Big Price for Big Challenge
Pound Ridge Golf, Westchester’s newest and most expensive course
For the 235 smackers it costs to tee it up at the brand-new Pound Ridge Golf Club, you can buy three steak dinners at Morton’s, or two Broadway tickets to Mamma Mia!, maybe even one ticket to a game at the new Yankee Stadium.
Shucks, for that kind of cash any New Yorker can go to Long Island and play four rounds at Bethpage Black, site of this summer’s U.S. Open. But if you love golf, hate driving over the Throgs Neck Bridge, and can afford the $235 greens fee, well then, a day at Pound Ridge is something to, er, Dye for.
Designed by legendary golf architect Pete Dye and his son Perry, Pound Ridge opened last July to great fanfare as a public, daily-fee facility that is a Dye-abolically magnificent test of golf. Though obviously not a course for beginners, cheapskates, or crybabies, Pound Ridge compares favorably with some of Dye’s other top-shelf designs, notably the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Florida, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in South Carolina, and Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
Dye has designed nearly 150 courses around the world, but Pound Ridge is his first course in the Northeast. Asked why he never built a course in our neck of the woods, the curmudgeonly, 83-year-old Indiana native snarled, “Nobody ever asked.”
That is, until Pound Ridge owner Ken Wang came along and opened his checkbook.
Wang and his family (which includes his sister, world-famous designer Vera) made their fortune through U.S. Summit Co., a merchant venture firm catering to Asian markets. In 1979, Ken’s late father, C.C., bought the property on which Pound Ridge Golf was built, the site at the time of a nine-hole public golf course 10 miles north of Stamford, Connecticut, just over the border in New York.
In 1997, when the Wangs decided to cash in on the Tiger Woods-fueled golf boom to build an upscale, public course, Dye was Ken’s first choice as designer. Wang had played Dye’s TPC at Sawgrass and was overwhelmed, describing the experience as “being in the middle of a giant math problem conjured up by a master of geometry.”
“My goal in bringing in Pete,” Wang says, “was to create a golf course of the ages.”
Pound Ridge is just that. It took 11 years, about $45 million, and a truckload of legal and environmental permits to scrap the old nine-hole course and complete the new one on a 172-acre tract. Fourteen thousand feet of rock walls encompass the property, which features 106 sand bunkers and five sets of tees ranging from 5,713 yards to 7,171 yards from the tips. Don’t be fooled by the pastoral landscape; Pound Ridge, which plays to a 76.1 rating and slopes at 146 from the back tees, features some mean holes, each loaded with a distinctive but deadly charm of its own. And there’s just enough water and fescue grass to wreak havoc on your supply of Pro V1s.
You know you’re in for something special on the very first hole, a straightaway 380-yard, par 4 smartly framed by big waste areas. Throughout the rest of the course, keeping the ball on the fairway and out of trouble is no easy task. It’s nearly impossible at the delightfully sinister par-4 fifth, a short hole that features 13 bunkers that lead to a postage-stamp-sized green.
Aesthetically, you’ll be amazed by the stonework that frames the tee box at the par-3 11th and you’ll chuckle, or cringe, at the par-5 13th, which features an obnoxious boulder called “Pete’s Rock” guarding the entrance to the fairway.
The signature hole is the 15th, a superb par 3 that plays over wetlands to a long, winding green. The trick here is to avoid hitting the massive rock wall that snugly overlooks the right side of the green. “Some golfers will hit that rock, and when their ball ricochets onto the green, they’ll say, ‘This is a great golf hole,’ ” Dye says. “And some golfers, when they will hit that rock and their ball will disappear, they’ll say, ‘This is the worst hole I’ve ever seen.’ ”
As bad or good as that hole might be, the toughest hole on the course is No.18, a brutal par 4 that plays 477 yards from the tips. From the two sets of back tees, hitting the fairway is practically impossible because two giant maple trees block the tight fairway from the right while a series of sand traps line it on the left side. Make par here and you might consider your $235 greens fees well spent.
While some everyday hackers may consider Pound Ridge not worth the cost; imagine how much it would cost using the usual formula in which a developer charges $10 in greens fees for every $1 million spent on construction. At that rate, a round at Pound Ridge would be over $400. “I think it’s a fair price,” says Wang of the $235 price tag, which includes use of a cart and practice areas. “It’s cheaper than joining a country club.”
Pound Ridge doesn’t come with the typical country-club frills, though — at least not yet. It will be without a clubhouse for another year or two, athough it does have a temporary clubhouse with a kitchen and bar. But Wang’s course is a bargain compared to some other famous courses. At Pebble Beach, it’ll run you about $495 to play. Bandon Dunes is $265, and TPC Sawgrass is $315. On many of those big-name destination courses, you may need a hotel package to play, too, but at Pound Ridge, anyone can make an advance tee time with a credit card.
In the land of Winged Foot, Sleepy Hollow, Fenway, and so many other great old courses open only to members and their guests, Westchester now has a daily-fee track on which John Q Public can plunk down the big bucks and tee it up with aplomb.
Ralph Wimbish, a 10 handicapper, lives in Mount Vernon with his wife, Grace.