnecock played the toughest, Sebonack followed but no course was enjoyed as much as National was.

Anonymous said...

Shinnecock is tougher and could whip the golfer on the head but as a course, a layout its is not the National and will never be. The National is the only course I could play everyday and never get bored of...maybe Sebonack will become that as it grows in the next 2 years. I played Shinnecock, National, Sebonack and Maidstone back to back a week ago and I would say the course I enjoyed most was National followed by Sebonack, Shinnecock and then the Maidstone.

Anonymous said...

Based on "golf merit" alone, it is hard to argue against National. It is without a doubt a top 10 course - in the world that is. Perhaps a strong argument can also be made for Shinnecock, though its major "flaw" always seems to be the same - how difficult it plays. Either way, most who have played these two courses will conclude they are both far and above the best golf courses in the Hamptons – and possibly the entire US.

In terms of "overall" appeal, one would have to tip the hat to Maidstone. After all, not only does it have the third highest ranked golf course amongst in Hampton (top 100 in the world), but it is one of the few if only that also has a beach (beautiful one at that), a tennis club with over 15 grass tennis courts, a 25 yard pool, and many other great features including a great restaurant and stunning setting. It is the perfect setting for a "family oriented" club.

As for Sebonack, Bridge, Atlantic...they are and will always be second to these other three great clubs. Most members I have spoken to would rather belong to Shinnecock of Maidstone - just could not get in.

Anonymous said...

I never played the course at Shinnecock but it does have great sledding in the winter! I don't think Sebonnack has snow.

Anonymous said...

Can I ask some of you how you gain entry to play all 3 of these these super exclusive courses? Are you of a certain bloodline? Wall Street connections? Family and friends?

I am a young successful LI businessman and am dying to find a win in, if only for just one round.

Anonymous said...

The most common way is by members from the other clubs wanting to play at your club, so members "trade favors" and invite one another to each other's club (there are also tournaments that take place between many of these clubs). So once you are a member of one of these "elite" clubs, it becomes much easier to play at other clubs.

Another way is via corporate events (mainly Wall St corporate outings either for senior employess of the firm or for clients), or via fund-raising events (mainly local causes like the local police or fire dept, local historical society...).

Other ways people seem to get to play at places like National or Maidstone are by belonging to golfing clubs that organize trips to top destinations, bidding for a round at a school function or fund raiser or even calling the club and pretending to be a member of the media. Heard people do all three.

Of course, there is always just showing up and playing (just be sure you are familiar with the layout and that you dress appropriately)! Seen this happen as well.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tips. Solid, reasonable advice. I will probably try to play Maidstone at the next benefit outing. Will do similar for the other great private courses here on Long Island. Perhaps someday I will get meet the right people and gain entry. until then, I will play the Black on a regular basis.

speaking of "showing up and playing". This writer for the NY times did exatly that at Maidstone. Great, funny article.

Anonymous said...

The small green, dare I say tiny, greens at Shinnecock are masterful. Ten, for example, 25 yards deep, false front, false back presents an incredibly difficult target. With disaster short, it's prbably 60 yards back down the hill, makes recovering from over pretty terrifying. The green at 11 death over, facing a vry difficult recovery with deep bunkers at the front of that elevated green. In the wind, those beautifully protected, tiny greens are as delicious as golf can get. At 6,300 yards from the green tees, on a day with moderate wind, it's not that hard. From 6,900 in a stiff breeze, fagitaboutit as they say in new York. At under 5,400 from the white (ladies) it's all manageable. So it's a course, like Pinehurst #2, where guests can wonder what the big deal is and the best players in the world struggle. I found the course worthy of it's ranking.

Anonymous said...

The National is perhaps golfdom's most over-rated course. The first two holes are atrocities, and the rest of the course is beautiful and scenic, but hardly top 100 material. The ethos of exclusion is what makes The National special. The whole course can be summed up in "the lunch" -- a mediocre layout of lobsters and mac and cheese that would put any restaurant out of business. Only because of the legendary WASP cheapness and lousy food could this be considered anything special. Again, it's the setting and the sense that you're getting to do something no Jew, black or Latino could ever be a part of that makes it meaningful to the members. The golf -- come on! Shinnecock is in another dimension.

PJGOLFER said...

Maidstone is unique. Perhaps the only true linksland course (Shinnecock is too far from a body of water to be considered linksland)on LI or NY for that matter, it does suffer from sone rather non descript opening and finishing holes. However, once you finish the 2nd hole you then begin to experience some fantastic golf holes. Certainly #14 is one of the greatest three shot holes in the world, but there are others which deserve mention as well. Hole #9 starts you out on a tee box that is a scant 75 yards from the Atlantic Ocean, and makes you hit a drive with a formidable wind that could push your tee shot onto the nearby beach. The club has an understated elegance, that is rare these days and the experience of having a ham and cheese sandwich on white bread served to you by the husband and wife team (who are old enough to remember who Woodrow Wilson's VP was) at the halfway house (its actually a wooden shack, is simply special.

