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Whippoorwill Club Tour by Jon Cavalier

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WHIPPOORWILL CLUB – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Armonk, NY – Charles Banks

Whippoorwill, in my view, is one of the most underrated clubs in the United States.  I played Whippoorwill in the fall, and I found the course to have a distinct flavor, and one worth the time to display.

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The 6th at Whippoorwill – surely one of the great par 5s on the East Coast

As you’ll see in these photos, I played Whippoorwill on a cloudy October day on which the remnants of a Carribean hurricane were scheduled to blow through the area, hence the cloud cover.  Nevertheless, there were Whippoorwill members out trying to sneak their rounds in, and I found them all to be very welcoming.  Though I played solo, I played several holes with three different members each, and all were very hospitable and justifiably proud of their golf course.

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Fall at Whippoorwill

Whippoorwill is a Charles Banks design and is generally considered to be his masterpiece.  I’ve had the great pleasure of playing several Banks courses, including Forsgate, The Knoll, Rock Spring, Essex County, Cavalier, the fourth nine at Montclair and the excellent Tamarack (which is minutes from Whippoorwill and possesses some of the boldest templates I’ve seen), and Whippoorwill is in a class by itself.  While this course is smack in the middle of one of the most golf rich areas in the world, the degree to which it is overshadowed by its neighbors borders on criminal.  This is simply a fantastic golf course, and it contains one of the most dramatic and memorable stretches of holes that I’ve seen.  I have yet to meet anyone who has played Whippoorwill and who does not rate it among their favorite places to play golf.

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Whippoorwill’s Biarritz

I hope you enjoy the tour.

Whippoorwill Club

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Although the original course at Whippoorwill was designed by Donald Ross, the present iteration was built in 1928 by Charles Banks, using the principles and templates he learned from Seth Raynor, passed down by C.B. Macdonald.  The four template par-3s (redan, short, eden and biarritz) are present.  Banks moved a great deal of earth to get this course built, but the result feels natural, and the course suits its surrounds.  You can read more about Whippoorwill’s history here.

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Though I actually teed off on 10 and played the back nine first (which some might argue is a more interesting way to play the course), I’ll run the tour through the layout from 1 to 18.

Hole 1 – 377yds – Par 4

Whippoorwill opens rather gently, given the contrast of what is to come.  Much like The Creek’s first few holes hide the drama that begins with the 6th, Whippoorwill’s first three holes play over more gently rolling parkland.  The dogleg left first hole provides a generous fairway for the player’s opening ball, with only a miss right exacting a high price.

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The horizon green at the first is typical Banks, with a deep bunker front and left, and a steep falloff behind.

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The further left the tee shot, the more open the approach to the green becomes.

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This view from behind the left side of the green shows that even the more subtle holes at Whippoorwill have elevation change.

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Hole 2 – 346yds – Par 4

Most consider the second, a short, downhill par 4, to be the easiest hole on the course.  An aggressive tee shot will attempt to carry the right fairway bunkers, while the conservative play will be short of the left hand bunker.

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A short approach to a pushed up and attractively bunkered green is all that remains after a solid tee shot.  This is the smallest green on the course.

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The view from behind the second green.

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Hole 3 – 485yds – Par 5

This short, uphill dogleg left par 5 is the last of the “easy” opening holes at Whippoorwill.  The courses does a fine job of allowing the player to find his swing over these holes before entering the gauntlet.

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The uphill approach to this half-par hole.

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The third fairway bleeds seamlessly into the green, encouraging long second shots and running third shots.

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Hole 4 – 159yds – Par 3

And so it begins.  This “short” template par three begins one of the most exciting stretches of golf I’ve played.  It’s downhill, and the continuous bunkering is reminiscent of other “short” templates, including the 16th at Sleepy Hollow.

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Misses left at 4 can end up anywhere.

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Hole 5 – 453yds – Par 4

This is a truly gorgeous hole, and a standout par 4 at Whippoorwill.  The ideal line is left of center, where a well struck ball will take the slope and bound down the fairway and around the dogleg.  Anything to the right of center typically ends up in the right rough, or worse, as the drop-off to the right of the playing corridor is extreme.

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The approach on 5 is typically a mid iron back up to a raised green, or a long-iron or hybrid from a downhill lie.  The front left bunker is HUGE.

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Looking back up the fairway on 5 illustrates the magnificent terrain that Banks had to work with, and tame, to construct this course.

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Hole 6 – 556yds – Par 5

One of my favorite par 5s in golf, and one of the most spectacular holes in this region.  The 6th starts off rather innocuously, with a tee shot over a steep rise in the fairway.  After climbing this hill, the golfer is treated to . . .

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. . . an amazing sight.  The size of the rolls and banks in this fairway and the steepness of the decline down to the green are, quite frankly, shocking.  This hole is simply a blast to play.

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A long view to the green from left of the fairway.

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They called him Steamshovel for a reason.  This green appears carved from stone.  That Banks built this hole nearly 90 years ago is amazing.  Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this hole is that despite its extreme nature, it remains very playable for all skill levels.

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The 6th green is sloped back to front and is bisected by a ridge running laterally across the green.  This pin placement comes with a backstop, but the hole becomes more difficult if the pin is back.

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Hole 7 – 427yds – Par 4

This is Banks’ version of the punchbowl template, but with his own twists, the first of which comes in the form of a downhill tee shot over a pond to a fairway that bends nearly 90 degrees left.  The 7th tee at Whippoorwill, with the 6th green and fairway behind and above you, and the 7th fairway below, is one of the more picturesque spots in golf.

