Ask three golfers what makes the best golf hole, and you’ll get at least six answers. One wants a difficult challenge that’s fair. Another a scenic view with birdie potential. The third is going to say the best golf hole rewards well-executed shots while punishing bad ones, plus offers some visual razzle-dazzle without being too tricked up with gimmicks and gimcracks. In other words, “best,” like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
In an effort to find out what our golfers’ eyes like to see, we asked the head pros and players of Westchester’s courses to identify their favorite golf holes this year without giving them any specific criteria. Then we took our panel of players to the courses to check out their choices for ourselves. The result is this composite course of the best golf holes in Westchester, a track that’s 7,219 yards long and plays to par 71.
It’s a fantasy course made up of 18 distinctive holes, each of which offers its own version of “best.” Some are tough and long, others are short and tricky, many are visually stunning, mentally exhilarating, and physically challenging. They all meet our definition of “best” as defined in our scorecard.
Executive VP Dan Scavino putts out at Trump National #10
375 Yards, Par 4
The fantasy fairways course starts with what looks like an easy, short par 4, and that’s exactly what it is — as long as you don’t get greedy. The hole plays downhill, so you don’t need anything more than a hybrid or even a mid-iron to your preferred wedge distance. Go for more and you’ll end up in one of the new waterfalls that grace the valley in front of the green. That’s where your ball will go, too, if your approach shot is a yard or two short of the putting surface. What really protects par on this hole, though, are the multiple contours on the green, not to mention the strong break toward the valley that affects every putt.
384 Yards, Par 4
You might put your driver away on this hole, but don’t relax, because the ninth hole at Anglebrook simply cannot be taken for granted. It’s a prime example of designer Robert Trent Jones, Sr.’s talent for testing direction and distance control while rewarding two perfectly-struck shots, a theme on most of the holes on one of Westchester’s best but most-often-overlooked courses. Even the straightest of long hitters will need to dial back from the tee because anything hit over 250 yards will disappear into the 50-yard-wide abyss at the end of the fairway. It’s a good idea to bite off 240 yards if you can, though, because you’ll want to hit as lofted a club as possible into the severe green on the other side of the environmentally protected waste area. Distance control matters going into the green, too, since putting from above the hole is much like trying to guide a steel ball bearing down on the roof of the Chrysler Building into a coffee cup on the sidewalk below.
194 Yards, Par 3
There are some who argue — quite justifiably — that A.W. Tillinghast’s true genius is displayed in his one-shot holes. This gem on the East Course at Winged Foot is an example of the man’s work at its best. The mid-length hole plays uphill to a small green nestled against a colorfully landscaped hillside, the putting surface unseen from the tee box. It’s one of the smallest greens on either the East or the West Course and, while you may not be able to spot the cup from the tee, you have a great view of all four very, very serious bunkers — two left, one right, and a huge one behind. You’ll want to take your time lining up your putt; the green may be small, but it is full of not-so-subtle breaks exaggerated by the slope of the hillside.
451 Yards, Par 4
Nelson Long, head professional at Century, has an easy manner of speaking that makes every hole sound like a piece of cake. “Just stay out of the bunker on the right,” he drawls when asked about how to play the demanding fifth hole at the club. “Then keep your approach shot to the left side of the green because it all slopes to the right.” He’s correct, of course, but it’s never quite as easy as Long makes it sound. The target from the tee is a beautiful maple tree on the far edge of the fairway over the hill. Anything to the right of that is good (as long as it’s in the short grass), but a drive to the left will leave a long, tricky approach. The second shot plays downhill, but don’t count on running your approach onto the green; there’s a slight swale in front that will leave you short.
521 Yards, Par 5
This double dogleg is a thinking man’s hole, according to GlenArbor Director of Golf Rob Labritz, one of the more cerebral players in the Met PGA. There are choices to be made on almost every shot. The first choice comes on the tee: Do you favor the right side or the left side of the fairway? Too far right puts you behind trees and makes for a difficult second shot, while overcompensating to the left brings the lake into play. Assuming you avoid those problems by landing somewhere in the right half of the fairway, the second shot presents a classic risk-reward decision. Do you go for the green perched on the side of the hill and protected by a deep bunker complex or lay up to your ideal wedge distance and try to finesse a birdie? It will take some doing, since there is never an easy pin position on the wide but shallow green.