Anonymous said...

I believe Maidstone snakes around Hook Pond, not Georgica.

Anonymous said...

I've played Shinny, National, and Maidstone many times. Fine courses but all rank too high. Rankings are too bias in favor of old courses, with blue blood memberships. Tom Fazio's Quarry course at Black Diamond Ranch in FL is a better track than National or Maidstone. National and Maidstone are two of the most over rated courses in the top 100!

Anonymous said...

Maidstone is famous for the sneak-on. Everyone's doing it.

Anonymous said...

it is a joke to call the national over-rated. if anything it is underrated. it is also the hardest to join of the clubs mentioned.

annon said...

To play you need to know a member and be a local

Anonymous said...

you sound like a complete asshole.
the g4s will be irs prop and the members will be locked up said...

Wow!!! How about that last comment!! That was funny and to the best of my knowledge the gentleman writing the reviews on this website is not a "complete asshole"...but then again I've never met him!

Wow!!! Seriously though, if you think that...why are you reading the things on the site?

Anonymous said...

To all you fools posting comments about Maidstone: You all have absolutely no idea as to what you are saying when you think that the stone is overrated!!!! FIRST AND FOREMOST the Stone was designed to be a match play golf course, next Willie Parks design is coveted by architects throughout the world because of its minimalist approach and they come every year to walk the property for inspiration.The secret they all are looking for is how to make the appearance of alot going on but with little earth moved and also to appear as if it was always there. The world of golf would not be the same if the stone was not around. You are all fools if you can't see that about the stone!! I've grown up on the east end of Long Island and have played a good portion of the top 100 and the stone is by far one of the courses you can play everyday and not get sick of playing

Anonymous said...

To say that the first hole at the National is an atrocity is just an ignorant comment...It is one of the best openers in golf. said...

The National is the most enjoyable golf course I have ever played. It is a course I could play every single day for the rest of my life and still look forward to my next round. It is wonderfully brilliant!!

JB said...

All I can say is that, I'm quite sure that GOD lives and plays at Maidstone, and he can go anywhere!
I LOVE that place, yes I know, it's short, and you won't see the US Open played there, but to me this course IS GOLF.
If I ever know that I only have one round left on this planet, for me, it would be Maidstone if I had to walk to get there from Miami.
It is TRULY my all time #1

Anonymous said...

Hey Im from li and was wondering how you get onto courses like Shinnecock and The National?

Unknown said...

played all the course in the area...the bridge is terrible (rees jones is untalented). National is great (the most fun you can have on the course). Shinnecock is also great. A true championship course. Atlantic is okay and sebonacl's greens should be blown up and totally redone, but it has a solid layout..

Anonymous said...

Mr. 100, you should update the post on Shinnecock and make it longer...was hoping to hear more about it

Anonymous said...

Pound for pound, yard for yard, Maidstone is the finest members golf course in the world IMHO. Wind, season - lush in Spring, baked out in August - means the course never plays exactly the same round to round. I've hit wedge and 3 iron on 14. #1 may seem week but when there are a number of groups on the tee it's nice to have a an open fairway to move the groups out. From #2 on every shot has the potential to bring double bogey into play. It is a course I've played for 20 years & I'm never bored. 13-17 are some of the finest match play holes anywhere.

Top 100 Golfer said...

Couldn't agree with the last comment more. As the top course I have had the luxury of playing the most, the more I play Maidstone the more I love the place.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to the generosity of a very good friend, I've been able to play Maidstone, National, Shinnecock, and Fishers Island. All were great, but my favorite golf course of the four was National. Maidstone is the best country club I've ever seen with a beach, pool, excellent dining, and a 9 hole family friendly course to go along with the main course.

Anonymous said...

I think of it like this: If you're a real nut for course design and tradition, it's The National. If you're an excellent and talented player (or just a prick who equates difficulty and 'shot values' with greatness) it's Shinnecock Hills. If you're a laidback person who truly enjoys just being in beautiful scenery and not struggling, it's Maidstone. And last of all, If you're a true student of the game and a man of class, you deem one of these courses to be your favorite and you will need no reason why, nor will you need to attack others on their perspectives. This final type, I would submit to you, is the type most common in the members of these clubs. As a member of Wannamoisett in Rhode Island and an NYC resident. I can say proudly that I declined membership to all 3 of these clubs. It's about what you love, and that is all.

Anonymous said...

