My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
#14, Par 3, 152 Yards
The next 30 minutes of so would be spent in dense fog, and it couldn't have come at a worse time. If there is any hole that gives the 9th a run for its money as far as being the Club's signature hole, it would be the 14th. This final par three on the course plays diagonally out to the Ocean, with a gorgeous view of the Atlantic behind the green. Unfortunately for us, the fog restricted any view of the water! Boy, did we miss out :-(
As usual, we'd need to pick a set of tees to play from. Maidstone is not a long golf course, but coastal winds can certainly make some holes play longer than the card reads. We chose to play the Blue Tees, which stretch to 6,599 yards, and play to a rating and slope of 73.0 and 139, with a par of 72. Technically, the Tips are the Gold Tees, but there's only one hole that actually has a gold tee that is any different from the blues, and that is the fourth hole. That hole changes from a 176 yard par three, to a 242 yard par three, over water the entire way.....and typically into the wind, since it plays in the direction straight out to the Ocean. We decided that the Blue Tees, which avoid that demanding shot into the fourth green, were the appropriate choose. Three sets of tees are in front of the Blues, with the Whites next in line. The Whites play to 6,004 yards, with a rating and slope of 70.3 and 131. I'll quote the Blue Tees below:
#12, Par 3, 181 Yards
The 12th hole is the least exciting of the four one-shotters at Maidstone, but it's still a quality golf hole. With bunkers all around, and a prevailing wind that blows from right to left, it's a demanding tee ball with a mid-iron.
#1, Par 4, 424 Yards
The first tee shot at Maidstone plays from a really cool tee box that sets immediately adjacent to the 18th hole, on a plot of land that is all closely mown. In fact, there is a practice putting green in this spot, and the blue tees are set up right on the green. For your first tee ball of the day, it's a bit disconcerting to hit off of a green, knowing that a bad swing could potentially take a divot out of it. This was the first ball we needed to hit into the fog, so that added another level of concentration that would be required. The landing area, if the drive carries beyond fairway bunkers on either side, is extremely wide, because fairway stretches on the left to the 18th fairway, and on the right to a fairway from the nine-hole course. With that said, playing from left or right requires a carry over greenside bunkers, so a straight ball is the best play. There is a pretty deep fall-off beyond the green, making up-and-downs tricky. Luckily for us, the fog would lift (temporarily) by the time we got to the green.
#10, Par 4, 401 Yards
Turning back in the opposite direction from the ninth hole, the tenth plays to an elevated green, much like the ninth, which is quite exposed to the wind. Several small bunkers guard the left side of the green and are difficult to recover from.
#11, Par 4, 464 Yards
The 11th hole is beautiful from the tee...it reminded me of a couple holes on the Ocean Course at Kiawah. Don't be lulled by it's beauty though, because it's a long bruiser of a hole. Bending a bit to the left, the second shot will often be helped by the wind, but miss to either side and you'll be playing a bunker shot in hopes of getting up-and-down. If you can play the 10th and 11th in nine shots, you'll likely be ahead of the field.
It wasn't any clearer on our second shots, but would clear up once we got to the green. Gee, thanks!
While golf was played at Maidstone in 1894 on a small three-hole loop, it wasn't until 1922 that Willie Park Junior's 18-hole masterpiece was opened for play. This was the same year that Park's other American masterpiece was built in that of Olympia Fields' North Course. Unfortunately, due to a nervous breakdown, Park never saw Maidstone's finished golf course, after returning to his home in Scotland, where he would die in 1925. What he never saw is an incredible mixture of golf holes that weave their play on both sides of Hook Pond, with multiple holes with Ocean frontage. The holes traverse through large natural sand dunes with fairways and greens that are extremely well bunkered.
My day at Maidstone actually began about 125 miles away, at a completely different golf course. We would open up the day playing Sleepy Hollow Country Club on the banks of the Hudson River, before making our way through The Bronx, across the Whitestone Bridge, and out to The Hamptons. It was a beautiful clear day for driving, until the last half mile of our trip, where we ran into dense coastal fog. That fog would take turns rolling in and out throughout our round, and would do meaningful damage when it came to taking beautiful pictures. Moreover, it would also make some of the holes completely blind, and take away some of the best views the course has to offer. So, if I had any regrets, it simply that we had to play through this fog, missing out on some of the best vistas. I'd love to have another go at Maidstone to be able to take in some of its gorgeous views that we missed out on.
When we arrived, we changed out shoes quickly in the classicly appointed locker room, which sits below ground to the right of the pro shop. We rolled a few putts and met up with our caddy, who would carry both bags on our trip around Willie Park Junior's gem of a golf course.
