The Beginning and End of Westchester Golf
Westchester Country Club West Course, Hole 1
Opening and closing holes play a special place in every round of golf. The first hole on the course either raises your expectations or dashes your hopes for the rest of your round, while the last one can bring tears of joy or wails of despair. We chose nine each of the most interesting 1st and 18th holes in Westchester, creating a unique composite course that measures 7,368 yards and would play to par 73 if it existed anywhere other than in our imagination.
Ardsley • 362 yards • Par 4
One of the most distinctive opening holes in Westchester, if not the Western world, this short but surprisingly difficult charmer typically befuddles the golfer who encounters it for the first time. “Put the driver away,” your caddie will say. “Don’t hit anything over 180 yards.” It’s advice well taken; the picturesque pond at the end of the fairway begins about 200 yards away, in a blind spot you can’t see from the radically elevated tee box. Assuming your tee shot stays dry, you’re then faced with a short iron or wedge over the pond to the small green protected by water on the right and bunkers on the left.
Lincolndale • 425 yards • Par 4
Robert Trent Jones Sr., clearly demonstrated his mantra of “hard par and easy bogey” when he created the 1st hole on this, his last design. Regardless of philosophy, it may be the toughest opening hole in the county. Two perfect shots — like a 260-yard drive and a high-trajectory 165-yard mid-iron — will give you a possible two-putt par assuming the drive stays out of the fairway bunker on the right and the approach carries the bunkers in front and lands somewhere within shouting distance of the cup on the 12,000 sq ft green. A safer play for the second shot is to the alley in front of the right side of the green, which sets up a short pitch or running chip to score a possible one-putt par or pretty much assure a two-putt bogey.
Purchase • 444 yards • Par 4
What used to be a good opening hole has become a great one with the renovation at Century CC this winter. As part of the club’s two-year renovation, architect Keith Foster made one major change and a few minor ones on the hole that simultaneously make it tougher for the big hitter and a little more manageable for the rest of us. The big change was moving the fairway bunker from the right rough to the left and expanding it, taking it out of the landing area for the slice-afflicted player while bringing it perfectly into place for the aggressive golfer trying to play a slight draw. Both players will face the newly collarless green complex, which gives many more short-game options.
Scarsdale • 285 yards • Par 4
Why begin your round with a par when you can launch it with a birdie? On this hole, you could also sink it with a double bogey or worse, which is the risk/reward decision you have to make on the first tee at Fenway. The front of the green is so temptingly close at about 270 yards that even an eagle is within the realm of possibility, as long as you avoid the acres of sand surrounding the heavily contoured green. You could, of course, make that birdie the easy way — with a layup off the tee and a wedge to kick-in distance.
White Plains • 523 yards • Par 5
Not every opening hole has to kill you to be fun, as evidenced by the 1st hole at Metropolis, a medium-length downhill par 5 that rewards a long drive hugging the left side of the fairway with a reasonable chance of reaching the newly structured green in two. Even a drive that dribbles into the right rough can yield a par to the player who lays up conservatively left of the green and pitches on in three.
Scarsdale • 510 yards • Par 5
A well-struck drive will be rewarded with a chance to reach this difficult green in two, but beware the fairway bunker on the right side, which will make a par difficult to achieve. Even with a good drive, think long and hard before challenging the bunker 60 yards in front of the green, since an up-and-down from there is highly improbable. The biggest danger, though, is the green itself, which slopes severely from back to front.
Rye • 300 yards • Par 4
Few first holes win or lose a tournament, but the opener on the West Course at Westchester CC did in 1987 (even though it played as the 10th hole for the tournament). It happened during a playoff in the Westchester Classic Championship between JC Snead and Seve Ballesteros when the flamboyant Spaniard decided to drive the green and blow his competitor away. Unfortunately for Seve, his tee shot sailed left and bounded down the hill, where even he couldn’t work his storied magic for an up-and-down. Snead took all the risk out of his tee shot by laying up to his preferred wedge distance, pitched on and took home the trophy.
Armonk • 374 yards • Par 4
The 1st hole at Whippoorwill is sneaky mean. It’s a gentle dogleg that pleads for you to drive over the bunker on the right. Watch out, though: It’s farther away than it looks and takes a 260-yard poke to carry it. To play the hole well and start your round on a positive note, aim to the left side of the fairway to compensate for the strong slope to the right. The green is large but has a bewildering number of curves and typically plays very, very quick, so plan your approach with care.
