Westchester’s Best 18 Holes: A Golfer’s Dream
Are these holes Westchester’s best?
How do you decide which golf hole is “best?” Is it the one only Phil Mickelson can par — on a good day? Or the one you accidentally birdied last spring when your ball trickled into the hole after it bounced off a rake in the bunker? Does the best golf hole take your breath away with scenic splendor? Or was it designed by a master architect so that it looks plain but plays fancy? What counts more, shot values (whatever they are) or sneaky green contours? If a hole’s role in golf history counts, we’d really have a tough time. Westchester courses date to the earliest days of the game and have been played by the giants of the sport from Harry Vardon to Tiger Woods.
It was a tough job — but someone had to do it, as they say, so we did. We compiled a dream course from among the best holes in the county using the judgment and opinions of pros, golfers, and even a few self-appointed experts (especially me) who play hundreds of rounds on Westchester’s courses every year. Our course has a short par four; a really short par three; and some long, challenging holes sure to test every club in your bag. These 18 holes play uphill and down; bend right, left, and even in both directions; and have enough unique features, history, and visual appeal to please the most discerning golfer. At 7,126 yards and par 72, our dream course would make a worthy venue for any level of tournament play.
But are these the best golf holes in Westchester? That’s your call.
Hudson National GC
Croton-on-Hudson • Hole 18 • 443 yards • par 4
A golf course like our Dream 18 should start with a spectacular hole, and there are none more so than the 18th at Hudson National. Not only is it a gloriously difficult hole, it presents a vista of the river that’s one of the best from anywhere in the county. To get the full effect, climb up to the back tee box and take a moment to revel in the wonder of it all. But unless your name is Bubba (and your average drive is more than 300 yards), don’t tee off from there. You can have enough trouble making par from the regular tees. To have a chance, your drive must be in the left half of the fairway, hopefully beyond the bunker. That will leave you with a long uphill approach to a well-bunkered green.
Westchester CC West Course
• Rye • Hole 2 • 447 yards • par 4
The final major championship of the Champions Tour will be played at Westchester Country Club in August this year. The Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship will mark the first time a major championship from any tour has been conducted at the club, which hosted the PGA Tour for 41 years from 1967 until 2007. “A return to Westchester Country Club will stir good memories from my days on the PGA Tour,” says Mark O’Meara, the 2010 champion. “It is a wonderful and classic golf course, and guys like me and Jay Haas cannot wait to return.” Also expected in the field are popular PGA stars like Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples, Tom Watson, and Corey Pavin.
When they face the second hole on the West Course, they’ll aim their drives downhill to a deceptively wide landing area that ends with a stone-lined creek that crosses the fairway 300 yards out. Even after a perfect drive, they’ll have a long approach shot to a very tight, three-tiered green guarded by three serious bunkers and nestled in a forest of horse chestnut, sycamore, elm, sugar maples, and alder behind the green.
The Saint Andrew’s GC
• Hastings-on-Hudson • Hole 9 • 568 yards • par 5
I wonder what John Reid and the “Apple Tree Gang” would think about this Jack Nicklaus design. It’s probably longer than the total yardage of the three holes they played when the club was founded by the Scottish sportsman and his buddies in 1888, and I can guarantee it’s harder. Those original golfers established what became the oldest continuously operating golf club in the United States and one of the founding members of the U.S.G.A. Somehow, I think they would have been proud to play this long, difficult hole, although I doubt their gutta percha balls would make the carry from the back tee to the fairway, much less travel up the hill to the green in regulation. Today’s players have to make sure they don’t drive through the fairway off the tee, then stay out of the creek on the right side with their second shots. The third — and there will be a third shot on this monster uphill hole — is into a well-bunkered, two-tiered green.
Winged Foot GC West Course
• Mamaroneck • Hole 10 • 190 yards • par 3
Iconic golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast declared this hole, known as “The Pulpit,” his finest par three. Davis Love, III, winner of the 1997 PGA Championship held at the club, said it’s “perhaps the hardest par three we play that doesn’t have water on it.”
The hole doesn’t need water — the steep-faced bunkers that flank the green are so deep you won’t be able to see the putting surface from within them, and — depending on where the hole is cut — it’s almost impossible to go for the pin without sending your ball into the sand on the other side. You can’t run the ball onto the green from the tee, either, since the narrow throat of fairway in front of it is crowned so that a ball that lands there will kick into the bunkers. As if that weren’t enough, the green itself makes most players weak in the knees. It’s 40 yards long and plummets from back to front.
