Thursday, February 01, 2018

The Walker Cup is one of the greatest sporting events ever

The 2017 Walker Cup, conducted over the North Course at the Los Angeles Country Club (LACC) this past September, was the latest episode of one of the greatest sporting events ever. The event celebrates amateur golf, and it is deeply rooted in the aristocratic traditions of the early game. The event was first announced at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York in January 1921. The occasion was the U.S.G.A.’s annual meeting, and George Herbert Walker of St. Louis, at the time the retiring president of the association and an investment banker, thought it would be a good idea to establish a tournament similar to the Davis Cup in lawn tennis, which was established in 1900. He donated an outsized sterling silver trophy, which he commissioned Tiffany & Co. to hand craft. The three-foot tall cup (which is engraved with the name “International Challenge Trophy” on it) is awarded to the winner of the biennial event.

Walker was the founder of the investment firm G. H. Walker & Co., which was headquartered at No. 1 Wall Street. As befitting a man at the top of the heap, he was a member of the best clubs including the National Golf Links of America in Southampton. He was also a member of the Links in New York City, a private club established by Charles Blair Macdonald in 1916 whose focus is promoting and conserving the best interest and true spirit of the game of golf. It was during a meeting at the Links with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews that the idea took root.


In his 2008 history of the Bush family Jacob Weisberg describes George H. Walker as a “Midwestern prince” whose privileges included a personal manservant and his own nurse. He developed an affinity for golf while attending a Jesuit boarding school in England. A very successful (described as brusque) banker, he helped finance the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. When he moved to New York to set up his investment firm he was backed by Harriman railroad money and lived in a mansion on Madison Avenue, and later, at one of the toniest addresses in the metropolis: 1 Sutton Place. He also owned estates on the North Shore of Long Island and in Santa Barbara, California, in addition to a ten-thousand-acre hunting lodge in South Carolina. Both he and his wife had their own chauffeured Rolls-Royces. In addition to being the benefactor of the Walker Cup, George established the “Walker’s Point” estate, the family’s 176-acre compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.

The Walker Cup was established during an era when amateur athletics occupied a more prominent position than it does today, especially among pastimes pursed by the rich: the America’s Cup in yachting, the Newport Cup in polo, and the Davis Cup in tennis. As originally conceived, the Walker Cup was meant to be a broad international competition.  The original plan was to have teams from the United States, the British Isles, France, Canada, Sweden, Italy, Norway, and Spain compete in an “International Golf Team Championship.” The victorious team would then host the next match in their country. The idea evolved between conception and the first tournament and it was launched (and remains today) an Anglo-American tournament, alternating back and forth across the Atlantic.

The first match established the congenial tone and sense of good fellowship for the contest. British and Irish players arrived in New York on the RMS Carmania and were met on the pier by the president of the U.S.G.A. and then whisked to the posh Hotel Biltmore at the Westchester Country Club and then to the Links club for lunch. The first match was contested at C.B. Macdonald’s National Golf Links of America with a match play format: foursomes (alternate shot), followed by singles matches.

Fast forward ninety-five years and the best amateurs in the world gather in the heart of Los Angeles. If those with advantages have a center of gravity in the city of Angels, a strong case can be made that it is at LACC. The private club is located smack dab in the middle of the action, with chock-a-block action on all four points of the compass around them: just to the south are the skyscrapers of Century City; immediately west is the U.C.L.A. campus in Westwood; Beverly Hills abuts to the east, and the northern border is shared with the ritzy Holmby Hills neighborhood and the secluded enclave of Bel-Air. (LACC is actually located in Beverly Hills, but as discrete aristocrats do, they understate the case by declaring their residence Los Angeles). For those familiar with household street names rather than those of neighborhoods, the club is just south of Sunset Boulevard, slightly west of Rodeo Drive and to the north of Santa Monica Boulevard, with Wilshire Boulevard roughly separating the club’s North Course from the South. Like a fertile waystation in a vast desert, LACC is a 325-acre oasis of green in the sprawling urban hardscape of Los Angeles. The club occupies arguably the most valuable parcel of contiguous undeveloped real estate in the country. The captain of the U.S. team, “Spider” Miller, described it spot on: “It’s like New York, if Central Park was a golf course.”

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The fits-like-a-glove clubhouse at LACC

What does perfection look like? Well, like beauty, love, or happiness, defining sensibilities is a tricky proposition. Although elusive to define, the Walker Cup matches at LACC came as close to being flawless or without defect as can be achieved. For matters of such weight I find it useful to look to the Italians, who specialize in such things and have for centuries. They even have their own word for it: sprezzatura. It means effortless grace, doing something cool with nonchalance. To enter the grounds of Los Angeles Country Club is to enter a world of privilege. Normally visitors drive up the discrete entry off Wilshire Boulevard (and with the requisite credentials) pass the guard gate and drive around to the parking lot. Admission backstage is typically through the clubhouse. For the Walker Cup, parking was on the South Course across Wilshire Boulevard. After crossing the busy thoroughfare and walking up the entry drive, smiling visitors stepped in through a gate near the guard house. Once behind the hedgerows that run the perimeter of the property, the overwhelming initial impression is how verdant the rolling terrain is, partially because there is such a striking contrast against the backdrop of the newly refurbished white columned clubhouse that stretches out imposingly over the opening and closing holes.

The U.S.G.A. does a flawless job of picking courses for the Walker Cup. One of their secrets (which is hiding in plain sight) is that they select the best courses ever conceived and built. Since it is a match play event without big crowds, they have the luxury of selecting courses suited for the format. A large number of the revered courses they choose were designed during the Golden Age of golf course architecture. Courses like Cypress Point, the Garden City Golf Club, and the Kittansett Club. Entering the cloistered setting of LACC it becomes immediately clear that the guardians of the game did well picking this venue. Wholly consistent with a tournament started by a patrician and aristocratic investment banker with both an office and a residence at the premier location on the street, George Walker would approve of this location for his tournament.

