Westchester County, NY and Fairfield, CT, July 10-12, 2017
When I schedule my trips, whenever possible I schedule them when Pat is taking a trip or playing in a golf tournament. Every July she makes the rounds of woman’s invitational events in the Boston area and I go “a wandering”. So this week it was Pat to Kittansett in Marion, MA and Paul to Westchester and Fairfield.
My itinerary worked well and I was able to have a course to play Monday afternoon…Meadow Brook Club in Jericho, NY on Long Island.
Meadow Brook Club, July 10, 2017: I had played MB once before, almost exactly five years before on 7/12/12 during a one week jaunt playing Fishers Island (with John C. of Melbourne, AU), The Creek, Quaker Ridge, and MB. I had heard wonderful things about MB several decades earlier and frankly I was disappointed with what I found. It was extremely over treed…a situation exacerbated by some very very sharp doglegs especially on the back nine. When the current MB course opened it was described (in Sports Illustrated in October 1955) by none other than Herb Warren Wind (considered to be the best US golf writer and observer who ever lived…Herb was the one to “name” Amen Corner at Augusta National) as follows:
To my tastes, it is the finest golf course that has been built in this country since Bob Jones and Dr. Alister Mackenzie produced the Augusta National back in 1931. While the course is still much too young for the turf to have taken on body and for the whole 18 to have taken on a final aspect, Meadow Brook has struck me from my first visit on as a "born classic" destined to be mentioned in the same exalted breath with Muirfield, Hoylake, Pinehurst No. 2, Pine Valley and the other acknowledged touchstones of architectural greatness.
What was so interesting about this was that Herb was a “links course” affectionato of the highest order (for you none golfers…links tracks generally have no trees).
But first some brief history about the club. Founded in 1881 as the Meadow Brook Hound Club it was focused on equestrian activities and The Hunt. In 1894 a 9 hole course was created in Hempstead but was abandoned in 1905 and the golfing members played their golf at Piping Rock Club and Nassau CC. By 1916, the club restored the original 9, added 9 more holes to make it a full 18 and completed a full renovation under the guidance of Devereux Emmett….one of the premier architects of the time (think Congressional CC, Hartford GC, Engineers CC, Garden City GC, Nassau CC, Pelham CC (see more later in this post), St. George’s G&CC, and Wee Burn CC).
However, in the early 1950’s the club’s property was taken over by NYS (Robert Moses) to make way for the Meadowbrook Parkway (I remember driving along this parkway in the 1950’s and 1960’s dozens of times heading to Jones Beach on hot summer days). In 1953 the club purchased the Burrill estate and hired Dick Wilson to built a new championship course on this estate…and this is the course that HWW was referring to (except he would not have ended a sentence with a preposition). In 1967 the club closed down their polo fields (at one point MB had 8 polo fields!) and closed two holes…selling a major chunk of land or requiring a redo part of the course…that redo was overseen by Joe Lee or Joe Finger (per different sources). In 2006 Tripp Davis oversaw some minor renovations and then Brian Silva oversaw the work performed over the last 12 months (with Bradley Klein consulting).
Now back to the course. About a year after I played it, Pat and I were at a wedding outside of Baltimore and I was talking to a gentleman who was interested in my efforts (really hard work as you must understand) as a Golf Digest Rater. In particular he inquired if I had played Piping Rock, The Creek, or Meadowbrook. I advised that I had played all three and then was asked my opinion. Naturally, my fat mouth spouted forth and declared The Creek glorious from #6 on, Piping too far in my past to really recall very well (I did play it last summer after its renovation and loved it), and declared MB to be tired, over treed, and too hard to enjoy (or something to that effect). The gentleman swallowed hard but did not reveal that he was the incoming president of MB (he also is married to the cousin of my younger step-son’s father-in-law). Last year he reached out to me to advise that my comments got him thinking and after taking another look at MB, decided I may have had a point, even if not eloquently stated. He further said they had retained Brian Silva to do a renovation, which was complete and wanted me to come see the outcome. Well I can report that lots of good resulted from my fat mouth!!