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The approach on 7 is uphill and narrows considerably as the fairway climbs to the punchbowl green.  The granite walls press inward and make for an intimidating, but exciting, shot.

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The mouth to Banks’ punchbowl green is open in the front but guarded closely by two large mounds that will deflect low or running shots.

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Having scaled the 7th hole, a look back down the fairway brings a sense of accomplishment.

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Hole 8 – 226yds – Par 3

I’ve long thought that Banks’ bold style was most suited to the adaptation of the biarritz, and the 8th at Whippoorwill is a fine example of that.  This hole calls for a long tee shot over a road to one of the most beautiful green sites on the golf course.  In terms of sheer beauty, this biarritz ranks behind only the 5th at Fishers Island among those I’ve played.

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The long biarritz green, with waterfall behind for effect.

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Hole 9 – 373yds – Par 4

The 9th hole closes the dramatic stretch that began with the 4th, and this steeply uphill two-shotter is no slouch.

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This wide shot from below the 9th tee illustrates the steepness of the terrain.

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Even the green is elevated, requiring one last climb.

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The 9th green, with the tee box far below.

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Lucky’s Run

After crossing the road to the 10th tee, we see this marker, dedicated to Lucky the bird dog, who “kept the geese from Whippoorwill.”  Lucky must have been quite a beloved pooch, and the membership is to be commended for honoring their friend in this way (disclosure – I am a sucker for dogs).

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Hole 10 – 405yds – Par 4

Another gorgeous view from the elevated 10th tee.  What you see is what you get.

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The hill to the left was recently cleared and exposed.  Even from this spot in the fairway, the 10th green’s many undulations are apparent.  Don’t miss long – the area behind the green drops 15 feet straight down.

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This view back up 10 shows the elevated tee box and the rolling nature of the ground.

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Hole 11 – 196yds – Par 3

A rare redan playing over a pond (like the second at Fishers, though Whippoorwill’s 11th plays downhill), the typical redan characteristics of this hole are more subtle than normal, but this is still quite an enjoyable hole to play, and a pretty setting for a par 3 of any type.

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The mound to the right of the green provides a welcoming target to this pin, but the right bunkers are not the ideal miss.

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The view from behind, showing the right to left tilt of the green.

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Hole 12 – 422yds – Par 4

The first straightaway par 4 at Whippoorwill comes at 12.  The ideal tee shot will depend heavily on the day’s pin position, as this green is extremely wide and split front-to-back by a mound.

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This view from the fairway shows the green’s defenses, which include the fronting mound and the internal contours of the green itself.

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The view back up the fairway.

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Hole 13 – 336yds – Par 4

One of my favorite holes on the back 9, this short par 4 comes with plenty of options off the tee.  Bite off what you dare.

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The short, uphill approach to the 13th green.

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The view from behind 13.  The dual tee boxes are visible in the upper right of the frame.

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Hole 14 – 466yds – Par 4

Multiple options are available off the tee on this fantastic half-par hole.  Make the safe play to the left and the hole essentially becomes a par 5.  Pull off the aggressive play down the right, and the green is both reachable and accessible.

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Whippoorwill’s incredible rolling terrain makes this an exciting hole.

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The large, undulating 14th green.

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The one-of-a-kind 14th hole at Whippoorwill.

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Hole 15 – 372yds – Par 4

A throwback hole, the 15th plays blind over a crest of a hill.  A directional flag behind the green gives a general idea of where to aim.

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The approach to the incredibly deep 15th green.  I imagine that this green sees more three putts than any other on the back 9.

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Not an ideal miss.

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Hole 16 – 546yds – Par 5

On this three-shotter, Banks’ skill for placing fairway bunkers is on display.  This is tame ground for Whippoorwill, and the fairway bunkers lend interest to the longest hole on the back side.

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The approach to 16.

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This view from the right side of the 16th green shows the climb, which starts gradually and becomes steeper.

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The view back down the sprawling 16th.

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Hole 17 – 158yds – Par 3

Banks’ eden template, and a good one, if a bit short.

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The view from the right, showing the gentle cant of the green toward the front right runoff.

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The deep bunker to the rear makes for a difficult recovery with the green running away.

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Hole 18 – 435yds – Par 4

An outstanding and beautiful closing hole, and typical for Whippoorwill in that it presents options off the tee.  The ideal position in the fairway varies substantially based on the day’s hole location (which, on this hole, with its massive green, are plentiful) and the wide fairway can accommodate many types of tee shots.

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The uphill approach to 18.  Nothing behind the green or pin to provide a sense of distance or scale.

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The beautiful setting of the 18th green.

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The view back down the excellent 18th hole.

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I’ve been raving about Whippoorwill since I played there, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the architecture of Charles Banks (or Macdonald/Raynor).  Banks fans could do worse than a 36-hole day at Whippoorwill and Tamarack.

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I hope you enjoyed the tour.


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2 thoughts on “Whippoorwill Club Tour by Jon Cavalier

  1. Pingback: An Appreciation of Great Courses by Jon Cavalier | Geeked on Golf

  2. Awesome! Reminds me a bit of the pre 2016 flood Greenbrier Course at The Greenbrier. Yep, it’s an original Seth Raynor design, with Jack doing some renovation prior to the ’79 Ryder Cup. Don’t think I’d get tired of play this one!

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