MAIDSTONE CLUB – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION
East Hampton, NY – Willie Park Jr.
How a golfer feels about Maidstone typically reveals a great deal about that person’s preferences with regard to golf course design. Those who find the course lacking in some way, whether too short or too easy, will tell you that the game has passed Maidstone by. These golfers often prefer U.S. Open-style golf and, when evaluating a course, will focus on things like “resistance to scoring” and “shot values.”
On the other hand are golfers looking for something other than sheer difficulty in a golf course. These players are looking for a course that provides something different, something out of the ordinary, something they’ve never seen before. These players are searching for a place that provides an element of the game so often forgotten in modern golf: fun.
Maidstone is that place.
Maidstone is located in East Hampton, on the Southern shore of the Eastern end of Long Island. It is the easternmost of the great Hamptons golf clubs, and enjoys perhaps the best piece of property on any golf club on Long Island. Set right on the beach, Maidstone provides its members and guests with gorgeous ocean views from its magnificent clubhouse. This setting makes the course virtually unique on the East Coast, as it winds through large sand dunes and provides as near a true-links experience as one can get on this side of the Atlantic.
The course plays to a par 72 of 6,574 yards from the back tees. While seemingly short by today’s standards, when the wind is up at Maidstone (and it always is, due to its location), the course will provide all the difficulty most golfers can handle. Notably, Maidstone distributes its strokes to par asymmetrically – the front nine plays to a par 35, while the back plays to a par 37. The back nine also incorporates the following unusual sequence from holes 12-16: par 3, par 5, par 3, par 5, par 5.
Maidstone’s routing is also virtually unique in American golf. The course begins on high ground near the clubhouse and proceeds immediately down and away from the ocean. The first three holes play on sandy, rolling ground. The fun really begins, however, after hitting the tee shot on the fourth hole over the inlet bordering the Gardiner Peninsula, on which holes four through fifteen play. These holes wind back and forth through magnificent sand dunes and give Maidstone its essence. After teeing off on sixteen, the player returns to the mainland to play the final three holes.
Before we begin our hole-by-hole tour, Maidstone’s beautiful clubhouse warrants a brief mention. If you’ve read my other tours, you know that I often discuss clubhouses as being an extension of the overall golfing experience and that, when a clubhouse is done right, it can amplify the ambiance and setting of the golf course. Some of the best courses in America are complemented perfectly by their clubhouses — National Golf Links, Shinnecock, Fishers Island, Merion, Sleepy Hollow and Winged Foot are examples that spring to mind. Maidstone is another.
And the views . . .
… are fantastic.
THE WEST COURSE AT MAIDSTONE
Though often overlooked, golf at the Maidstone Club is laid out over 27 holes. The West Course, which we discuss here, is the Club’s primary 18-hole golf course. The remaining nine holes are the remnants of the Club’s second 18-hole course, which was damaged by hurricane in 1938 and, sadly, never restored.
Hole 1 – 424 yards – Par 4
Maidstone’s first hole is one of its longer par-4s, but the width of the hole, the ever-present firmness of the turf, and the fact that the hole runs downhill make this an excellent opportunity to start a round off well. The first is bordered to the right by the Club’s entrance road, and to the left by the 18th hole.
The first green is raised and fronted by difficult bunkering. Here, the recent restoration by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw is first visible – the improvements they’ve made in Maidstone’s bunkering and green surrounds cannot be overstated.
While the fronting bunkers are certainly to be avoided, the golfer must take care at the first, and on many subsequent holes, to avoid the miss long. Here, any shot hit too aggressively will bound down a steep bank and risk tumbling out of bounds. A fine opener.
Hole 2 – 537 yards – Par 5
Standing on the tee at the second, the longest hole on the course and the only hole exceeding 500 yards, the golfer’s eye is drawn to the road and accompanying out-of-bounds running the entire left side of the hole. The right is no picnic, however, as the hole is hemmed in on that side by a property boundary. Though there is plenty of width in this hole, there is certainly an intimidation factor in this tee shot.