The golf course was designed by George Thomas, Jr., a Philadelphia native with his own patrician background. Born into a wealthy banking family, he attended an Episcopal prep school and the ivy-clad University of Pennsylvania. Like George Walker, Thomas was an investment banker in his early days. Thomas moved to Beverly Hills in 1919 and (as a sideline) designed a respected collection of golf courses. Although the Riviera Country Club is his most widely recognized design, his handiwork at LACC was when he reached his apex. Nicknamed “the captain,” he served with heroism in the First World War as a pilot, having been shot down three times. Thomas was a real Renaissance man. In addition to his world-class abilities as an architect of golf courses, he was also a competitive dog trainer, fisherman, and yachtsman. One of his lasting legacies was his work in commercial rose hybridization, an area he wrote several books about. When you walk through the club entrance one of the compelling facets that draws you in is the long narrow bed of perfectly manicured, multicolored roses that showcase the varieties he developed. Just like us, the roses apparently like the dry, sunny, and humidity-free conditions of Southern California. The subconscious mind makes a quick note: bubble has been entered. One no longer inhabits the latticework of freeways and urbanity that defines L.A. Behind the gates of LACC, the mind and body relax; life has switched from black to white to full technicolor; all five senses are awakened.

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The showcase of roses in front of the clubhouse

I stood near the clubhouse and practice putting green for a full thirty minutes upon arrival, simply soaking in the atmosphere of the club, the spectacle of the Walker Cup environment, and the beauty of the rolling terrain framed by the Santa Monica Mountains in the distance. Waiters and waitresses clad in formalwear stood like sentinels on the Reagan Terrace of the clubhouse (the 40th President was a member), the LACC flag fluttering high above the scene, below the flag of the California Republic and the host nation. Golf cognoscenti and industry insiders were milling about in anticipation, as were many of golf’s dignitaries, including the rule makers of the governing bodies. Excited spectators entering the property for the first time marveled at the conditioning of the fairways and greens. It was a brilliant, warm day to be soaking it up. Members were out in abundance in their crested jackets, as proud as a parent beaming at their child’s graduation ceremony, strutting around between the clubhouse and the pro shop. The members were easy to identify in their blue blazers with the red, white, and green LACC crest proclaiming their place in the world the same way the denizens of Washington Avenue wear their green jackets in April.

One of the elements that makes the Walker Cup so special is the unfettered access you have to the club. On my prior two visits to LACC I was unable to buy anything with the club emblem on it because the pro shop accepts neither cash nor credit cards. A purchase requires that it be put on the member’s account, which makes it more than a bit awkward, their intent that it serves as a deterrent working as planned. Not so at the Walker Cup, so I took full advantage of the opportunity. Unlike professional golf events, the Walker Cup does not have grandstands for spectators. They don’t need any because the crowds are small and you are free to walk essentially anywhere you want (even on the greens if you so desire, although that is bad form) as long as you don’t obstruct play. Only a few areas are roped off, chiefly so you don’t interfere with the players’ ability to walk on or off a tee or green. I took the opportunity to follow the morning practice rounds, following the U.S. team, who were warming up in two groups of five. What a thrill to be able to stand on the fairway less than 10 feet behind a player to watch them go through their pre-shot routine, and to hit the ball. The ten players on each team are among the best amateurs in the world. They play a different game than you or I do (maybe not you, surely me). The torque and flexibility they have at such tender ages is a joy to watch, inducing just a twinge of envy. It is a marvel to see how they consistently hit the ball long and straight: “Far and sure” as early practitioners of the Royal and Ancient game called it.

The other impression I had of the competitors was how young they were. In the Walker Cup program produced for the 2013 matches held at the National Golf Links of America, Anthony Edgeworth describes the matches as a “timeless continuum.” His double entendre of the competition and the players resonates: “The perpetual youthfulness of the Match, its rosy-cheeked visage reappearing unwrinkled and optimistic every two years” rings so true. These young bucks have so much talent and promise, and it was apparent by the looks on their clean-shaven faces that they knew they were lucky to be playing on one of the games unrivaled courses in an environment of hushed tones. It is a thing of beauty to be able to appreciate them up close.  

White pants after Labor Day? A fashion faux pas in the real world, but we left that when we turned off Wilshire Boulevard. At LACC the U.S. team was sporting spotless trousers the color of freshly fallen snow. Each of the players wore a snug crimson baseball-style cap adorned with a blue “W.” Lithe young collegians, they pulled it off without a hitch because they have sprezzatura; their poised looks as effortless as their swings. In a stark contrast to the professional game there was no clutter: no Waste Management or Bridgestone logos on the shirts, nothing to mar their pristine uniforms or golf bags. Nor were there advertisements on the caddie bibs. A compelling part of the tradition of the matches is that the players take club caddies. The local loopers were wearing white bibs and white hats with the LACC logo on them and based on their smiling and sturdy faces they understood that participation was an honor.

After watching the warmup rounds, I took the occasion to walk the course from beginning to end, alone. The peacefulness and solitude of the environment is a juxtaposition to the frenetic environment outside the club’s perimeter. Mostly, it was a joyous walk of solitude. The only sounds making it through the bubble were very L.A.: the occasional whirring of helicopters swooping around the vast city overhead. I walked on tee boxes and down fairways in a dreamy state imagining how I would hit my shots if I were playing. I had forgotten how dry the environment in South California is. The low humidity levels and desert-like landscape creates a dry and dusty milieu. The air was scented by eucalyptus and ancient sycamore trees, their gnarled trunks rising from dry river beds were a reminder that this is a style of golf quite distinct from that played in the wetter Northeast. I had equally forgotten how hilly the terrain is on the course. After the gentle opening par five, the long second hole opens up a stretch culminating on the eighth green that is simply breathtaking. It is as good a stretch of holes as you will find on any golf course the world over, over a uniquely hilly terrain. Thomas used the barrancas (Spanish for gully, canyon or ditch) and sloping hillsides to route a masterpiece, achieving perfect form and harmony with the environment. Leonardo da Vinci attained sprezzatura with his perfectly proportioned “Vitruvian Man.” George Thomas’s achieved the same with LACC’s North Course.

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The sharply rolling terrain of LACC’s North Course as seen on the sixth fairway

An especially poignant part of the Walker Cup is the flag raising ceremony at the conclusion of the practice rounds, the day before the official matches begin. The setting for the flag raising at the 46th Walker Cup was the first fairway of the North Course, the very place where these young phenoms would be hitting their tee shots the next morning. A dais and three flag poles were set about fifty yards down the fairway with spectators kept a respectful distance away. The hatless players were arrayed on either side of the dais lined up in a row of white chairs wearing their newly-minted blazers. Off to the right was a collection of distinguished jacket wearers, each identified by their distinctive emblems, sitting in their own cluster of white chairs. Any club that has hosted a Walker Cup is asked to send a representative to the match. Among them there was a gentleman sitting in a green jacket that had a crest with a thicket of grass and a red wicker basket poking up through it (Merion), a gentleman with two linksman on his jacket, a symbol borrowed from old Delft tiles. He was accorded extra respect among the jacketed group because his club hosted the first Walker Cup in 1922, at the National Golf Links of America. A ruddy faced gentleman with a regal logo featuring a harp with a crown over it (Royal County Down) sat smiling through the proceedings. This was the General Assembly of golf’s inner circle.