Harrison • 445 yards • Par 4
Willow Ridge is most often noted for its strong 9th and 18th holes, but the 1st hole has challenges of its own. The tee shot needs to go toward the left side of the dogleg fairway to keep from fading or rolling into the rough on the right. Even from the center of the fairway, you’re faced with a downhill approach to a green that’s strongly sloped back to front, so proper club selection is essential to stay below the hole for a chance to kick off your round with a birdie.
Croton • 460 yards • Par 4
Navigating the closing hole at Hudson National is like walking an alligator on a leash: If you don’t pay attention, it’s going to bite you. The problem is, with the spectacular views of the Hudson River from the tee box, it’s hard to keep focused on the job at hand. The fairway is long and narrow, with trouble on both sides. Your second shot plays at least 15 yards longer uphill than you think, and the green, which looks wide and inviting from the fairway, is excruciatingly shallow and well-bunkered.
Elmsford • 473 yards • Par 4
Always one of the finest finishing holes in the county, the 18th at Knollwood has really come into its own since the tee box was moved back to bring the lateral hazard on the right side more into play as part of the club’s extensive course restoration. The best strategy is to challenge the edges of that hazard, though, to give yourself a shorter approach shot over the water to the elevated green. The restoration greatly improved the hole’s aesthetics, too, through the removal of overgrowth inside the hazard.
Eastchester • 418 yards • Par 4
Renovation of the closing hole at Leewood was a classic ugly-duckling story. The hole was often charitably termed an afterthought until the club redid it as part of the course redesign a couple of years ago. Now, after your drive to the top of the hill, you’re faced with a creek on the right side of the green and a bunker left, making the hole’s second shot one of the most challenging anywhere. Behind the moderately sized green is thick fescue, so scrambling for a par from there generally doesn’t work very well. Take heart, though: The approach is a hard shot but not impossible, since there’s a convenient landing area in front of the green.
Pelham • 175 yards • Par 3
Par 3 holes aren’t generally considered good closing holes, but the recently updated one-shot masterpiece at Pelham is the exception that proves the rule. The hole’s constantly changing profile is what sets it apart. Depending on the wind speed, direction, and placement of the pin on the huge green on any given day, your tee shot can be played with any club from a hybrid to a wedge. Water is strongly in play in front of the green and on the left, while a major-league bunker guards the right.
Hastings • 421 yards • Par 4
Your approach to the green makes or breaks your score on the final hole (and most others) at St. Andrew’s. It’s an exciting finish, too, because there’s no conservatively safe way to play it. The fairway is invitingly wide off the tee, but the green is elevated and protected by deep, deep bunkers across the left front. When the cup is behind them, avoiding the bunkers by aiming to the right side will at best leave you with an impossible lag putt up and over the ridge that bisects the green front to back.
Scarborough • 426 yards • Par 4
Perhaps the most intimidating part of the uphill finisher at Sleepy Hollow is the prospect of ending your round under the bemused eyes of the gallery that always seems to congregate on the terrace overlooking the green. If you keep your mind on your approach, though, play to the left side of the green (to avoid the nasty bunkers on the right) and take an extra club (to compensate for the elevation change), you should be able to close out your round with a par and a sigh of relief before you join the gang on the terrace to watch the next group play the hole.
Scarsdale • 475 yards • Par 4
Head pro Chris Toulson believes the new 18th hole at Sunningdale is the hardest finishing hole in Westchester — and he may well be right. “It’s a doozie,” he says. “You drive out of a chute of trees to a fairway that’s slightly uphill and generally plays into the wind. There are two fairway bunkers strategically placed and a small, crowned green that’s bunkered on the right side and behind. Left of the green is a tightly mown chipping area.” The entirely new hole is a fitting exclamation point to a multiyear course renovation by Mike DeVries completed this past winter.
Mamaroneck • 430 yards • Par 4
We all remember Phil Mickelson’s disaster on the 18th hole in the 2006 US Open, but that was far from the first time this Winged Foot hole played a role in history. Bobby Jones put the finishing hole on the front pages in 1929 when he sank a nerve-wracking putt to save his round and force a 36-hole playoff (which he won the next day) in the Open that year. While Mickelson’s encounter with an inconvenient tree branch led to his ultimate downfall, the green is really the big story here. It is 34 yards deep, but the first eight yards are a Sisyphean hazard to be avoided at all costs.
New Rochelle • 422 yards • Par 4
The fairway on the final hole at Wykagyl may be the widest one on the course, but water trouble lurks surprisingly close to both edges of it. The real challenge, though, comes with the second shot, which is played to an elevated green with a ski slope in front of it that will send a short shot sliding back about 50 yards into the fairway. On the other hand, if you play too much club and end up above the cup on the steeply sloped green, you have an entirely different challenge to overcome.