West Nyack; www.manhattanwoodsgc.com
Call me a golf snob, but I like strategic courses, tracks where you have to use your brain more than your brawn to make par. That’s probably why I’ve always felt refreshed rather than depleted after a round at Manhattan Woods (above), the Gary Player signature course in West Nyack, which celebrates its 16th anniversary this year.
Every hole presents a different challenge than the one before it. A few holes reward a long drive off the tee; most others demand precision. Bomb and gouge won’t get you very far here. In fact, most players should hit a driver on only about half the holes if they want to stay out of the fescue, bunkers, or water that pinch many landing areas. Greens are invitingly spacious but yield low scores only to the player who lands his or her approach in the perfect spot. In other words, you have to think your way around the course.
While you’re doing all that cogitating, though, don’t forget to enjoy the full Manhattan Woods visual experience. Player laid out the course on more than 200 breathtaking acres, which offer plenty of room to make each hole a world of its own. Mature trees, brilliant bunkering, and fescue rough define the route to the green on nearly every hole, and water is used judiciously to both challenge your game and please your eye. As the name implies, the Manhattan skyline is visible from several spots on the course, a reminder that the club is just 20 minutes from the George Washington Bridge.
Manhattan Woods offers five sets of tees, well-spaced from 5,090 to 7,118 yards (par 72), so that players of every level can find significant challenge. The slope is high — 149 from the blue tees at 6,381 yards — so matches should be carefully handicapped to avoid blowouts. On the other hand, the way Manhattan Woods punishes a blind bomber can give a thoughtfully patient shorter hitter a distinct advantage. Maybe that’s why I like the course so much!
Head pro Dick Smith Jr. points to the fifth as an example of a thinking player’s hole at Manhattan Woods. It’s 384 from the blue tees, and still the number-one handicap hole. Why? Because there are so many ways to go wrong on the hole. The perfect tee shot is a fade over the yawning bunker that guards the gentle dogleg right. A driver pounded without the proper shot shape, however, will put you in a bunker through the fairway or, worse, in the woods behind it. Only a perfect tee shot gives you the right approach line up the hill to the two-tiered green.
The amenities of the club perfectly complement the golf course. Locker rooms are spacious and well-attended. The caddie program provides excellent, experienced loopers whose advice should be heeded even by players with their own solid knowledge of the course. The Grille Room, Oak Bar, and other dining facilities are nicely appointed with attentive servers and fabulous cuisine a cut above the usual boring country club fare.
Manhattan Woods draws a significant number of members from New York City, but it’s just a stone’s throw from the Tappan Zee Bridge, so it’s convenient to Westchester golfers as well. Given the quality of the experience and ease of access, it’s no wonder the club continues to grow.
Some of the best news in Hudson Valley golf comes from Middletown, where the Bonura Hospitality Group has created West Hills Country Club. The club was originally founded in 1899 as the Orange County Golf Club, but suffered from the twin ravages of membership decline and recurrent flooding until the Bonura family came to its rescue in 2012. The well-known operators of high-profile food and beverage venues throughout the Hudson Valley took over the property; invested millions in a newly remodeled clubhouse, pool, and tennis facility; and recently unveiled a spectacular renovation of the golf course.
The new course combines the best of the old with five demanding new holes that play far above the flood-prone Wallkill River. The original first hole — with its testy crowned green — remains, but there’s a new second hole that plays over the river and doglegs around to the old seventh green. You still get to cross the river via the historic bridge designed by Roebling & Sons (the builders of the Brooklyn Bridge).
After playing along the side of the hill on the third hole (formerly the eighth), you enter the new course landscape created by Jim Fazio. The fourth is an uphill par three with trees lining the way to a well-contoured green. Next comes the 500-yard, dogleg right par five, where the second shot plays uphill to an ever-shrinking landing area surrounded by ever-encroaching bunkers and rough. The new sixth hole is a par four that plays straight down the mountainside. It’s about 350 yards, but you’ve just got to try to drive it — at least once. The seventh hole plays back up the hill and favors a fade off the tee, while the new ninth hole is a mid-length par three with a deceptively contoured green.
But there’s more good news about West Hills. A soon-to-be executive course is expected to host an active junior golf program as well as provide fun family-style golf experiences. West Hills also offers a private practice range, full chipping green, and regulation practice bunker.