Head Golf Pro Steve Dougan hits his approach to Bedford Golf #14
438 Yards, Par 4
The first time I stood on the tee box for this hole, I groaned. The shot was uphill, you couldn’t see the landing area, and there was obvious trouble in the form of bunkers right and trees on both sides of that portion of the fairway you could see. The second time, though, I grinned with anticipation, knowing the reward that I would get if I could drive the ball straight and to the top of the hill. As my high school physics teacher pointed out, what goes up must come down—and so it is with the fairway on this medium-length par 4. The hill peaks at about 250 yards off the tee, so a good drive will catch the down-slope and run down to short-iron territory. You’ll need that help, though, because the elevated green is one of the most difficult on the course, with three tiers and a matching number of ridges running through it. There is also a sprawling bunker complex protecting the left front that you don’t want to challenge with a long-iron approach shot.
458 Yards, Par 4
It takes two mighty blows to reach Fenway’s number-one handicap hole, and even then there’s no assurance of a two-putt par. Every inch of the slight dogleg left plays uphill, so even a powerful poke off the tee will leave just about every player with a hybrid or even fairway-wood approach to the green sited with the classic clubhouse in the background. Tillighast gave the determined player hope, though, by providing an invitingly wide throat between the flanking bunkers so that it is possible to run the ball onto the green. Once you’re on the green, though, hope may be all that’s left unless you’re less than three feet from the cup and directly below the hole. The sharply canted green is one of the most treacherous in Westchester — if not the free world.
The green is about the size of Kansas at Hudson National’s hole #16
249 Yards, Par 3
The scenery beyond the hole makes it easy to lose track of your ball in flight after teeing off on this spectacular par three. The Hudson River gleams in the distance with Stony Point marking the far shore while your ball sails, hopefully, through the sky to fall on the green a long, long way down the hill. Actually, the green isn’t impossible to find — it’s about the size of Kansas — but it does take a solid shot to get there. Sprawling bunkers await those who under-estimate the distance to the green or (more likely) overestimate their own prowess. If you miss the green and somehow avoid the bunkers, ball-devouring, knee-high rough is your punishment, so wait until after your shot comes to Earth to savor the view.
539 Yards, Par 5
Aside from miracle chip-ins, there is basically only one way to birdie this long, uphill par 5. It all begins with the tee shot, which has to be a very long, perfectly controlled fade around the trees that block access to the right side of the fairway. If you can’t hit one 280 yards to right field, do yourself a favor and take a three- or even a five-wood off the tee so you don’t accidentally hit a dreaded straight ball through the fairway on the left. If your drive does land where it’s supposed to, you’re still nearly 260 yards from the green — again, all uphill. If anything, though, the fairway narrows and the hazards (water right, trees left) become more daunting than they were off the tee, so fire with care and leave yourself a third shot where you can hit a wedge with confidence. You’ll need it to navigate the newly toughened bunkers guarding the deep two-tiered green.
Carol Moskowitz tees off at Quaker Ridge #6
446 Yards, Par 4
Playing the opening hole on the fantasy fairways back nine at par or better requires some imagination, as players across the generations have discovered. Quaker Ridge’s sixth hole has challenged nearly every champion of the sport, from Harry Vardon to Byron Nelson to Jack Nicklaus, as well as the players in the 1997 Walker Cup. They’ve all discovered what club members have known for years: you first have to imagine the best route to the green because from the tee you can’t see it hidden far, far away around a gentle dogleg. Many players also imagine they can cut the corner on the right, but only those capable of a 300-yard carry should even try. If they do, it better be straight as a string, because any fade will drop the bomb into punishing rough on a hillside lie and a drive with more than a slight draw will end up through the fairway or worse, in the lateral hazard along the left-hand side. Even if you drive the ball to the perfect spot on the right half of the fairway, your approach must be just as accurate; the classically bunkered green makes no allowances for sloppy play.
Westchester Hills #15
425 Yards, Par 4
Few shots in golf are as dramatic as a drive that soars off the tee on a long downhill par four like the fifteenth hole at Westchester Hills. The fairway offers a generous landing area, too, although any ball that strays off the short grass will be blocked by trees. The second shot is to a tiny green nestled against a granite outcropping and surrounded by lushly landscaped flower beds and bushes that make the hole a treat to view as well as play.
Sleepy Hollow #16
158 Yards, Par 3
The sweeping vista of the Hudson River behind the green makes this one of the most photographed holes in Westchester, but all those pictures need to be reshot now that Sleepy Hollow has restored the hole to its original design. “We really didn’t touch the green surface at all,” Head Professional David Young says. “It was all the bunkering. C.B. McDonald’s original design had the moat of bunkers surrounding the green.” Today that newly constructed moat visually defines the hole while waiting in all its retro glory to turn wayward tee shots into bogeys or worse.
