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ENDURING DESIGN AT PINE VALLEY

A then and now look at Pine Valley and what has made its greatness endure for a century

The early days of golf in America were imbued with enthusiasm. The quirky little stick and ball game that had migrated across the Atlantic from the British Isles captured hearts and minds with its blend of outdoor recreation, a test of physical and mental abilities, competition and camaraderie. It did not take long, however, for a sense of restlessness and discontent, particularly directed at our playing fields, to set in. “Why,” players asked, “are our courses so inferior to the Scottish links?” Nevermind that those courses had evolved and improved over centuries on ground that was ideal for golf. Such is the nature of American culture—we want the best, and we want it now.

It was this impulse that sent Charles Blair Macdonald across the pond on a search for the ideal holes that he would use as inspiration for the National Golf Links of America. He was not the only one pulling on this thread. In Philadelphia, a group of avid amateurs led by George Crump was turning their own dissatisfaction into a plan. It is not clear that these men intended to create a course that would be considered among the world’s best for decades to come, but at Pine Valley that is exactly what they did.

The Dreamer

“The late George Crump must have had more than a touch of prophetic imagination…what was in Crump’s mind when he first thought of Pine Valley was that somewhere there ought to be one course where as far as humanly possible, the best man of the day should win because every bad or indifferent shot should meet with its reward.” – Bernard Darwin

To onlookers, the man who is doggedly pursuing a dream might not appear as a visionary. Instead, he is crazy, or to the more charitable, a poor fool. Perhaps that is why those who could not see the picture in its creator’s mind labelled Pine Valley “Crump’s Folly”. And given the hardship that was endured to bring the course first to life and then to long-term sustainability, their short-sighted judgment was not entirely baseless. In the end, which George Crump would tragically not live to see, his detractors would be proven quite wrong about the course in the New Jersey pine barrens.

George Crump surveys the land that would become Pine Valley

Along with New York, Boston and Chicago, Philadelphia was a hotbed of activity in golf’s formative years. At the center of that scene was George Crump. Hospitality was his business, but the word also applies to the way he lived. By all accounts, he was the kind of genuinely engaging and friendly person to whom others naturally gravitated. It is no surprise then that he was at the center of a group of Philadelphians who shared a love of the game of golf, and each other.

These men, who were referred to as “the fraternity”, were avid sportsmen, successful businessmen and bon vivants. They were members at local clubs including Merion, Philadelphia Cricket Club and Huntingdon Valley. They played matches against one another, traveled to Atlantic City and beyond for winter golf, and supported the growth of the game in the city through the creation of Cobb’s Creek. Their ranks included architects George Thomas and A.W. Tillinghast, and Merion’s Hugh Wilson, as well as George Crump’s close compatriots Howard Perrin and Reverend Simon Carr, who was described as America’s Top Priestly Golfer”. Not only did they play together, but they also collaborated and wrote about the issues of golf administration, architecture, rules and handicapping. They were leaders in this nascent period of the game.

Fraternity members William P. Smith, A.W. Tillinghast and George Crump

How often have men gathered and, fueled by libations, indulged in the making of grand plans that never progress beyond the threshold of the barroom? In order for dreams to become a reality, there must be an individual who acts as a catalyst. For the fraternity, George Crump played that role. The group had been disgruntled both with winter course conditions in Philadelphia, and with their own performance against rivals from Long Island and Boston. A new, better course located off the train line to Atlantic City would kill two birds with one stone—Crump set about making it happen. He took a study trip to the British Isles and Europe, and while there met Harry Colt. Sunningdale and the other courses of the London healthland were particularly inspiring, and so it came as no surprise when Crump sought out the famous architect for assistance with his dream chasing.

Prior to Colt’s arrival, George Crump had exhaustively explored the land, and he held strong inclinations about holes to build. Nonetheless, he let his architect work unencumbered by preconceived notions. After a week spent studying the site, Colt produced a routing, which Crump then married with his own. This marked the beginning of a year’s long process of soliciting ideas and then synthesizing them into the bigger picture. Input was readily accepted, but the final decisions were Crump’s. In his brilliant history of Pine Valley’s creation Crump’s Dream, author Andrew Mutch summed up the collaborative process. “A friend to all, Crump was the colander into which countless experts poured their ideas,” wrote Mutch. “He sifted the collected intellectual property retaining what he intuitively knew would prove useful. Behind the affable sportsman was an uncommonly driven—even stubborn—man who would stop at nothing to attain his dream. The real genius of Crump was in using the gifted minds from the Philadelphia Fraternity to assemble his mosaic upon the beautiful lands of Sumner.”

Harry Colt’s plan for Pine Valley

The hard work of clearing the land of trees and building golf holes got underway. Progress was slow but steady, with Crump unafraid to deviate from the plan when a better option presented itself. For example, William Evans wrote of a change to the 13th in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, “Ground for the fairways had been cleared along the ridge…It occurred to Mr. Crump that the panoramic view from this ridge would be very desirable, and consequently he sent a gang of men in there to fell the trees. When the work was done, a magnificent golf hole was in evidence, a far greater hole that the one originally planned.”

In addition to being an architectural savant, George Crump also had a knack for promotion. He pioneered the concept of preview play. As holes were finished, play began as soon as possible for members and guests. A steady stream of high profile visitors stopped by to see the new course including C.B. Macdonald, Donald Ross, Robert Hunter, Walter Travis, Dr. Alister MacKenzie, William Fownes, Ben Sayers, Glenna Collett, Francis Ouimet, Chick Evans, Grantland Rice, Bernard Darwin, Max Behr, Jerry Travers, Alexa Sterling, John G. Anderson, Long Jim Barnes, Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. Reviews were almost entirely glowing, but these visits served another purpose. Crump’s intent was for the course to evolve based on observing players and listening to their feedback. He continued to make mental notes and tinker as construction progressed. Over time, he expected the course to make a steady march toward perfection.

Progress was acutely painful at times, however. The field of agronomy was far from the established science that it is today. Growing healthy turf involved trial and error, which in the case of Pine Valley, amounted to a great deal of dead grass on the fairways and putting surfaces. Once again, Crump gathered ideas and anecdotes from all quarters, but the troubles mounted. Coupled with the financial and operational strain of attempting to build a golf course during war time, as well as other health issues, the visionary’s will to proceed finally ran out with fourteen holes completed. Tragically, George Crump took his own life before he was able to see the entirety of his dream course materialized.

Following through on what he started would fall to his friends in the fraternity.

A Cast of Characters

“George A. Crump, who died in 1918, loved golf for its own sake, and he loved the good shots of the game. More than most men, however, he realized that the making of good shots must be encouraged by good courses. Mr. Crump’s ideas led to the building of a course that will always be a monument to him. The Pine Valley course to a greater degree than any course that I have ever seen possesses individuality…Mr. Crump worked constantly on the whole landscape garden as if it were a picture, adding the needed touch here and there with the patience of an artist.” – Chick Evans

In spite of the deep sorrow felt by Crump’s friends at the loss of their ring leader, they resolved to carry on and complete Pine Valley. Hugh Wilson was the first to make a big impact. He built the remaining four holes from the Crump-Colt plan and managed to solve the agronomic issues. The turf would finally be on par with the design.

Next, it was decided that the intended improvements should be carried out to the fullest extent possible. A two day Advisory Committee meeting led by founding members Howard Perrin and Simon Carr was convened in which participants racked their brains for any recollections of Crump’s intended tweaks. C.H. Alison was tapped to provide his thoughts on course upgrades, which neatly dovetailed with the findings of the Committee. That work was carried out faithfully, and it was agreed that it finally met George Crump’s lofty standards.

The course continued to evolve in the years that followed as it matured and was played by more members, guests and competitive golfers. The pimple was removed from the putting surface on the 18th in 1928. William Flynn added a second green on the 9th and softened the bunkering in front of the 18th green. In 1929, Perry Maxwell, who by then was a member, made further modifications. He tuned up several greens and their surrounds, including the 4th, 5th and 9th. Through all these changes, present was the steady hand of greenkeeper Eb Steiniger, who consistently delivered playing surfaces that allowed Pine Valley to shine.

Eb Steiniger studies the bunkering on the 15th in 1954

Today, the course is under the care of Superintendent Richard Christian and consulting architect Tom Fazio, who has been a member since the 1980s and whose Uncle George was the club’s playing pro in the 1940s. Fazio built the companion short course, and has undertaken some tree removal and bunker renovation. George Crump did not intend for Pine Valley to be a static golf course—he desired continuous improvement. Would he want trees cleared and vistas restored? Would he like the new aesthetic of the bunkers and sandy wastes, or would he prefer they be more rugged? What would he make of modern agronomic capabilities? We, like Fazio and the membership, are left to speculate and debate. One thing is certain though, he would have loved to be in on lively discussions with friends, and he would hopefully take some satisfaction in Pine Valley’s position among the greatest golf courses in the world.