The Powelton Club proves conclusively that 7,000 yards is not the minimum length required for a challenging round of golf. The 6,063-yard, par-70, Deveraux Emmet design in Newburgh will test all parts of your game — especially those that don’t require an extra dose of testosterone.
The front side is a good warm-up for the more interesting back, although there are plenty of holes on the outward nine that hold your attention. Among them is the 187-yard par-three seventh, which is all carry from an elevated tee to an elevated green protected by a serious bunker in front. You’ll also enjoy the 430-yard par-four ninth hole, where trees and fairway bunkers squeeze the landing area, and the green has endless subtleties.
The incoming nine is one memorable hole after another. At 374 yards, the 10th is a short hole bisected by a dry streambed and featuring a testy elevated green. The 11th, a 498-yard par five, is reachable with a precise second shot but quite punitive (OB, bunkers, and deep rough) if you don’t hit it perfectly. The 12th hole plays 425 yards but the green sits far above the fairway at an oblique angle that makes it one of the hardest second-shot holes you’ll ever encounter.
The finishing three holes at Powelton are an exciting trio. The 16th (171-yards) plays downhill but is fully exposed to the wind and well protected by sand and water. The fairway on the 17th hole, a 413-yard par four, is crossed by a creek that will bedevil the longer hitters in the group. The home hole is a tantalizing 304-yard, almost-driveable par four. It plays uphill, though, and you’ll have to shape a masterful fade to get there.
The Powelton Club was established in 1882, making it one of the oldest in the Hudson Valley and certainly worthy of its place on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a relaxed, congenial club where kids can learn the game while mom and dad take part in a full slate of fun competitions.
There’s almost nothing better than “discovering” a new golf course, especially when it’s a gem like the Wiltwyck GC in Kingston. With wonderful views of the Catskills and twisting fairways leading to devilish greens, Wiltwyck offers succor for the soul and challenge for golfers at every level.
Wiltwyck is a Robert Trent Jones design that opened at its current location in 1954, although the club itself was founded in 1933 and was forced to move by the construction of the New York State Thruway. Stephen Kay updated the course in 2001, giving it a little more length and plenty more challenge around the greens. Kay didn’t lose the Jones “feel” for the routing and shot values, though, so you really get the best of both architects when you take it on.
The course measures 6,891 yards from the tips, with a stout 74.3 rating and 134 slope that seems a little light given how much trouble a bogey golfer can encounter on several holes. The blues, at 6,572 yards, are enough golf course for most players, in view of the number of elevation changes and tough greens. There are two other sets of tees, including a strong set of reds that measures 5,719 yards.
Unlike many courses in the Hudson Valley, Wiltwyck doesn’t ease you into the round with an straightforward opening hole. Instead, you’re faced with a 407-yard (from the blues) test with a bunker cutting into the fairway on the left to annoy those who draw the ball, and a fairway that slopes right for the faders in the group. If you navigate those delights, you have a long uphill approach to a punchbowl green. Make a par here and you’re ahead of the field.
The second hole, a 488-yard par five, has a typically convoluted fairway that slopes left to right off the tee, then switches to right to left once you get around the right dogleg. This is the shortest of the par fives on the course. All of them, except the 553-yard seventh hole, are reachable birdie opportunities for the better player. The seventh, the number-one handicap hole, demands extreme accuracy off the tee since the fairway is essentially crowned, punishing drivers hitting either left or right.
The par threes at Wiltwyck are on the short side by today’s standards (143 to 190 yards), but require a well-handled putter to capitalize on their lack of length.
If there is a theme to the playing advice on the par fours, it’s “drive straight.” Unlike many courses in the area, Wiltwyck has an overabundance of trees. When you couple those mature green monsters with lateral hazards to the right of several landing areas and greens that require approaches from the correct angle to leave a make-able two-putt, most players will want to hit the straightest club in their bag, not necessarily the longest.
Golf services include a driving range and large practice green; clinics and lessons from Chad Maes, PGA, and his staff; and reciprocal privileges at most of the finest private clubs in the Hudson Valley. A casual but well-appointed country club, Wiltwyck offers nice family amenities including a pool and tennis, not to mention dining facilities that equal anything in the region and attract functions ranging from intimate dinners to weddings for several hundred guests.