I stood among the well-coiffed ticket-holders and waited the twenty minutes or so that it took for the members and other luminaries to gather. The gathered coterie was in all their sartorial splendor, for the club was hosting a celebratory mixer immediately after. Virtually everyone standing in the fading afternoon light could be featured in a commercial for a fashion or fitness product. I personally find it irritating to watch television advertisements by drug companies, which feature idealized people. I always think, these are fabrications; normal people aren’t that fit or good looking or well dressed. Nor do they exist in the scripted, perfect settings that have been conjured up for them. These are just projected images of perfect people that don’t exist. Except they do, at LACC, and they were all at the Walker Cup with carefree looks, exhibiting panache without effort. Cary Grant epitomized sprezzatura, and pulled off an impeccable look every time he appeared on screen. So too did the gathered crowd at LACC, wearing their cocktail party best.

Where the scene had the sharpest contrast and the most poignancy was among the kids. Privileged teenagers (and pre-teens) stood among the crowd wearing perfectly pressed slacks, loafers, crested club jackets, pocket hankies, and designer sunglasses, looking all the world like the mini moguls that they are. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise, this is Southern California after all, and they no doubt grew up on diets of bean sprouts, avocados, and kale, with almonds as snacks after yoga. The English golf writer Bernard Darwin, grandson of the famous naturalist, was famously called upon to play in the first Walker Cup when a member of the British team became ill. Natural Selection is still alive and well, as exhibited by the vitality of the establishment at the flag raising. To paraphrase Cecil Rhodes's comment about the English, "To be a member of LACC is to win first prize in the lottery of life." The gene here pool is quite strong.

To kick off the gala a Marine band marched out stiff-backed in their crisp dress uniforms, adding
further dignity to the proceedings. They began with upbeat patriotic songs played at just the right pitch in the background as wispy clouds scattered high up in the azure sky. They would in turn play the national anthem of Ireland, followed by that of Great Britain, as the tricolour and Union Jack were raised in succession. Finally, the American national anthem was played as the Stars and Stripes were hoisted. The president of the U.S.G.A. then spoke, followed by the executive director of the U.S.G.A., the president of the R & A, and the president of LACC. Each had their respective blue jackets on with their identifying patches (a circle with an eagle in the center for the U.S.G.A. and the image of St. Andrew holding the saltire inside a championship belt topped with a crown for the R & A).

The highlight of the proceedings were the opening comments of Bush 43, who spoke with sincerity and wished both teams his best, with a special emphasis added for those competitors from Texas. George is the namesake of the cup-giver, as he would no doubt call his great-grandfather. He had lunched with the U.S. team and described them, in his usual laconic and choppy style, “Good upright citizens. Good people.” It was he who called the Walker Cup “One of the greatest sporting events ever,” and it really struck me as true.

The two-day matches themselves are a throwback to old school match play golf. The morning foursomes matches were conducted without fuss. The players got up to the ball and hit without undue analysis and thinking. Their uncluttered minds appear freer than those of professionals and most recreational golfers. Chalk it up to confidence and ability. From time to time while following a match, I would stand on the tee box to watch the first player drive the ball. If I didn’t walk at a good pace, I almost missed his playing partner hitting the second shot. They would reach the ball, figure out the yardage and pull the trigger: golf as it was meant to be played, without equivocation. The gifted golfers hit their shots with only a smattering of fans following along in deferential silence. There was a sense of reverence and respect that only the Masters comes close to replicating, although here the scale is smaller and the overall experience is better because you are standing in the thick of the action.

The golf played was of the first order and it was a joy to watch the players walk the undulating terrain with purposeful, confident strides. Although there is little fanfare, the event is consequential, since there is no greater honor than to play for your country. The players are competitive and want to win, but there is no sense of it being overdone. The knowledgeable fans were ecumenical in their praise; the visitors were accorded as much respect for good shots and putts as the home team. There were no chants of “U.S.A.!, U.S.A.!” or other overt displays of rooting, simply polite applause and discrete encouragement. Yelling at the Walker Cup (“mashed potatoes,” “get in the hole,” or “you ‘da man”) would be met with the same enthusiasm as shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theater.  The brainless morons who infect other tournaments stay away because their fate here for such offenses involves voltage. While the penalties for such behavior are not explicitly spelled out I would suspect first offenses are punished by being hit with a Taser from a lurking highway patrolman. I also wouldn't rule out of consideration that second offenses are met by death in the electric chair.


California’s Highway Patrol standing by as needed at LACC

The Masters carefully describes those that make the trek to Augusta as patrons, not fans. In a similar vein, the Walker Cup does not have fans either. In the leadoff to the program from the 2013 Walker Cup held at the National Golf Links of America, certified WASP, honorary chairman of the club and the event, and former chairman of Morgan Stanley, the late S. Parker Gilbert, addressed his opening letter to: “Friends of Amateur Golf,” which hits the nail on the head. Those that make the effort to come and follow the matches love the amateur game. Like at the Masters, small details are not overlooked: LACC was thoughtful in its concessions for visitors, included making British and Irish fans feel at home. The lunch selections included bangers and tater tots as well as Guinness and Smithwick’s on tap.

Even though the event was staged in a city of four million people, there were inexplicable so few spectators that at times it felt like a private exhibition match for LACC members. On more than one occasion walking along with the players or standing near a putting green I felt like an interloper unintentionally eavesdropping on their private conversations. Without an inkling of boasting the end-of-summer chats advised how a family had just returned from their second home in Montecito, or from a trip to Catalina, and that the youngest daughter had just returned to Stanford. The membership here is an impressive lot, a concentration of C-suiters, creators, owners, and rule makers in the land of Teslas.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention the Americans won the matches handily, but that is beside the point. Respected golf writers on both sides of the Atlantic have for years sung the praises of the matches and captured the essence of what I experienced. From the British Isles, Michael McDonnell: “In the modern winner-at-all-costs climate the Walker Cup is an anachronism because winning and losing are never taken too seriously and at times seem downright irrelevant.” Herbert Warren Wind added, “There is no explaining how it happens, but a singular atmosphere develops on these occasions.” The Walker Cup is about the competition and not the results.

Credit to the U.S.G.A. for selecting LACC as the venue and for setting the course up in a traditional manner. There were no tricked up greens, narrowing of fairways, or other unnatural changes made. They recognized that the course is near perfection as it is and had the wisdom not to do much.