You have to use your imagination to picture the Ocean behind the grasses and dunes that lay beyond the green...or I could show you a picture from the golf blog Breaking Eighty. Check out his page to see crisp images from some of the holes I was unable to photograph clearly through the fog.
#15, Par 5, 485 Yards
After playing the tough par five 13th, Maidstone the last two par fives are both chances to score, and actually play back-to-back in the 15th and 16th holes. The 15th isn't very long, especially considering that it turns away from the Ocean and usually plays downwind. Before teeing off, you get to enjoy some massive Hamptons real estate that neighbors the tee box. We were told that the house adjacent to the tee was recently listed for $52 Million. Once you get your jaw off the ground, you can focus on your tee shot. Double-digit bunkers surround the hole the whole way, so keeping your ball on grass is key. If you can hit the long ball straight, feel free to go bombs away off the tee and get home in two. Otherwise, you could play in three iron shots and still get home in regulation without any issues...your call. Unfrotuantely, I don't really have any decent pictures to share, but feel free to check out the Breaking Eighty blog that I linked above.
#16, Par 5, 486 Yards
The second of back-to-back par fives is a cap hole that bends to the right, crossing back over Hook Pond. The hole begins from the same tee box that the 4th hole used, on an isthmus of land that connects the two sides of the Pond. This is where the fog made things kind of laughable as we could barely even see to the other side of the water! our caddy told us to aim over the weed 20 feet or so in front of us on the right. OK, if you say so!
#6, Par 4, 403 Yards
The back tees on #6 are immediately adjacent to #5 green, which is a good example of why Maidstone is a great walking course. The 6th turns to the South, straight into a typical Ocean breeze. The line for us was at the left edge of the fairway bunker, which splits the left half of the fairway. This green, like most at Maidstone, have open fronts that allow for a run-up and or a ground game play when the wind is blowing particularly hard.
#2, Par 5, 562 Yards
After crossing Dunemere Lane, you arrive at the tee box of second hole, which occupies probably the most ordinary piece of land at Maidstone Club. However, even though the hole is primarily long and straight, it is no simple par and no slouch of a hole. Bunkers line the left side of the hole the entire way, with Dunemere Lane beyond them, also the entire length of the hole. Bailing out to the right can't be done without care either as missing too far on that side runs the risk of being lost in the woods. The green complex is no slouch either, making for a tough finish even after negotiating all of the hole's 560 yards!
#5, Par 4, 325 Yards
After arriving at the 4th green, the next couple hours of golf will be played on the south side of Hook Pond around and through tall sand dunes that front the Atlantic Ocean. It's this collection of holes that make Maidstone particularly special. The fifth is a short par four with properly placed bunkers that make the player from a strategy from the tee as far as whether to lay up in a particular spot, or take bunkers on to give an advantage on the second shot.
The tees for mortals. Still a tough shot
#9, Par 4, 415 Yards
There are a number of holes at Maidstone that are worthy of attention, but the ninth is clearly the club's most notable hole. The hole is carved through sand dunes, and would fit in nicely on many coastal links in the UK or Ireland. While it looks incredibly natural, Willie Park actually built the dune on the left side of the hole, though you'd never know it. The line off of the tee is at the left chimney on the house in the distance. The green is elevated, and playing parallel to the Ocean, coastal winds can wreak havoc on a long iron into the green. A tough hole and a great hole.
#4, Par 3, 176 Yards
When Maidstone was built, Hook Pond was considered too wide to hit a golf ball across. Therefore, a tee box was constructed on an isthmus that connected one side of the pond with the other. Recently, modern technology has changed things, and now a tee box lays on the opposite side of the pond, requiring a heroic 242 yard shot to the green--typically into the wind. From the tee box in the middle of the pond, the shot measures 145-176 yards depending on what tees you're playing...still all carry. The first shot below is from the new tee box which requires the 240+ yard shot.
#7, Par 4, 341 Yards
The seventh hole is a classic cape hole, though it's shorter than many cape holes around the world. If the wind blows out to the Ocean, you have a possibility of playing this hole downwind, and thus being able to get awfully close to the green from the tee--but that's not the prevailing wind. A bunker on the right of the green actually makes a shot played from the left side of the fairway the preferred line into the green, which is a bit unusual. With that said, there isn't much benefit to hugging the water's edge off the tee.