Purchase • Hole 6 • 430 yards • par 4
Century is one of those great Westchester courses where it seems every hole is more challenging than the last. The sixth hole isn’t brutally long or tricked up, but it’s a tough par for all but the most accomplished players. The ideal tee shot is a draw over a ravine to a fairway that’s pretty accommodating — as long as you’re not too close to either side, where mature trees may block your approach. The second shot for most players calls for a mid-iron or more, and needs to be accurate if you want to stay out of the bunkers on either side of the deep, narrow green tucked into the side of a hill. If you can, it pays to favor the right side of the green, which also has an inviting throat, should you prefer to run your ball on.
• Scarsdale • Hole 15 • 301 yards • par 4
How can such a short, little hole be so blazingly difficult? It’s the green, of course, a tiny hourglass-shaped target not much more than four paces wide in the center and sloping like a ski run from back to front. Then there are the bunkers that pinch the green on both sides. Sand shots are tough enough for many golfers, but even a perfect explosion from one of these can easily end up in the bunker on the other side. Play your tee shot with abandon, but don’t be surprised if you walk off the green wishing you’d been more careful with your approach.
Trump National GC Westchester
Briarcliff Manor • Hole 13 • 208 yards • par 3
Just as there is only one Donald Trump, there is only one hole with this much dazzle in all of Westchester (if not beyond). The waterfall that rises more than a hundred feet behind the green cost millions of dollars and is the attention-grabber, of course, although the large pond and smaller waterfall in front of it are even more likely to swallow your ball if you miss-hit your tee shot. Even from the front tees, where the hole measures a mere 120 yards, it’s easy to fall victim to the spellbinding roar of the cascading water. From either tee, though, if you keep your wits about you and aim for the flag, you stand a perfectly good chance for a score you can brag about.
• Bedford Hills • Hole 12 • 579 yards • par 5
The longest hole on our Dream 18 is also the longest hole at Gary Player-designed GlenArbor. Director of Golf Rob Labritz, who was the low-scoring PGA club professional at last year’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, says there are two ways to play the hole. “The long hitter can use a cut off the tee to avoid driving through the fairway and into the two bunkers that lie straight ahead,” he says, “or he can use a three wood without hitting a cut.” Either way, you’ll still have 250 to 300 yards left to reach the green. The main thing is to stay in the fairway, since anything right or left is essentially dead — even on the second shot. Labritz recommends laying up to 100 yards, then wedging it close to the pin. Bunkers surround the green, which has a barely perceptible but highly treacherous right-to-left slope.
• White Plains • Hole 14 • 426 yards • par 4
We end the front nine with another visual treat, a picture-perfect par four. The hole follows the contours of the landscape in a gentle right-to-left dogleg that sits up nicely for a controlled power fade. Hit one, and your drive will catch the down-slope around the bend and put you within mid-iron or better range of the flag. The two-tiered green sets against a hillside covered with colorful plantings that are worth pausing to enjoy before you hit your second shot. Not all is sweetness and light on this hole, though. Watch out for the bunker complex guarding the green on the right front and make sure you keep your approach below the hole.
• Armonk • Hole 16 • 551 yards • par 5
With a wide fairway and what seems to be a straight, simple path to the green, this looks like a birdie opportunity. But looks can be deceiving. It’s almost impossible to hit the elevated green in two shots since the prevailing wind is in your face and the sloping fairway effectively cuts the landing areas for both your first and second shots in half. From the tee, aim over the bunkers on your left to keep your ball in the short grass. And keep that slice under control if you can, because the out-of-bounds stakes run along the entire right side of the hole. Your second shot needs to carry over two bunkers, too, if it’s going to have a chance to keep from rolling into the right side rough. Once you’re on the green, keep in mind that it plays quicker than many others on the course because of its exposure to the wind.
Old Oaks CC
• Purchase • Hole 8 • 441 yards • par 4
There’s absolutely nothing fancy required to make a good score on this long, uphill par four hole except an approach shot that’s precisely the right distance. Inches count in that calculation. The green, you see, has two distinct tiers that call for completely different strategies depending on the pin position. If the hole is cut on the back tier, the hole plays two full club-lengths longer. If it’s on the front, it’s absolutely essential that your approach stays below the hole and on that tier — putting off the green completely is not only possible but likely if you have to roll your shot down from the top. In fact, it’s a good idea to stay below the hole on the top tier, too, since putting off the green from there has been known to happen, too.
