Golf Quest West
Golf west of the Hudson features historic century-old courses with new attitudes alongside new clubs with old-style ambience.
What do Clark Gable and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., have in common with Mark Wahlberg and Samuel L. Jackson? Though decades apart, all four have been seen on the grounds of some of the Hudson Valley’s finest golf clubs. Not all of them necessarily played scratch golf, but you can be sure they all enjoyed magnificent vistas of the Ramapo Mountains while having a libation or two in wood-paneled, leather-furnished clubrooms. Here are four of the finest golf and country clubs that give their members and guests a chance to live like the stars.
Dellwood Country Club
New City, NY
6,767 yards • Par 71 • Slope/Rating 134/73.5
Bring your best putting game when you play Dellwood Country Club—the A.W. Tillinghast-designed course in New City has some of the most demanding greens in the Hudson Valley. That’s one of the features of this history-laden club that the new owners, the Mandelbaum family of New York real estate fame, promised not to change when they bought the property from the members last year.
While the new owners intend to leave the course alone (a great idea since it’s one of Tilly’s most interesting early designs), they plan a major overhaul of the clubhouse and most of the other facilities, promising to bring back some of the glory (and deep-pocketed guests) the property experienced when it was the home of Paramount Pictures founder Adolph Zukor. That’s good news for the club members who stayed after the ownership change, since they’ll get an upgrade in amenities without any attempt to improve the sometimes quirky but always challenging golf course.
While Dellwood has a few tough tee shots, most of the big numbers on your score card are going to come from the greens, where the naturally hilly terrain combines with some devilish artificial contouring to give even the steadiest hand a quiver. The greenside bunkering will add a few strokes, too. There’s length on the course—two of the three par-fives are over 570 yards—but it’s the short, innocuous-looking par fours that will hurt you. Like the 394-yard 12th hole, a hard dog leg that ends with the sneakiest green on the course. Or the even shorter 350-yard 14th hole, where the green measures a full eight degrees of incline in some places.
You can take your mind off your putting woes, though, by enjoying some of the scenic beauty at Dellwood. From the seventh tee you watch the Ramapo Mountains march to the Hudson, while the ninth hole is a spectacular par three tucked into a colorfully-landscaped hillside and fronted by the only water on the course, a mirror pond filled with Japanese koi. The pond isn’t in play, but it’s worth taking a moment to pause and enjoy the view it creates.
Manhattan Woods Golf Club
West Nyack, NY
7,109 yards • Par 72 • Slope/Rating 149/75.7
Manhattan Woods is a quiet club you’re going to hear more about. The Gary Player signature course opened in West Nyack in 1998 to some acclaim but little fanfare. Now, after more than a decade to let the course mature and its reputation build, Manhattan Woods takes its rightful place as one of the New York metro’s premier golf experiences.
Rolling hills and wetlands define the golf course, while views of the Manhattan skyline, turn-of-the-century ambience, and impeccable service mark the well-appointed clubhouse. The innovative menu in the grill room sets Manhattan Woods apart as well. For a treat, I suggest you forego your after-round cheeseburger and opt for the lobster club sandwich instead.
Plentiful amenities notwithstanding, the golf course is the real reason Manhattan Woods deserves your attention. Five sets of tees stretch it from a fun 5,090 yards to a championship-caliber 7,109. The course fits perfectly into the terrain, with fairway landing areas squeezed by wetlands, fescue-covered hillsides, and bunkers that seem to have appeared full-formed when the last glacier retreated up the Hudson Valley. Player took advantage of the natural features to mess with the golfer’s mind from time to time, too. Several forced carries aren’t as long as they look, and many of the hazards have bail out areas that are actually good strategic choices.
The third hole is a short risk-reward par five at 504 yards that brings water into play twice. First is off the tee: do you challenge the water on the left with a drive to the narrow landing area along the right side of the fairway, or do you hit a 200-yard lay-up? The second time is the waste area that cuts the full width of the fairway in front of the green. The smart play is to lay up to it as well, which leaves a wedge to the green. If you successfully hit driver off the tee, though, it would be a shame to do anything but hit a hybrid or fairway wood and putt for an eagle.
