Every golfer has a favorite hole on his or her home course. It may be the one where they sank that clutch putt to win the club championship, or the par 3 where they made their one and only hole-in-one. Sometimes it’s the hole with that great view of the Hudson, or maybe it’s where the azaleas light up the landscape every spring. Regardless of the reason, we all have our personal favorites, which is really what makes our annual compilation of the “best” holes in Westchester so much fun.
This year, we asked the head pros of all the clubs in the county to identify their favorites on their home course. Some chose the signature hole—a few the most challenging. Most of them, though, picked favorite holes for the same reasons you and I do: because they enjoy playing them. They picked holes with multiple strategic choices and demanding approach shots, but very few of them picked the hardest holes on their course. A surprising number made their choice based on the natural beauty of the hole and its setting, which should serve as a reminder to us all to stop and smell the roses while we’re hacking away at par. If the pros were to put together a course, here’s what it would look like.
Ben Hoffhine: “The fifth hole requires not only an accurate but a strategic tee shot, because you have to be on the left side of the fairway for your best shot into the green. It’s also the hardest approach shot we have into any of the par 4s on our golf course. It’s a very narrow green from front to back, especially if the pin is on the right side of the green where you have to carry the bunker to get to it. If you hit a little long, you’re on the hill behind, which makes it very difficult. It’s also a very picturesque hole because the tee is elevated, and you get to look at the stream that runs parallel to the fairway and then across it. The view from the fairway to the green is also great, with the fescue on the hillside behind the green. Depending on the wind conditions, longer players will hit something other than a driver—because you have to keep it short of the creek—but you still have to be long enough to leave a lofted iron into the green. It’s the widest fairway on the course, but may play as the narrowest because the desirable landing area is so small.”
Nelson Long: “Our sixth hole sets so perfectly into the land-scape it looks like it just grew there. You don’t really need any direction on where to hit your ball since everything is right there in front of you. You can see the fairway bending a little left off the tee, so you know it would be good to hit a bit of a draw. You see the trees on the left, though, so you know you shouldn’t get too aggressive. Then you see the green perched on the hillside with bunkers down below on the left, so you know to hit your approach to the right side of the green. It just fits your eye.”
Carey Stephan: “It’s one of the prettier holes here, which is saying a lot since we have so many of them. Not only is it a great view from the tee, with water on the left and right, but it also has that risk and reward for a long hitter. The creek meanders all along the right-hand side, and it’s well bunkered, so it’s challenging even if you’re not going for the green. You can get on in two, but you have to navigate the pond and stream. It’s entirely possible to make anywhere from a three to an eight—or worse.”
Rick Vershure: “Every great course that has great par 3s has a little one. Ours is number nine. It’s a little bitty hole and our tiniest green. It’s almost Redan-ish in that it slopes from right to left, and the ball will release from right to left in every instance. There are four really spectacular pin positions on that green. If you miss it long and right, you’re working to make bogey. The back center pin is the most difficult. In the Hochster every year, the guys will stand on the tee and see the yardage number then try to hit it. But if you’re above the hole or to the right, you almost can’t two-putt it. The guys who’ve played in the tournament before will play short and left of the flag. We have four par-3s and they’re all different clubs at 164, 185, 201, and 234—and they all face in different directions. Number nine is a little hole, but you can lose your lunch on it.”
Dean Johnson: “Eighteen has gone through a major transformation. It may now be one of the strongest holes on the course. In all my years playing in the Met Section, it’s definitely now one of the best finishing holes I’ve played. You have a shot coming into the green that has a creek down the right, and the green feeds down to the water. We put a trap left. If you aim right you’re pointed at trouble, and if you pull your shot left you’re going right at the bunker. We have tall fescue behind the green, so a little bit long and you’re in trouble there. It’s very hard but very fair. For the average player who hits a drive 210 yards, you’ll have 180 yards in there. There’s ample landing area in front of the green, and it’s a little bit bigger than most of the greens here at Leewood—but it’s your finishing hole, so you don’t want to end with anything worse than a par. That will put some butterflies in your gut.”
Mike Gilmore: “Even the pros rarely play from the back tees on the third hole because it’s such a severe shot. The narrow opening to the green gives it a visually intimidating view no matter which tee you’re using. And you should be intimidated! If you don’t hit the green, your chances of getting up and down are nil. If you land in one of the bunkers on either side of the green you’ve got a problem, because the green runs away from both of them. Even if you hit the green from the tee, it’s not an easy two-putt.”