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The rolling swaths of green create an oasis in the middle of the mega city

Admittedly, my sample size is small, having attended Walker Cup matches at only the National Golf Links and LACC, however, based on my experiences at both I would have to agree with 43 that this is undeniably one of the greatest sporting events ever. Ticket prices are cheap ($40 for a practice round and $75 on match days), it is uncrowded, held on the best venues, and the golf is world class. Match play is also a better spectator format than stroke play. Match play is not as good a format for television and therefore the contemporary game is dominated by stroke play events, which is a shame because the ebb and flow of match play is so much more exciting and unpredictable. While there are other world-class sporting events, namely Royal Ascot, Wimbledon, the Tour de France, a Notre Dame home football game, the races at Saratoga Springs, and the Masters, the Walker Cup is just a cut above because of the intimacy of the affair.

To me the Walker Cup goes beyond golf and represents one of the few remaining bulwarks holding the line against our societal race to the bottom. Like the Masters, it is a beacon of civility in a world with a multitude of disruptions and a systematic lowering of standards. The cup serves a dual role: not only is it a great sporting event, but it showcases and upholds a tradition of politeness and decorum that is waning in our increasingly vulgar and coarse world. Call me an elitist, a snob, or someone with a serious case of WASP envy, but I soaked up the clean cut, polite, and learned environment of the Walker Cup with zest. It is a soothing tonic from a world of sweatpants, cargo pants, ripped jeans, tattoos, and nose earrings. There is nothing garish, brash, or tawdry about the affair; no doubt it is because the events are held within bubbles with a different stratum of society in attendance, however, this is the traditional role of the aristocracy, ensuring high standards are kept up. Good character trumps trendiness. The keepers of golf are doing well as they remain the protectors of the traditions and good manners that golf was founded on.

I find it enlightening to speculate about what a time traveler would make of all this. Bobby Jones was a young collegian when he played in his first match after studying mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, while he was on his way to Harvard. He competed in the first five tournaments and his record was 9-1. Imagine if Jones were to come back; which tournament would he most recognize? No doubt the tournament he created, the Masters, would still look quite familiar, as Augusta National have held true to his vision. I would think he would also be quite pleased at how the nature of the Walker Cup has not changed, remaining timeless and in good taste.

My visits to LACC have been among the most memorable and truly enjoyable in all my travels. Kudos to the club for donating all proceeds of hosting the matches to the Southern California Golf Association to be used in furtherance of growing the game. While the starry-eyed players may not have chauffer driven Rolls-Royces or manservants in their future, their future prospects are open-ended given their talents and stations in life.

Monday, January 01, 2018

The Boat of Garten Golf Club

After playing Pitlochry in the mid-Highlands my friends and I were scheduled to play the following day at Ullapool in the Northwest corner of Scotland. Like much of the Scottish west coast Ullapool gets the brunt of the weather coming across the Atlantic. Looking at a three-hour drive and a forecast that was grim (sheets of cold rain coming in and hanging over the area all day) we called an audible and decided to play at the Boat of Garten instead, only an hour away.

The change was serendipity defined. We accidentally stumbled on a true gem. It was love at first sight between "The Boat" and I. Not since my first time playing Cruden Bay and Jack's Point in New Zealand have I been so blown away.

The Scots have a way with words naming their towns with phonetically pleasing names that roll off the tongue. Where else on earth do you have town names such as the Drum of Wartle, Muir of Ord, Heights of Brae, Lyne of Gorthleck, Spittal of Glenmuick, and of course Boat of Garten? The town and course are located on the River Spey and the speculation is that the town derived its name from a ferry service (or boat) that used to run across the river in ancient times.

The rainbow of flowers near the first tee and clubhouse sets up an enchanting day of golf

The Boat of Garten hasn't been on my radar before (and I suspect is not on the radar of others for the same reason) because it is a wee course, as the Scots would say. It plays 5,648 yards from the tees that visitors are permitted to play from, with a par of 70. What a big mistake on my part judging courses by their length. Some of my favorites are indeed short: North Berwick, Myopia Hunt Club, Prestwick and Cruden Bay, so my epiphany is now complete and I am very much open to discovering the charms of shorter courses.

Located in Inverness-shire, in the Cairngorms National Park, the setting is pristine and magical. Like at Walton Heath and Lytham & St. Annes, the Boat begins with a par 3. At 169 yards, it is a relatively gentle opener provided you are not long, where the green falls off at the back.

The opening hole at the Boat of Garten

The course was immediately reminiscent of Walton Heath and Sunningdale: a beautiful heathland paradise, although the Boat also has a load of silver birch and Scottish broom as well.

The second fairway, a rough and tumble par four

The golf course was designed by James Braid, who visited in 1930 and 1931, changing a previous design from nine holes to eighteen. The course has a roughhewn look with rumpled fairways and a charming lay of the land feel. In their excellent book James Braid and his 400 Courses John Moreton and Iain Cumming describe how during Braid's career course construction was essentially done by hand or with the assistance of horses or earth scrapers, which were used only to smooth out areas for greens. Steel shafts weren't legal on golf clubs in Britain until November 1929, thus the course was designed for play with hickory shafted clubs and a different golf ball. The "going back in time" feel of Boat of Garten is palpable.

The par three third hole carries on the roughhewn look

The third hole, a par three, changes orientation and direction and plays toward a wee rail line that runs parallel to the opening holes, the Strathspey Steam Railway. On the day we played a little two-car work train was sputtering up and back on the track bringing back good memories of the days when my kids would watch Thomas the Tank Engine every day!

The par five fourth hole looking back from the green at the blind hill you just played over

Because Braid kept the original hilly landforms unchanged the course features many blind shots. The par five fourth hole features a blind second as seen in the picture above, seen looking backward from the green. The Boat has a lot of black and white striped poles like the one you see at the rise of the hill, above.  I know not everyone likes blind shots, although I do and find them fun and quirky.

The par four seventh also features a blind shot

How do you make a 369-yard par four hole, like the seventh at the Boat challenging? Blind shots, rough land forms, rolling undulations, uneven lies, humps, and hollows seem to do the trick.

A view of the eighth green shows off the sparkling environment of the Highlands with silver birch across the landscape in abundance

The front nine contains a delightful set of holes, although things really get going on the inward nine.


