NGLA hole #7---see more below
Long Island for 3 Days…September 19-21, 2015
Pat was baby sitting for the grandkids Saturday and then heading to NH Sunday afternoon for golf at Bald Peak Monday, so I quickly put together a short 3 day trip to Long Island. Left our Milton, MA place around 8:30am Saturday and caught the New London to Orient Point ferry at 11:30. Traffic was not bad on LI (given that we are past Labor Day) and arrived at The Bridge in Bridgehampton around 1:30.
The Bridge, Bridgehampton, NY September 19: The Bridge was designed by Rees Jones and the course opened for play in 2005. It is as different a country club as you will ever find. Built on a 500 acre piece of land that formerly was the Bridgehampton Motor Racing Circuit where the likes of Paul Newman and Stirling Moss raced. The place is filled with old mementos and signs from the old race track, the logo is a checkered flag, and the clubhouse is strikingly modern. And if there was a dress code, they would have never let me in the place (as I have no tattoos or earrings, my golf shirt has a collar and is always tucked in, and I wear my hat forwards). There actually are members of The Bridge who are also at places like Ekwanok and Maidstone. I know of some people who belong to multiple clubs who keep a set of clubs at each. Wondering if the folks at The Bridge keep a different wardrobe there. Oh well, the members would probably view me as being stuffy (no comments, please).
The Bridge was #90 on Golf Magazine’s USA Top 100 in 2005 after it first opened but never appeared again on a Top 100.
I had heard some negative comments about The Bridge from some friends, but it was on my USA Top 100 Ever bucket list, so had to go play it…and must say I was very pleasantly surprised (not enough to fork over an initiation fee of almost $1 million according to reliable sources in the Hamptons). I teed off on #10, a 520 yard par 5, downhill off the tee, and then sharply uphill to a green sitting on top of a big hill (there are many big hills on the property). After three good shots and sinking a 7’ putt, had my birdie and started liking the course right away. Seriously, after about 5 holes, I was surprised how good the holes were, even if the routing of the course was poor (it was hard to sense where you were on the course). Ended the back nine with a 2 over 38, and jwas joined starting on 18 by the head pro, Jeff Warne (Jeff did not play, but drove around in a cart for 10 holes). Jeff is originally from Augusta, GA and had previously worked at Sleepy Hollow and Doral with Jim McLean (who I knew from Jim’s days at Quaker Ridge). Jeff has been at The Bridge since it opened.
After a few comments back and forth about some golf courses we both knew, it was clear that we had similar views about golf courses and architecture. Jeff and his Greens Superintendent (working with Rees Jones) have been implementing a whole series of changes to the golf course, which certainly looked to me to be major improvements. A bunch of elevated tees were lowered and/or removed, trees removed, and fairways widened considerably. In many ways, the course now reminds me of Shelter Harbor in southwestern RI designed by Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry.
While the routing is still problematic, the widened fairways really offer strategic options. The course is very well bunkered, and despite the elimination of some of the high tees (it was reputed to be an impossible walk, or should I say climb, before these changes), still offers fabulous views of Peconic Bay to the north. It is also in absolutely perfect condition. I am not sure why the routing is as it is…but wonder of having 500 acres available (150-175 acres is plenty for a great course) might be a curse, and causes one to get sloppy and undisciplined.
A bunch of very good holes, and the one that stands out to me is #2, a slightly uphill 214 yard par 3 with a green setting and green shape/slope eerily similar to hole #9 on Pinehurst #2.
Anyhow, it was nice to be pleasantly surprised and I sense the course will continue to get better. Glad I played it, but trust me, I did not purchase any clothing in the shop.
After a good shower, got together with an old friend, Paul Babcock from Sag Harbor, and we went out for a good Italian/seafood dinner and told a bunch of war stories about the good old days. Since neither of us imbibe any more, this is one evening that both of us will remember, making it very different from those “good old days.”
Timber Point (Red & Blue) September 20, 2015: Stayed at Paul’s place Saturday night and woke early as I needed to leave by 5:45am to make my tee time at Timber Point some 75 minutes west on the south shore of LI. Timber Point (now a Suffolk County muni) was included in the 61-70 bracket of Golf Digest’s Top 100 Tests of Golf in 1969, but has not been included on any other Top 100 listing… except for its #12 spot on the 1939 Worldwide Top 100 posted several years on GolfClubAtlas.com. That put it on two of my bucket lists, and created a must play…and is further proof that the 1939 list is a spoof.
