After two years in Boston, our group was longing for a return trip to Long Island, and Friar’s Head. Planning began over the winter, but took a detour. Two of the original four members of the Noreaster crew, Brian and Shawn, weren’t able to make the trip this year. They are good dads, and had travel plans with their kids that trumped golf buddy travel. I understand and respect those priorities. Fortunately, my network of golf geeks who get it continues to expand, and the slots were filled by Jon Cavalier and Gary M.
We pulled together a lineup of Friar’s Head, Maidstone, Quogue Field Club, and Deepdale GC.
Since my last visit to Friar’s Head, I have had the good fortune of playing several more of Coore & Crenshaw’s best courses – Old Sandwich, Sand Hills, Sand Valley and Dormie Club. My love of their work continues to grow, but I admit to wondering if the additional exposure would in any way diminish Friar’s Head. It most definitely did not. Friar’s Head delivers, every time.
The back nine gets most of the press, but on this visit I was much more taken with the front. Those holes are brilliantly routed out to and back from the inland farm, and are packed with strategy and character. I made the turn feeling that the front might be the stronger nine, especially with the recent tree removal.
Whereas the outward nine meanders around in a wide open area, much of the back nine winds through dunes closer to the clubhouse and water. Beginning with the par-3 10th, the inward nine has more of an adventure feel.
My feelings about the front side notwithstanding, there is a reason why the closing stretch from the 14th through 18th gets so much love. It is all-world.
Maidstone was one of the courses we visited on our first annual Noreaster, which also included Piping Rock, Shinnecock and Friar’s Head. Truth be told, it was not our crew’s favorite from that lineup, but it didn’t get a fair assessment either. We played Shinnecock that morning in a howling wind and spitting rain, and it beat us up. By the time we made it to Maidstone, the rain has stopped, but the wind increased to silly levels and it was difficult to see Maidstone for how special it was.
That first visit to Maidstone was also prior to the renovation by Coore & Crenshaw. I filed it away in the “nice course” category until Jon Cavalier did his LinksGems course tour. Reviewing Jon’s tour, I could hardly believe that it was the same Maidstone I had played. From that day forward, a return to East Hampton has been on my mind.
Expectations were high as we made the drive east on Long Island on a perfect June morning. 18 holes later, my high expectations were thoroughly exceeded with Maidstone entering my Top 10 all-time favorites. Willie Park’s routing – beginning and ending with a wide open field in front of the clubhouse, transitioning to the wetlands around Hook Pond, and featuring the seaside dunesland at its heart – is masterful and varied. C&C’s work on the greens and bunkers is mind-blowingly cool. And the stewardship of GM Ken Koch and Superintendent John Genovesi is spot on.
Still absorbing the morning months later, I am left believing that a fair argument could be made that Maidstone belongs in the same conversation with Shinnecock and National Golf Links as top dog on Long Island. As was the case when I first saw Jon’s photos, I am once again counting the days until a return visit.
MAIDSTONE COURSE TOUR
(click on circle images to enlarge)
Hole #1 – Par 4 – 424 yards
The opener plays downhill away from the clubhouse to a green that is both elevated and canted. Long approaches are in danger of finding the road, which backs the green. The Coore & Crenshaw team’s bunker rework is on display and gives a hint at the polish that has been applied to this Willie Park Jr. gem.
Hole #2 – Par 5 – 537 yards
The first of the “wetland” holes plays straight through flanking bunkers to a stellar green featuring a low front tier and a long, angled back tier. Approaches must be precisely played to find the correct section, while avoiding the large bunker that runs the length of the back right. The renovation took this hole from ho-hum to holy moly!
Hole #3 – Par 4 – 408 yards
A straightaway two-shotter, the third demands proper positioning off the tee to access various pin positions on the green which features a false front and two tiers. Great greens make great golf holes, and this hole is proof positive.