The Course Then & Now

“I personally feel that of all the golf courses that exist in golf, Pine Valley may be the only one where by moving a tee, fairway or green, you may not be able to improve it. You may be able to move something for the sake of change, but in terms of actually moving or recreating or adding something relative to the design of the golf course, I personally don’t think you could make it any better.” – Tom Fazio

Click on any gallery image to enlarge with captions

In hindsight, there was an alchemical process that led to the creation of Pine Valley. Inspiration drawn from Scotland and the London heathland, applied to suitable ground that had been meticulously studied, influenced by brilliant design minds like Colt, Tillinghast and Wilson, allowed to freely evolve as opportunities for betterment arose. A formula that seems destined to yield greatness as we look back at it now was far less apparent when the alchemist was working through the steps. George Crump gave himself completely to Pine Valley, and through the course, his dream endures.

A course as timeless as Pine Valley is worthy of a tour delivered through both past and present lenses. Fortunately for the curious, the historical record is filled with the observations and impressions of many of golf’s greatest minds from the last century. To the fullest extent, their words have been employed, with links allowing for further exploration. Simon Haines (@Hainesy76) has generously opened up his treasure trove of historical photos covering almost every hole, which are contrasted with the modern photography of Jon Cavalier (@LinksGems). A fortunate few players are afforded the opportunity to directly experience Pine Valley’s brilliance. For the rest of us, the hope is that the tour that follows allows for vicarious pleasure. Enjoy!

HOLE #1 – 421 yards – par 4

Crump was a match player, and he thought of his opener as both a first and potential 19th hole, drawing inspiration from one of his personal favorites at Hoylake—scorable, yet able to cause acute difficulties. Ran Morrissett of GolfClubAtlas wrote of Pine Valley’s 1st, “The demand for clear thinking is immediate: with the front portion of the green ample in width, is the golfer content to take two putts to get down? Or is he confident enough to chase after back hole locations where the green narrows? A wonderful dilemma posed by a bunkerless green site.”

HOLE #2 – 368 yards – par 4

Players quickly realize that, at Pine Valley, the yardage on the card is meaningless vis a vis a hole’s level of difficulty. “My word, do you play this hole, or just photograph it?” wrote John La Cerda in his profile for The Saturday Evening Post in 1945. Golf Digest’s Jerry Tarde further describes the experience. “The 2nd is the longest, most treacherous 368 yards in golf,” he explained in his flyover video tour. “Church pew bunkers run up both sides of the fairway to a rising hill with a lunarscape of sand pits. You can only see the top of the flagstick.” Tom Fazio referred to the second shot on the 2nd as the impetus for building the short course. He just wanted to hit that shot over and over. “The green is even more perilous,” continued Tarde. “A missed shot is a death sentence. As the members say, Welcome to Pine Valley.’”

HOLE #3 – 198 yards – par 3

The collection of one-shotters at Pine Valley may be the best on the planet. They are varied, and all demanding of well-struck tee balls. “As sightly a hole as the golfing artist could wish to view; and as severe a test of golf skill as the expert iron player could crave,” wrote founding member Simon Carr in a 1915 issue of Golf Illustrated. “The green, a perfectly beautiful natural conformation, lies about fifteen feet below the level of the tee, with every part of its surface fully in view…A weakly hit ball, or a slightly pulled ball, needs no urging to trickle, or to shoot, into the depths of the graceful, serpentine bunker that winds around the whole left side of the green. On the right side, just at the distance the ball should carry, the bunker pushes two hungry mouths partway into the green, ready to gobble a ball the least bit too far to the right…There is no puzzle, no trick, no blind chance of play. It just requires the skill and nerve of a very finely controlled long iron shot.”

HOLE #4 – 499 yards – par 4

Crump was not shy about confronting players with intimidating looks from the tee. The experience elicited colorful reactions from early guests and visiting journalists. “(The course) has sandy wastes so extensive that they should be crossed only by camel,” wrote John Kieran from the New York Times. “From the fourth tee, the indignant visitor looks out over nothing but sand. The caddies point somewhere along the skyline and say, ‘Aim up there.’ There should at least be a pyramid or an obelisk as a roadmark for wayward golf traffic.” There is more to this stout four-par than the tee shot, as explained by Morrissett. “Crump was a master at fitting the green to the hole,” he wrote. “It comes as no surprise to find the green is open in front and is one of the biggest on the course. The green itself follows the general slope of the land, which is from front to back.”

HOLE #5 – 238 yards – par 3

There is a distinct satisfaction in successfully producing a shot at the very limits of one’s ability. The architects of the Golden Age often included a long par-3 to provide the opportunity for this thrill, and at Pine Valley, it comes at the magnificent 5th. Bernard Darwin described the experience well when he wrote, “What a memorable short hole is the fifth—one full spoon shot over a tremendous chasm stretching from tee to green, a wilderness of firs on the right, big bunkers on the left. To land the ball on that green—and there is no reason in the world why you should not do it if you are not frightened—provides a moment worth living for.”

HOLE #6 – 394 yards – par 4

“When the ridge along the 6th is reached, the panorama is so magnificent that it grips and holds hard like a spell,” gushed A.W. Tillinghast in American Cricketer magazine. “I defy any bred-in-the-bone golfer to stand on the ridge, gazing over that marvelous sweep of country, without feeling a glow of great satisfaction stealing over him, and he must say in his heart, ‘It is good to be here.’” Although the maturing of the forest has changed the view from that which Tilly saw in his day, Pine Valley is still spell-binding on every hole, including this dogleg right par-4 that invites players to challenge the corner for an advantageous approach in to the angled green.

HOLE #7 – 636 yards – par 5

In the modern age, where three-shotters often only take two, Pine Valley holds players to a more demanding standard, requiring consecutive shots that are both well conceived and struck. “The 7th is the longest hole on the course, 636 from the back, with Hell’s Half Acre, the hazard at its midpoint,” said Tarde. “You might say there are no bunkers at Pine Valley. It is one big bunker with occasional patches of grass. There also are no rakes at Pine Valley. Golfers are asked to smooth their deepest footprints, but otherwise the sand is left to be tended by the wind and rain.”

HOLE #8 – 328 yards – par 4

The clever architect creates a variety of challenges. As noted by Morrissett, “Since Crump’s death in 1918, Pine Valley has never once fallen prey to the false quest for length that first gripped courses in the 1960s.”  The greatest courses test skill with every club in the bag, including the short clubs. When players are given an opportunity to have wedge in hand, those shots, including the approach to either of the two greens at the 8th, are no gimmes. “Pine Valley is generally considered to be the most terrifying course in the world,” penned Darwin, “and I, for one, have small doubt that the eighth hole is the most terrifying on it. After a good drive, the trembling wretch takes his mashie niblick and pitches for that little triangle of safety. If he fails, well…”

HOLE #9 – 458 yards – par 4

The 9th is the second straight par-4 that had an alternate green added, although it plays quite differently than the 8th. The approach shot to Crump’s original left green is the more demanding of the two. According to course historian James Finegan, “The player’s instinct is to take plenty of club in order to get up. Shallow bunkers in the back may contain the too aggressive shot, but eight or nine feet beyond the green, the earth falls abruptly away down a wooded slope so long and steep that the ball, if it doesn’t fetch up against a tree trunk, may actually edge out into the 18th hole, which, for all practical purposes, might as well be on another planet.”

HOLE #10 – 161 yards – par 3

If there is one hole that has come to embody Pine Valley in our consciousness, it is this short par-3. Simon Carr summed up the experience beautifully. “The tee is built out on the very edge of the ridge, with the valley on the left, 50 feet below,” he wrote. “The green is located on a knoll in the side of a huge sand hill. In the distance, the green looks like an uncut emerald, as it rests amid the yellow and white sands of the surrounding bunkers. It is the jewel of the round…The wind always blows out on the edge of the ridge where the tee is placed; it tests one’s judgment soundly to gauge this important factor accurately in playing the shot. Tee shots at this hole are either good or bad…One must play the shot just right, or fail.”

HOLE #11 – 397 yards – par 4

“Every hole at Pine Valley is dramatic and memorable,” wrote Tom Doak in Golf Magazine, “even the holes that nobody talks about, like the medium-length 11th, with its perfect tee shot into a saddled fairway and perfect pitch back up a narrow valley.” This hole presents subtler challenges, but playing an approach from an uneven lie to a well-defended green is no less demanding than facing a wall of sand, water hazard, or the Devil’s Asshole.

