Lost your place on the waiting list for membership at Winged Foot Golf Club? Not to worry. There’s another (rumored to be) Tillinghast golf course five minutes away that will be glad to have you. Don’t know the secret password to get through the entrance gate at St. Andrew’s Golf Club in Hastings? Drive across the Sprain Parkway to a course where all you need is a few bucks and a tee time to enjoy a fine round.
The golf courses I’m talking about are Saxon Woods Golf Course and Sprain Lake Golf Course, two of the six Westchester County-owned courses available to anyone—resident or not—who wants to play. Their greens may not roll quite as fast as Wykagyl Country Club’s and the closest thing to a locker room may be the trunk of your car, but the county courses represent golf at its elemental best. Plenty of fresh air, wide green fairways, the camaraderie of the links—all for about the price of a movie ticket, popcorn, and large soda.
For the great majority of golfers, the county courses represent one of the best bargains in the game. Weekday greens fees for county park pass holders are $28 for eighteen holes—only $21 for juniors and seniors! Hudson Hills Golf Club is slightly higher and non-residents pay a little more, too. Park pass holders can also reserve a tee time by telephone at (914) 995-GOLF or on-line at egolf.westchestergov.com up to one week in advance, 24 hours a day.
Want to learn the game? There are PGA pros available for private lessons and a lineup of group classes for players of all ages. Four of the courses have driving ranges, too, and all have practice greens, pro shops, and restaurants.
Hudson Hills Golf Club
400â€¯ Croton Dam Rd, Ossining 914-864-3000
Par 71 • Yardage 6,935 • Slope/Rating 132/73.3 • Driving Range: No
Westchester’s premier public course is Hudson Hills, a long, difficult track that carries a price tag that matches the premium it places on accurate, skillful play. When it opened the course in 2004, the county wanted to not only relieve the crowded fairways on the other five courses but to provide a private country club experience to John Q Taxpayer. While greens fees are indeed higher than on the other county courses, the course conditions are considerably better, too, with large, fast greens and closely-mown fairways.
At nearly 7,000 yards, Hudson Hills is not for the faint of heart. Severe elevation changes, strategic water challenges, punishing rough, well-placed bunkers, and several inconvenient trees keep you on your toes. The par fives are torturous, particularly the 530-yard second hole where the green is surrounded by wetlands, and the somewhat bizarrely serpentine 521-yard tenth hole, with three landing areas on the way to the green.
The par-3s are nicely varied, ranging from 152 to 200 yards and all are protected by steep drop-offs, nasty bunkers, and/or water.
County Park Pass holders pay $55 (weekdays) and $85 (weekends) to play Hudson Hills, but that includes a GPS-equipped golf cart. The other five county courses charge $45 (weekdays) and $49 (weekends) for the same package. You can also purchase an annual pass to Hudson Hills which gives you unlimited golf, access to tee times 14 days in advance, and a 10 percent discount on merchandise.
Saxon Woods Golf Course
315 Mamaroneck Rd, Scarsdale 914-231-3461
Par 72 • Yardage 6,293 • Slope/Rating: 122/70.2 • Driving Range: Yes
Did legendary golf architect A.W. Tillinghast (Winged Foot, Quaker Ridge, Bethpage, Baltusrol, etc.) design Saxon Woods? According to his records he did, although official credit is given to Tom Winton, a Scot who was the official golf architect for the Westchester Parks Commission and whose other credits include Mount Kisco Country Club and all the other county courses except Dunwoodie.
There are many Tillinghast trademarks on the course. The fourth hole, a long “three-shotter” as he would have called it, has an obviously artificial mound cramping the fairway at the landing area for the second shot as well as two steep-faced bunkers squeezing the green. The fifth hole, my favorite on the course, is a dog-leg par four that offers two strategies off the tee — a well-placed straight drive to the left half of the fairway that leaves a mid iron over another mound, or a long fade to a narrow alley next to the mound that rewards the perfect tee shot with a wedge approach. The green, too, is highly contoured and protected by a bunker on the right. The sixteenth hole is one of the best par threes around, with a steep narrow green set at an angle. It’s also surrounded by bunkers and fronted by a stream. The real Tilly touch is the tee box, which points not at the green but to the right of it.
Saxon Woods players this year should enjoy a substantially dryer round, as well as better bunkers and an entirely different sixth hole, thanks to a $4 million refurbishment of the course drainage system slated for completion during the winter.