The twelfth tee at the Boat of Garten is elevated and you play into a chute of trees

The twelfth hole begins the best four hole stretch on the course. Twelve is a 344-yard par four that plays from an elevated tee down into a narrow tree lined fairway. The landing area is larger than it looks from the tee, but it is a harrowing tee shot. The green is elevated. Five time Open Champion and course architect Braid said about the hole, "The 12th is in a superb setting, the birch woods and the mountains beyond, I don't think there is any equals it."

The world class thirteen hole as seen from the tee

The thirteenth is a great hole, representing the only three shot hole on the back nine. Although only 469 yards, it plays uphill almost the entire way through a natural valley and gets progressively narrower from tee to green. It also has an unsettling forced carry off the tee. The top of the hill on the hole contains another directional black and white pole and the flag is not visible until you are less than 150 yards away. A further challenge is provided by the sloping nature of the hole, which cants from left to right from tee to green. 

Your second shot on the thirteenth doesn't provide much clarity on where you should hit your next shot. It's still uphill and blind!

Ring the bell when you finish the thirteenth to let the group behind you know it's all clear

The view from the fourteenth tee box

It is difficult to evaluate and assess a golf course outside of its environment. Certainly, it is easy to fall in love with courses like Pebble Beach or Turnberry because of their scenic beauty. Or with Pine Valley or Morfontaine because of their splendid isolation. The environment at the Boat is just as enchanting, but in a different way. This is the heart of the Scottish Highlands, and as seen from the picture taken from the 14th tee box, the kingdom of mountains, rolling hills, and scenic beauty will win over even the most hardened curmudgeon. That is the River Spey splashing gently below the golfer in a land of enchantment filled with castles and whisky distilleries. After playing the gentle 14th we were in a very relaxed and good mood as we made our way to the fifteen hole.

The 15th hole is one of the best I have ever played and is sui generis. There is a tip-off that something is up when you walk up the hill to the tee box and there is a lookout tower. At the top of the steps is a platform that allows you to look out over the hole to give some sense of what you are about to play, which is a sub-300 yard par four with two blind shots. The idea behind the lookout is to allow the unsuspecting golfer to attempt to get a lay of the land. A brilliant idea, but even after looking out over the hole, it remained an enigma.

The wooden lookout on the 15th tee

The hole’s name is "Gully" and it is a bi-polar hole. Not bi-polar as in schizophrenic or manic-depressive. Bi-polar in that is contains two directional poles to help the unknowing golfer find their way. As unsuspecting American studs we all hit driver off the tee, which was a mistake. It really only requires an iron off the tee so that you don’t land in the gully (which you can't see from the lookout tower).

A closer look at the aiming poles and flag in the distance on the 15th

For whatever reason, I haven't focused my studies on the golf courses of James Braid. I have played a half dozen of his designs: Gleneagles, St. Enodoc, Nairn, Brora, and Ganton, and like them all. My opinion of James Braid just went through the roof with a hole like the 15th hole, it is just such a brilliant, challenging, and oddball hole.

An even closer look at the approach to the 15th

For emphasis, I repeat, that this is a hole of only 289 yards from the yellow (non-medal) tees. The second directional marker is there to help the unwitting golfer who ends up in the gully (as we all did!) at least have some shot of aiming at the green for their second.

The view from the bottom of the gully on the fifteenth highlights the brilliance (and natural terrain) of the hole

The hole looking back is just as brilliant

The green itself is a sort of punchbowl, and is as challenging as the rest of the hole. Aside from "wow," there is not much else to say about the hole. If the skies were not threatening, we would have walked back to the tee to play it all over again. I would wager to say there is no other hole on the planet like it.

The fifteenth hole's challenging green

The skies darkened (actually it rained very hard) as we were finishing, so I didn't get a chance to get any pictures of the 437-yard par four grand finishing hole. The club history accurately describes it as a hole that builds character.

Every golf course has a personality. The personality of the Boat of Garten is that of a short, half-blind elder statesman that hasn’t lost his ability to charm you. What a place to play golf. I don’t know if the Boat has a cult following like Cruden Bay or Prestwick or North Berwick. If it does, I just drank the Kool-Aid and have joined the cult. I would like to apply to become president of the Boat of Garten fan club.

The Highland setting is very special. I am in complete agreement with Moreton & Cumming, who, in their book on Braid courses, say this about the Boat: "Travel and play the course. Its silence is deafening." And with Robert Burns, "In heaven itself, I'll ask for no more than a Highland welcome."

P.S. - To my friends in Ullapool, fear not, it is included in a future planned trip that will encompass the North Coast 500. I look forward to visiting with the sun shining down on me.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Trump International Golf Links Scotland

What does the Trump International Links Scotland have in common with Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, the play Hamilton, and Saturday Night Live? It is totally overrated! While visually stunning, the course has some serious design issues that make is less than enjoyable to play. It’s like a difficult child that tries too hard to be cute and ends up being annoying. Sad!

Clubhouse rainbow
The most heartening part of the course is the clubhouse, because it signals that your misery is about to end. The end of the rainbow marks the exit to the course, your means for an escape 

Opened among much fanfare and publicity, I had high expectations that the course would be great. Unfortunately, there are a host of problems at this new links, among them: 1) the severe nature of the rough; 2) the overly penal nature of the green contours, in particular, the nasty fall-away on all sides, and the multi-tiering; 3) a routing that lacks enough change in direction; and, 4) a steep greens fee.

For the record, this is a blog about golf courses and not politics. My commentaries are about the course, not the man. In the interest of fairness, I approach his courses with an open mind. I liked Trump Ferry Point quite a bit and recommend it. This course, however, totally misses the mark. To my learned friends who are raters who somehow ranked this among the best in the world, I think you’ve lost your minds.

The course is built on a property that sprawls across 2,000 acres adjacent to the North Sea, north of Aberdeen and south of Cruden Bay. The sand dunes on the Aberdeen coast are among the world’s most dramatic, some as large and tall as Grand Central Station. The course sits on a spectacular piece of land and what a shame it wasn’t taken better advantage of. While playing at the Trump course at Bedminster, New Jersey, the manager of the course, who played with us, told us on each hole how Donald had given instructions to the course architect, Tom Fazio, telling him what he wanted to do. It seemed to me that he dictated a lot of the design elements (all for the worse in my view, making the course too difficult), so in fairness to the architect of Trump International Links Scotland, Martin Hawtree, I would speculate that all the design choices might not have been his. My further speculation would be that the owner had difficulty in mind when giving the architect guidance on the course design. It appears to have been designed for an Open Championship it will never get, and not for the recreational golfer. The blue tees play to a sky-high rating/slope of 73.8/140. What a shame that the mandate and result prioritized difficulty above all else.