HOLE #12 – 337 yards – par 4

In the modern era of aerial golf, angles still matter at Pine Valley. From the right tee, the fairway is wide and allows for advantageous positioning into the long axis of the green. Finegan explained the versatility of the 12th, “If the hole is played from the oft-neglected left-hand tee, elevated and tucked well back in a glade, the forced carry is more like 170 yards than 150, the landing area is not in view, and the subsequent shot to the narrow green is longer and rather on a sharp angle, with only the top half of the flagstick visible. The left-hand tee was built in 1962 for the express purpose of toughening this hole. It succeeds admirably.”

HOLE #13 – 486 yards – par 4

One of the course’s many strengths is the variety. Lengths, directions, elevation, constantly shifting, keeping players on their toes, epitomized by the stretch from eleven through thirteen. “Pine Valley blends all three schools of design—heroic, penal and strategic—over the whole course, often on a single hole. For rugged grandeur, 13 may be the best of the best,” gushed Tarde. “486 yards, first to a perched landing area on the right, then a long second sweeping left, with death or glory at hand.” Simply put, an all-world four par.

HOLE #14 – 220 yards – par 3

Wiley architects often use beauty to mask peril, a tactic that players must guard against at the par-3 14th. “For the photographer or painter, the hole is enthralling,” wrote Finegan. “For the player, it is unnerving. The ‘island’ green awaits far below in its picturesque setting of water and trees and sand. Because of the falling nature of the shot, the hole plays less than the measured distance. The breeze, generally off the port bow, can be tricky, often hurling a softly flighted ball directly into the water short of the green or into the forest that is everywhere the water is not, yet sometimes failing to influence in any fashion a crisply lined iron that, alas, now splashes in the water beyond the green.”

HOLE #15 – 615 yards – par 5

The second of Pine Valley’s two par-5s is straightforward, and just plain hard. “It might have been 15 that Robert Trent Jones had in mind when he called Pine Valley the most difficult course in the world,” explained Tarde. “For most of us, this par-5 requires four full shots and a putt. Is it unfair at times? Maybe so. But isn’t that the ultimate test? Can a player hit a good shot, only to be crushed by a horrific result, and still find it within him or herself to rise to the occasion on the next one?”

HOLE #16 – 475 yards – par 4

The 16th switches back and runs down to the water, before the course turns and heads for home. Position off the tee is important to approach the green set up against the lake. “Those who can clear the sand from the tee on the optimum line will have the luxury of hitting an iron from the right side of the fairway to the left side of the largest green on the course, which is to say hitting away from the lake,” expanded Finegan. “A grand and wonderful hole it is, and one which, like its predecessor, fully rewards the big basher.”

HOLE #17 – 345 yards – par 4

One can imagine how exciting match play can be coming down the stretch. Opportunities for triumph and disaster abound. Morrissett peeled back a layer when he wrote, “(The 17th) highlights how revolutionary George Crump truly was and how well he understood the psychology of the game. Like Donald Ross, Crump understood that there must be give and take by the course architect and he allows the golfer a chance to birdie the penultimate hole to break 80…or 90…or 100. Of course, rash tactics that place the greedy golfer above the day’s hole location on this sharply pitched green can be the undoing of an otherwise fine round.”

HOLE #18 – 483 yards – par 4

The home hole encapsulates much of the spirit of Pine Valley. There are forced carries on both shots, first over sand and then over water and sand. There are intimidating hazards complemented by subtle contours. There is incomplete visibility—it’s all there on the 18th, but not necessarily all there in front of you. Both the fronting bunkers and green surface have undergone changes, making both less penal than they were in Crump’s day. Newspaperman Ted Hoyt described the infamous feature that was later removed. “The famous pimple on the 18th green at Pine Valley,” he wrote, “has probably been cussed out more by aggravated linksmen than any other single hazard in the country.”

“The world doesn’t need a lot more courses that are just like Pine Valley. Designers have been trying to imitate it, and they will forever fall short. But if more golf courses were developed by guys who cared as much as George Crump did, we’d be on the right road.” – Tom Doak

Is Pine Valley difficult? Of course it is. In fact, although many consider it to be the greatest course in the world, those who prefer a more relaxed feel for their everyday golf would not designate it their favorite, precisely because it is relentlessly demanding. But it is so much more than a hard golf course. From the use of the land in the routing, to strategic placement of hazards, to the contours of the greens, it is evident to all that the course was a labor of love for a group of golf’s best minds during the Golden Age. Its greatness endures because it taps into the satisfaction one feels having overcome a true challenge, even if only for one shot. At Pine Valley, every victory, large or small, is earned.

Beyond the play of the course though, let’s not forget that the founders sought to create a place of natural beauty where enjoyment of time spent on sport with one’s fellows would reign supreme. As was often the case in the early days, Simon Carr put words dripping with a religious fervor to the feelings of visitors then, and now: “It is then a golfing Paradise. It is so peaceful, so secluded, so restful, that you feel as if you were a thousand miles from the rout of the big city…As you wander over the Pine Valley hills and through its dales, your eye is feasted, with nature’s sweet, wild beauty; the odor of the wholesome pine delights your nostrils; you seem to gather health and cheerfulness at every step. There is the peace of seclusion, nature’s godly beauty, the pure joy of most excellent golf. With a sturdy old friend by your side to share it all—what more could an earthly paradise be?”

Copyright 2020 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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EMBRACING MACDONALD’S LEGACY AT SLEEPY HOLLOW

An in-depth look at the evolution of the C.B. Macdonald-designed and Gil Hanse retrovated Sleepy Hollow Country Club

“From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this sequestered glen has long been known by the name of Sleepy Hollow…A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere.”

— Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Perhaps there was a time when the public’s consciousness of C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor’s work at Sleepy Hollow Country Club fit this description from Irving’s classic tale. With a retrovation of the course led by Gil Hanse now largely complete, players and architecture enthusiasts are fully awake to its greatness. In The Legend, suitors Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones vie for the heart and soul of Katrina Van Tassel, climaxing in a ghostly confrontation at a crossroads in the woods. That story foreshadows the challenge Hanse, consultant George Bahto and the club’s leadership would ultimately have to face. Standing at a crossroads, haunted by ghosts of architects past, which path would they take? By committing to recapturing the heart and soul of Macdonald’s Sleepy Hollow, they laid those ghosts to rest in a fashion that can best be described as legendary.

The Evolution of a Design Philosophy

By all accounts, Charles Blair Macdonald was a man of both feisty temperament and erudition. He was worldly and his wide-ranging interests included commerce, art, sport and architecture. Through his studies, he became aware of the work and writings of Humphry Repton, who was influential in Britain around the turn of the 19th century, coining the term “landscape gardener”. As Macdonald would later be considered the father of American golf course architecture, Repton’s publishing of The Art of Landscape Gardening in 1797 conferred upon him similar patriarchal status in his field. A passage in the book was particularly resonant with Macdonald and would send him down a path of evolution toward his distinct brand of design: “I can only plead that true taste in every art consists more of adapting tried expedients to peculiar circumstances than in the inordinate thirst after novelty, the characteristic of uncultivated minds, which from facility of inventing wild theories, without experience, are apt to suppose that taste is displayed by novelty, genius by innovation, and that every change must necessarily tend to improvements.”

Perhaps a respect for the traditions of the game and its playing fields came from time spent with Old Tom Morris in St. Andrews, but even while pushing the craft forward, Macdonald retained a connection to the unequivocal greatness of the old links. He did not believe that new and different necessarily equated to better in creative pursuits.

George Bahto, wrote the book on C.B. Macdonald, literally. In assembling his compendium of Macdonald’s life and work, The Evangelist of Golf, Bahto and his collaborator Gib Papazian illuminated the progression from a restless dissatisfaction with the quality of America’s courses to the creation of the ideal golf course at National Golf Links of America.

Another writer, Horace Hutchinson, built on the intellectual momentum of Repton when he published articles in Golf Illustrated in 1901 exploring the best and hardest holes of that time. Macdonald was affected by the articles’ premise. “These discussions certainly caught the attention of Charlie Macdonald,” wrote Bahto. “Why shouldn’t America have golf equal to that in the British Isles? In his mind, the content of the article was the definitive listing of those holes reverenced by the world’s greatest players. If America was to have golf that compared to that in Britain, its courses must be based on the same timeless genius as those across the Atlantic.”

From 1902-1906, a series of voyages back across the Atlantic ensued. With an assist from Devereux Emmet, a study was made of the greatest holes of the British Isles with the original intention of replicating them on American soil. “Now why should not one try to absorb that sanctified tradition of each hole by copying its features in another climate where in time tradition might sanctify its existence,” wrote Macdonald “The flowers of transplanted plants in time shed a perfume comparable to that of their indigenous home.” The plan to transplant holes morphed into a distillation of the strategy and features that could be drawn upon to create new courses. Bahto described that shift of focus, “It became clear to Macdonald that his original concept of topographic duplication was not as relevant to the quality of the course as the individual strategic elements.”

