With the New York area playing host to nearly 20 of America's top 100 golf courses, it is without a doubt one of the best areas for high end golf in the country. The issue for most golfers is that the majority of these courses are private clubs. Don't get me wrong, for a weekend golfer looking to pay a daily fee, you have got some great options with Bethpage Black, or nearby Ferry Point. However, most passionate golfers have their eye on Long Island or Westchester as these regions pack a serious golf punch. Getting an invitation to play some of these exclusive clubs is partly what makes these rounds so special. I was fortunate enough to have a couple of these "Bucket List" courses on the agenda. Let's jump into it, as I get excited just warming up to it. Click on any of the photos to visit the full course gallery.
Quaker Ridge Golf Club
Coming in at #71 on Golf Digest's Top 100, Quaker Ridge is a Tillinghast gem and an excellent way to start off my adventure. The course is pure classic golf and the greens are regarded as some of the finest in the country. I found this to be especially true as I was one of the first to head out in the morning, following right behind the maintenance crew.
Given the challenge on the greens, there are certain places you can't afford to miss. Unfortunately, I found just about all of those places. A great start course wise, a bad start score wise.
Old Oaks Country Club
A quick afternoon tee time was just what I needed to address my early morning swing woes. As it turns out, that was definitely not the case. However, I didn't mind my poor play one bit as the walk around Old Oaks is a fantastic one. It was my second Tillinghast course in the same day. The only way you can pull that off on the west coast is to own a private jet. I do not own a private jet.
The highlight of the day was playing through a fourball on the 5th hole and nearly holing out for eagle. As I tapped in for birdie, I pretended like I hadn't doubled the last two holes.
Hudson National Golf Club
Resting on dramatic bluffs above the Hudson River Valley, Hudson National is regarded as one of Tom Fazio's finest designs. The design is not a natural one, as Fazio dynamited over 130,00 cubic feet to match the terrain with his design. Built in 1996, Hudson is one of the more modern additions to the Top 100, coming in at #95.
The site used to be home to Hessian Hills Country Club in the 1920's. However, a fire burned it down in the 1930's. In an odd coincidence, my golf game would also go up in flames for my 2017 round. Remnants of the old clubhouse can still be seen today along the 4th and 5th holes. Remnants of my golf game would also survive the fire.
Essex Country Club
After playing Shoreacres in 2016, I immediately became a Seth Raynor fan. Unfortunately, there are not many Raynor designs and none near my home base of Seattle. So when I had an afternoon open up, I gladly signed up for some twilight action at Essex. The club was founded in 1887 and is the oldest in the state of New Jersey. A composite design by Banks, Raynor, and Tillinghast, Essex is one of the 25 founding clubs of the USGA.
I had the pleasure of employing Spencer for my round at Essex. When it comes to caddies, Spencer was just about as enthusiastic as they come. Quick quote from Spence: "Oh yeah, our greens are big... Big enough for your ass." With the help of my man Spence, my game was back on track.
Having found my groove at Essex, I was stoked to be heading out onto Long Island and paying a visit to Maidstone. The club was founded in 1891 and architectural credits go to Willie Parker Jr. It also has as a pretty sweet whale logo. I had heard great things about Maidstone and I was pretty fired up to play.
The holes on the ocean definitely stand out, but the entire design is very enjoyable and a lot of fun to play. Fun fact: The house to the right of the tee box on #15 has bullet proof windows to protect itself from errant tee shots and I guess.. gunfire. Although, in East Hampton, people are not too concerned about flying bullets penetrating their million dollar homes.
Bayonne Golf Club
The last thing I said before I found the entrance to Bayonne Golf Club was "Oh man, I definitely made a wrong turn." It is easy to think you are in the wrong area as you pull in from the nearby industrial area into the private gates of Bayonne. It's a touch of Scotland that some how found it's way into New Jersey. Built on top of an old waste disposal site, Bayonne does an excellent job at providing the golfer with a links experience... A links experience with a view of Manhattan.
The day started out with rain and by the 4th hole, it was pouring down pretty good. Not good for pictures, but not a problem for this Seattleite. However, by the 7th hole, the rain had lifted and we ended up with a pretty good day for golf. Nothing quite like the feeling of pealing off your rain gear as the sun hits your shoulders.
Aronimink Golf Club
I had originally visited Aronimink Golf Club in 2016 and it was easily one of my favorite Donald Ross designs. So when I got a chance to head back out and see the Gil Hanse renovations, I was pretty excited. If you follow golf course design, you know that Gil Hanse is the hottest architect in the game right now. It's basically Zoolander but for golf nerds. See video below for clarification on this point.
After visiting several of Hanse's renovations, I have found them to be very well done and non intrusive. As a member at Maidstone described it to me, "It's not like he changed the nose on the Mona Lisa, he just scrubbed off all the grime and dirt that had built up over the years. Now we can see the beauty of the original intent." The renovation at Aronimink is no exception. When the BMW Championship visits in 2018, I am sure the players will rave about the course.
National Golf Links of America
After several days of dealing with the big dogs, it was time to bring in the really big dogs. National Golf Links of America is the ultimate creation from the father of American golf course architecture, Charles Blair McDonald. This is his masterpiece.
When Stephanie Wei of Weiunderpar.com informed me that we had a tee time, I nearly threw up and definitely peed my pants. As a fan of the classics and a fan of golf course architecture, NGLA or National, has been at the top of my bucket list for quite some time. I had studied it from above via Google Earth and now it was time to study it from ground level. I was beyond excited.
Unfortunately for my score, that excitement would carry over to the first hole and I would promptly open up with a double bogey. The good news is that the golfer within would emerge and manage a handful of birdies and a score in the 70's. Every hole is a study in architecture and a joy to play.
There is an old saying that goes "The only thing better than playing NGLA, is playing NGLA and Fishers Island." Naturally we hopped onto the ferry to Fishers Island to honor this ancient saying. Another Seth Raynor gem, Fishers Island is widely regarded to be one of Raynor's very best designs. Because the course is basically on it's own private island, it offers a golfing experience like no other.
There are some outstandingly good template holes at Fishers Island and I was particularly impressed by the "Punchbowl" and "Biarritz" options on the front nine. Other highlights include a birdie bomb on the first hole and the bounce I received on the 8th that led to a very memorable eagle.
Fishers Island was also one of the most interesting courses I have photographed from the air. Be sure to check out the gallery.
The best part about the New York area is that you could easily do 3-4 trips of similar quality before you would run low on amazing new courses to play. This golfer will have to return.