438 Yards, Par 4
So much has been written about the sixth hole at Metropolis that the deceptively challenging par 4 that follows it frequently is overlooked. The visual tricks begin on the tee, where you’re facing what appears to be a wide-open fairway, plagued only slightly by a bunker to the right and a heavily wooded hillside that couldn’t possibly come into play — or could it? And that creek on the left isn’t really in play either, is it? Assuming your drive is on the right half of the fairway (anything left will feed into the rough where trees will block the approach) and stays out of that pesky bunker, you’ll have an uphill approach over another bunker that appears to be greenside, but actually has a 35-yard landing area behind it. Just be sure to land your ball on the right side of the green, since everything moves hard left once it starts rolling.
425 Yards, Par 4
An altimeter rather than a tape measure might be the best way to measure the true distance on this tough dogleg left. The tee shot is uphill — and needs to draw to stay in the fairway — and the second shot is even more uphill. Even if you reach the green in regulation, danger awaits if the hole is cut anywhere close to the false front. More than one aggressive putter has watched his or her ball roll back down the hill so that the climb begins all over again.
248 Yards, Par 3
It’s tempting to think this monster par 3 plays shorter than the yardage because it’s downhill, but don’t fool yourself — it plays the full distance. Par requires accuracy, too, since there is a water hazard and out-of-bounds to the left and a devilish bunker on the right front. The green itself is huge — 44 yards deep — and has more curves than a contortionist at a sideshow audition, so two-putts are never guaranteed.
Salem Golf Club’s hole #14
595 Yards, Par 5
It’s a solid 350 yards to the hard left turn in the dogleg on this fascinating hole, so don’t even think about reaching the green in two unless you have a PGA Tour card and your name is Bubba. Just relax and pound one down the hill somewhere in the center of the nice wide fairway, then decide how daring you want to be for your second shot, which can be anything from a short iron over the trees to a hybrid hooked around them. The idea, according to Head Professional Charlie Poole, is to “make your birdie the old-fashioned way — with a wedge.” You’ll have to fly that wedge approach over the pond fronting the green, so choose your lay-up distance accordingly.
397 Yards, Par 4
Head Professional Ben Hoffhine says this short par 4 is no pushover. “It has the widest fairway on the course, but if you’re on the wrong half of it (the right), you can’t hit the green.” The narrow green is elevated about two clubs’ worth, too, and protected by deep bunkers that leave only a small throat on the left side as a target for your approach. Distance control is as important as line of flight on the second shot, since anything over the green will leave a downhill chip out of deep rough — a sure recipe for disaster.
Westchester Country Club West #17
471 Yards, Par 4
What better way to end the round than with a classic risk-and-reward hole where the reward for taking the proffered risk is a par? This 90-degree dogleg requires a 250-yard drive to leave a clear shot to the green although, if you can hit a high draw farther than that, it’s possible to clear the corner and leave yourself a mid-iron approach. While you’re contemplating whether to lay up to the water in front of the green and play for a safe bogey, take a moment to enjoy the view of the South Course on the other side of the lake. When it’s time for business, you’ll need a long iron or hybrid to reach the two-tier green protected not just by water but also by a pair of bunkers and an oak tree that encroaches from the left.
To come up with our “Fantasy Fairway,” we first surveyed all the PGA professionals at the area’s courses. We asked them to tell us which hole on their home course was their favorite and which one their members talked about most often (if it was different). We also asked them to nominate one hole on a course other than their own. The response was gratifying.
The next step in the selection process required much dedication and toil as our panel of players visited each hole nominated to see firsthand what made it special. Of course, you can’t just look at a golf hole and make an informed judgment; you have to play it. So we did. Among all the players on the panel, we researched more than 600 golf holes.
The panel was led by Westchester Magazine Publisher Ralph A. Martinelli, who somehow managed to play just about every course, despite having a demanding day job. In addition to Ralph and me, our panel included Phil Striano, Dobbs Ferry; Dr. Bob Flower, Bronxville; Thomas Ralph, Pelham; Alan Kalter, Stamford; Ned Branthover, Bronxville; Mike Martinelli, Yonkers; Ralph Wimbish, Mount Vernon; Robert Westenberg, Bedford; Mark Maznio, Somers; Craig Burrows, Yonkers; Joe Miressi, New Rochelle; Ryan Lake, Rye; and Tom Waurishuk, White Plains.