The land on which The National was built was optimal for Macdonald’s first experiment with his ideal concepts approach to design. It shared characteristics with traditional linksland—unforested, with topographical movement that was interesting, rather than severe. The project also fortuitously connected Macdonald with Seth Raynor. The combination of the former’s ideas with the latter’s surveying and engineering brilliance, applied to that land, resulted in a masterpiece. But what about more “peculiar circumstances”, as Repton put it? Would the approach hold up on wilder terrain? The duo’s next three projects at Piping Rock, St. Louis Country Club and Sleepy Hollow, which opened for play in 1914, proved that the ideal concepts could be applied to great effect on any site.

The original course explored the slope, the ridge and the valley, with the greater portion on the clubhouse side. Although the routing stayed mostly close to home, there was an adventurous spirit to the manner in which Macdonald and Raynor laid their ideal holes out on the dramatic landforms. Their creation was well received, but it would not take long for the course at Sleepy Hollow to begin evolving away from this starting point.

Calling in the Cleaner

How did a man who was a dry cleaner by trade become the foremost authority on the work of one of the Golden Age masters? Serendipity, or rub-of-the-green, had a strong hand in George Bahto’s story. He took up golf as an adult in New Jersey and found himself drawn to courses with bold features. Curiosity about the who, how and why behind his favorite holes and courses led him to the discovery of Charles Banks. Research on the protege Banks uncovered the mentor Seth Raynor, which subsequently brought him to Charles Blair Macdonald. The men’s creative approach fascinated Bahto, and down the rabbit hole he went, resulting in an avocation as a golf architecture historian.

Bahto connected with Gil Hanse, who got him involved in his first construction project at Stonebridge Golf Links, a course that drew some design inspiration from the philosophy of Raynor. It would not be his last. In writing The Evangelist of Golf, George Bahto enlightened the world on the value of C.B. Macdonald’s approach to design. He cleaned up Macdonald’s image, and the thinking of many club Green Committees who had been directly or indirectly degrading his courses for decades. It should therefore come as no surprise that some of those clubs would turn to Bahto for counsel, including Sleepy Hollow, which brought him on as a consultant.

It is worth noting that in all of Bahto’s writing about Charles Blair Macdonald, one word is conspicuously absent. That word is “template”, which has become shorthand when referring to the holes Macdonald, Raynor, Banks and others created using the ideal concepts. Unfortunately, the term carries with it the potential for an intellectually lazy inference that Macdonald and Raynor’s design process was somehow akin to dumping out a bag of cookie cutters and arranging them willy nilly across the landscape. The strength of each of the holes at Sleepy Hollow, with their strategically placed hazards and wondrously varied greens, is evidence that any downgrade to the ideal concepts approach as involving shortcuts is entirely off-base. The application of timeless and proven design elements to a unique landscape is more demanding because the architect is choosing to adhere to a constraint. There is no bailout, and no acceptance of inclusion of weak holes on a course. Bringing the course back up to Macdonald’s higher standard, and his constraints, was the challenge that would occupy Gil Hanse and his team for more than a decade.

The Retrovation

By the time that Gil Hanse found himself standing at a design crossroads with George Bahto at Sleepy Hollow, he had already traveled a long road to gain an understanding and appreciation for the architectural roots that gave rise to America’s Golden Age. He followed in Macdonald’s footsteps by taking an extended study trip to the British Isles, returning to initially work for Tom Doak before venturing out on his own. In 2003, as Hanse Golf Design was beginning to gain momentum, Hanse contributed an essay entitled “Stop Making Sense!” to Paul Daley’s Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective in which he shared a point of view that at first glance seems discordant with respect for Macdonald’s philosophy.

“The use of natural landforms to create interesting and creative golf holes should not be held to any formulas,” wrote Hanse. “If a rule must be stated, it should be that no rules apply to the use of a landscape to create playing grounds for golf. The golf course architect should be creative in utilizing natural features to dictate the strategy of the course. Inherent in the unique character of every site are unique golf holes just waiting to be discovered. Is this not the true challenge of golf course architecture, to build fresh and innovative holes that derive their beauty, playability, and interest from their natural surrounds?”

Repton might have raised an eyebrow reading those words. There are certainly times when exercising one’s creative license courageously involves blazing a new trail. Making the choice to honor tradition is not mutually exclusive with creative freedom by default though. As it turned out, Hanse’s focus on working from the ground up, coupled with his reverence for the Golden Age, was exactly the remedy needed to cure Sleepy Hollow’s ills. Over the years since Raynor completed the original eighteen, the course had changed considerably. New holes were created by Tillinghast and others when land was sold and the club expanded to 27 holes.

The expanded 27-hole routing after Tillinghast’s addition

More recently, other architects and green committees without the benefit of Bahto’s knowledge of Macdonald made further modifications that altered hole strategies and aesthetics for the worse. The initial wave of retrovation focused on consistency of style, primarily of the bunkering, prioritizing the Tillinghast holes. Those phase one changes having been well received, Hanse and the club’s leadership decided to fully embrace Macdonald’s ideal concepts. This decision was momentous at two levels. First, they were removing the work of A.W. Tillinghast in the Westchester neighborhood where he reigns supreme. Second, they were choosing to accept Macdonald’s standard for greatness. They were all in.

“Deciding to remove the work of Golden Age architects, especially one as prolific as Tillinghast, is always a difficult choice,” explained Hanse’s associate Ben Hillard, who worked extensively on the Sleepy Hollow retrovation. “If you consider golf architecture in Westchester County, Macdonald & Raynor have one course and Tillinghast has a handful, including a couple of masterpieces. With the bulk of the holes to be restored/renovated being Macdonald & Raynor, a more cohesive course could be made by taking the Tillinghast holes and replacing them with holes like ‘Road’, ‘Knoll’ and ‘Double Plateau’, some of which had been lost when the club sold land to the North side of the property in the late 1920s.”

It would not be enough to simply add those features and holes back into the mix, however. They had to do so in a manner that would fit the land as well as if the Macdonald and Raynor had done it themselves. In being attuned to the landscape at such a high level, Hanse was able to channel the true genius of Macdonald’s ideal concepts. The Leven 1st, Road 8th and others are new, but could easily be mistaken for originals. The remaining holes were brought even further into line with the ideals. The following montage of the Short 16th illustrates the extent of the transformation over time.

The original short – Credit: Simon Haines

Before the retrovation began, with misfit bunkering – Credit: GolfClubAtlas

After phase one of the retrovation with trees removed, bunkering and green partially restored

Excavation of the tee and green surface begins – Credit: Ben Hillard

Restoring the thumbprint – Credit: Ben Hillard

Grassing the newly shaped putting surface – Credit: Ben Hillard

Gil taking in the finished product – Credit: Ben Hillard

Bunker and thumbprint fully retrovated

A place where magical moments happen at Sleepy Hollow

Like Macdonald and Raynor, George Bahto would sadly not be alive to see this current, magnificent iteration of the course that began a century ago. The spirit of all three men and their ideals can be found in the completed work of Hanse and Hillard, and one can safely surmise that generous praise and approval would be forthcoming.

The Course

“…there is a little valley or rather lap of land among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world. A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull one to repose; and the occasional whistle of a quail or tapping of a woodpecker is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the uniform tranquillity.”

Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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The club takes its name from the Pocantico River valley in which it sits. The Dutch name for that river was Slapershaven, or “sleepy harbor”. Although it might have accurately described their maritime activities, “sleepy” is not an adjective that applies to the land the course traverses.

Arriving at the grand front gate, visitors are immediately aware that an awe-inspiring experience awaits. The drive up to the mansion that now serves as the clubhouse provides tantalizing glimpses of golf holes arrayed across the hillside. After a warm welcome from staff and members alike, players walk onto a porch with stunning views of the Hudson River and Palisades of New Jersey beyond. Before striking the first shot of the day, the spirit is already soaring.

The first two holes bring players up the western side of the ridge that serves as the anchor feature in the routing. The 3rd through 15th explore the terrain high and low on the eastern side. The iconic 16th returns players to the top of the ridge, from which the final two holes return home. A loop around Sleepy Hollow has a literary quality that would make Irving proud. The story builds in a broad arc toward climax, interspersed with moments both dramatic and quietly sublime.

The Hanse retrovation unified Sleepy Hollow, and Superintendent Tom Leahy and his team continue to refine and present it beautifully. It is a highly cohesive golf course comprised of eighteen holes, each worthy of study and appreciation. To allow for an examination at depth, the tour that follows includes original sketches by Gil Hanse (@Gil_Hanse), the artwork of Tom Young (@BallparkBlueprints), the photography of Jon Cavalier (@LinksGems) and commentary from Ben Hillard (@Ben.Hillard). Playing the course has a wonderfully transportative effect—we invite you to get similarly carried away as you read on.