The first hole, a 500-yard par five, like many holes, plays from an elevated tee. Your opening tee shot offers much promise: the grass is lush, the pot bunkers are artfully placed, and the contrast of the green fairways against the brown of the dunes presents an appealing environment. The fairway on this hole is generous, the tricked-up nature of the course reveals itself, sadly, once you reach the green. There is a false front and the green falls away on the right. As with almost every green on the course, the green is multitiered. The overall impact of the design is to reduce the effective landing area a golfer can hit into to about one third of the actual size of the green. I suppose this is a crafty design element if you have pinpoint control on your irons and can hit a ball through the wind to a target 10 feet by 10 feet in size. I didn’t find it as enticing. I found unnecessary and tedious.

Trump 1
The opening hole at Trump Links Scotland dazzles with beauty

The third hole, a par three set in the dunes, follows the same formula as the first two holes: a multi-tiered, tricked-up green that repels balls from all directions. The golfer must enjoy the sound of the nearby North Sea as they play this hole since this is a close as you will get to it. This is another missed opportunity in my view, although, in fairness, my guess is that more holes couldn't be built near the water due to environmental regulations today and they weren’t allowed to get closer like the other great links in this country built a century earlier? Given all the hype, I anticipated this would be a course that takes great advantage of being near the sea. Nearby Cruden Bay occupies a headland and you have views from on-high looking out over the water frequently. With only one or two exceptions you are blocked out of  sweeping views of the water by the high dunes at Trump International.

Trump 3
The par three third green shows the overdone nature of the terrain on both the approaches and the greens

Would you be surprised at this point to learn that the par-five fourth green is also uber-undulating and repels almost all balls aimed at it? Really? 

Trump 4 green
The fourth green complex

The fourth hole confirmed a nagging suspicion that I developed on the first three holes: that the greens on the whole course are unfair and too penal. While the array of bunkers to the elevated green is visually beautiful, playing golf on the hole is not fun. Again, the effective landing area to not have a ball repelled off the green is too small. And, the course design inexplicably takes away bump and run shots, one of the bread and butter shots in the home of golf. The elevated nature of almost all the greens is not suited to true bump and run shots. Instead, we played pitch shots all day, flying them through the air to get over the false fronts and to the correct tier. All this particular green is missing is a windmill on the back.

Trump 4
The pretty fourth hole as seen from the fairway

While I'm in the middle of my tirade, did I mention that the rough on the course is thick and dense? A ball that does not land on the fairway is lost. With certainty. There is a zero probability that you will find a ball that goes awry. Nil. Zilch. Bye Bye.

This can be frustrating to say the least. My armchair architect design observation is that the fairways are too narrow for a windy environment. Ok, I can hear some readers saying, hit the fairway and you won’t have a problem, you hack. Easier said this done in a country known for the stiffness of its chilly breezes. And, I am fine with a penalty for a poorly hit shot. Why not design it like Shinnecock Hills, where if you hit into the fescue you can at least find your ball and then hit a wedge out? At Trump International Links Scotland you have no such chance because your ball is immediately and irrevocably lost. The areas off every fairway may as well be water, since the result of an off line shot is the same: you return to your bag to fish out another ball.

Trump 5th
We enter a picture of the fifth green as exhibit A, your honor, to show the crazy nature of the greens and their surrounds

The par-3 sixth hole was my least favorite on the course and one of the least enjoyable holes I have ever played. It is a postage stamp green with heavy rough left and a long and big drop off right (the course guide describes it with masochistic glee as a cavernous drop). The wind was blowing stiff from left to right the day we played and my ball landed on the right side of the green and then bounced hard right and was lost. Are we having fun yet? Like all the greens on the course, the effective landing area is about one third the actual size of the green, making it unduly penal. I have played difficult holes in my day, including the original Postage Stamp hole at Royal Troon. Difficult, but, at least if you miss by a little bit you can still chip or pitch or hit out of a bunker. Losing a ball left or right (or I’m sure short shots are lost also) is not conductive to an enjoyable day on the links. Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

Every golfer in my group lost our balls on our tee shots on the 7th, 8th, and 9th holes. By the ninth hole I was thinking of taking up tennis or bird watching. The entire point of playing golf is to have fun and no-one in our group (high handicappers and low) had fun. The course is just too much of a grind. My regular readers know that I am an average golfer. The others in my group were low handicappers and they had the same reaction and results as I did. The near-scratch golfer in our group was so frustrated he simply hit a 3-iron off every tee on the back so as not to lose balls.

Lest you think the author exaggerates, imagine your ball flying into this? Arrivederci, as we say in Italian.

When you think of great golf courses, one common element they all have is a great routing with a continual change in direction. Examples that come to mind are Cypress Point, Pine Valley, Carnoustie, Sunningdale, Prestwick, Cruden Bay, Royal Portrush, Royal County Down and Castle Stuart. This change in direction is particularly important on links courses where the golfer needs an occasional respite when the wind is up. Carnoustie, for example, has no more than two holes that play consecutively in the same direction before there is a change. Trump International Golf Links inexplicable doesn’t have such a routing, which would have been easy enough to do, one suspects, through the dunes.

The routing at Trump Golf Links Scotland fails the enjoy-ability test. The first four holes are routed out from the clubhouse toward Aberdeen in the south. The course then changes direction with the following seven holes(!) routed back in the opposite direction. It isn’t until the 13th hole that the course deviates from its strict north-south heading and plays east toward the North Sea. Seventeen holes on the course play parallel to the water (and the wind on the day I played) and only one goes east-west. Over time I think the course will have to be softened in order to make it more playable, however, this unconventional and unvaried routing might be the kill shot, I’m not sure they could reroute holes to improve the play-ability without going back to the drawing board.

The course routing lacks enough change in direction to be among the best in the world. Personally, I wouldn’t even rank it among the top 500 courses I have played. In fairness, on the day I played, the prevailing wind was a cross wind: it was blowing off the mainland out toward the North Sea. Apparently, the prevailing wind is from the south, which helps somewhat because at least the golfer is hitting either into the wind or down wind, although I stick to my basic premise about the lack of variety being bad. Playing seventeen holes in a cross-wind is not fun. Golf course architects surely know that the winds in Scotland are changeable? Why would you route so many holes parallel on the sea? It really makes no sense to me. Why route all the holes along the dunes, why not route some back and forth to play through the dunes, like at nearby Cruden Bay? I’m still scratching my head.

I will bet anyone who will take me up on it £10 that the course will look quite different in ten years time. In order to salvage it, the fairways must be widened, the rough must be thinned and the greens must be softened. Not much can be done I suspect about all the parallel holes, but at least it won’t be a complete debacle.