Sleepy Hollow CC
• Scarborough • Hole 16 • 155 yards • par 3
Sleepy Hollow, the only Westchester course designed by pioneering golf architect Charles Blair Macdonald, celebrates a glorious centennial in 2011. This hole, one of the most photographed in the Northeast, really came into its own following the 2006-2007 renovation restoring it to Macdonald’s style and standards. Assuming you can tear your eyes away from the magnificent view of the Hudson River beyond it, the green is an inviting 40 yards wide. The size of the putting surface is deceiving, though, since the edges are shaved and the dramatic contours make for many downright cruel pin positions. Wind is a major factor, too, of course, given the tee’s place atop one ridge and the green’s on another.
• Lincolndale • Hole 1 • 425 yards • par 4
Once upon a time, opening holes were purposely designed to be relatively easy, a way for the player who didn’t have access to a driving range to warm up a little before tackling the tougher holes on the rest of the course. Not so at Anglebrook, where your first tee shot may well be on the hardest opening hole in Westchester. The 425-yard tester isn’t long, but it allows for no sloppy play. The landing area off the tee is pinched by a 40-yard-long bunker on the right. A big hitter can carry it, but he’ll only end up in the rough. Most players will favor the left side of the fairway rather than chance the bunker, but that forces a 175-yard or so second shot over another ginormous bunker on the front left of the green. Like many of the greens at Anglebrook, this one is huge and has more ups, downs, twists, and turns than Playland’s Dragon Coaster.
Quaker Ridge GC
• Scarsdale • Hole 6 • 434 yards • par 4
Straight and long are the first two things you need to remember when you approach this simple but devilishly difficult golf hole. Hug the right side of the fairway if you wish, but don’t get greedy and try to drive over the hillside or you’ll find yourself in deep rough with a nearly impossible shot to get the ball to the green. Beware of left off the tee, too, because there’s a creek just a few yards off the short grass and a very inconvenient tree between you and the green even if your drive stays dry. No matter where the pin has been cut, remember that the green breaks strongly to the left, so you should aim your second shot accordingly. This isn’t the longest hole on the course, but it’s the number-one handicap for a reason.
The Apawamis Club
• Rye • Hole 14 • 446 yards • par 4
Golf strategy is seldom dictated as clearly as it is on this long, hard par four. A draw off the tee is essential since anything long and straight — or heaven forbid, a drive that curves right — will put you in the rough with little or no chance to reach the green in two. The second shot is the real killer, though. Most players will be hitting a hybrid or even a fairway wood to carry the ravine and the creek in front of the green. It’s essential to fly the ball the full distance, too, since anything short will roll back into disaster. Hit your approach too far, though, and you’ll be in for a probable three-putt (or worse) since the green is steeply canted back to front.
• Pelham Manor • Hole 10 • 131 yards • par 3
A cursory glance at the scorecard of our Dream 18 might leave the impression that this little one-shot hole is an easy par, but nothing could be further from the truth. While the green looks like an easy target just a wedge or so away from the tee, don’t lose control of either your direction or your distance. Any shot that lands within a few yards of the edge of the green will roll off the putting surface and into either a bunker or some gnarly rough. But you can’t just aim for the center and play for an easy two-putt, either. The green has a couple of distinct ridges that make lag putting a real test of nerves.
Westchester Hills GC
• White Plains • Hole 6 • 529 yards • par 5
Do you believe in your swing? If you have faith in yourself and hit a solid drive anywhere in the fairway, this classic risk-and-reward par five gives you the chance to bomb your second shot over the water and onto the green into eagle territory. Your drive is blind, but straight is good, so swing away. Assuming you’re in the fairway, plan to hit your second shot straight as well as long to stay out of the fescue rough along the left side of the hole and the creek that runs along the right. The water in front of the green is self-explanatory. Actually, laying up to the water and making a birdie with your wedge and a one-putt isn’t a bad strategy, either.