The bent grass greens at Manhattan Woods deserve special consideration since the grain often moves your ball as much as the undulating contours. Cross-grain increases the breaks, down-grain cranks up the Stimpmeter, and putting into the grain is like trying to throw a knuckle ball with pinpoint accuracy. Even after you’ve played the course several times, it’s highly advisable to listen to your caddy when you’ve got the flat stick in your hand.
The Tuxedo Club
Tuxedo Park, NY
6,807 yards • Par 71 • Slope/Rating 135/74.2
The very name “Tuxedo Club” carries more than a hint of upper-crust exclusivity, bringing to mind scenes of men with pencil-thin mustaches smoking cigarettes in ivory holders before they pick up their brassie to smash a Spalding Kro-Flite down the first fairway. Once upon a time, that may have been a familiar sight in the early Tuxedo Park community, where a despotic house committee once enforced rules like the one prohibiting the use of first names in public—even between husband and wife.
Today’s Tuxedo Park is vastly different from the gated community Pierre Lorillard Jr. established in 1886 to rival Newport, RI, as a retreat for the wealthy. The current golf club, built in 1956, is completely different from the first course, too, which is probably a good thing since the original nine-hole track was described by Scribner’s Magazine as “…a sporting links where straight, long drives are the only hope for preserving the temper, and the hazards are outer darkness where is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Robert Trent Jones, Sr. designed the current course to play with much less anguish but no less visual drama. Nestled in the Ramapo Mountains about a mile from the gates of the private community, Tuxedo looks like a relatively short, easy round, but it is actually a demanding course off the tee, requiring accurate tee shots to stay out of various forms of trouble that haunt many holes.
The three finishing holes are superb tests of golf. The 374-yard 16th looks like a pushover, but beware of how much of the dog leg you try to cut off—five bunkers line the left side of the fairway from the crook in the leg all the way to the green. The tee shot on the 181-yard 17th hole is one of the most intimidating on the course, calling for a carry over water the entire distance. The pond fronting the green also wraps around the left side and bunkers guard the right, so straight is good. The 518-yard par five 18th hole is a birdie opportunity as long as you keep your drive on the right half of the fairway so you have a line to the green past the trees guarding the left. Push your drive too far right, though, and water comes into play again. Take care with a lay-up second shot; a creek cuts across the entire fairway in front of the green.
Orange County Golf Club
6,780 yards • Par 72 • Slope/Rating 135/73.3
Orange County Golf Club is one of those fine old Hudson Valley clubs with a new club feel. The clubhouse is modern and welcoming, thanks to a refurbishment completed in 2004, while the course retains many classic touches that make the player think about the shot instead of just whaling away at the ball. The Wallkill River valley is near-perfect golf topography, offering a solid mix of elevation changes on the surrounding hillsides with level holes along the river banks. There is plenty of water in play, too.
The river is also responsible for one of the club’s unique features, a suspension bridge designed by the builders of the Brooklyn Bridge and erected in 1928. You cross the bridge to find your shots after teeing off on the second and eleventh holes.
Founded in 1899, Orange County GC began with a nine-hole layout measuring a grand 1900 yards, a healthy track for the days of gutta-percha balls and hickory-shafted clubs. At 6,780, today’s course is a challenge even for those wielding titanium drivers and Pro-V-whatevers. The variety of the layout makes OCGC worth playing over and over again. The par fives range from 486 to 578 yards while the par threes measure from 135 to 222 yards.
The first hole is a great illustration that shorter is not necessarily easier. At 327 yards, it certainly looks benign. The fairway is wide and inviting, too, so go ahead and pound one out there. Watch your second shot, though. The green is sharply crowned and sits on a virtual island surrounded by deep grassy swales.
If you are prone to a fade that becomes a slice more often than not (like most of us), beware of trying to overpower two of the shorter par four holes on the course. The eighth is only 360, but the fairway slopes right and there is a treacherous pot bunker guarding the right side of the green that you’ll have to navigate if you push your ball to that side off the tee. Watch the 17th hole, too, because even though it’s only 352 yards, a tee shot to the right side of the fairway will catch a severe slope and bound away into the trees where your score will likely die an ignominious death. •