The drive down from MA went fairly smoothly and I arrived at the club around 11:30. The GM, Dennis Harrington. had arranged for me to play and the Greens Superintendent, John Carlone was also there to meet me (in fact John’s son, David caddied for me). It was a hot day but I walked it as today was just 18 holes. MB is built on a great piece of land with wonderful elevation changes throughout the property. I asked how many trees were removed and the reply was “we never counted but it was a full 8.5 acres.”
I hit the ball well, especially on the back and had a 44-37 = 81, playing from 6200 yards (from the tips it now goes a hefty 7405 yards). Had trouble with the bunkers even though the sand was perfect in texture. Greens are huge, severely sloping and quick, but David was superb at reading them. Front nine is simply glorious…big bold holes with wonderful vistas and views of the clubhouse (the old mansion from the estate). With the exception of the left side of #7 (which could use a major haircut IMO) I thought a superb job was done in removing trees, and adapting the greens to today’s speeds by flattening out some slopes. Loved holes #3, 5, and 7-9…especially 5 and 8. The condition of the front side fairways tees and greens was simply perfect…as the open spaces allow air to circulate properly (grass is no different from you and I…it loves fresh air and suffers in stagnant conditions).
|approach on 456 yard par 4 3rd...dogleg left and uphill to green|
|approach on drivable 350 yard par 4 5th...from drive in fairway|
|Approach on 5th from left rough...no chance to hit green (to left of and behind mound)|
|Turn on dogleg par 4 7th...me thinks most of tree on left should go|
|217 yd par 3 9th with clubhouse behind on top of hill (caddies do not love this hill)|
The back nine underwent the most changes…especially moving of tees to soften dogleg angles. While the back nine is much improved, it is still way over treed IMO. Interestingly, while the turf conditions on the front were pristine and close to perfect. On the back side, the thick stands of tees on both sides of many fairways continue to restrict air flow and the turf, while excellent is not up to the standards of the front side. Best holes on the back were 15, 17 and 18. I think the back has just as much potential as the front…time to get those saws working again.
In terms of Top 100’s, MB was a regular on Golf Digest from 1966 through 1989. In the period 1969-77 it was always in the #41-50 bracket, but slowly declined from 1979-1989. Golf Magazine place it at #81 in their initial USA Top 100 list in 1991, but it never reappeared. Overall assessment…a huge improvement…more potential there that needs to come out. Hope the club continues these efforts.
After the round I headed back up to Westchester County…in surprisingly little traffic (no complaints on that score). Next two days were 36/day.
Pelham Country Club, July 11, 2017: Weather forecast for both Tuesday and Wednesday was even hotter and more humid than Monday, with threats of thunderstorms. I was scheduled to play Pelham at 9am, but figured if I arrived early, perhaps I could get off quickly…which is exactly what happened.
But first some background. I was at Pelham because it hosted the 1923 PGA Championship decided at Match Play after two extras holes in a dual between Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagan (considered by many to be the most exciting PGA final ever). Sarazen won and Hagen “got back” by winning the following four consecutive PGAS Championships (1924-’27).
Pelham Country Club was founded in 1921 and designed (as noted above) by Devereux Emmet, opening in 1922. Originally built on 180 acres, in the 1950’s about a third of the club’s property was appropriated by New York State for its NY Thruway (which later became part of I-95). As a result, the course has to be redesigned on the remaining 119 acres and is now a relatively short 6388 yards from the tips, and only six of its original holes remain. Mike deVries will be overseeing a renovation next year and I would expect a very interesting, fun course to result from this work. Meanwhile, I had a not well played 40-42 = 82 thanks to 6’s on the two holes (9 and 15) that rise to the top of Mount Tom (highest point in Pelham)…but that is a story for another day…
After playing Meadow Brook on some 300 acres the day before, playing Pelham on 119 acres (including pool, tennis courts, clubhouse, etc.) squeezed on all sides by apartment buildings, a Costco warehouse store, Amtrak (alongside I-95 running right through the middle of the course), and flights on landing patterns into Laguardia…felt at times like a very different game…but in many ways, just as much fun. The remaining Emmet holes are very special and it is obvious that this was a great championship track before the Thruway was constructed.
|Pelham 217 yard par 3 2nd|
|Pelham par 4 330 yard uphill 4th|
|Pelham 4th hole on left and 430 yard par 4 6th on right|
After the round I chatted with Pelham’s head pro, Mike Diffley, who also hails from Queens and played golf for St. John’s University (about ½ mile from where I grew up). We traded lots of war stories about NY golf and Queens muni tracks.