Staggered bunkering runs down the left of the hole in the area of approach. There is room to lay up to the right, but again, the property boundary is mere paces from the right edge of the fairway.
The 2nd green is elevated slightly and set at an angle to the fairway. An opening is provided to allow balls to be run on to the putting surface, but sand surrounds the remainder of the green. This green slopes significantly from back right to front left and is large enough that simply hitting this green does not guarantee a par.
Hole 3 – 408 yards – Par 4
The third hole shares a fairway with the sixteenth, though the two are separated by a chain of bunkers down the left side. This hole can play very short or very long, depending on the wind.
While bailing out left off the tee is an available route to this green, the approach is longer and more difficult from this angle.
From the middle of the third fairway, the player has the option to run the ball on to this green.
The third green is small, significantly tilted and heavily bunkered. Putting the ball off the green and into a bunker is a real possibility here.
Hole 4 – 176 yards – Par 3
The fourth hole transports the golfer over the inlet and into the dunescape.
The fourth tee is on an island in the middle of the inlet and provides for an exciting tee shot, especially into the wind. Note the openness of the landscape behind.
The fourth green is elevated and domed, and will shed indifferent tee shots into the surrounding bunkers. Long is an especially difficult recovery.
Beginning with the fourth green, the course meanders through some of the most unique terrain in American golf.
Hole 5 – 325 yards – Par 4
A short par four made shorter when played with the wind behind, the fifth is a prime example that length is not the only defense in golf. The bunkers running down each side of the hole pinch tighter the closer one gets to the green, presenting a strategic dilemma: lay up short of the narrow opening, or attempt to drive it all the way through the trouble?
A narrow opening to this green will allow access via the ground game, but distance control is critical. Anything long will find the water.
The green itself is small and plays smaller, thanks to its rounded edges that funnel balls into surrounding collection areas, bunkers or water.
When the hole is cut at the back of the fifth green, it can be a challenge for a golfer to summon the courage needed to attack.
Hole 6 – 403 yards – Par 4
The sixth plays out over a wide marshland to a diagonal fairway running left to right. The farther right the line, the longer the carry.
The landing area is dominated by a fairway bunker. Finding the fairway here is critical . . .
. . . as the green is one of the most difficult on the course. This green slopes substantially from left to right, and its internal contours can either guide a well-struck approach to the hole or play havoc with a meager effort. One of the best greens Willie Park ever created.
Hole 7 – 341 yards – Par 4
A true right-hand cape hole, the seventh features two of the most thrilling shots on the course and begins one of the most exciting four hole stretches on Long Island. The tee shot features a sweeping fairway bounded on the right by a pond and on the left by large dunes. Again, the more aggressive the line, the longer the carry but the greater the reward.
On his approach, the golfer confronts the water yet again, as the green juts out into the pond. Now the hazard eats in from short right and surrounds the rear of the green. The closer one plays to the far left side of the fairway, the safer the angle into the green becomes.
The seventh green is fairly large but not the easiest target, given the surrounds and the winds. Though the hole is short, par is a good score here, and double or worse is always in play.
Hole 8 – 151 yards – Par 3
A picturesque short par-3, the eighth exemplifies the essence of Maidstone. The green, nestled among the dunes, is partially obscured by an encroaching mound and is more than half blind from the tee. When the hole is cut on the right half of the green, only the tip of the flag may be visible.
If one were teaching a class on how to make bunkering look natural and blend with the surrounding terrain, the eighth green at Maidstone would be the first lesson.
The green itself, in keeping with the natural contours of the land, slopes from high right to low left. As seen from the right of the green, there is little margin for error. A gorgeous hole, and arguably the best of three outstanding one-shot holes at Maidstone.
Hole 9 – 415 yards – Par 4
Standing on the ninth tee at Maidstone, there are few in the world who would rather be elsewhere. One of the all-time great classic holes, the ninth begins from a tee cut high into the dunes separating the golf course from the Atlantic Ocean. The serpentine fairway sweeps right, then left, snaking through the largest dunes on the course.