First of all getting into to said, clubs mentioned, is not as difficult as one might think ... Let's be honest. Many members are Jewish and have changed their names. Yes, there are legacy's and thank God!! MONEY,
is the new game in town... We have to put up with you people who have the money... it really is quite an unpleasant experience! Then again old lovely families have rejoined or become members once again. So, let us all put a pleasant smile on our faces and may the best player win!!

golfnut said...

played National for the first time - i must say it was my greatest golf experience to date - 30mph north winds made it a tough test -45 degrees too , but it didnt matter - ive played sebonack and wasnt overwhelmed at all - the greens were over the top - cant beat the old school golf courses - pete dye wishes he could make a course even half this good

golfnut said...

im sneaking on maidstone this week should be empty - i play garden city mens twice a month - now thats an overrated golf course - a joke

Anonymous said...

To the Wannamoisett gentleman: The "other 3" clubs you so proudly declined are not in the business of soliciting memberships. I hardly believe that you were personally invited/sponsored by three different members from three different exclusive clubs. Not to mention the supporting letters needed for character reference. The waiting lists are nearly immeasurable and many years long to these clubs. One is never "asked" to join. Claiming declination for membership is either false bravado or stupidity.

Anonymous said...

I am truly amazed by some of the responses about these 3 courses. I have played all the great courses on the east end of Long Island, and a good portion of the top 100 in the country. Shinnecock is maybe the purest golf course i have ever played. No tricks...right there in front of you for the taking, yet almost impossible to take. The National is very over-rated and tricky, which i font like. Maidstone is a pure joy to play, but not a 100 golf course. I agree with the writer who mentioned Sebonack's tee to green a GREAT course. No one mentioned Bethpage Black...only about 80 mins away. The Black and Shinnecock are heads and shoulders above the rest of Long Islands courses. Truly great tests of golf.

Anonymous said...

there are three kinds of people in the world ..those who like national and hate shinnecock..those who love shinnecock and hate national and thosewho like em both..alaska

fromtherough said...

This is a great blog. I'm playing the Black tomorrow for the fourth time. Can't wait. I'm a Trinity College graduate (from the nineties) and a Long Island businessman who would love the opportunity to play National, shinnecock, or Maidstone...even on a grey or very slow day! I can't offer a round at a private course in trade but I do have a lot of luck getting tee times on the Black. Please contact me if you might be able to help a friendly fellow golf fanatic.

ammils said...

What everyone here is missing is perhaps the best course in the area (well 15 miles west) is Friar's Head. I have played them all. I live and work in the area. The one thing that can't be argues is that this 20 mile radius has the best golf in the world. To me, this isn't even debatable.

3foot1 said...

I wish you'd written more about the golf at The National. As a CB MacDonald groupie, I'd love to hear more about your personal reactions to the challenge and, more accurately, the interest of the 18. My home course is a small Raynor course, and its appeal lies in the need to rethink your play every round based on the wind, your position in the fairway, and especially the hole locations. In another post you mention the National as one of your top five in the world, so I'd appreciate hearing why. Pictures of the clubhouse? Fun but meh...

vikingjim60 said...

I was fortunate to play Maidstone, Shinnecock, Friars Head, and Sebonack over two consecutive days. Unfortunate that I wasn't able to get in National. In terms of 'pure' golf experiences, I'd have a hard time putting any course ahead of Shinnecock. I'd heard so much about Sebonack going into the trek, but was a bit disappointed. I felt like the layout was great, BUT, the trickery in the greens was unnecessary. Too gimmicky. Dial back the greens, and the Sebonack experience becomes much more pleasurable. After playing Friars, my takeaway was that if Pine Valley and Cypress Point had a baby, they'd name it Friars Head. The layout and flow and vistas and challenge of the golf were awesome. Not putting it ahead of PV, CP, or Shinny, but it is in my top 10 golf experiences. I also loved the Maidstone experience. The only downside was it was 48 degrees, steady rain, and wind, so it was tough to fully appreciate all of what it was. However, when you look at the originality of the design and layout, and the fact that it is still a destination golf experience -100+ years after the fact, that pretty much stands on its own.

Anonymous said...

Maidstone is a nice course, but too many plugged lies to be considered true "links". Being beside the Atlantic makes for tremendous views, but is not the best definition of links golf. Shinny and NGLA share the same windy conditions of Maidstone, but also boast the firm fairways found in Scottish links golf.

Anonymous said...

The picture of NGLA is of the 1st and 2nd holes, taken from the main entranceway, with the 17th tee in the far left corner, not the 15th & 16th as the caption says.

Anonymous said...

It is a joke to call National overrated. If anything it is underrated. And it's even more of an atrocity to mention one of Fazio's courses in the same breath as National. Talk about overrated.