Hole #4 – Par 3 – 176 yards
The first one-shotter marks another transition, with three of the next four holes playing over or around Hook Pond. Bunkering rework around the green has added even more character to this thrilling hole, where two realizations hit the player on the tee: 1) The wind is really blowing, and 2) If I don’t make committed approaches, I will be watching balls roll back down false fronts ALL day.
Hole #5 – Par 4 – 325 yards
Multiple options are available to the player on this short four, including going for the green when the wind is right. Bunkers guard the landing zones and the green, which backs up to Hook Pond. Reward awaits the bold, but not without risk.
Hole #6 – Par 4 – 403 yards
The green on this hole, featuring bold contours, and surrounded by jaw-dropping bunkering is a harbinger of the architecture to come. Hit the approach on the wrong tier, and you may as well try and negotiate a three-putt with your playing partners as you walk up the fairway.
Hole #7 – Par 4 – 341 yards
The best cape hole in America? An argument could be made. Step on the tee, gauge the wind, check your pucker factor, and let er rip. A thrilling tee shot, followed by an approach into a green with killer contours and creative flourishes in the surrounds. Sublime.
Hole #8 – Par 3 – 151 yards
The tee shot plays blind over the large dune to an elevated green. A wise man once said, a shot is only blind once. That wise man may have been right, but he would be intimidated on the 8th tee too.
Finding the 8th green – wonderfully contoured, floating on a sea of sand – with one’s tee ball is an exhilarating relief.
Hole #9 – Par 4 – 415 yards
Ahhhh, the iconic 9th. With the ocean on the right and the whipping wind, the player must focus to find a safe landing in the fairway winding through the dunes.
A service road left of the green has been replaced by a wild runoff shaped by Dave Zinkand. Continuous improvement and relentless attention to detail. What separates the good from the world class.
Hole #10 – Par 4 – 387 yards
This unique hole is one of Maidstone’s most natural and rugged looking, with sandy wastes, long grasses and colorful dune vegetation. Standing in the fairway looking at the green set atop a dune, the player can be forgiven for concluding that there is no safe place to land an approach.
Hole #11 – Par 4 – 464 yards
This slight dogleg left is an elegant hole with bunkers guarding the drive zone and green. It highlighted for me just how perfectly balanced Maidstone is. From turf maintenance, to bunker treatments, to tree management, nothing has been left undone, and yet nothing is overdone.
Hole #12 – Par 3 – 181 yards
This used to be a nondescript connector hole. Thanks to C&C, that is most definitely no longer the case. The forebunker confounds depth perception, the flanking bunkers intimidate, and a back left bunker lies out of sight, waiting to punish misjudged shots. All this sand, defending a green that is tough enough to not need defending. The 12th is now up to the standards of Maidstone’s other wonderful one-shotters.
Hole #13 – Par 5 – 500 yards
The 13th plays back toward the ocean and the fairway narrows as it nears the green. A green that, now running at an angle between two bunkers and featuring a large false front, might be the most improved on the course. This hole used to be “the one before the iconic 14th”. Post-renovation, it is THE 13th.
Hole #14 – Par 3 – 152 yards
This all world one-shotter can play dramatically differently from day to day based on the wind. Whether holding a wedge or a long iron, the player is guaranteed a dose of beauty to soothe their frazzled nerves.
The view of the 14th from behind shows a) how close to the ocean the green sits, and b) how little margin for error there is for tee balls. Find the green, enjoy the sound and smell of the ocean, and consider yourself among the fortunate few.
Hole #15 – Par 5 – 493 yards
Playing straightaway from the ocean, the green is reachable in two with the right wind. Multiple subtle plateaus mean that an eagle or birdie are far from guaranteed even if a bold approach safely finds the green. This hole marks the end of the seaside adventure as the course heads back to the clubhouse.
Hole #16 – Par 5 – 485 yards
The par-5 16th ends the fun 3,5,3,5,5 stretch. The cape-style tee shot plays back over Hook Pond to a fairway that makes a right turn toward the low-set green. Judging the wind and playing the angles well can result in birdies. Picking the wrong lines…different result.