• New Rochelle • Hole 18 • 422 yards • par 4
What makes a good finishing hole? To me, it should be a difficult par but not an impossible birdie hole, one where a match leader has to think twice before settling for par against a charging contender. That’s the 18th hole at Wykagyl, which offers anyone who hits two strong, straight shots a birdie putt. Anything less, though, and a big number can hit the scorecard, as can be attested by LPGA legend Annika Sorenstam, who needed three approach attempts to hold a shot on the steeply elevated green in the 2006 Sybase Classic. On the opposite side of the question, the elevated green presents another challenge — one experienced by Westchester/Hudson Valley Publisher Ralph Martinelli. The green’s surface is blind from the fairway, so you can’t see your ball go into the hole for an eagle. •
The Player’s Panel Does the Work
We chose the Dream 18 through an arduous process of polling area club professionals, playing 558 holes on 31 courses, and debating endlessly over which ones were the “best.” In fact, we spent a great deal of time arguing about what “best” means, much less how the term applies to a golf hole. Our panel of players included Casey Egan, White Plains; Ken Nilsen, Mount Kisco; Thomas Ralph, Pelham; Alan Kalter, Stamford; Ned Branthover, Bronxville; Ralph Wimbish, Mount Vernon; Robert Westenberg, Bedford; Mark Maznio, Somers; Craig Burrows, Yonkers; Joe Miressi, New Rochelle; Dan Berger, Rye Brook; John Zanzarella, Ossining; Bruce Schoenberg, Hastings. Westchester/Hudson Valley Publisher Ralph A. Martinelli led the group on many rounds, although not as many as he would have liked.
A Bonus Nine
Westchester golfers are blessed with so many great courses, it’s almost impossible to choose just 18 exemplary holes. Just in case you didn’t get your fill when “playing” the Dream 18, here’s a third nine to enjoy if you get the chance.
Hollow Brook GC
• Cortlandt Manor • Hole #11
• 420 yards • par 4
The number-one handicap hole on the course requires a daunting drive over water followed by a long second threaded between bunkers and hazards on both sides of the fairway.
• North Salem • Hole #13
• 407 yards • par 4
Wayward tee shots will find trees left and water right, but even players who drive right down the middle will be faced by a blind uphill second shot that must carry stair-stepped bunkers to reach the green.
• Eastchester • Hole #9
• 181 yards • par 3
One of the prettiest holes in Westchester, with a treacherously sloping green guarded by a ring of bunkers on three sides and water in the front.
• Bronxville • Hole #18
• 532 yards • par 5
Jim Barnes won the first PGA Championship with a par on this hole in 1916.
• Armonk • Hole #8
• 216 yards • par 3
Two large bunkers lie short and left of this excellent and long uphill one-shotter.
• Waccabuc • Hole #18
• 412 yards • par 4
Long-ball hitters will have a big advantage on this hole — although they’ll have a downhill lie for their second shot over the pond and bunkers in front of the green.
Bonnie Briar CC
• Larchmont • Hole #6
• 403 yards • par 4
Control off the tee is essential to keep from driving into the water left, bunkers right, or through the fairway straightaway.
Willow Ridge CC
• Harrison • Hole #12
• 537 yards • par 5
The tee shot is downhill and the fairway is invitingly wide, but don’t be too quick to go for the green in two. There’s a creek just a couple of steps in front of the green.
• Elmsford • Hole #18
• 433 yards • par 4
This is one of the classic finishing holes in Westchester, with a tough uphill second shot over water.
Yardage Course Hole Par
1 443 Hudson National #18 4
2 447 Westchester CC West #2 4
3 568 Saint Andrew’s #9 5
4 190 Winged Foot West #10 3
5 430 Century #6 4
6 301 Fenway #15 4
7 208 Trump National #13 3
8 579 GlenArbor #12 5
9 426 Metropolis #14 4
Out 3,592 36
10 551 Whippoorwill #16 5
11 441 Old Oaks #8 4
12 155 Sleepy Hollow #16 3
13 425 Anglebrook #1 4
14 434 Quaker Ridge #6 4
15 446 Apawamis #14 4
16 131 Pelham #10 3
17 529 Westchester Hills #6 5
18 422 Wykagyl #18 4
In 3,534 36
Total 7,126 72
Captions: Sleepy Hollow Country Club Hole 16
Winged Foot Golf Club West Course Hole 10
Trump National Golf Club Westchester Hole 13
The Saint Andrew’s Golf Club Hole 9
Century Country Club Hole 6
Old Oaks Country Club Hole 8
The Apawamis Club Hole 14
PelhamCountry Club Hole 10
Wykagyl Country Club Hole 18