Pelham was never included on any Top 100. It did end up being the 950th course I ever played!
Brooklawn Country Club, July 11, 2017: Drive from Pelham to Fairfield CT was 48 miles and took about 50 minutes. I remember the US Senior Open being played at Brooklawn in 1987 (won by Gary Player), but I had never seen it. It also hosted the 1979 US Woman’s Open.
The club was founded in 1895 and the following year a nine hole track was laid out ion the 60 acre parcel of land the club had leased. Over the next 15 years the leased property expanded, was purchased, and an adjoining property purchased to allow the club to expand the course to 18 holes by 1911. Then in the late 1920’s A. W. Tillinghast was retained to revamp the course (up to then, Brooklawn had been designed by various members as the club expanded). Tillie’s plan, dated September 1929 preceded the stock market crash by about 50 days and as a result not all of his planned bunkers were added until more recently. But the greens were redone and that is what makes the course. They are well contoured, subtle, and generally slope sharply from back to front. No question they are among the best Tillie greens I have played. Their concave sides mean do NOT get short sided!
Before Tillie’s work at Brooklawn, a young man destined to be a major force in golf received his start at Brooklawn. Mr. Eugenio Saraceni, a sixth grade dropout was hired by Brooklawn’s head proessional. Saraceni, who later became known as Gene Sarazen, became the first person to win each of the four professional majors as he went on to won a total of seven majors, and was later made an honorary member of Brooklawn.
The course has never been included on a USA Top 100. While its greens are superb, the land is dominated by a step hill running from southwest to northeast that incorporates some 8 of its 18 holes and results in many parallel fairways moving up and down this hill. Ron Forse has done a superb job of bringing out many of the subtleties of Tillie’s design. I thought the best hole was #7, a 610 yard downhill dogleg left par 5 with a creek cutting across the fairway about 40 yards short of the green.
I hit the ball fairly well and managed a 40-40 = 80 (three putted 18!) for the afternoon round at Brooklawn.
Deciding to see if I could play early at both Pelham and Brooklawn had worked like a charm. I finished my round at about 2:45 (beating any real threat of thunderstorms) and was able to get back to the hotel and take a well deserved nap!
That evening I had dinner with Jess and Tyler Gosselin. Tyler had been First Assistant Professional at Brookline until earlier this year. Earlier this year he moved to Scarsdale Golf Club where he is First Assistant Professional and will become Scarsdale’s head pro upon Bill Smittle’s retirement late this year. Tyler became a good friend over his seven years at Brookline and it was wonderful to see Both Tyler and Jess happy and excited about their new world in Westchester. We had dinner at an old haunt of mine…Rye Bar and Grill!
Sunningdale Country Club, July 12, 2017: Sunningdale was founded in late 2013 and for four years its members played their golf at a leased nine hole course in Mount Vernon, NY. In 1916 a 149 acre site in Scarsdale, NY was purchased and Seth Raynor hired to design and build a new course. As a side note, this observer believes Raynor to be the greatest architect who ever lived. Raynor, like his mentor C. B. Macdonald, always incorporated “template holes” (adaptations of some of the great golf holes of the British Isles) in his designs…often with blind shots as part of the design. The members of Sunningdale, obviously forgetting that wonderful Scottish expression “a golf shot is only blind once”, never grew accustomed to these designs and within 5 years had retained Walter Travis to renovate the course resulting in five new greens and six new tees. Then in 19029 the club wanted to add a swimming pool and brought in A. W. Tillinghast to make changes in the layout to accommodate a pool. In 2006 Mike de Vries started the development of a long term plan for the course; for sure these plans were delayed in part due to the financial crisis of 2008 and they were completed (at least for now) this spring.
