7,165 yards • Par 72 • Greens fee: $195
We all have “off” days on the golf course, but the last place you want to have one is at Pound Ridge Golf Club, the Pete Dye design on the Connecticut border. Show up with less than your “A” game and your ego can take quite a beating. The daily fee track is known for fabulous sculpturing of the land, majestic forests, and picturesque rock outcroppings, but it’s always a good idea to keep Pete Dye’s opening-day advice in mind: “Everyone agrees it’s a beautiful piece of land. You just need to bring a lot of golf balls.” If you can’t hit it straight, you’ll need a bucket full.
That’s not to say Pound Ridge isn’t an enjoyable golf experience — just be mentally prepared for a tough round. The course is visually stunning, with 14,000 linear feet of rock walls, dramatic bunkering, and gorgeous water hazards. The green complexes have none-too-subtle but perfectly putt-able contours, well-placed but playable traps, and numerous pin positions to keep things interesting from round to round. The turf and putting surfaces are as good as those at any private club — and better than many.
Pete Dye pointedly built five sets of tees with large differences not just in length of hole but angles of play, forced carries, and even hazards and obstacles between them. Choosing the correct tee is essential if you want any hope of playing a successful round. The tale is in the course rating for each tee, not the yardage. The “Oak” tees, for example, play 6,773 yards, a not-unplayable distance for many decent golfers using modern equipment these days. The course rating from those tees, though, is 73.8. That means a scratch golfer is expected to score nearly two over par if he shoots to his handicap that day!
The course isn’t a pushover from the next set of tees forward, either. The “Granite” tees measure 6,261 yards with a 70.4 rating and 140 slope. From there, you’ll face 200-or-so-yard carries off the tee on a couple of holes (nine and 14), not to mention the need to shape your tee shots on a couple more (10 and 18). Approaches over water will affect your strategy on the second and possibly the 18th hole. Elevated greens add to the difficulty on nine, 13, and 16.
Regardless of the tees you play, a house-size boulder, aka “Pete’s Rock,” sits in your line off the tee on the 13th hole, a 448-yard par five (from the Granite tees). The glacial erratic draws a great deal of commentary, but it also distracts from the real difficulty of the hole, which is lined by hazards on both sides of the narrow fairway all the way to the green. Golfers befuddled by the rock are much more likely to lose a ball right or left than to bounce one off the boulder. Assuming your drive finds the short grass, your second shot needs to be laser-straight even if you are laying up to the long, narrow green.
Dye plays all sorts of mind games on the equally infamous 15th hole, a relatively easy 144-yard par three (from the Granite tees). Once again, a granite outcropping immediately behind the green draws the player’s attention while the hazard lining the front poses a much greater threat. The green is huge — some 60 yards wide — and set at an angle to the tee, so distance control is the key to par. Just to mess with you some more, though, Dye set the tees so that foliage in the hazard typically blocks your view of much of the putting surface.
Pound Ridge opened in 2008 to great acclaim and much comment about both its demanding layout and equally demanding greens fees, which were easily the highest in the metro area. Deep-pocketed golfers flocked to the course, however, and owner Ken Wang’s $40 million gamble appears to be paying off. Given the caliber of the golf course, players get their money’s worth even at the top rate of $195 (including cart, range, and other amenities). Off-season and off-peak rates are considerably lower.
5,991 yards • Par 70 • Greens fee: $78
As you might expect, it takes discipline to score on the West Point Golf Course, the tough, demanding daily fee course at the U.S. Military Academy. The track is short on the score card but long when it comes to getting the ball on the green, thanks largely to some serious elevation changes and artful use of water and other natural features of the Hudson Valley landscape. Designer Robert Trent Jones Sr. also deserves a salute for his slick, roly-poly greens.
West Point measures 5,991 yards from the tips with a par of 70 and course rating/slope of 70.6/136. Unlike many mountain courses, though, the long hitter doesn’t need to keep the driver in the bag, especially on the uphill holes like the 400-yard fifth. The par fives are a varied collection of fun scoring opportunities, ranging from the 485-yard 17th that seemingly plays vertically uphill, to the 509-yard seventh — where even a big hitter should think twice before challenging the pond in front of the green on the second shot.
The six par threes at West Point use the topography to its full advantage. The three on the front side all play uphill, so add 15 yards to each of the 179-, 191-, and 201-yard measurements. On the back, the 175-yard 11th plays downhill over water, the 154-yard 13th goes from elevated tee to elevated green, and the 163-yard 16th is just downright nasty, playing about two clubs less downhill to a partially blind green with trouble front and back.
It’s entirely possible to shoot a good round at West Point, but local knowledge will help a bunch. Several holes are intimidating off the tee but actually have bigger landing areas than you think. It’s also helpful to see the greens a few times, too, since there are elephants buried on a few of them.
One more great reason to play West Point is the history lesson you get on every tee and at a few other places on the course. Markers describe in excellent detail the many contributions made by our nation’s military — especially West Point graduates — from the American Revolution to the latest operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are worth taking a few extra moments to read and contemplate as you make your way around the course.
6,110 yards • Par 70 • Greens fee: $35
Sprain Lake, the Westchester County course in Yonkers, is unique in that your tee shot will likely determine your score on almost every hole. Most courses put greater emphasis on the approach shot, but this Tom Winton design rewards the player who puts the ball in the fairway on the first shot by allowing for simple approaches to the generally accessible greens.
That’s not to say the 6,110-yard par-70 layout is a complete pushover. Those tee shots require more than just a good wallop with a driver. In fact, even when you do use the big stick off the tee, you need to shape your shot with a fair degree of finesse to keep the ball on the short grass. Fairways are narrow, many of them are tree-lined, and most of them slope decisively. There are numerous doglegs and water hazards to navigate, too, and even on holes that seem straight, like the 346-yard eighth, it’s easy to hit through the fairway if you don’t put a gentle fade on your drive to hold it against the hill.
The seventh hole, a 399-yard par four, is a perfect example of the need for intelligent driving. The hole turns strongly right about 225 yards from the tee, with water just a few yards beyond the outside turn. If you’re a moderately long driver, the ball may end up in the hazard unless you can fade it precisely off the tee. On the back, the 459-yard 17th hole, a par five, looks like it should be a birdie fest; but a creek bisects the fairway at about 250 yards downhill, forcing most players to lay up off the tee — leaving a long, uphill second shot.
The back nine plays significantly longer than the front. At 3,270 yards (versus the front’s 2,840), the incoming nine features a 530-yard uphill par five, a 400-yard water-carry par four, and the challenging 440-yard par four finishing hole.
Westchester County invested heavily in Sprain Lake in the past year, extending the fairway on the treacherous third hole, expanding tee boxes, rerouting and improving cart paths, and tweaking a couple of greens. Sprain Lake may be short, but its steep greens and tight fairways make it a fun test for the thinking golfer.