HOLE #1 “Leven” – 418 yards – par 4

The 1st is finally a worthy start to this golf course. Gil Hanse knocked down trees and opened better views, and turned a flat, boring green into a wild one. Though it doesn’t get the publicity that some of the other holes do, this is low-key one of the most improved holes on the course. “This hole was not in either of the first two renditions of the golf course and was built at some point in the 1930s,” explained Hillard. “We transformed it into a Leven by introducing a whole new strategy to the hole. Golfers are encouraged to play towards or past a big bunker on the left edge of the fairway to provide the best angle into the green which is protected by a mound short right.”

HOLE #2 “Climbing” – 372 yards – par 4

The short par-4 second is a transition hole—it’s main purpose is simply to take a player from the bottom part of the course to the upper shelf. These kinds of uphill transition holes are usually rather boring, but this is one of the better versions of its kind, thanks to an exciting green sloping hard back-to-front and a deep bunker front right. This is a birdie opportunity, but it’s also a hole that can bite the careless player. We speak from experience when we say that you can be on this green in two, in the front bunker in three and walking off with a triple before you know what happened.

HOLE #3 “Eden” – 172 yards – par 3

The 3rd is the first of Sleepy’s brilliant foursome of par-3s, and maybe the best of the bunch. With a panoramic view of the Hudson at your back, you play over the ravine to a huge, sloping green protected in front by a deep Strath bunker. Hanse’s restoration of this green opened up an infinite number of outstanding hole locations, and it’s not uncommon to have a putt that breaks more than 10 feet.“The green for the third hole originally played as a blind ‘Alps’ from somewhere near the current 5th tee area,” recounted Hillard. “This can be seen in the earliest plans of the course. At some point the hole changed to being the mid-length par-3. Although called an Eden it lacked the proper characteristics. The decision was made to build an entirely new green and bunkers for the hole—only the very deep bunker on the right hand side of the green was original.”

HOLE #4 “Headless Horseman” – 415 yards – par 4

Be sure to take in the view of the famous 16th and the river behind and check the pin location on the blind Punchbowl 15th, then try to avoid the fairway bunker up the right. Long tee shots will clear the ridge and offer a view of the skinny, deep green, which was expanded by Hanse’s crew. The connected complexes and shared bunkers of the 4th and 14th are a personal favorite.

HOLE #5 “Panorama” – 435 yards – par 4

Another strong par-4 on the front side, and a LinksGems favorite. The tee shot over the hill is completely blind, and players need to stay to the right to avoid rolling out into the rough on the left. Cresting the hill in the rolling fairway is one of the great visual reveals in all of golf, and the uphill approach to this infinity green is among the most exciting shots on the course. The putting surface has been significantly expanded to the right and the views from this spot are some of the best on the property.

HOLE #6 “Lookout” – 475 yards – par 5

The first of only two par-5s at Sleepy, the 6th is an eagle opportunity if you can manage to put your drive in the upper fairway—easier said than done. A Principal’s Nose bunker guards the layup zone, and the green itself is canted sharply front to back. If you’re trying to hang a number, you need to make no worse than five here. “One of the coolest Macdonald/Raynor green complexes we’ve ever seen,” gushed Hillard. “George Bahto said that he’d never seen a Macdonald green like it.”

HOLE #7 “Redan” – 221 yards – par 3

The 7th holds the place of LinksGems all-time greatest reverse Redan. It plays steeply downhill to a green sloping HARD away toward the back right. Right-to-left shot shapes can attack the green directly, but a straight or left-to-right tee shots must use the slope. Shots played to the fairway left of the green will tumble all the way down to the right side of the green. Recent tree removal has brought the wind back as one of this hole’s many defenses and the green has been expanded to allow for additional hole locations.

HOLE #8 “Road” – 488 yards – par 4

This monster par-4 is the toughest on the course. Hitting the hog’s back fairway is a must, as players will then need to contend with the treacherous Road Hole bunker guarding this green front left. It looks big and plays bigger than that. Par here is a great score. “We converted this Tillinghast hole to a Macdonald ‘Road’, repurposing the existing hog’s back in the fairway, which adds a layer to the strategy of the hole,” said Hillard.

HOLE #9 “Knoll” – 424 yards – par 4

“The fairway bunkers on the 9th are truly penal, and any shot that misses the green left is in major trouble. The green itself—one of the few cut off from the fairway by a section of rough—can play relatively easy when the pin is up front, but is much tougher when the hole is cut on either of the back tiers. This is one of the most improved holes on the course. “We converted this one to a ‘Knoll’ with rough across the approach, which was a bit of a bold choice but it separates the playing and visual characteristics of the 9th and 11th holes,” Hillard elaborated. “We were particularly excited about how the 8th and 9th turned out, especially when looking down the two holes from the halfway house.”

HOLE #10 “Lake” – 168 yards – par 3

The 10th is a picturesque par-3, and the only hole at Sleepy Hollow with water near a green. “This is an all new green expanded out to the lake edge,” detailed Hillard. “We lowered it to make the green expansion work.” The two sets of tee boxes—one attached to the back side of the 9th green and the other short and left of it—combined with the huge spine installed in this green by Gil Hanse allows the 10th to play like four different holes in 1, depending on the day’s hole location. Putting across the spine is a lot of fun but not very healthy for your score.

HOLE #11 “Ichabod’s Elbow” – 433 yards – par 4

This par-4 favors a left-to-right tee shot, as it’s no fun trying to hit a long iron into this volcano green if the drive doesn’t get far enough up the fairway. It’s really a ‘hit it or else’ proposition—anything short will roll all the way back to the fairway, a miss left or right catches the deep bunkers (if you’re lucky), and if you go long, you might just want to keep walking into the clubhouse.

HOLE #12 “Double Plateau” – 536 yards – par 5

The second of the two par-5s and the first hole substantially changed by Gil Hanse, the 12th used to play as a hard dogleg par-4 to a green along the woods line. Hanse turned the hole into a beautiful par-5 playing through a rocky valley and over a winding creek to a beautifully designed Double Plateau green. “The Tillinghast green is still visible short and 100 yards right up on the hill,” Hillard said. “We also formalized the meandering brook to help with drainage and add strategy to the hole.”

HOLE #13 “Sleepy Hollow” – 408 yards – par 4

The 13th is the LinksGems selection for most underrated hole on the golf course. The ridge in the fairway hides some terrific squared off bunkering up the left side, while the green is guarded by one of the deepest bunkers on the course. As on the 11th, there are few good misses here—the little bunker in the face of the rise helps players more than it hurts them. “Very soft alterations were made to the front of the green to expand the pinnable area closer to the false front,” added Hillard.

HOLE #14 “Spines” – 414 yards – par 4

The par-4 14th marks the beginning of a four hole run from the highest point on the property to the lowest. Staggered cross bunkers make this an exciting tee shot, but the green is where the fun really begins. Formerly an unremarkable complex, Hanse restored two spines running from the back of this green toward the front, effectively chopping the huge putting surface into three smaller ones. “The original Macdonald green was manipulated at some point and significantly reduced in size,” Hillard explained “In looking at some aerials of the golf course from the 1924 aerial, we found a larger squared green with two spines running from the back well beyond the center that were begging to be recreated.” It is now in the realm of possibility to be on this green in regulation and make double.

HOLE #15 “Punchbowl” – 502 yards – par 4

With the exception of the 4th at Fishers Island, this is the LinksGems favorite Punchbowl. Blind from everywhere, the green can be hit directly, but players who aren’t long enough to make the full carry can land approaches 50 yards short up the left side and use the chute to bounce a shot into the bowl. When the hole is cut on the little shelf on the left edge of the bowl it plays a full shot harder. “We made minor edits to the green to introduce more pinnable space,” detailed Hillard, “and completed the punchbowl to ensure all balls that make it over the hill find their way onto the putting surface.”

HOLE #16 “Short” – 149 yards – par 3

One of the most photographed holes in the world (due in no small measure to LinksGems), this par-3 is as memorable as they come. From an elevated tee over a ravine to a square green ringed with sand and featuring a deep thumbprint, with the Hudson River and the Palisades below and beyond, this is like playing golf in a postcard. “Working off of an old photo from the club’s archives as well as what we saw in the ground, we figured that the original green had been manipulated at some point but not completely rebuilt,” said Hillard. “The horseshoe was still there, but the surface either side of it had been filled in. The high point of the horseshoe was identified and then we delicately removed that extra material to expose the original contours—an incredible moment for a shaper.” When the pin is in the middle, you’re thinking of making an Ace, but the real fun is playing to a pin on one of the edges—the green is pinnable to all eight sections outside the thumbprint.

HOLE #17 “Hudson” – 446 yards – par 4

On most courses, this hole would be the signature, but even after the 15th and 16th, the par-4 17th with a bridge and harbor view still impresses. The sharply canted fairway plays games with your head—the line is farther left than you think, and the bunkers down the right catch everything. The large green, which was expanded by Hanse’s team, makes the distance of the approach hard to judge. Trust your caddy, it’s farther than it looks.