Suffice it to say that Timber Point is a prime example of my 8th grade teacher’s famous line ”how the mighty have fallen.” Other than that, I will follow the advice of my mother (and all mothers everywhere) and not say anything. But, it is good to have it in the rear view mirror.
National Golf Links of America (NGLA), September 20, 2015: After the round, I had a major decision to make…should I lunch at Timber Point or NGLA. After some deep thought, and flipping a coin, I chose NGLA. Drove back east to Southampton and into the impressive gates guarding this shrine.
The National was the creation of Charles Blair Macdonald, who built it to bring great golf to the USA. CBM had travelled extensively through the British Isles carefully examining many of the outstanding holes of Great Britain. He was determined to build a course that showcased these designs by bringing adaptations of some of these holes to the USA. And he succeeded. Most knowledgeable observers credit the completion of NGLA and Francis Ouimet’s victory at the 1913 US Open at The Country Club with igniting a golf boom in the USA.
NGLA has appeared on every USA Top 100 list tracked by moi except for the Golf Digests lists prior to 1985 (what were those pre ’85 panelists and editors thinking??), peaking at #4 on Golf Week’s merged list 2012-2015. Similar patterns are seen in the Worldwide lists. NGLA appeared on every World Top 100 list I cover except Golf Magazine lists prior to 1985 (Kool-Aide served at both magazines before 1985) and its highest rating Worldwide is #5 on the Architect’s survey.
Lunch was wonderful. Given my advancing age (or should I say advanced age), I chose to skip the full lunch (lobster tails as an appetizer). NGLA has been famous for its lunch (and its overall ambiance) for decades. Over the past 20-30 years many new over-the-top clubs have tried to duplicate the atmosphere but all have failed…and the wonderful thing is that NGLA has simply kept everything around the clubhouse and service in general just as it was when I first stepped on its hallowed grounds 40 years ago. No need to improve on perfection, and certainly no need to “stay in step with the times.”
A foursome had just teed off on #1 so we went out and started on #3 (par 4 Alps hole). The course was virtually empty and the weather was perfect…temp in low 70’s, low humidity, winds of about 15mph, and not a cloud to be seen. As I reached the 4th tee (par 3 Redan hole), the changes at NGLA became startlingly apparent…and all for the better. I had heard that National had removed most of the trees on the property, but frankly had not remembered there being that many trees. Perhaps my memory is failing, but my recollection of the Redan hole from the 70’s and 80’s was a hole with lots of trees in the background…now there are none, and the northern view is to Peconic Bay in the distance...a totally different and much improved feel. I was blown away…the hole was almost unrecognizable to me. What I found most interesting was how the green was oriented much more from front to back (as opposed to right to left) than I recalled or compared to the original Redan at North Berwick (remember, CBM built adaptations, not copies). In fact, I realized that the orientation of the Redan green at Old Macdonald at Bandon is quite similar of NGLA's 4th. Let the record show that I hit the green, and after leaving my 40’ putt about 10’ short, jarred that one for par (knew you would be interested).
The greens at NGLA are incredible…putts with double breaks are the easy ones, and great precision is required. For example, on the downhill par 3 6th (“Short”) the pin was right front. I hit what I thought was a perfect 8 iron, which landed on a downslope and trickled past the pin into the long but very narrow (about 15” wide) strip bunker. I went from a birdie 2 to a big “X” very quickly at that point. There are places you just have to avoid, and the penalty is severe if you fail to avoid them. More than fair enough.
Other holes worth commenting on (actually all are, but to keep this from being shorter than “War and Peace”…) include the following (in order played…I played it 3-15, 1-2, 16-18):
#7—par 5 500 yard St. Andrews (adaptation of The Road Hole)—while there is no road behind the green, the green angle is perfect, forcing the player to hit their second shot to the right side of the green for a proper angle to recover. My second was too far left leaving me with a tough 43 yard pitch over the deep deep pot bunker (see picture at the top of this post)..might be referred to as the Devil’s Other Asshole…to a shallow green from this angle. Since you asked, I hit my best pitch of the trip to 12’ and 2 putted for my par.