I was supposed to play Sunningdale with David K., the head of the club’s Greens Committee who oversaw deVries’ renovation. However, at the last minute David had to cancel so I played Sunningdale alone that morning, first off around 8:00am. While I had never played Sunningdale before (so I cannot compare the “after” with the “before”), I must say the “after” is outstanding. The land is full of hills, knolls and all other sorts of movement…and the resulting course makes great use of them. The greens are very big and just as bold. They all seem to have a multitude of pinnable positions. I played well shooting a 39-39 = 78 from 6140 yards, perhaps because in many cases I did not understand where the real trouble is, and because I had a wonderful caddy, Chris, who guided me around beautifully. The course is certainly firm and fast and in great condition (note…there are a few areas that have been re-sodded this spring that are still coming back, but I would expect these to be in perfect condition by late August). The greens roll perfectly and are true as can be. From then back Sunningdale is 6820 yards, a bit on the short side for championship golf but much more than adequate for 99% of club golfers…and most of all, great fun. Fescue abounds and makes for stunning views this time of year but generally does not come into play.
Sunningdale has never been included on a USA Top 100 but I expect that to change over the next few years. Also, it would be a wonderful site for a US Woman’s Open or a US Senior Amateur.
Best holes include:
o #2, par 4 410 yards, turns slightly left , slightly uphill off tee then slightly down to green; left side of fairway is shorter route but left is guarded by a large tree that you want to avoid; green is tough to hold and has a wonderful mound (Maxwell Roll??) in its center that is very difficult to deal with if you must putt over it;
o #3, par 3 of 210 yards uphill to a green that slopes and runs from back left to front right and has a false front…by far the best of Sunningdale’s par 3’s
o #4, par 4 of only 340 yards but uphill to green and turning slightly left (primarily due to short left rough that occupies land where it looks like the left side of the fairway “collapsed”…neat look and feel off the tee but this will not affect the bombers of today;
o #5, par 4 355 yards, straight and downhill off tee, with a three leaf clover green with each leaf very small in size…protected by bunkers front and a closely cropped drop off in back…not much to shoot at with approach but then again you should have a short wedge in your hands;
|Approach to Sunningdale's 5th green--tough to hit and hold|
|5th green from right...note three leaf clover shape with each leaf very small in size|
o #6, par 4 465 yards, flat and straight, great hole and I will simply point our that I birdied this #1 handicap hole (sadly, the only birdie of the trip);
|Sunningdale #6 is 465 yard par 4|
o #11, par 4 305 yards downhill and turning right…placement critical here and the well guarded green slopes very very sharply back to front…be careful here;
o #14, par 4 460 yards and very uphill turning left with a slight reverse camber…tee shot dominated by mound in center of fairway 260 yards out from back tee, and the green slopes sharply from back left to front right
o #16, par 5 575 yards fairway turns a little left and is slightly uphill off tee, then downhill starting about 270 off the tee, then uphill (and over a creek) to infinity green
with very very false front for final 110 yards.
|Long approach on par 5 16th|
|Shorter approach on #16|
I finished my play around 10:15, thanked the pro shop staff and the other staff members I had met and was off to Wykagyl. It was heating up and very humid and thunderstorms appeared to be likely so it would be great to get off the first tee at Wykagyl as early as possible.
Wykagyl Country Club, July 12, 2017: I had played Wykagyl once before, in 1980, and came away singularly unimpressed. When I heard a few years ago that Coore-Crenshaw was renovating it, I frankly wondered why. And then at a dinner (with Pat, Jim G. of Sunningdale, and Ran Morrissett of GolfClubAtlas.com) in late April of this year I was shocked when Ran extolled the virtues of Wykagyl. But, I actually listened this time (probably a shock to those of you who know me well, and most of all to Pat) and am so so glad I did so!