HOLE #18 “Woodlea” – 426 yards – par 4

“This hole was built at the same time as the 1st hole in the ‘30s. A new, larger green was built inspired by Macdonald and Raynor, featuring a large false front and much flatter rear tying into the clubhouse steps,” concluded Hillard. “It sits much better on the landscape.” Playing back up to the mansion, this is your classic gut punch par-4 finisher—it will make your earn your match. The large tree on the right is murder on leaking tee shots, and the false front rejects indifferent approaches. The new back right section of this putting surface makes for some tough but fun recoveries, especially when the patio is crowded. A fitting finish for one of the greatest courses in the world.

Stories are often told of the great artists reaching inflection points in their work. Those moments when they can stay in their comfort zones or push forward into new territory. To leave a legacy requires the courage to take the latter path. In embracing the philosophy of C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor at Sleepy Hollow, not only did Gil Hanse evolve as an artist, he left a legacy for the membership and the game at Sleepy Hollow. The Legend’s author sums up best the impression left on the fortunate by a visit to this special place.

“If ever I should wish for a retreat whither I might steal from the world and its distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I know of none more promising than this little valley.” 

Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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TILLIE’S TALE AT SOMERSET HILLS

An in-depth look at the A.W. Tillinghast designed Somerset Hills Country Club

Somerset Hills embodies a rare opportunity for golf architecture aficionados and players alike. For the design enthusiast, it is a course to be studied closely as an integral step in the progression of one of America’s greatest architects, A.W. Tillinghast. This pivotal work remains frozen in time, largely free of alterations that befell his later courses, especially those that host championships. For the avid player, whether duffer or stick, Somerset Hills is a course to be enjoyed for its beauty and wildly varied set of challenges. A single play only begins to unlock the riddles that Tillinghast put in the ground in Bernardsville, N.J., employing equal parts respect for the land, creative flair, and knowledge of design history.

An Afternoon Walk

Step back in time and imagine that you have been invited to spend an afternoon touring the newly opened course at Somerset Hills in 1918. You get your first intriguing glimpse as you travel along Mine Mount Road, making the turn into the unassuming club entrance. Arriving at the clubhouse, you are surprised to find that your guide for the day will be none other than A.W. Tillinghast himself. A well-heeled and well-traveled Philadelphian, Tillie explored the British Isles, including spending time in St. Andrews with Old Tom Morris, undoubtedly absorbing the oral history of the game that was taking hold of his imagination and heart. Before designing courses, Tillinghast was an accomplished player and writer at a time when the golf craze in the U.S. was peaking. You quickly realize that your walkabout will be complemented by stories born of a particular breadth and depth of experience.

Somerset’s Redan 2nd – Credit: Simon Haines

A good storyteller does not immediately begin yelling at you, maintaining that intensity from start to finish. There are ebbs and flows that build toward a climax, all delivered with creative color. It is clear to you that A.W. Tillinghast is a master storyteller as he strolls along telling tales of his sources of inspiration, his design ideas and how they manifested on the site he was given at Somerset Hills. Of course, a great design begins with taking a player on an exploration of the land. You notice the way his holes meander, change direction, and bend, coherently combining to create moments of quiet intimacy contrasted with expansive views. He pauses on many greens to direct your focus backward as a reminder that what lies behind often foreshadows what is to come.

Like Macdonald before him, Tillinghast was entranced by North Berwick’s redan and created his version at the 2nd. Other “ideal hole” elements can be found throughout the course on the 13th, 14th and 16th. He points out the classic quirk of rugged mounds and bunkers cut into humps that were built by man, as well as the contours and creeks provided by nature for hazards. The greens are of such character and quality that you want to stop and spend extended time at each, but your guide will not allow for interruptions to the natural flow. As your tour and the story unfolds, the theme of variety becomes apparent throughout, maintaining the level of engagement even in moments of rest. With the afternoon light fading and Tillie’s cigarette smoke wafting by on the breeze, you find yourself mildly intoxicated by the combination of the journey completed and the stories told. Departing the property with a final glance back, it occurs to you that A.W. Tillinghast shared the story of golf architecture up to 1918, and his course at Somerset Hills embodies that history.

The 10th green, with 17th and 18th behind – Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier

An Inflection Point

Somerset Hills was not Tillinghast’s first design, but it would come to be known as his first great one. He drew upon the standout courses and holes he had seen in the U.K., as well as home grown offerings like Myopia Hunt Club, Garden City, National Golf Links, Pine Valley and Merion. His experience afforded him a treasure trove of strategic and visual elements into which he dipped liberally, always adding his own creative flair. Somerset was not just important as an homage to the first twenty years of American design though. It was a jumping off point for an incredible run of courses—Quaker Ridge, San Francisco G.C., Philadelphia Cricket Club and Baltusrol, among others—each expressing Tillie’s grasp of the principles of strategic architecture and his commitment to variety, while always staying true to the unique sense of place of each site. His portfolio stands as a testament to his versatility, as well as an inspiration to the architects who followed in his footsteps.

Taking the time to look backward from each green at Somerset Hills provides insight into how the holes on all of his courses remain brilliantly relevant to this day. He had a gift for finding good green sites, and for building wonderful putting surfaces and surrounds on those sites. Working back, the ideal angles into the different sections of the green become apparent. Tillie positioned his tees and routed his fairways over the topography, accented by varied hazards, giving players a chance to work those angles to their advantage. Well conceived and executed shots are rewarded. From the tee forward, the ideal route is often not apparent. Somerset has its fair share of blind, semi-blind and visible-but-intimidating shots. Like many in the Tillinghast portfolio, it is a course that hides its secrets from first-timers, only revealing itself through repeat play.

The Course

A round at Somerset Hills is a tale of two nines. The outward half is routed intimately in a gentle valley below the clubhouse in a space previously occupied by a race track. Tillinghast incorporated remnants of that track into the design. The inward nine makes its way into the woods, past a lake, through wetlands and then takes a final hilly ride back up to the clubhouse. The only meaningful change Tillie’s original is a repositioning of the 10th green to stretch it from a par-4 to a par-5.

Although each nine has a distinct feel, the course retains its cohesion. Interestingly, the front nine is compact but feels more expansive than the back, which works back and forth over a ridge. Throughout the course, Tillinghast alternates between narrowing and widening the player’s focus, creating an enjoyable rhythm. Playing Somerset is truly like taking a journey.

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There is an optimal presentation standard that Superintendent Ryan Tuxhorn and his team nail on the head at Somerset—everything is done, but nothing is overdone. This is an old course and they allow it to exude that classic feel, without any hint of it being tired. Brian Slawnick from Renaissance Golf Design has consulted over the years on fairway lines, green expansions, bunker edges and tree management, but has thankfully not changed the character. Further, Tuxhorn takes what Mother Nature gives and provides the best playing conditions possible. The course is allowed to change with the weather and the seasons, very much in tune with the spirit of variety that Tillinghast intended. The course tour that follows, with photos from Jon Cavalier (@LinksGems) is meant to convey Somerset’s gorgeous seasonal range.

The opener is a solid par-4 that bends right through the orchard and then runs downhill to a green that is open in the front. The 2nd is Tillie’s appropriately famous rendition of the redan with forebunkers center and a deep bunker left. The green is severely sloped from high front-right to low back-left and can be used to advantage, or spell disaster. Good shots are required right out of the gate.

The 3rd through 6th are intertwined on the interior of this portion of the property. Creativity abounds with the elevated 3rd green, the dolomites on the 4th and 6th, and the gloriously bold contours of the putting surface on the 5th. At no point does the player feel like they are on a bland march.

The final stretch of the front nine works around the perimeter and back up to the clubhouse. The 7th is a tough par-4 featuring a blind drive to a fairway that slopes all the way down into the front of the large green. The one-shot 8th plays perilously along a rock wall boundary to a green flanked by created bunkering. The 9th is a right-to-left par-5 where Tillie employed his trademark great hazard.

The back nine opens with the only hole that has been altered from Tillinghast’s design. The left-to-right dogleg now plays as a par-5 uphill to a green set on a hillside. The par-4 11th bends right past a lake and over a creek, and features one of the wildest greens on the course. The idyllic setting of the green at the par-3 12th distracts players from the punishment that awaits wayward tee balls.

The next two holes play on top of the ridge and have shades of Macdonald-Raynor influence. The par-4 13th features a left-center principal’s nose and a biarritz green. Quite the creative combination! The 14th turns around and heads back to a large, plateaued green that demands a much more precise approach than its footprint would indicate. A pair of outstanding two-shotters.

The par-4 15th is blind off the tee and requires a left-to-right shape to take advantage of the downhill fairway. The large green is fronted by a creek, creating a picture-perfect scene. The final one-shotter on the course, the 16th has hints of the Eden template, with Tillie’s creative twists of course.