To prove that I’m not a total curmudgeon, I did like the back nine better than the front; the fairways are a bit wider, it has the one hole (the par 3 13th) that changes direction toward the North Sea, and the holes are slightly more fair and interesting. The 10th hole was probably my favorite on the course, a par five that gets progressively more narrow as you approach the green. The hole also rises from tee to green a significant elevation. The course guide says that the hole plays through The Great Dunes of Scotland, in italics. I’m not familiar with this term and assume that it is a marketing ploy to try to name these dunes similar to the way that Royal St. George's has the Sahara bunker and Royal Portrush has the Big Bertha bunker. Since I didn’t ask permission to use the term in my blog I hope I don’t get a letter from the courses’ lawyers claiming I infringed on their copyright!

Trump 10-2
The nice par five tenth hole works well from tee to green provided you can hit a ball precisely on your intended target line with no deviation whatsoever

The par four 14th hole is also beautifully framed by the rugged dunes. I can see how many are awed by the amazing dunes, and if the wind weren't blowing and it weren't so penal it might actually be a very pleasant place to play golf.

Trump 14-1
The 14th hole plays in isolation among the dunes

The course is unmistakably pretty as seen in the contrast of the enormous sand dunes set against the lush green grass above.

Trump 15
The rugged 15th dwarfed by the massive dunes

The overdone green contouring, fall-aways and false fronts continue until the end of the round. Variety is the spice of life. Here, no such variation exists; the repetition simply tedious.

Trump 17 
The miniature golf style green on the 17th hole

On the positive side, the course conditions were fabulous, the grass is lush and the greens (if you can ever get on them) and in good condition and fast. Giving credit where it is due, the holes do have a variety in length. There is a nice combination of short, medium, and long par threes and fours. The staff was amenable and friendly and the clubhouse was surprisingly understated and tasteful.

If you are in the Aberdeen area my recommendation would be to skip this course altogether and play at Royal Aberdeen, Murcar Links, and multiple times at Cruden Bay. Your experience will be fun and your greens fees more reasonable: Trump (£235), Royal Aberdeen (£180), Murcar Links (£130), and Cruden Bay (£125).

One area that I did find the course is distinctive: we played on a Saturday morning and the course was empty, people didn't seem to be flocking to the venue. Not many public courses can make that statement. My further prediction is just like Trump Bedminster was at one time ranked in the top 100 because of a P.R. blitz and then dropped off after the fanfare subsided, Trump International Golf Links will continue to sink and will settle roughly in the same spot as Western Gailes (the course it most closely resembles), well out of the top 100 ranked courses in the world.

The good news is that in a country of must play golf courses, when it is hard to fit in all the golf you want to play as you are planning an itinerary and traveling around touring great courses, the choice here is easy. This is a must skip golf course.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point

The Bronx doesn't get enough respect. The fact that it now has a quality golf course, maintained in top condition, designed by one of the game's greats is something to celebrate! The course is the first new one in New York City since Lyndon Johnson was president and this in itself is a huge accomplishment.

tugboat whitestone
A tug boat passing under the Bronx-Whitestone bridge on the East River as seen from the 16h hole at Trump Ferry Point Golf Links

The charms of the Bronx are very often overlooked: the magical 700 acre Botanical Garden, Fordham University, Van Cortlandt Park (which is 400 acres larger than Central Park), Manhattan College, the authentic atmosphere and food of Arthur Avenue's Italian neighborhood, Yankee Stadium, and more. I remember the excitement as a kid when we would get loaded onto the bus for a field trip to the amazing Bronx Zoo. Visiting the largest zoo in the country was always a day to remember because it was the only time we were allowed to bring gum and snacks on the bus.

Natives sons and daughters of the Bronx are an impressive group: Alan Alda, the greatest baseball announcer in history Vin Scully, Ed Koch, James Caan, Regis Philbin, and Lauren Bacall. The list of people who lived in the Bronx is equally as impressive: Edgar Allan Poe, Lou Gehrig, Woody Allen, John F. Kennedy (can you believe he lived in the borough from 1927-1929?), Al Pacino, Mark Twain and Stanley Kubrick, to name just a few.

The Bronx also played an important role in the evolution of golf. The first public golf course in the United States was in the borough: the Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course, which opened for play in 1895. Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Harry Vardon, Joe Louis, Willie Mays, Sidney Poitier, and the Three Stooges all played at Van Cortlandt. The golf course was revitalized during the Giuliani administration and is today a respectable course kept in good condition.


Because of the name preceding the Ferry Point course I know it is difficult to talk about without getting into politics. This is a golf blog and not one that covers the Donald so to the degree that I can I will stay away from politics. The Trump organization operates the course under a twenty year lease with the city and their commitment includes investing $10 million to build the greatest clubhouse that will ever be built. I know there is much criticism about the deal, although I will say that Michael Bloomberg is no dummy and he was mayor when it was signed, so I'm not sure it's a bad a deal on balance as some people think it is.

The course is located in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx, next to Ferry Point Park, pictured below. The park looks like it gets a lot of use and is ill kept, so if there is criticism directed at the city, it seems to me there are plenty of things to complain about, including not investing enough in the Bronx across the board.

Ferry Point Park next to the golf course

The wind and weather on the day I played was wet, humid, and crappy, such that LaGuardia Airport arrivals were on runway 22, which routed low flying planes directly over the golf course. On a weekday afternoon a plane lands at LaGuardia every 90 seconds. During our four and a half hour round 180 planes descended from the low clouds and landed on the field (with two go-arounds among the flights, which I am assuming were planes that came in too close to the one ahead or at the wrong height), which is located only two miles from the eighteenth green across the East River.

It's coincidental that the last round I played before Ferry Point was also a public course: Lincoln Park in San Francisco. The two courses offer some interesting parallels and contrasts. Aside from the fact that both are daily fee courses, they both have great views of bridges. I had noted the charming sound of the fog horn on the Golden Gate while playing at Lincoln Park. This is New York, after all, and the noises were not as pleasant as those in the City by the Bay. Instead, there was a continuous roaring of low jets overhead and an occasional FDNY siren on the city streets, mixed in with the sound of Jake braking as big rigs made their way down the Whitestone Bridge.

The golf course is a good one, designed by Jack Nicklaus, and despite Donald's assertion that he was instrumental in completing the course, the actual facts show that it was largely complete when he took over and that his contributions were related to the finishing touches, such as overseeing the grass growing in and building the clubhouse. The course is built on 192 acres of a former city landfill.