Wykagyl’s was founded in 1898 and started with a nine hole course on leased land about 2-3 miles south of the club’s present location. In 1904 the property’s new landlord terminated the lease and the club leased a farm at its present location. In 1907 the club exercised its option to purchase that land. The club’s architectural history reads like Nancy Pelosi’s plastic surgery log. It was designed by Lawrence Van Etten in 1905 and then remodeled as follows:
1931—A. W. Tillinghast
When I arrived, the club looked fairly busy, but I found Mike (the starter) and he said I could go right off. Lucky again…I was on the course by 11:15.
As soon as I stood on the first tee I knew things were different than 1980. Even though it was almost 90° and the humidity seemed even higher, the course was in excellent condition…and the overall design is something to behold. The property has lots of land movement, rock outcroppings, fescue, etc…and in many ways reminded me of Brookline. It was hot out there. During my play of the front nine, I started to feel weak and woozy on holes 6-9, and realized I had not had lunch…and the heat/humidity was getting to me. Fortunately, a cup of fresh fruit and a Gatorade at the turn did the trick…I felt markedly better within 45 seconds. Ended up with a 43-42 = 85…not very good but I will chalk it up to the heat/humidity.
From the tips the course is a relatively short 6690 yards (par 72). It will never again be a course where the pros will play, but frankly, golf today is two games…one played by the game’s top professionals (and frankly top amateurs as well), and another played by its regular players. Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s there were plenty of regular players who could hit the ball as far as the tour players and even the long tour players, but today’s world is very different. Very few amateurs today can afford (in terms of $$, time, and access) the finest technologies and training support (swing coaches, workout coaches, mental coaches, etc.) that are part of a tour player’s entourage. Todays’ fine players consistently hit their drives close to 300 yards and the longer players hit them 325-350. Back 40 years ago those numbers were 245 and 265-270. Regular amateurs have not and cannot keep up. The USGA keeps fighting a bifurcation of the rules of golf (two sets of rules…one for premier competitions and one for the game most players play), but the game is already bifurcated and golf courses are bifurcated. Premier players cannot play courses like Wykagyl, and most single digits handicap players cannot play the courses used on the PGA Tour (or Senior Tour for that matter).
But I digress. Getting back to Wykagyl, this is a course that is both challenging for almost all players and fun to play and enjoy. The variety of holes creates the need to hit every club in the bag, hit shots left to right, right to left, and straight, and play low piercing as well as high trajectory shots. Many of its trees were cleared by Coore-Crenshaw and the course now breathes (and hence, so does its turf). There are holes that are uphill, downhill, uphill off the tee then downhill to the green, and downhill off the tee and then uphill to the green…but no flat holes. There are holes that dogleg left, dogleg right, turn slightly left and turn slightly right (and even two straight holes). The player will encountered every type of lie many times in a round, but very few flat lies…this is a golf course, not a driving range! As you finish #18, you feel like going back out to play it again!
Best holes are #3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15 and 17. There simply are no bad or ordinary holes. And the “flow” of the course is brilliant. In terms of Top 100 historically, it has never made a USA Top 100…but in 1966 and ’67 was on the GD 200 Toughest, and in 2016 and ’17 been barely in the GW Top 100 Classic (was also in the GW 100 Classic from 2000-2005). What are raters thinking (or do we think?)?
|Wykagyl par 3 4th 144 yards...yes very well guarded|
|Approach on 397 yard 5th from right center of fairway|
|Par 5 525 yard 6th hole...brilliant hole brought back to life.|
|Par 4 446 yard 8th doglegs left around large mound in fairway|
Overall, I would certainly put it in my USA Top 100, probably around #60-70. Not high enough to make my World #100, but pretty damn good. What a joy…and frankly, given how little chatter one hears about Wykagyl, another hidden gem (or at least semi-hidden)!!
Trip Summary: Two things here. First, the amazing thing about this trip is that I played 5 rounds at NY area clubs, a total of 90 holes, and the only time I has anyone playing in front of me was on the 16th hole at Brooklawn on 7/11…waited all of 30 seconds for a threesome to finish putting out (they waved me through on the 17th tee). Simply amazing.
Secondly…comparing the courses on this trip…in order:
But it should be noted Meadow Book has more potential than Sunningdale…question is, will it realize this potential?