It's amazing what hosting a professional golf tournament does for a course's notoriety. In fact, if the pros have played there, not only have people heard of it, but they're probably very interested in playing the course--whether it's any good or not. Take a course like TPC Sawgrass--Everybody has heard of it because it hosts the PGA Tour's annual Players Championship, known informally as the fifth major. As far as name recognition goes, Sawgrass is probably the most well known course in Florida...however, I doubt most casual golfers have ever heard of the state's best course (Seminole). The Atlanta area is similar. Many people are probably aware of East Lake and perhaps Atlanta Athletic Club because of the tournaments they have hosted. However, not many people could identify Atlanta's best course (Peachtree). Out in the Hamptons part of Long Island, things are similar. Shinnecock Hills is clearly its most well known course, and for good reason. Not only has it hosted two recent US Opens, with another on the calendar, but it's one of the best few courses in the United States. With Shinnecock casting such a massive shadow, there are a handful of clubs within spitting distance that aren't noticed. While golf aficionados swear by neighboring National Golf Links of America...in fact some prefer it to Shinnecock, few golfers have ever heard of it. National Golf Links is the second of a great triumvirate of classic golf courses in the Hamptons. Head further out the Island on NY-27, and you'll get to Maidstone Club about 15 miles later. While it doesn't get the recognition of its sister-courses in Southampton, Maidstone is no slouch of a golf course, and is probably the most exclusive of the three clubs--so exclusive that name recognition is irrelevant for its members.
Maidstone is definitely a gathering place of New York's upper crust, and I use the term gathering place intentionally. While the club has a fabulous Willie Park Jr. golf course to enjoy, members enjoy its beach just as much. Standing behind the clubhouse is the club's pool and a huge collection of private cabanas for members to enjoy, all of them fronting the Atlantic Ocean. If the beach isn't your thing, the club has about 30 grass tennis courts to keep its members busy. I'd have to guess its one of the largest collections of grass courts outside of The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club (Wimbledon). Then, last but not least, as I alluded to before, the club happens to have a golf course too. In fact, it has 27 holes, though its the main 18 hole course that gets the attention--albeit less attention than it deserves!
#8, Par 3, 151 Yards
The second par three on the front nine is a unique and cool hole, though I'm sure it's somewhat polarizing. Like the famous Dell hole at Lahinch, much of the green on the 8th hole is blind, with only a sliver of the left edge visible from the tee. The first photograph below is from well to the left of the tee, just to be able to see the green. The second and third photos are what you see from the tee. We played the shot over the tallest shrub on the dune. There are some really cool bunkers that are naturally cut into the dunes surrounding the undulating green if you miss it.
#17, Par 4, 328 Yards
Like the 16th, the 17th also requires a carry over water from the tee. From the landing area, this short par four bends to the left, and finishes tucked closely against the intersection of Dunemere Land and a street called Highway Behind The Pond. The proximity of the road will probably dissuade most bombers from trying to drive the green. Given that it's usually just a short pitch into the hole, cars shouldn't often be at risk.
Maidstone is definitely a fabulous golf course. The fact that Golf Digest barely ranks it in the Top 100 in the USA is laughable. The reasoning is likely that the course is too short for its raters' tastes, but the coastal winds and omnipresent bunkering make the course play longer and tougher than the scorecard might suggest. Maidstone is a special place, and its rating in Golf Magazine's Top 40 is appropriate. I was so glad to be able to see it...at least the holes where I was able to see. I'd love to get back sometime and be able to see the course in all its glory on a clear day. If that never happens, I'm still glad I was able to see what I saw. It was a privilege.
The Golf Bucket List
#13, Par 5, 500 Yards
The 13th hole sounds like a scoring opportunity when you look at the scorecard and look at pictures of the hole. However, heading back out to the Ocean, the hole typically plays into the wind, and gets narrower as you get closer to the green. The landing area off the tee is fairly wide, but it tightens up on the second shot and trouble lurks on either side around the green, which has a steep false front. After the 13th hole, feel free to hit the snack bar...I recommend the ginger snaps with peanut butter. They're free, and they're delicious
#3, Par 4, 408 Yards
There was a notorious article written in the New York Magazine several years ago about an avid golfer who went rogue and decided to try to sneak on Maidstone and live to tell about it. His adventure started here, on the third tee. After crossing back to the south side of Dunemere Lane, the third is the last hole on the North side of Hook Pond until the 16th. The third hole is straight ahead and requires a straight ball off the tee to avoid the bunkers that pinch in the landing area. Driver is not necessarily required on this one. I was fortunate to make my first par of the day here.
#1, Par 4, 390 Yards
The 1st hole played away from the clubhouse and downhill--the 18th plays back up the hill and back to the clubhouse. The bunkers on the left side divide the two fairways. Playing into the wind, this hole definitely plays longer than the scorecard indicates. The green is good-sized to handle an approach with a longer club, but miss it on either side and you're likely to find bunkers.