Thursday, October 15, 2009

I ♥ Maidstone

I have previously written about Maidstone as part of my write-up of Golf in the Hamptons but I don't think I did the course justice. In the category of lucky bastard, the two world ranked courses I have played the most are Merion and Maidstone (M & M). My latest round at Maidstone was in a brisk wind, and it inspired me to post more pictures and write more as the course was shining in all its glory.

The neighborhood Maidstone is located in is impressive, with its manicured hedgerows and deca-million dollar homes.

East Hampton HedgerowsA

Hedgerow near Maidstone

In my original writeup of Maidstone, I mentioned how the membership was ultra-wealthy and referenced their private jets. I received this comment recently, "you sound like a complete asshole. the g4s will be irs prop and the members will be locked up." Although the comment was anonymous, it was no doubt from a fellow New Yorker due to its directness, and was clearly written by someone who is pressed for time, since he couldn't take the time to capitalize any words and spell out the word "property."

Well, I may indeed be an asshole, but at least I'm not angry at the world. While there are a lot of 'For Sale' signs in the area and tough economic times are palpable even here, I'm rooting for my friends at Maidstone to recover so I can keep being invited back to play.

It's too bad that Maidstone is always compared to National and Shinnecock because of where it is located. I'm as guilty as anyone of doing this; the fact is, the course stands on its own as a world-class course. Situated between Hook Pond and the Atlantic Ocean, what makes Maidstone so good is the variety of its routing, the continual change in direction, the quirkiness of the layout and more than a half dozen spectacular golf holes. Where else can you play three par fives in a four hole stretch? And five holes in a row without a par four? At Maidstone, where the brilliant stretch of holes from twelve through sixteen make up a full house of golf holes, with a par 3,5,3,5,5.

The course has gone through many changes since its inception in 1894. The course as it exists today was designed by Willie Park, Jr. in 1922A course like Maidstone probably will never be built again, at least in the United States. The environmentalists would not permit building holes in the dunes right next the ocean. And, an architect would have to have guts to route the course the way Willie Park did, with tee boxes and greens so close to each other and a couple of awkward tee boxes. In the brilliant, but bizarre way the course is routed, the second hole is detached from the rest of the course, across a road with an out-of-bounds down both sides. It's not a throw-away hole by any means, in fact, this 537 yard par five is the #1 stroke index hole.

One of my favorite holes in the world is the short par three eighth hole (151 yards) with its blind tee shot and a green set behind the dunes. Par threes don't come much better than this one.

8th from tee
The eighth hole from the tee

The green is a challenging one with a sharp fall off short, right and left, and a big dip in the middle.

8th green back
The eighth hole from behind the green

You hardly have time to recover from the exhilaration of the eighth hole when you walk to the next tee, but the next hole is even better. Standing on the ninth tee box is one of the most beautiful places in the world of golf. In my view, it rivals walking up the 9th fairway at Royal County Down or standing on the 16th tee at Cypress. As you are perched on top of a hill, the par four ninth hole sits among the dunes below you with the Atlantic Ocean in full view.

9th fairway

The ninth hole set within the dunes

Once your tee shot is in the fairway you have a tricky uphill shot to a green that is set at an angle to you. There is a severe drop off to the right of the green and you don't want to miss there.

The par three fourteenth is another one of the brilliant par threes at Maidstone. Only 148 yards from the back tees, it is in an awe inspiring setting among the dunes with the Atlantic Ocean in the background. The holes routed in the dunes (the 8th, 9th, 10th, 13th green and 14th) can compete with any holes in the world in terms of both beauty and the brilliance of their ability to test a golfer. The falloff behind the 10th green is simply frightening.

14th hole from behind

The world class par four 14th hole at Maidstone

No matter the weather conditions or the state of your game, it is hard not to be happy when playing the fourteenth hole.

The 14th from the tee box

Another design feature that makes Maidstone such a good course is that most of the greens are set at an angle to the fairway. The seventeenth should be an easy hole since it is only 328 yards from tee to green. If you bite off the appropriate amount of the pond, it is not that hard to hit the fairway. You should have a wedge to the green, but it is not a particularly easy shot, since the green is set at an angle, and if you hit long or right you're on the road. The approach to the green is like a mini version of the St. Andrews Road Hole. Park had the foresight to design many of the short holes like this: the first, fifth and seventh are designed similarly. He also interspersed both short and long holes and easy and difficult holes in a way that you rarely see.

When Maidstone was built a fair amount of earth was moved. From David Goddard's history of Maidstone, "It was therefore necessary to fill a large area of marshland to provide sufficient fairway for the seventh hole which borders Hook Pond. It is estimated nearly 65,000 loads of sand, gravel and topsoil were hauled by wagon and narrow truck. The entire tee and the entire green for this hole is built into Hook Pond. Sand and gravel moved in building the ninth hole was used to build the fairway of the seventh hole. To build the sixteenth hole nearly four acres of swamp land was filled with sand and gravel. "

17th green
The 17th green at Maidstone

Having played Maidstone now in a variety of conditions, I have really come to appreciate that no two consecutive holes play in the same direction.

When I originally played Maidstone I thought it had a weak start and a weak finish, but I have now changed my opinion. The first, second, seventeenth and eighteenth holes are more strategic than they first look and require you to place the ball in the appropriate place in order to score well. When the wind is up, 6,423 yards is all Maidstone needs to be a stern test of golf.

This is one of a half-dozen clubs I have played that I would love to join, although its not happening. As Robert Macdonald write in the foreword to the club's history, "We are immensely fortunate, beloved by the golfing gods, and there should be on each hole a little prayer booth where each of us can humbly kneel down and count our blessings. We are on one of the best-designed, most beautiful, and most enjoyable golf courses not merely in the United States, but in the entire world."

The grass tennis courts at the Maidstone Club

As fantastic as the golf course is at Maidstone, the overall environment of the club is even better. Jay Gatsby would be right at home if he drove up Old Beach Lane today in a Pierce Arrow Runabout. The scene around the putting green is reminiscent of a whose who in world of power brokers. And everyone is perfectly coiffed and tailored. The locker room is enticing and because the club is set on the ocean there is the beach club extraordinaire. Maidstone pulls off what many other clubs can't: understated elegance and a sense of timelessness. 

When I grow up I want to live in East Hampton and be a member of Maidstone.