Somerset Hills provides one last rollercoaster ride with its final pair of four pars. The 17th begins with a blind drive over a chasm to a fairway that rolls severely downhill. The 18th plays back uphill into the shadow of the clubhouse to one more boldly contoured green. Two par-4s that are ideal for match play as birdies and doubles are equally likely results.

By the time he arrived at the site that would become Somerset Hills, A.W. Tillinghast had a story to tell. It was a tale of where golf had come from, with hints of where it might be headed. He poured his heart and mind onto this land in the New Jersey countryside. Members and visitors ever since have been the beneficiaries, as they loop around and around, learning Tillie’s tricks and experiencing his tale for themselves.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Sleepy Hollow Course Tour by Jon Cavalier

SLEEPY HOLLOW COUNTRY CLUB – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Scarborough-on-Hudson, NY – C.B. Macdonald, Seth Raynor, A.W. Tillinghast

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Full disclosure: I love this place.  Sleepy Hollow is, quite simply, one of my favorite places in the country to play golf.  Exceptional golden age architecture, spectacular views, exciting shots, fabulous conditions — Sleepy Hollow has everything a golfer could want.  And to top it off, Sleepy Hollow is the course that sparked my interest in the work Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor, and subsequently my love for golf architecture generally.  So I’m biased.

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15th and 16th Greens

And of course, I’ve been wanting to do a photo tour of Sleepy Hollow for quite some time.  As with my tour of Old Town Club, Sleepy Hollow’s recent near miss on Golf Digest’s Top-100 list provided a perfect impetus and incentive to pull this tour together and shine a bit of a light on a place that, for me, is ranked about 100 spots too low.

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The “lesser” of the par-3s at Sleepy Hollow

The photographs you see below were taken over the course of two visits to Sleepy Hollow (which is the reason for the differences in light, course conditions and pin positions).

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Waking up at Sleepy

I hope you enjoy the tour.

SLEEPY HOLLOW COUNTRY CLUB

Sleepy Hollow was built on the 338-acre Woodlea estate, which the club acquired in 1911.  C.B. Macdonald designed the golf course, with Seth Raynor on the ground as engineer, and the original 18 holes were completed that same year.  In the late 1920s, AW Tillinghast expanded the course to 27 holes, creating several new holes for the 18-hole “Upper” and 9-hole “Lower” courses.  Via the passage of time and the intrusion of several interim architects of more modern vintage, the course lost touch with its golden age roots for a period.  George Bahto and Gil Hanse were brought in to restore the course’s rightful Macdonald heritage.

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The result speaks for itself.  In its present form, the main course at Sleepy Hollow is rife with beautiful interpretations of many of the Macdonald templates, including Redan, Punchbowl, Double Plateau, and one of the most gorgeous Shorts this side of Fishers Island.  While the property has been owned by Colonel Eliot Shepard and William Rockefeller, and the course has been worked on by some of the great architects in golf, including Tillinghast and Hanse, Sleepy Hollow today stands clearly as a shining example of CB Macdonald’s design tenets and as a fitting monument to George Bahto.  Quite a lineage.

The Clubhouse

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No tour of Sleepy Hollow is complete without at least a brief discussion of its magnificent clubhouse.  Some of the best courses in the country are identifiable by their clubhouses alone, and in a few instances — Winged Foot, Oakmont, Myopia Hunt, Ridgewood, and Shinnecock, to name but a few — they become iconic in their own right.  Sleepy Hollow’s is one such clubhouse.

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Looming high above, the clubhouse, designed by Stanford White in 1893 as the manor house, is the first thing the golfer notices about Sleepy Hollow upon entering the gates, and it provides quite the first impression.  As the long entrance road makes way up toward the building, the loping route provides views of several holes on the lower course, the driving range, the stables, and the many rock formations that remind the golfer that he’s in Westchester.  But all the while, the presence of the massive clubhouse dominates.

The entrance road culminates at the south face of the clubhouse, seen in the photo below.  The parking lot is in the rear, to the right.

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The clubhouse has been the scene of several television shows and movies, and has hosted countless events.  And with views like this from its spacious lawn, it’s easy to see why.

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It is a beautiful building and a fitting way to begin a day at Sleepy Hollow.

The Scorecard, Logo and Haunted Bridges

A golfer senses a theme at Sleepy Hollow.  The club has named each of its holes in reference to Washington Irving’s story, which was set in the surrounding hills.  The course itself stretches to 6880 yards and plays quite pleasantly at 6377 yards from the white tees (which I use for this tour) to a par of 70.

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The club’s logo of the Headless Horseman, likewise taken from the Irving story, is one of the best in golf.

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Finally, the Haunted Bridges, encountered on the 3rd, 10th and 16th holes, appear to have been built by Irving’s contemporaries and provide a unique and fitting touch.

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THE GOLF COURSE AT SLEEPY HOLLOW

Hole 1 – “Sunnyside” – 406yds – Par 4

There is no more enjoyable way to start a round of golf that from a first tee that sits in the shadow of the clubhouse, as is the case at Sleepy Hollow.  The Hudson river just peeks out above the treeline, giving the golfer a small taste of what’s to come.

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The first hole is a downhill dogleg right which, while tree lined, has a more generous landing area and more room to work the ball than it first appears.  The ideal position is the left half of the fairway.

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The first green is of a good size, but the bunkering on both sides and the visually deceptive framing bunker short left make for a challenging first iron.

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The fairway runs seamlessly into the green, allowing for the ball to be run on to the putting surface, but the green slopes up from front to back.  The deep Macdonald bunkering is felt immediately.

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The view back up the first hole — steeper than it appears, and a solid start to what will become a memorable round.

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Hole 2 – “Outlook” – 321yds – Par 4

Reminiscent of the first hole at Myopia, the second hole is a short, uphill par-4 defended by a relatively severe, well-protected green.  The “eyeglasses” bunkers short of the fairway are not in play, but make for an appealing visual effect.

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The approach to the second green will almost always be from an uphill lie, making for frequent short-right misses.  This deep-and-steep wraparound front-right bunker is waiting to catch those misses.

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The climb to the second green at Sleepy Hollow is the first point on the course where the golfer is treated to both the stunning views of the Hudson River . . .

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. . . and to the sight of Sleepy Hollow’s one-of-a-kind walking bridges.  This is the point in the round where the golfer knows, beyond a doubt, that a special day awaits.

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Hole 3 – “Haunted Bridge” – 153yds – Par 3

Aptly named, the third hole may be the best par 3 among the standout collection of one-shotters at Sleepy Hollow.  Played over a deep ravine to a green elevated just enough so that the golfer cannot see the entire putting surface, the third provides one of the most exciting tee shots on the front nine at Sleepy Hollow.

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The way in which the land was sculpted and the third green was benched into the hill will appeal to even the most jaded GCA enthusiasts.

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To access the green, the golfer crosses the Haunted Bridge for the first time.  Simply beautiful.

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Hole 4 – “Brom Bones” – 404yds – Par 4

Cresting the hill after putting out on the third green, the golfer is afforded a wide view from the fourth tee over a large, open section of the golf course.  The fourth hole plays out to an open fairway that dips down, then crests a small rise before arriving at the green.

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Longer shots may clear the rise, offering the golfer an unobstructed view of the putting surface.  For those that do not, an aiming marker is provided behind the green.

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A precision approach shot is required, as the fourth green is well guarded with deep bunkers, and is itself riddled with undulations, allowing for difficult pin positions.

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Hole 5 – “High Tor” – 403yds – Par 4

Playing back in the direction of the fourth tee, the fifth hole plays over the rise in the fairway (which is an easy carry for all players), then drops quickly before again rising to meet the green.  The view from the crest of the rise is spectacular.

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The encroaching bunkers, which begin well short of the fourth green, provide for an added challenge on the player’s approach.  Shots that come up short are in danger of rolling several yards back down the fairway.

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Approaches that come up short face this shot, with only the green (with its false front and varying internal mounds) and the pin in view.

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The fifth green.  No words necessary.

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Hole 6 – “Headless Horseman” – 458yds – Par 5

The first three shot hole at Sleepy Hollow is short on the card but plays longer, thanks to the hill that must be climbed before reaching the second fairway.  Aggressive, longer hitters can carry the steep, mounded wall but many players are better off simply laying up short of it.  Right is dead, and the massive grass bunker on the left side of the hill just wishes it was dead.

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Once reaching the upper tier of fairway, the golfer must contend with the principal’s nose bunkering, which sits smack in prime lay-up territory some sixty yards short of the green.

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The sixth green slopes substantially from back to front — approaches that end up beyond the hole will result in a very tricky putt back down to the hole.

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Hole 7 – “Tarry Brae” – 193yds – Par 3

In your author’s humble opinion, the best downhill reverse-redan hole in existence.