Mohansic Golf Course
1500 Baldwin Road, Yorktown Heights 914-862-5283
Par 70 • Yardage 6,558 • Slope/Rating 124/70.1 • Driving Range: Yes
Westchester County-owned golf got its start in 1926 when Mohansic Golf Course opened in Yorktown. The course has long been considered the most difficult of the five original county courses, with a combination of moderate length, tight fairways, and small, fast greens.
Two of the more challenging holes come early in your round. The third is a 425-yard par four that begins with a blind tee shot to a narrow, tree-lined fairway. You may also want to hit a longer-than-expected club for your approach, too, since the green is slightly uphill. Once you’re on the putting surface, take a few extra moments to line up your shot—the green is more treacherous than it looks. The fourth hole, a 442-yard par-4, calls for a draw around the corner on the uphill dogleg. If your normal tee shot is a fade, aim for the white pine on the corner and hope. It’s a tough tee shot either way since the fairway slopes left to right. Your approach shot on the fourth hole is to an elevated green protected by bunkers on both sides.
Sprain Lake Golf Course
290 East Grassy Sprain Rd, Yonkers (914) 231-3481
Par 70 • Yardage 6,110 • Slope/Rating: 124/69.3 • Driving Range: Yes
When the county opened Sprain Lake Golf Course in 1929, it was billed as “an island of green space” next to Grassy Sprain Reservoir and one of the most densely populated parts of the county. The course is short, but plays tougher than it looks, at least the first time you challenge its quirky fairways and small, highly-contoured greens. Local knowledge is the key to scoring on this course. Placement off the tee and keeping your ball below the hole on your approaches matter a whole lot more than how far you can bomb your driver.
In fact, many players won’t take their driver out of the bag at all until they reach the par-5 tenth hole, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have challenges on the front nine. Position in the fairway matters a lot at Sprain, particularly on the blind third hole and dogleg seventh, where a long-straight drive will go through the fairway and into the water. Length matters a little more on the back, but even there an off-line drive will add more than a stroke on the 13th, 15th, and 17th holes. The only hole where a long, long drive makes a difference is number 18, a 440-yard par 4. Even there, your tee shot should be on the left half of the fairway for the best angle into the tiny green.
Maple Moor Golf Course
1128 North St, White Plains 914-995-9200
Par 71 • Yardage 6,374 • Slope/Rating: 129/71.0 • Driving Range: No
Maple Moor is the county’s most-played course, logging some 52,000 rounds annually. The course’s popularity is partly explained by its location just off the Hutchinson River Parkway in White Plains and partly by the player-friendly nature of the course. Aside from the abundance of maple trees lining several fairways and water in play on six holes, most of Maple Moor’s holes are straightforward and perfectly par-able, although you’ll need to check your club selection on several of the steeply-uphill approach shots.
The ninth hole presents two of the most difficult challenges on the course. At 434 yards, it requires a long approach shot to an elevated green. Miss left and your ball will tumble downhill to oblivion. Miss right and you’re chipping downhill and hoping your ball won’t scoot across the green to the afore-mentioned disaster area. The second challenge comes after you’ve finished the hole and have to climb heart-attack hill, a.k.a. the path to the tenth tee.
Dunwoodie Golf Course
1 Wasylenko Lane, Yonkers 914-231-3490
Par 70 • Yardage 5,830 • Slope/Rating: 118/67.4 • Driving Range: Yes
Dunwoodie was known as “the golf course of the stars” when it was founded as a private club in 1906. Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. were among the many show biz personalities who belonged to the club before the Great Depression ruined its finances. The county acquired it in 1955, spent a princely half million dollars improving it, and opened it to the public two years later.
Dunwoodie is the shortest of the county’s six courses and known to be one of the easiest on the handicap. While its location at the top of Dunwoodie Heights in Yonkers dictates some steep slopes and dramatic topography, most of the fairways are accessible and few of the holes require a booming drive. The 17th hole is one exception. It’s 419 yards on the scorecard but plays much longer. The green is small and narrow, too, and most pars come from a one-putt left after the player misses the green with the approach shot and chips close to the hole.
Jeremy Leigh is grateful to the Westchester Historical Society for Under The Apple Tree: The History of Golf in Westchester County by Dr. William Quirin for several helpful tidbits of local golf lore.
Caption: Public Pleasers The Hudson Valley is also home to dozens of public, semi-private and day fee courses. Check out www.hvmag.com for a complete listing.