Jim Bender: “I’ve always warned members and their guests that this hole plays harder than it looks. You can get in trouble off the tee, although that’s not the real challenge. The toughest shot is the approach to the green. It’s uphill all the way, and the green itself is elevated with a false front—just to make it more important to use enough club.”
Craig Thomas: “You might be surprised, but I like the 17th hole. It shows that there’s more to this game than length. It’s certainly not long, but it’s an interesting hole that puts a premium on accuracy. Your tee shot has to be straight, and you have to hit your second shot on the nose or you’re going to get in trouble. The green is elevated and small, almost like an island surrounded by bunkers and grass swales, so you really have to float your ball into it.”
Jim Wahl: “Par on this hole is harder than you think. Even a long, straight drive off the tee will leave you with an uphill approach with cross bunkers in play on the second shot and a really tough green for the third. Even a short chip or little pitch into the green can cause problems because the green is highly contoured and can be very fast, since it’s perched up high where the wind can keep it dry and slick.”
Theron Harvey: “Our 18th is simply the best golf hole I’ve ever played. It’s aesthetically perfect. The views of the Hudson River from the tee are spectacular, then you turn around and you’re faced with a long, narrow fairway with trouble on both sides. The second shot is a long iron or more. It plays at least 15 yards longer than you think, and it’s into a wide but shallow green.”
John Kennedy: “I enjoy our 13th hole because it has both challenge and beauty. You have a forced carry—depending on which tee you’re playing—of from 160 to 190 yards, but the fescue on the side of the hill lends a touch of visual appeal. Then you’re approaching a green that’s elevated and slopes from back to front like all our greens. The green is also outlined against the sky. It’s a great combination of beauty and challenge.”
Rob Davis: “I think this hole has tremendous potential. It may not be perfect, but it is a challenge to both the average and the better player. Most players can reach the ‘go for it’ zone off the tee, but then they have to decide whether to challenge the bunkers around the green. If you go for it, your shot has to land soft, because the green slopes away from the fairway. The 16th also has the best views on the course. From the tee, you can see much of the course as well as the rolling hills into the distance.”
Brian Crowell: “The aesthetics of this hole are fabulous. I love the water setting, the wild flowers all around—and the Swilcan Burn Bridge replica gives it a wonderful look. The hole also gives you a lot of risk-and-reward opportunity. Depending on the wind and the pin placement, it can be a really, really tough short hole. It’s rare to have to deal with water and sand all at once. I especially like the far left pin placement where, from the tee box, it looks like the pin is almost in the water.”
Bobby Heins: “It’s a good par 4. It’s got enough length, and the green sets nicely in relation to the hole. It’s the kind of hole you can play a lot of different ways. Where you drive it determines how you play it, because there are challenges from each side of the fairway. The longer second shot can be tough, but the shorter one has issues too because of the way the green is pitched. If you spin the ball too much, it can hurt. If you hit the green it’s a tough putt, and if you miss the green it’s a big challenge. The hole really gets to a lot of people.”
David Young: “I like the 18th hole. Between the strength of the hole and the view of the clubhouse in the background, it’s special. It’s hard, especially from the back tee. There’s plenty of trouble around the green, and the green itself is challenging, too. For the longer hitters, the tee shot gets harder the farther you hit it because the fairway slopes more to the right the closer you get to the green, and the trees get involved in the second shot.”
Charlie Poole: “Just about every shot on the 13th hole is intimidating. The tee shot certainly is. It’s downhill, but there are hazards on both sides of the fairway. Then you have to hit a really strong second shot. The approach is hard for even the best players. The green is difficult, too. The hole just never lets up.”
Josh Lowney: “This hole may measure 216, but it plays more like 240 because it’s uphill and the green is elevated. There’s water in front of you, so it’s visually intimidating, too. The water shouldn’t be in play, but there are thousands of balls in it. Even though it plays long, the hole requires accuracy off the tee because of the deep bunkers and trees around the green. The green has two tiers and is heavily undulating, so even when you get there, you’re not home yet. The hole averages well over four strokes throughout the year.
Grant Turner: “Eighteen is our most famous and certainly most difficult par 5, but my personal favorite is number four—the first of our back-to-back par 5s on the front side. With a good drive with a little draw, there’s always a chance you can reach it in two. The green has some really great pin positions, too, so there is a lot of challenge.”