#11—par 4 432 yard Plateau—somehow I remember a long row of trees along the left side of this hole, almost walling it off from the rest of the course. Trees are done and replaced by a brilliant view of Sebonic Bay. Don’t ask about my score here.
#14—par 4 393 yard (Cape)---brilliant strategic design with tons of options (each with different risk/reward trade offs)…make up your mind and play it.
#1—par 4 330 yards (Valley) to a raised green. Adaptation (IMO) of #1 at North Berwick. Looks simple enough till one gets to the green, which moves in every direction (seemingly simultaneously).
#2---par 4 330 yards (Sahara) uphill and then down to a green well protected by a huge bunker right. Drivable by today’s kids (and moi in my younger days) but you better be careful. Famous for the windmill overlooking the hole (no, not providing “clean” electric power and not eligible for a subsidy from the folks in Albany or Wash DC). Got my birdie here the conservative way.
#18—par 5 uphill 502 yards (Home). Hit perfect drive and 3 wood over big cross bunker, leaving a sand wedge in. Two putts for par and a good finish.
Anyone who has the chance, and understands this silly game must play this track if they get the opportunity. Proof of the brilliance of Macdonald and Seth Raynor. Ended up with a 43-40=83. A few doubles due to lapses in judgment generating appropriate punishment.
After, the round, few things as good as standing under National’s shower heads. Then a drive back west to Pt. Jefferson. For sure, Today I was the first person to ever play Timber Point and National Golf Links of America on the same day!!
St. George’s G & CC, September 21, 2015: Despite growing up about 30 miles away, and living most of my too many years in the NY area, I had never heard to Long Island’s St George’s G & CC until reading a write up of it on GolfClubAtlas.com (http://golfclubatlas.com/courses-by-country/usa/st-georges-golf-country-club/). Located in the town of Stony Brook, NY on LI’s north shore (right next to the State University of NY’s Stony Brook campus), it was founded in 1917 and the course was designed by Devereux Emmet, a good friend of C. B. Macdonald and a fine player in his own rite. Emmet designed over 125 courses, mostly in the northeast, and including:
--Congressional CC (Blue), MD
--Hartford GC, CT
--Engineers CC, NY
--Garden City GC (NY)
--Nassau CC, NY
--Pelham CC, NY
--Pomonok CC, NY (closed in 1949)
In terms of ratings, St George’s has not been included on a Top 100, but it has been on Golf Weeks Top Classic courses list since 2011.
I got to the course at about 7:30am and was able to go out and play around 7:45. Viewing the course from adjoining roads made me salivate…this place looked incredible…and it was. Best description would be (1) NGLA less 500 yards and without Peconic Bay, or (2) a pure hidden gem. Immediately reminded me of Minneapolis GC and White Bear Yacht Club. Was recently renovated by Gil Hanse.
The course itself is better than I had anticipated. Firm and fast, near perfect condition. Rolling wide fairways (except for #12) which offer great strategic options, brilliant bunkering, and firm fast interesting greens with every trick in the book. This is another must play.
Got me wondering about golf courses with St. George in their name. I know of four great ones, three of which I have played this year:
Royal St. George’s, Kent, England (GM #33 in world; did not play in 2015
St. George’s G &CC, Toronto, Canada (GM #87 in world); played 7/27/15
St. George’s Hill GC, Surrey, England; played 6/19/15
St. George’s G & CC, East Setauket, NY, USA; played 9/21/15
Any other great courses with St. George in its name?? Should St. George be admitted into the Golf Hall of Fame?
All caught up again with this blog. And made some small progress on bucket lists:
--1939 “First Top 100” (spoof): 101 courses (two tied for 100 spot), 79 played, 5 no longer exist, and 17 to go (England-6; USA-3; Cont Europe-3; S Africa-2; Canada-1; Sri Lanka-1; Vietnam-1)
--USA Top 100 Ever from five sources: 338 courses on list, 288 played, 2 no longer exist, and 48 to play
Next trip is drive from MA to NC in about 10 days. Planning to play a bunch in NJ and one in VA. Then, a big trip to Asia starting late October.