Pawling, NY; www.quakerhillcc.com
• 6,010 yards • Par 70
Many clubhouses in the Hudson Valley are blessed with fascinating artifacts from the early days of the game. Only one, however, can boast a fragment of limestone from the palace of Sargon II dating to 700 BC; a tilefrom Jamestown, the first English settlement in Virginia; and a stone from the Peary Monument that stands 1,500 feet above the Polar Sea in Greenland. These are just a few of the wonders built into the fireplace of the Quaker Hill Country Club, founded by adventurer, traveler, broadcaster, and bon vivant Lowell Thomas in 1940.
Thomas was also an avid golfer, so he brought his friend Robert Trent Jones, Sr., to the fertile farmland of Dutchess County to lay out a nine hole course on top of a plateau where the views never end. Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen, and Jimmy Demaret were among Thomas’ friends who played the course, as were New York Governors Thomas Dewey and Nelson Rockefeller. So was Babe Ruth, who is pictured in a clubhouse montage arriving on a motorcycle.
The course continues to challenge golfers today with tiny undulating greens and two full sets of tee boxes that allow for a complete 18-hole round without repetition. Even though you cover the same ground twice, you never play a hole the same way due to vastly different shot angles introduced by the distinct tee boxes. Even the par threes aren’t just longer or shorter — the fourth/13th hole, for example, makes you approach the green from two completely different directions. The number one handicap hole, the 403-yard par-four fifth, becomes a short but treacherous 455-yard par-five the second time around as the back-nine tee box brings out of bounds into play on the hole.
Probably the most striking thing about Quaker Hill, though, isn’t the 19th-century barn converted into a clubhouse and museum full of history, or even the delightful and perfectly maintained golf course. It’s the casual, friendly atmosphere of a small family club without pretensions.
» Next country club: Manhattan Woods Golf Club, West Nyack, NY
Manhattan Woods Golf Club, Hole 7
Photograph by Jim Krajicek
West Nyack, NY; www.manhattanwoodsgc.com
• 7,109 yards • Par 72
Rolling hills, protected wetlands, and devilish greens are the hallmarks of Manhattan Woods, although a view of the eponymous skyline to the south helps define the club as one of the metropolitan area’s finest golf experiences.
Gary Player designed the course, which opened in 1998. He carefully fit 18 holes into the wooded terrain, squeezing fairways between marshy wetlands and hillsides covered with knee-deep fescue while carving bunkers into the most challenging places. Five sets of tees stretch it from 5,090 yards to a championship-caliber 7,109. Choose your launching pad carefully. From the blues it’s less than 6,400 yards, but the course rating is a hefty 72.2 with a 141 slope.
You’ll also want to look before you leap on several holes, since many of the natural features can suggest strategies that aren’t wise. 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. On the other hand, sometimes there really is trouble everywhere you look, like on the 13th hole, a short (508 yard) par five where the bunker that lies between your second shot and glory is every bit as menacing as it appears. And the oh-so-innocent-looking par three seventh hole, just 168 yards downhill, can make club selection a nightmare when the wind is whirling and swirling around. Miss that green in any direction, and a five or six is entirely possible.
The Manhattan Woods greens are among the most difficult in the Hudson Valley. Not only are they strongly contoured, they have exceptionally pronounced grain that add an entirely new dimension to reading breaks. If you are trying to putt cross-grain your ball will break more or less than you think, while going down-grain is like rolling your pill on the hood of a Mercedes. You can’t rely on your eyes, either. If your caddie says your putt breaks uphill, believe him—he’s reading the grain.
Another thing you’ll notice the first time you play Manhattan Woods is what happens when your ball finds the hole. You won’t hear the usual satisfying rattle that comes when you hole out, but rather a distinctive “ping” that comes from the unique cups designed to let your playing partners know you didn’t give yourself that little two-footer while they had their backs turned.
» Next country club: The Sedgewood Club, Kent Lakes, NY
The Sedgewood Club, Hole 9
Kent Lakes, NY; www.thesedgewoodclub.com
• 6,010 yards • Par 70
When you cross the rustic wooden bridge that brings you into Sedgewood it’s like entering another place and time. Hidden among 1,200 acres of protected woodlands is a community of getaway homes, spring-fed lakes plied by quiet fishing boats, Tilden-era red-clay tennis courts, and an 80-year-old golf course that’s still fun and funky.
Because the golf course is laid out on the hills above a lake, there are plenty of twists and turns, elevation changes and sloping, slanting fairways and greens to contend with. The first hole, for example, is a short but severe dogleg left. The second climbs relentlessly uphill, so you can be faced with a blind second shot into the tiny green if you’re a little short off the tee. The tee box for the 453-yard par-four fourth hole sits high, offering beautiful vistas of the surrounding country. At 267 yards downhill, the sixth hole is eminently driveable — as long as your tee shot is laser guided. You’ll be teeing off through a narrow chute of trees even the slightest fade will put you in a place you don’t want to be.
The course is just perfect as a nine-holer, although two sets of tees change the lengths and, in some cases, the shot values for several holes, making an 18-hole round possible if you absolutely must. For a quick, challenging game, though, it’s hard to beat a good nine-hole layout like this one.
» Next country club: Otterkill Golf & Country Club, Campbell Hall, NY
Otterkill Golf and Country Club, Hole 17
Campbell Hall, NY; www.otterkillcountryclub.com
• 6,860 yards • Par 72
Looking for a Hudson Valley golf challenge? Try Otterkill. It’s long, it’s tough, and it’s got more trouble than just about any two courses you can name.
“You’ll use every club in your bag,” says head professional John Schmoll. “Fifteen through 18 are known as ‘Amen Corner’ around here, and if you can get around there in par, you’re definitely beating the golf course and your competition.” Water, mostly from Otterkill, the creek from which the club gets its name, comes into play on 12 holes, while strategically spotted fairway bunkers, demanding carries off several tees, and large, undulating greens add to the fun. Just to make things more interesting, landing areas on several fairways are less than 20 yards wide.
The number one handicap hole is the 438-yard par-four fifth, which demands both length and accuracy off the tee, since the fairway turns a full 90 degrees left. Assuming you make the dogleg from the tee, you’re faced with an approach over water to a sharply contoured green. The hardest hole for many players on the front nine, though, is the 196-yard third hole, a par three that plays at least one club — maybe two — uphill. The odds of short-siding yourself are tremendous, too, since the green runs away on three sides.
The real heartbreakers at Otterkill are the last four holes. Fifteen is a dogleg right par-four. Your approach has to avoid water right and short, sand on both sides of the green, and even out of bounds near the green (one of the largest on the course) so you should double-check the pin position before you fire. Sixteen is a short (324 yard) but nasty par four with water, water everywhere. During the 2008 MGA Ike qualifying tournament, it played as the hardest hole on the course.
Seventeen looks like an easy par three at only 189 yards, but short is wet, left leaves an impossible up and down, and even getting on the severely sloped green in one shot doesn’t guarantee a two-putt par. Your tee shot on the closing hole, a 412-yard par four, is key to making par. It’s easy to drive into the trees on the right, but don’t even think of trying to cut the left corner unless you brought your scuba gear.