Hole #17 – Par 4 – 328 yards
This short four starts with a second straight cape tee shot, playing in the opposite direction. Yet another fun little routing quirk. The player can take multiple lines off tee to gain the most advantageous position to approach a green set intimately at the intersection of two roads.
Hole #18 – Par 4 – 390 yards
The home hole plays uphill toward the clubhouse and ocean. The shared fairway makes for an expansive view and provides plenty of room to get way out of position for the approach.
Maidstone’s final green setting is so breathtakingly beautiful that it almost masks the sadness the player feels to be walking off this all-world course. The adventure ends, but the memories last forever.
QUOGUE FIELD CLUB
Fortunately for me, my golf buddies are willing to indulge my recent obsession with 9-holers. I could not have been more excited to experience Quogue Field Club, thanks to our host Peter Imber. It did not disappoint.
Peter has been at the forefront of the restoration of Quogue, and he has graciously agreed to participate in an interview and course tour on which Jon Cavalier and I intend to collaborate. With that closer look on the docket, I won’t dive too deeply into the course here. I will say, however, that Quogue Field Club embodies everything that I love about the game. It is both simple and intensely interesting at the same time. It provides plenty of challenge, especially when the wind blows, without sucking out the fun. It is a joy.
I could go around and around this course endlessly…
Quogue’s nine holes have nine terrific greens, as well as plenty of old-timey quirk – grassy mounds, church pew bunkers, shots over roads, a punch bowl surrounded by sand. The list goes on and on.
The course is open to and intimately embedded in its community. It is a source of inspiration for what community golf can be, whether public or private.
DEEPDALE GOLF CLUB
On a trip that was packed with high notes, the highest relative to my expectations might have been our visit to Deepdale. I must admit that I did not know much about the club, other than that the course was designed by Dick Wilson, an architect whose courses I had never played. Sometimes, going into a golf adventure “blind” makes it all the more enjoyable and that was certainly the case here.
The course was wonderful, from the routing, to the imposing bunkering, to the sloped and contoured greens. Wilson created a course that challenges the low handicapper, without punishing those who are less skilled.
The club is outstanding. A great mix of old school charm with new school amenity. The showers are almost as good as Friar’s Head (and that is saying something), and the seafood cobb salad might be the best post-round meal I have ever had. Deepdale is the kind of club that would be a pure pleasure to frequent – a golf getaway from city life that isn’t even all that far away. It was the perfect end to our trip.
From the first hole, several things are evident about Deepdale. It is immaculate, the doglegged fairways sweep beautifully over the land, and the greens are anything but boring.
I had no idea that the land so close to the highway and airport could be so stunning, with rolling hills and plenty of elevation change.
The more golf adventures I have, the more I come to realize that the enjoyment of the experience is as much dictated by the quality of the company as it is by the quality of the courses. I am fortunate to be able to play the courses I do, but my fortune is exponentially better because of the company I keep. These are simply stellar dudes.
Reflecting on the trip, there was one missing element – immersion. Because of some last minute shuffling, we were not all staying in the same place. A big part of what I truly enjoy about buddies trips is the camaraderie, on the course and off. Car time and meal time, talking golf, architecture and life, add richness and depth to these trips. The logistics robbed us of a bit of that this time around.
The 2017 Noreaster consisted of our most eclectic group of courses and clubs to date, in terms of both vibe and architecture. We had modern and classic, understated and luxurious, big and small, modern and classic. One common thread that runs among them all – greatness.
Familiarity born of return visits to the area, and Friar’s Head and Maidstone, increased my appreciation. These trips are often a blur and repeat visits help to crystallize memories and perspectives. I often wonder, which Noreaster area has the strongest collection of courses? Boston, Long Island, or Philly? The answer came to me this year. Whichever area I just visited.