Neither the size or the beauty of the sand dunes bordering the ninth hole can be overstated.
The approach shot to the ninth is the most difficult at Maidstone. A long, precise shot to an elevated green is required. The mammoth Yale Bowl bunker sits waiting to the right to catch all but the most well-struck shots. The Yale Bowl is the deepest and most treacherous bunker on the course – finding it brings all manner of crooked numbers into play.
The incredible topography of the ninth at Maidstone, as seen from behind the green.
Hole 10 – 401 yards – Par 4
Though the ninth and tenth holes are listed at similar yardages on the card, the two holes will seldom play similarly. The tenth tacks back in a western direction, exactly opposite the ninth, reversing the wind that was confronted on the previous hole. Though the fairway is generous, care must be taken to place the tee shot in the proper position, as a diabolical green awaits.
Sitting on the crest of a dune, the tenth green is the most substantially elevated on the course, and one of the most challenging.
Coore & Crenshaw’s beautifully reworked natural bunkers guard both sides of the green and will gather balls that peel off the upslope. The green cants significantly from back to front, and is guarded long by a steep drop of nearly 20 feet.
Any miss here makes for a difficult recovery. A brilliant green complex in every respect.
Hole 11 – 464 yards – Par 4
If Maidstone were to have a weak spot, it would have been 11th and 12th holes. Coming off the spectacular set of holes bookending the turn, the golfer must now play over an area lacking the interest of these all-world holes. Nevertheless, Park was able to craft holes of sufficient interest over this flat portion of the course to carry the golfer over into the strong finishing stretch. The 11th is a hard dogleg left to a fairway guarded by bunkers that play larger than they appear. The firm, fast conditioning lends even straightforward tee shots strategic interest.
The green is ringed with bunkers of varying sizes and shapes, which gives the hole texture and visual interest. The green itself is canted stiffly from back to front, and a false-front sheds indifferent approaches back into the fairway.
Hole 12 – 181 yards – Par 3
Though the least striking of Maidstone’s quartet of one-shot holes, the 12th is no throwaway hole. A large cross-bunker fronting the green complicates the perception of the hole’s distance, and the domed green obscures rear pin placements. The green itself is quite large, requiring precision iron play. There is no safe miss on this hole – hit the green or struggle to make par.
Hole 13 – 500 yards – Par 5
A gorgeous hole, the 13th returns the golfer to the dunes and begins the outstanding closing stretch of holes at Maidstone. The first in a stretch of five consecutive non-par 4 holes, the 15th plays out to a wide open fairway before doglegging left around a set of bunkers and into the dunes.
This green is reachable in two shots for longer hitters (and even for shorter hitters when playing downwind), but the many bunkers and surrounding vegetation extract a high price from those who try and fail to get home.
The 13th green is one of the best on the course, and suits this hole perfectly. Angled from right to left, the green abruptly rises from the fairway before leveling out for a stretch and then rising again to a second tier before plunging into a rear bunker. The initial rise over the false front serves to bleed speed off long approaches but will also return short wedge shots with too much spin to the fairway below. The bunker on the left was masterfully reworked by Coore & Crenshaw and now meshes perfectly with this standout three-shotter.
Hole 14 – 152 yards – Par 3
The 14th hole at Maidstone is one of the most beautiful par-3s in the world. Entirely ensconced in the dunes, the isolated 14th will take the breath from even the most well-traveled and crack the facade of the most cynical. This is a special place in the golfing world.
Once again, the bunkering work that Coore & Crenshaw have performed on the 14th hole has added to its already immeasurable charm. The bunkering now blends seamlessly with the surrounding landscape and appears to have been a part of this hole since it was created. The hole is now as gorgeous as it has ever been. With the notable exception of Fishers Island’s otherworldly set of par 3 holes, I am unaware of par 3 in the state of New York with a comparable ocean view.
Hole 15 – 493 yards – Par 5
The tee shot at the 15th plays from an elevated marker set in the dunes through a narrow chute of sand and shrub to a fairway bunkered on both sides. This is one of the more enjoyable drives on the course.
