Grand Old Golf
The Courses of the Storied Eastern Resorts Offer a Primer in the Game's History to Those Who Play On Them
From the Print Edition:
John F. Kennedy, Nov/Dec 98
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Jeff Williams writes on golf for Newsday.
The Northeast and Middle Atlantic regions haven't escaped the rush to build new golf courses in America. But apart from the Kingsmill area of Williamsburg, Virginia, you don't hear a lot of noise about them; land is precious and it's been difficult to find enough acreage to lay out world-class courses. There are some exceptions , and some of the more notable ones are within an hour or two's drive of New York City.
We used the basic criterion that a course had to have been opened, or completely renovated, within the last five years and came up with a mix of public and private courses. It's not an all-inclusive list, but rather a random sampling of what's being done in the most densely populated part of the United States. A couple of these courses are spectacular. We didn't get a chance to visit several notable ones, but the buzz is quite strong on them, including Galloway National along the Jersey shore and Nantucket Golf Club on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts.
Hudson National Golf Club is one of the best of the newcomers. It is situated on a series of hilltops that overlook the Hudson River in New York about 35 miles north of New York City. The course designer, Tom Fazio, left many of the old trees standing on the grounds where an old course, Hessian Hills, stood in the 1920s, and there is almost the feel of a classic Donald Ross or Charles Blair Macdonald course. (Macdonald, along with his engineer, Seth Raynor, designed Sleepy Hollow Country Club, which is just down the road from Hudson National.) From the fourth green, you can't help but let your eyes wander past the burned-out chimneys of the old clubhouse and gaze at the bluffs across the Hudson. The par-5 14th is a test, with the green jutting out into a pond that beckons long hitters' second shots from a downhill lie.
The Golf Club of Purchase, a Westchester County, New York, course that opened in 1997, was designed by Jack Nicklaus. Considered a Jack Nicklaus Signature Course, it is a demanding, narrow layout that preserved as much of the existing forest as possible. Balls hit into a number of environmentally sensitive areas are lost forever. The par-5 seventh hole is a classic three-shot Nicklaus design; the course pro reportedly plays it 5-iron, 5-iron, wedge. Otherwise, the second shot is a long carry over a creek and a marshland to a green built on a stone ledge. The par-4 16th also is a great hole, with a good-sized landing zone about 230 to 250 yards out at the top of a small bluff bordered by a sand trap on the left and a pond on the right , and then a 160- to 180-yard shot along a pond to a green that eases out over another pond. Anything to the left is wet, and to the right is deep woods.
The new courses aren't limited to the rich. Larry Nelson, the 1983 U.S. Open champion, tackled an old 450-acre farm in the New York towns of Carmel and Brewster, about 55 miles northwest of New York City, to create the Centennial Golf Club. The first 18 holes opened in May, and another nine holes will probably be ready by next May. When the course grows in after a couple of years, it may be one of the most spectacular public courses on the East Coast. It is also one of the few high daily-fee courses in the area; greens fees range from $65 to $85. The course has elevation changes of about 200 feet, with several tee boxes requiring drives that fly into thin air, dropping to long sloping fairways below. On the flip side, there are two uphill second shots with greens more than 50 feet above the lowest point of the fairway. It's fun, and challenging. A great hole is the par-4 fourth on the Meadows course. The tee box is about 60 feet above the green, 456 yards away; at the primary landing zone on a slight dogleg left, the fairway slopes away to the left toward a pond and the green, which is situated behind the pond. Or the 360-yard, par-4 sixth on the Lakes course, with a 125-foot drop off the tee box, which makes it seem tantalizingly close for a big hitter, but both sides of the landing zone are covered by sand traps. The risk-reward factor is real.
Finally, one of the greatest public courses in the land has just been completely redone by Rees Jones in preparation for the U.S. Open in 2002: the Black Course at Bethpage State Park. on Long Island, New York. The fee is almost ridiculously low: $30 ($25 Tuesday through Friday). For anyone lucky enough to score a tee time, the experience undoubtedly will leave you speechless. Old-timers there say the course lulls you with its first three holes: a straightforward dogleg right, a slight dogleg left with a uphill second shot and a simple par-3. Then, the course begins. The par-5 fourth is a triple-level affair that offers a tantalizing second shot to an elevated green for the big guns. But the U.S. Open may be remembered for the three finishing holes, a long downhill par 4, a 200-yard-plus par 3 with a beach's worth of sandtraps, and a final par 4 that slopes quickly down and then back up to the green. From the championship tees, the carry over sand traps on each side of the 18th fairway will approach 290 yards, and there's a slot of about 20 yards to keep it in the short grass. Then, it's a steep uphill second shot to the green. The course is already in great shape, and with a couple years of settling down, will be a true test of a golfer's skill.--Gordon Mott
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