Despite the stereotype, golf hasn’t been a rich man’s game since former caddy Francis Ouimet won the U.S. Open in 1913. In fact, the National Golf Foundation reports that nearly four times as many rounds are played on public courses as on private ones every year. You may not be the next Francis Ouimet (who knows?), but here are a few of the many good daily-fee courses in Westchester and the Hudson Valley where you can enjoy the game.
Pound Ridge Golf Club
• 7,171 yards • par 72 • slope 146
• Greens fees: $100-$235
This club nearly erases the difference between the private club experience and playing a daily-fee layout. Course conditions are as fine as any you’re likely to encounter, the staff and management are both knowledgeable and welcoming, and the Pete Dye design yields as good a golf course as you’ll find anywhere.
Five sets of tees make the course playable by golfers of all levels; but regardless of the ones you choose, bring plenty of ammunition. Misses on the “Dye-abolical” course are punitive, with gnarly fescue; water; and deep, dark woods waiting to swallow errant balls. You need look no further than the second hole to find a prime example. The green on the 451-yard par four is protected by a pond that only the bravest of the brave (or the most foolhardy of the foolish) will challenge with their approach shot.
Aside from its difficulty, one of the outstanding features of the course is its great variety of holes. There’s the driveable par four fifth hole, which measures 287 yards. Then there’s the 548-yard ninth: an intimidating par five with a daunting carry off the tee followed by an approach that has to climb Mt. Dye to reach the putting surface. The 13th hole is notable for Pete’s Rock, a house-size boulder which sits between the tee box and the fairway, although the hole should also be known for the red stakes that line the left side of the fairway on the 480-yard par five. More rock comes into play on the 151-yard, par three 15th hole, where the 62-yard-wide green is backstopped by a massive outcropping.
Pound Ridge opened in 2008 with much comment about high greens fees. Since then, the fees have been moderated substantially, bringing the country club experience within the reach of just about everyone.
Casperkill Golf Club
• 6,690 yards • par 72 • slope 133
• Greens fees: $20-$65
Master golf architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr. used the natural contours of the Poughkeepsie landscape to create a fine variety of challenging golf holes. Magnificent oaks line the fairways while the rolling terrain and meandering Casperkill Creek add to the fun.
One of the sternest tests comes early in the round. The second hole is a moderate 416 yards on the scorecard but plays entirely uphill and — often — into the wind. The green is a tough one too, with two tiers to add to the hole’s difficulty.
Two of the best short par fours anywhere are the seventh and ninth holes, measuring 396 and 353 yards, respectively. The seventh has a pair of bunkers that squeeze the landing area; the fairway then dives steeply down to the creek at the bottom, just 30 yards in front of the green. The ninth looks like a pushover — until you realize you need a 250-yard drive to clear the dogleg, then a two-club boost to reach the radically elevated green. Just to keep you on your toes, three of the par threes on the course have water in play.
Apple Greens Golf Course
• 6,587 yards • par 71 • slope 131 (One/East)
• Greens fees: $46-$62
You’ve probably played mountain courses, links courses, desert courses, and parkland courses, but you haven’t completed your golf education until you’ve played an orchard course. The place to do that is Apple Greens, a fine 27-hole facility in Highland.
The holes literally were carved out of apple orchards in the Hudson Valley hills. Miss a fairway and you’re likely to find your ball among the thousands of fruit-laden trees still carefully tended in long, dense rows between holes. The course’s signature hole, the 10th, even features an apple-shaped green topped by leaf-styled bunkers.
But don’t let the potential harvest distract you from the golf at Apple Greens. The three nines are full of interesting, challenging holes that you can play in a variety of ways. Feeling aggressive? Take a driver off every tee and see if you can drive a green or two. Want to sharpen your course management skills? You can play an iron off many tees and have a fascinating round.
The pride of the complex is the East Course, which was added in 2004. As co-owner David Roehrs explains, “The first two nines were sort of natural. The third one we had to sculpt out of the landscape.” Great elevation changes on the course give you spectacular views of Skytop Tower at Mohonk as well as some attention-getting golf holes. The opener, #19 on the scorecard, calls for a 185-yard tee shot followed by a mountain-climbing second shot that’s at least two clubs longer than the yardage.
New York Country Club
New Hempstead, NY
• 6,719 yards • par 72 • slope 133
• Greens fees: $50-$100
Changes have swept through New York Country Club — all designed to make the semiprivate club a better golf experience for all players. New ownership spent much of last year improving already good conditions on the Stephen Kay-designed course, and opened it up for daily-fee play at quite reasonable rates.
The biggest change was flipping the nines, which resulted in a course better suited to challenging matches. The new first hole is a 550-yard par five, which offers birdie opportunities to moderately long hitters provided they keep the drive on the right side of the fairway. The finishing hole is now also a par five, 534 yards from the tips, with a sharply elevated green just begging for you to go for it in two.
Length off the tee isn’t everything. Distance control comes into play on several holes, too. The 10th hole is 310 yards downhill with a tight, rolling landing area that calls for a carefully placed iron shot off the tee. The 11th is 334 yards, but beware of a hidden bunker at the end of the fairway on the right waiting to swallow an overly aggressive drive.
Centennial Golf Club
• 7,133 yards • par 72 • slope 145 (Fairways/Lakes)
• Greens fees: $65-$135
One of the finest golfers in the metropolitan area calls Centennial home. She’s Nicole Morales, who, at the age of 14, was the youngest-ever winner of an adult MGA championship in 2010. Morales honed her game on Centennial’s demanding 27 holes and put the winning edge on it at the premier practice facility (which includes six putting greens, five separate chipping and bunker areas, and a double-ended driving range with both grass and artificial turf).
The three nines at Centennial require both length and accuracy. Architect Larry Nelson stretched each one to more than 3,500 yards, making any combination of 18 holes into a tour-length test with course ratings as high as 74.0 on the Fairways/Lakes duo. The 453-yard third hole on the Fairways Nine is a good example of the kinds of challenges you’ll face. It demands a long drive to the right side of the fairway followed by a long iron or hybrid to the triple-tiered green. Don’t plan on rolling it onto the green, either, since the hole is protected by a wicked bunker. The Meadows Nine isn’t to be overlooked. It opens with the longest hole at the complex, a 618-yard monster dotted with perfectly placed bunkers.
Patriot Hills Golf Club
Stony Point, NY
• 6,502 yards • par 71 • slope 136
• Greens fees: $40-$120
The first hole tells the story of this fascinating golf course — it’s all about elevation and bunkers. From the first tee, you hit into the sky and down into a valley, then play back up the hill to the green. If you’re afflicted with a slice (like 90 percent of us), you’ll probably be playing your second shot from one of the nasty sand traps just off the right side of the fairway. The hole isn’t lengthy — only 426 from the tips — but par is far from assured.
Patriot Hills isn’t long, but it plays tough without having a lot of tricks and sneaky hazards. All the par fives on the course can be birdied, but your drive must land in the right place on the fairway to get home in two. There are also many holes like the short par four sixth hole. At 307 yards, it’s driveable, if you dare, but the green is guarded by bunkers left and right. The real defense, though, is the steep tiers on the tiny green. Whether you drive it or wedge into it, be sure your ball ends up on the same level as the cup.
The 11th hole, a 439-yard par four, is a real up-and-down test, too. The elevated tee gives you a perfect view of the six bunkers guarding the hole, as well as a great opportunity to bomb one into the sky. But what you gain in distance going downhill you give up on your second shot uphill to the green. You must get it all the way to the pin or suffer the humiliation of a ball rolling back down from the green’s false front.
All greens fees include cart. •
Photograph by Jim Krajicek