2nd green
The second green shows off the conditioning of the course, which is impeccable

Golf course architects usually rave about how they were given the perfect piece of land to build a course on, but no such claim can be made here. The "links" were all shaped atop former waste heaps and had to be contoured to form the course.  (For purists among us, a true links course is one next to the ocean with sandy soil, dunes, and tight lies.) As such, the course is a faux-links course with no trees, except on the perimeter of the property, but they do not come into play. The primary difficulty for the golfer is the fescue and high grasses if you are off the fairway, which I found were very gnarly and a real hazard. The course conditioning was as good as any private course I have played and I enjoyed the round right from the start.

Although this piece of property is isolated on the end of a peninsula, there is no doubt during your round that you are in the city. Case in point is the view from the sixth tee, of St. Raymond's Cemetery, seen below. It has been operating since 1842 and is still active today. We heard noises coming from the burial ground (from the living) and it contains an interesting mix of deceased dating back to Civil War veterans. The jazz great Billie Holiday is buried there (her rendition of Strange Fruit is as good as music gets). This being the Bronx, the cemetery also includes a nice selection of mobsters: "Mad Dog" Coll, an Irish gangster, is buried here as is "Fat Tony" Salerno, the one time head of the Genovese crime family. The archdiocese calls it one of the busiest cemeteries in the United States and although I'm no expert on the subject, this seems about right given what we saw and heard.

6th tee
St. Raymond's Cemetery as seen from the 6th tee box

I have played a fair number of Nicklaus courses and found Ferry Point to be among his more enjoyable. On a number of Nicklaus courses (particularly his early ones), he demands shots that assume you can draw and fade the ball at will. Here, the course is not too demanding, although, equally it is no push over. I particularly like the routing, which is varied, with a nice balance of par 3s, 4s, and 5s, and a good amount of change in direction. There are long, medium, and short par three and fours. One of the predominant features here is shaved short grass around the greens which allow you to hit bump and run shots should you so choose. Likewise, should you go sideways or long a deft touch is called for to get back onto the greens cleanly.
10 green
The par-4 tenth green has a subtle swale in front 

The 11th as seen from the tee. There is a lot going on here

I liked the whole course, but liked the back nine better. I also thought it was the easier of the two. The 11th hole, as you can see from the image above, has a lot going on. First, the apartment buildings in the back frame the hole in the distance. In the middle-distance the fescue provides a backdrop, and in the immediate distance there is a plethora of bunkers. The short par 4 is only 302 yards from the blue tees, so obviously Jack wanted to make it more challenging the more of the hole you try to bite off. I found it difficult to pick and commit to a target with so much distracting the eye.

My favorite hole was the 12th, a par three of 166 yards from the back and 139 from the blue tees.

12 in hollow
The well protected 12th green at Ferry Point

The 12th green is surrounded by shaved collection areas on three sides (right, left and back) and is protected by a jagged-shaped bunker in front that conceals the front of the putting surface, which is slanted, oddly shaped, oblong, and at a right angle to the golfer.

Donald J. Trump allegedly got a hole in one on the 12th as the course was opening. There was much skepticism among associates working at the club as to whether this was fake news or not, which is not shocking. Unsurprisingly, there is a plaque celebrating the occasion.

Fake news comes to the Bronx. Sad!

12 collection buttocks

This picture shows the shaved area right of the 12th green. The buttocks shot was unintentional, but is a good visual illustration of what our group thought of the plaque that was put up celebrating the faux hole-in-one

I liked the finishing stretch (16-17-18) and think they are the best consecutive holes on the course. Sixteen is a demanding 437-yard par four that requires a precision shot to a well protected green, with great views in every direction. 

16th green
 The 16th green with the battleship gray Bronx-Whitestone bridge in the background

All the par threes on the course were particularly well framed by the mounding and the fescue, including the 17th.

The par-3 17th plays 142 yards. It has beautiful views and sits near the East River Channel

  17th green 

A closeup of the 17th green shows off the course conditioning and the beauty of the hole

The 18th is a 500-yard par 5 playing along the tidal river. I thought the course's greens were fair: there are not too many undulations in them, the breaks are more subtle, but still challenging. I only missed one fairway all day, speaking to their width, because I usually hit less. My other observation, which the caddies confirmed, is that the course plays longer than the card. Approaches to the greens are almost always one club longer than you think. I'm no physics or solid waste expert, but the suspicion is that it has to do with playing atop a capped landfill. Either that or the greens are slightly elevated and I didn't hit my shots crisply.


The dramatic 18th finishes at the base of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge

Like the two boroughs it connects, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge is under-rated with an alluring, streamlined Art Deco appearance. Its slender profile and trim steel lines gracefully span the East River Channel. The bridge was opened by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia the day before the 1939 World's Fair to much fanfare. The next day President Roosevelt arrived in the Bronx by train from Washington D.C. and had 2,000 policemen lining his route over the bridge and on the adjoining roads as he rode to the World's Fair.

throgs 18

The course offers views of two beautiful suspension bridges, the Throgs Neck Bridge is further away from the course, seen here in the distance in the rain

For those looking for something not to like about the course and the club operation, you are going to be disappointed. I didn't find anything. The course is good and the food and service provided on property are also very good, as were the caddies. I liked Ferry Point better course than Trump's Fazio-designed course in Bedminster, which I found too difficult and the environment a bit too glitzy.

The course is good for local employment (almost everyone we interacted with lived in the Bronx) and the food is sourced from the nearby Hunts Point market. One of the knocks of Ferry Point is the price to play, and it is a fair point. The fee for a New York City resident is $146 to walk on a weekday, $175 on a weekend. For non-residents, it is $200 on a weekday and $227 for a weekend. There is something more than mildly paradoxical about a bunch of white guys from Westchester, Long Island, and New Jersey playing a city course in a borough where the majority of residents are non-white. The parking lot on the day I played was full of BMWs, Audis, and Jaguars with plates indicating that the cars were from the suburbs. There is no subway near the course, making it difficult for a non-driving city resident to play the course, although they could certainly take a taxi. On the other hand, New York already has many public lower fee courses, including several in the Bronx, and having a higher end crown-jewel course with commanding views in the city's portfolio isn't entirely beyond defense. As I said at the beginning, if you look past the Trump circus, having such a nice Jack Nicklaus public course should be a point of pride for the city. If you can afford it, the course is worth playing.

Throughout the course are venting pipes which release the methane gasses trapped below. Only occasionally do you smell something a little off, which for someone from New Jersey, made me feel right at home!