Once again, Park’s brilliant routing comes into play, as the par-5 15th runs parallel to and in the opposite direction of the par-5 13th hole, thus ensuring that whatever wind conditions the player faced before will be opposite him now. As a result, like the 13th, most players will have a chance to reach this short par-5 in two when the wind is behind them, but will only have that benefit if they played into the wind on 13.
Though largely flat, the 15th hole provides plenty of strategic interest. Not only must the fairway and greenside bunkering be avoided, but care must be taken not to run a ball through this tricky green. A long miss here makes for a very tough recovery.
Hole 16 – 485 yards – Par 5
An often repeated criticism of golfers from the U.S. Open school is that Maidstone suffers from having four short par 5 holes. These players overlook not only the ever present and shifting wind at Maidstone, but also the fact that a hole can find its defenses in areas other than raw length. The 16th is an excellent example. The 16th tee sits on the same small island as the 4th tee and plays out to a fairway running left to right. As with so many tee shots at Maidstone, the golfer has a strategic decision to make: do I play right and attempt to make the long carry so as to bring the green within reach in two shots, or do I play left for an easy carry and play the hole in three shots? That so many of these decisions are confronted during a round is precisely what gives Maidstone its greatness.
The battle with the “easy” 16th does not end once the tee shot is safely in the fairway, however. The player is presented with an enticing target. A flat green, open in front, with what appear to be small bunkers and minimal danger seemingly awaits. Perhaps the player now decides to try a shot beyond their capabilities?
Now the danger is revealed. The bunkering guarding the green is more challenging that it seems from a distance. The green is subtly humped and slopes off to all sides. The shrubbery that appeared to give the green a wide berth now encroaches closer than it first appeared. While the 16th remains an excellent opportunity for birdie, its rewards are not without risks that will snare the careless player.
Hole 17 – 328 yards – Par 4
The 17th is a drivable par 4 that once more puts the golfer to a decision and a test. The tiny green can be reached from the tee but requires a maximum carry over the pond, avoidance of the deep bunkers to the left of the green and out-of-bounds to the right and rear of the green.
The preferred angle, for those laying up off the tee, is to the right of the fairway.
The 17th green presents challenges of its own, as it is both the smallest on the course and elevated so that it falls away on all sides.
If Park’s intent was to test the player’s wedge game, he has succeeded here. There is no good miss on this hole.
The 17th is surrounded by trouble. The home hole waits across the road.
Hole 18 – 390 yards – Par 4
Maidstone’s finishing hole plays back up hill to the clubhouse. Interestingly, it is the only truly uphill hole on the property. A long hole, the 18th offers a generous fairway to encourage the player to put a little extra into his tee shot, but finding the fairway bunkers makes par an unlikely proposition.
The final approach is to a gorgeous horizon green. The lack of any landmarks beyond the hole makes gaining an accurate perspective and distance difficult.
Following the natural contours of the land, the green slopes from back to front before rolling over the apex of the dune and falling to the bunkers below.
The “alligator eyes” bunkering backing the home green lend some limited perspective of its depth.
Putting out on the final green at Maidstone, with the sights and sounds of the ocean below, the golfer is fully aware that he has just played one of the true classic gems in American golf.
If a golf course can be summed up in a single word, the word that applies to Maidstone is this: charming. It is a charming golf course in every respect, from its setting high in the dunes above the Atlantic Ocean, to its unique routing across its many different types of terrain, to its unusual series of holes including a par-3, -5, -3, -5, -5 sequence, to its lack of length in comparison to modern “championship” courses. Maidstone is virtually unique in American golf and, along with classic courses like Myopia Hunt Club, Fishers Island, Eastward Ho and Garden City and modern venues like Bandon Dunes, provides a venue that reminds us all that golf is a game that we play for fun. Could Maidstone host a professional event today? No. Can I think of a more appealing place to spend an afternoon playing a match among friends? Absolutely not.