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The steepness of the green from high left to low right is so pronounced that balls routinely roll for 30 seconds or more as they funnel down toward the pin.  A wonderfully exciting hole to play.

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Hole 8 – “Sleepy Hollow” – 439yds – Par 4

The eighth hole begins the stretch of holes that were originally laid out by Tillinghast, and which are, for the most part, on a flatter, narrower portion of the property.  Nevertheless, the rolling terrain provides for many interesting shots, as first seen on the par-4 eighth hole.  Off the tee, the preferred result is the left side, but the partially hidden low left fairway bunker must be avoided.  A large mound in the right half of the fairway can scatter balls in any direction.

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The eighth green is set perfectly among the hills and rocky outcroppings.  A false front repels indifferent approaches.

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The eighth green, with the eleventh green complex visible behind.

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Hole 9 – “Katrina’s Glen” – 377yds – Par 4

The ninth provides a generous landing area for tee shots, but balls that end up short and right will face a blind approach to a small, well defended green.

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Tee shots that find the high left side of the fairway will have the preferred look down the center of the slightly elevated green.

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As shown in this photo, missing left is bad, but missing far left is awful.  Note the many appealing pin positions in the rippling green.

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Hole 10 – “The Lake” – 136yds – Par 3

As noted above, the 10th is probably the “worst” of Sleepy Hollow’s four one-shot holes, which should tell you everything you need to know about the high quality of the quartet that the course presents.

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The only hole at Sleepy Hollow with a true water hazard (the 12th has a small stream crossing it), what you see is what you get . . .

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. . . but it sure is pretty.

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Hole 11 – “Ichabod’s Elbow” – 371yds – Par 4

The offset teeing ground of the eleventh hole, benched into the side of the hill bordering the property, creates a soft dogleg right which favors a cut first shot.  While there are rugged, wooded areas on both sides of this hole, even bad shots are typically found and played.

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The eleventh’s key feature is its elevated green and surrounding green complex.  As you would expect, the elevation of the green makes the bunkers much deeper and much more penal as a hazard.

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The green is also one of the most undulating on the golf course . . .

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. . . and this raised section in the right rear of the putting surface makes for both some interesting putts and some impossible recoveries from misses left.

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The wonderfully constructed eleventh green complex, as viewed from the left side.

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Hole 12 – “Double Plateau” – 513yds – Par 5

The second and last par 5 at Sleepy Hollow, the twelfth winds left between the varied hills and mounds that mark this section of the golf course.  This hole was one of the most modified by Bahto and Hanse, and it is safe to assume that Macdonald would approve.

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The hole is reachable in two by longer players capable of positioning their tee shots in a spot that allows the dogleg to be negotiated.  Those laying up must contend with a small stream that winds across the fairway a few dozen yards short of the green and down the left side of the fairway.

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The three-tiered double plateau green is exceptionally built and, while severe in spots (as it should be) it is also large enough to accommodate accessible pin positions.  The steep fairway-cut slope fronting the green adds another layer of challenge, especially to front pins.

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A look back down the twelfth hole.

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Hole 13 – “Andre’s Lane” – 384yds – Par 4

The thirteenth marks the golfer’s return to the area of the course originally developed by Macdonald, and it’s an excellent hole.  A wide, gently inclined fairway slopes gently from high left to low right, and while a line up the left side is ideal, it also confronts two fairway bunkers and a cross-hazard. A line up the right is safer, but not only risks caroming into the rough, but also requires an approach from a less-than-ideal line over perhaps the deepest bunker on the course.  At Sleepy Hollow, such risk/reward decisions are confronted on a continual basis.

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The raised thirteenth green complex is one of your author’s favorites.  In addition to the extremely deep front right bunker, the complex features a pot bunker cut front left, along with a large expanse of fairway cut that extends well to the left of the green before culminating in a kick-slope that tumbles to the putting surface.  This unique setup allows for players to play safely away from the righthand bunker and either benefit from the built-in slope or to putt from above the left side of the green.  An old stone wall frames the rear of the green.  A wonderfully designed feature.

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The thirteenth green as viewed from the fourteenth tee, showing the large area of fairway cut grass.  Putting from up there is both challenging and fun.

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Hole 14 – “Homeward Bound” – 378yds – Par 4

Yet another aptly named hole, the fourteenth tee is set at the eastern corner of the property, the farthest point on the course from the clubhouse, and the next five holes stretch across the property and return the golfer home.  The tee shot on the fourteenth appears simple but is deceptively complex.  From the tee, the righthand bunker juts into the rising fairway. But this small hill not only obscures the green . . .

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. . . but hides a similar, though larger, lefthand cross bunker that sits just beyond the high point of the fairway.  The firm conditions and the now-downhill slope of the fairway will carry most balls that crest the hill left of center into this bunker.

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The fourteenth culminates in a narrow, deep green – one of the smallest on the course.  The green slopes relatively gently from front to back before abruptly ending and falling several feet to a right rear bunker or the rough below.

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From the right side, the golfer is treated to a long view of the green, the multi-tiered bunkers that separate the fourteenth and fourth greens, and the ever-present rocky surrounds of Sleepy Hollow.

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Hole 15 – “Punch Bowl” – 437yds – Par 4

The fifteenth is your author’s favorite hole at Sleepy Hollow, and it is fantastic.  An Alps/Punchbowl amalgamation, the combination of features found on this hole are unique in my experience, and together, they combine to form one of the most exciting, rewarding golf holes that I have ever played.  From the slightly elevated tee, only the first 400 yards of fairway are visible to the golfer, along with the right fairway bunker.

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The fairway is generous but canted rather substantially from high left to low right.  The left side of the fairway is ideal, and anything right of center runs a high risk of catching the right fairway bunker.

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The long approach shot is entirely blind, as the green sits some 20-30 feet below the fairway.  The perfect shot is played out over the right hand bunker, left of the aiming flag. As the golfer crests the fairway . . .

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. . . he is rewarded with the breathtaking view of the punchbowl green, with the sixteenth green behind and the Hudson River valley far below.

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Looking back, the proper route to the green is revealed.  One could never tire of playing this magnificent hole.

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Hole 16 – “Panorama” – 150yds – Par 3

One of the most beautiful one shot holes in the country, the Short at Sleepy Hollow plays back over the gorge that was first confronted on the third hole to a green ringed almost completely by a trench bunker.  The club has wisely removed all of the trees that once marred this spectacular view.

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Gorgeous from any angle, the sixteenth’s views hide a surprising amount of slope within its putting surface.

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The golfer again crosses the Haunted Bridge over the gorge on his way to the sixteenth green.  The way that the third and sixteenth holes were laid out over this terrain is a brilliant example of an architect making the most of a unique but difficult feature.

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Hole 17 – “Hendrik Hudson” – 433yds – Par 4

The seventeenth plays shorter than its yardage, as tee shots will roll forever.  Given the heavy cant of the fairway from left to right, however, care must be taken to properly place one’s tee shot or risk it rolling into the right rough for the cluster of fairway bunkers which are just out of view below the crest of the hill.

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The cluster of righthand fairway bunkers, as well as the extended fairway, are revealed as the golfer descends the seventeenth fairway.  The firm, fast conditions make these bunkers play far larger than their footprint.

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Level lies on approach are few and far between, making this narrow, bunkered green a difficult target.  The fairway runs seamlessly into the front of the green, however, leaving the option for a ground attack open.

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The greenside view of the long downhill penultimate hole.

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Hole 18 – “Mansion Rise” – 401yds – Par 4

While the seventeenth plays shorter than its yardage on the card, the eighteenth, leading back up to the iconic clubhouse, plays much longer than its listed 401.  While tee shots up the left side of this relatively narrow fairway will bounce down into ideal position, the lefthand fairway bunker must be avoided, as it makes reaching the green (or anywhere nearby) a virtual impossibility.

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The beautiful approach shot with the clubhouse directly behind the green (and, often, the lunch crowd observing play) provides one last pleasant memory of a golfer’s round.  While getting up and down from a left miss is tough, missing right can lead to a 30 yard uphill pitch.

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The green, following the slope of the land, is pitched substantially from back left to front right.  Putting back to a front pin is a challenge.

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Like the first tee, the final green at Sleepy Hollow sits mere steps from the clubhouse.

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Sleepy Hollow is a must not only for any fan of CB Macdonald, but for anyone with a love for golden age golf architecture or just a love of fun, exciting golf.  Head Professional David Young, Superintendent Tom Leahy and the club’s members are rightfully proud of their golf course and have acted as outstanding custodians of this treasure.  Soon, as more raters see Sleepy Hollow in its current form, it will assume its rightful place on every top 100 list there is.  But until then, it remains an underrated gem that everyone should try to see at least once.

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Pops lets fly on 16

I hope you enjoyed the tour.


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Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf