My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
There are a good number of country clubs in the United States with 36 holes. In most cases, there is a headliner, championship course, and then more of a member-friendly course that complements the big brother and gives members an opportunity to enjoy a more fun round of golf. There are only two instances where a club has two tournament-level courses that are both on the "Best of..." lists--Baltusrol and Winged Foot. In the case of Winged Foot, the West Course gets the majority of the attention, as it has hosted US Opens, US Amateur, a PGA, and a Walker Cup. However, it's lesser-known partner, the East Course has had some fun too. It has hosted two US Women's Opens, a US Senior Open, and a US Amateur Four-Ball. The under-the-radar East would be a "Best in State" nearly anywhere, but unfortunately, is overshadowed by the big, burly neighbor to the West. In the words of Dermod O. Sullivan from the 2016 US Amateur Four-Ball program:
"Commentary on the East Course calls out for some comparison with the West Course. As discussions of Tillinghast courses must, comparisons begin with the greens. A thoughtful friend of mine once observed that if they put the East greens on the West, nobody would ever finish. The point is difficult to substantiate scientifically, but the East greens are simply more undulation and sloped than the West greens. At one time, the East greens were also thought to be smaller than the West greens, but scans done for recent renovations indicate that the total square yardage of the greens on the two courses is about equal.
The East Course is considered more 'varied.' It has more short par 4s; the two shortest par 3s on the full 36; and more water than the West. East's variety and its short-ish holes are caused by two circumstances:
After the sixth hole, East, the golfer ascends to the plain that comprises the rest of Winged Foot, and from this point the East terrain resembles the West Course. Holes 7 through 10 complete the layout east of the clubhouse.
The par 3s on East are standouts: two of them long and two short. Whereas West is known for its punishing par 4s, East is characterized by subtle par 3s, featuring slippery, sharply sloped greens, false fronts and their striking looks. Reflect for a minute on the memorable views these holes offer from the tee, with the backdrop of the amphitheaters behind the third hole and the sixth hole and elevated targets at the 13th hole and the 17th hole."
I'm not going to re-hash some of the Winged Foot background, as I covered it on the review of the West Course. Suffice it to say, it's a really awesome place. After finishing off our morning round, and knowing that we needed to save time for a third round later in the day, we didn't waste any time between putting out on West's 18th and going to the 1st tee of the East--not even for a quick bite to eat. The first tee is on the opposite side of the clubhouse from the West's finishing hole, but there is a walkway that splits the pro shop and locker room and takes you right there. Here's the opposite side of the clubhouse, as seen from the 1st tee.
Once we got to the tee, we had to make the usual decision of what tee to play. The East Course is the shorter of the two 18's at Winged Foot, and the tips (Blue Tees) extend to a manageable 6,792 yards, playing to par of 72, but still a stiff rating and slope of 73.9 and 141. In front of that is the White set of tees, which measure 6,406 yards, with a rating and slope of 72.1 and 136. While those tees would have probably been a sufficient test, since we didn't play the West course from the tips, we decided to try the East from all the way back. Therefore, the yardages I'll quote below are from all the way back...the Blue Tees. In the descriptions, I'll quote the hole descriptions from the program of the 2016 US Amateur Four-Ball tournament, in italics, with any of my own comments afterward:
#16, "Hope," Par 4, 448 Yards
"A wide-open fairway and a straight uphill trudge to a very wide green would seem to buoy the late-round 'hopes' of a player. Yet a front-to-back spine on the green dauntingly cuts the green in half for those people striving for a birdie."
The green on the 16th is the highest point on the course, and its a sturdy climb to get there. Making par here was one of the more memorable moments from my round on the East, as it included a recovery from the right fairway bunker. I don't do that terribly often!
#5, "Bootleg," Par 4, 410 Yards
"Shaped like a bootleg, this hole has been lengthened twice, most recently in 2013, by 30 yards. The golfer's tee shot must be long and straight if he is to clear trees on the right and to avoid the left's treacherous rough and awkward stances. The green is one of Tillinghast's classic two-tiers, affording back flagstick positions behind a pronounced perpendicular spine."
Like the description above suggests, the key to this hole is just to get the drive out far enough to clear the trees so that you have an open view into the green. From there, it's a straightforward approach to a good green site.
#11, "Broadway," Par 4, 362 Yards
"At 9 yards longer than 10 East, is this hole drivable as well? What hath God wrought? Any attempt to drive the green on this dogleg demands a 350-yard drive and then some, over trees to an extremely narrow green that is tightly bunkered. The green itself is steeply pitched from back to front, with a ridge defending any back-right hole locations. Flagstick positions on the lower part of the green will result in lightning-fast putts from above the hole and sharply breaking side-hill putts from the left and right."
The first hole of the "back eight," which is a stretch of holes that winds its way between the West course. When the US Opens to Winged Foot, this hole becomes a line of corporate chalets that line the left side of the West's 18th hole. In fact, when Phil Mickelson famously flared his drive on the 72nd hole of the US Open way left, it ended up on the 11th hole of the East. It was fun to look back from this spot on the 11th to the line of play Phil faced into the West's 18th. How he thought he had a shot is beyond me.
When you play 36 holes in one day at a club that has two courses in the Top 100 lists, it's hard to avoid the task of comparing and contrasting the two. It's been said before by others, but to me, the East Course is a more fun course that I'd prefer to play every day, while the West Course is the one I'd use to test my skills when I feel like I'm ready for a "Final Exam." It's not that the West isn't fun, but it's more of a relentless test with bogeys and worse around every corner. The East provides a few more opportunities to score and get away with a missed shot. With that said, I thought both courses were a blast and an incredible experience. For the members who can choose between these two masterpieces on a daily basis, I am incredibly jealous. One of the things that made my Winged Foot day interesting, is that it didn't even stop after 36 holes. We had a tee time lined up at nearby Whippoorwill, so after changing our shoes and doing some damage in the pro shop, it was off to our third round of the day. While that made for an incredible day and Whippoorwill was a blast too, it did mean we weren't able to wander around the Winged Foot clubhouse to see some of the history inside. If I ever get back, that's the experience I want to make sure I enjoy the next time around.
#4, "Old Soak," Par 5, 578 Yards
"It has a name that recognizes the two ponds that menace the golfer and is one of the prettiest holes on the course. it is also a double dogleg and of such unusual character that the 1923 opening brochure imagined it becoming 'nationally famous.' The tee shot crosses water and heads to an elevated fairway, from which the first dogleg unfolds. The golfers' second shots will be watched closely, with one or both of the team's players potentially choosing to go for the green. Roberto De Vincenzo was able to hit this green in two and two=-putt for a birdie in the 1980 U.S. Senior Open. This is a classic 'Cape' hole, meaning that the golfer is challenged to attempt a high-risk, high-reward shot over a hazard, frequently water. In the four-ball format, where it usually takes birdies to win, the fourth hole East will be special for spectators, as they watch players try to reach in two. The green, unusual in the fact that its borders are devoid of bunkers, is large and relatively flat, nevertheless sloping deceptively toward the water.
"This hole was the site of the famous scoring error by Jackie Pung in the 1957 US. Women's Open. Pung's score card accurately stated her total shots as 298, but she recorded a bogey 6 on Four East instead of the par she actually scored. She was disqualified in accordance with the Rules. Betsy Rawls gained the title."
While there is a small green that winds its way into a few holes on the West Course, the only real water hazards exist on the East, and mainly here and on the 15th holes. Hugging the right side is the only way to have an open line to the green on the second shot--albeit a long one. From the left side of the fairway, trees will likely block a straight line into the hole and require a lay-up.
Here's Phil's line into the 18th hole of the West course from the left side of the 11th hole on the East. Keep in mind that everything on the left half of the photo was corporate hospitality. The green is in the middle of the picture, through the trees.
#15, "Shrine," Par 4, 336 Yards
"The 1980 Senior Open Program described the 15th hole as a 'short par four.' Or nowadays is it a massively long par 3? The four-ball formal will, in any case, invite the contenders to try to drive this domed, hard-to-hold green. Yet there is a pond in front, a bunker and woods to the left, and a bunker and a brook to the right that will intimidate all but the supremely confident veteran or the supremely daring. This is a great spectator hole from behind the green."
I am definitely not a big enough hitter to have given any thought to going for the green. For me, it was an easy layup, followed by an easy pitch to try to make par. As it states above, the green is hard to hold, and even my easy pitch didn't finish on it, resulting in a failed up-and-down, and a disappointing bogey.
#1, "Reveille," Par 4, 402 Yards
"The first hole East is appropriately name Reveille, the wake-up hole, by its creator A.W. Tillinghast. In contrast to first hole West, this is an inviting hole, perhaps drivable. A relatively open fairway is flanked by two bunkers, but only the right bunker will threaten these long-hitting amateur golfers. An out of bounds on the right could entrap a sleepy not-yet-alert competitor. At the green, a spine runs back to front, and a perpendicular ridge at the rear sets the stage for some testy flagstick placements. As the 1980 U.S. Senior Open program states, this is a fine hole to get things started."
Drivable? Ha! This is definitely a soft opener, but going for the green from the tee makes me laugh. There are a number of holes at Winged Foot that allow for a run-up shot. The East Course seems to have even more of those holes than its Western big brother. The first is definitely a good example of a hole that allows for the ground game on the approach into the green, if necessary.
#7, "Quaker," Par 4, 471 Yards
"The first six holes at Winged Foot East track inexorably the eastern perimeter of the property, following a short-long, short-long, short-long pattern, as they weave their way through a depressed hollow in the property. For the seventh hole, the golfer ascends to the plain-like topography that comprises the rest of Winged Foot. From this point on, the terrain resembles that of the West Course. The seventh hole, the first on this terrain, presents one of the most difficult par 4s at Winged Foot. The second shot, long to being with, is made more difficult by an elongated, narrow green, tightly bunkered on both sides. A back-right flagstick position is inaccessible putting from the front of the green."
At attempt to capture the aforementioned swale in the crazy green.
#9, "Mercury," Par 4, 396 Yards
"A dogleg slightly to the left, this hole favors a drive to the right-hand side of the fairway, a shot that opens up a green tightly bunkered on both left and right. Another unique green layout, unlike any on both courses, was here created from the fertile imagination of Mr. Tillinghast. There is a deep perpendicular swale at the back of the green, affording beguiling flagstick placements, especially on the right tucked behind a knoll."
#12, "Long John," Par 5, 547 Yards
"A demanding par 5 befitting its name, the 12th hole is the longest on the East Course. In the 1950s, Winged Foot pro Claude Harmon, on his way to a record-setting score of 61 on East, reached this hole in two; using his persimmon driver for both shots. So, yes, the second shot with the driver was hit from the fairway. he then sunk the putt for eagle.
The tee shot must be kept to the right of this right-to-left sloping fairway. A bunker protects the green in front from run-ons, and the green slopes sharply from back to front. Extreme back-flagstick positions where knolls protrude, will have golfers muttering to themselves."
As it states above, hitting the right half of the fairway is key to keep it in the short grass. The right half is pretty flat, but the left half slopes hard to the left rough.
#2, "Man O'War," Par 5, 502 Yards
"The 1923 brochure announcing the opening of Winged Foot explained this hole's name as referring to the golfer being obliged to hold a left--or, as horse racers would put it, a pole position--to keep out of trouble. This hole will be a two-shotter for most competitors. But the challenge (as will be the case for most Winged Foot East holes) will be found on the green, which slopes sharply from back to front. 'A dollar bill,' said the 1923 brochure, 'couldn't lie level on either of the first two greens with their pitches and rolls.'"
For the USGA Four-Ball, this played as a 465 yard par four, which is the yardage from the White Tees. Even from the Blue Tees, it's still a hole that can be reached in two, making it a good scoring opportunity. For member play, this is the first of three par fives on the front side. At Winged Foot East, the course is informally split into the Front Ten and the Back Eight due to the location of the clubhouse between #10 and #11.
#14, "Hell Bent," Par 4, 404 Yards
"The 14th hole is a classic dogleg par 4, finished off with a steeply sloped green tightly guarded by both left and right bunkers. The unfortunate player finding any of the near bunkers will be presented with an almost impossible up-and-down."
The 14th on the East and 4th on the West go out to the Northernmost corner of the property. It's a pretty tight hole with OB and homes on the left side.
#6, "Trouble," Par 3, 194 Yards
"This is the second of four great par 3s...and a long one. Golfers will hit irons to a dramatically sloped small green, stalking an essential--an uphill putt--while knowing that a shot landing too short will roll back off the green's false front. First putts above the hole may run off the green as well. Therein lies the Trouble."
#18, "Taps," Par 4, 417 Yards
"In medal-play championships, short par 4s are scorned as not challenging. But in this match-play format, this particular short par 4 could create great finales for any contenders getting this far. The hole offers one of the more readable greens at Winged Foot. That means putts going in on top of putts could easily produce closing heroics."
Another whole finishing with a backdrop of the gorgeous clubhouse. It definitely doesn't have the teeth of #16 and #17, but it's still a nice finishing hole.
#3, "Cave," Par 3, 148 Yards
"When East was renovated in 2013, the original false front of this hole's green was restored. The change reduced the landing area and encouraged any short shots to spin back and circle down the hill, leaving the golfer within a tricky chip over the left bunker. Formerly, this hole was considered one of the course's easiest--a source of routine pars and numerous birdies."
The East has a phenomenal set of par threes, and the third hole is just the first of them. An awesome looking green site with tree removal on the right side and rear of the hole that exposed the natural rock out-croppings underneath. A very good hole.
#84, Top 100 Golf Courses in the World (2015)
#44, Top 100 Golf Courses in the U.S. (2015)
#62, America's 100 Greatest Courses (2017-2018)
#10, Best in the State of New York (2015-2016)
#17, "Lightnin'," Par 3, 227 Yards
"Lightning did strike on the 17th hole in 1972 as Suzie Maxwell Berning hit her persimmon driver within 20 feet and sank the putt for birdie. That gained her two strokes on the competition and basically delivered her the U.S. Women's Open title. Her driver is enshrined in the Winged Foot clubhouse.
The 17th hole completes the foursome of great par 3s on Winged Foot East and is appropriately the longest. The green rises steeply from the surrounding terrain, and an enormous false front inexorably sends short shots back to the fairway. Beyond the false front, a menacing knoll on the left influences putts, even those starting on the flattish right. The most difficult flagstick placement is back left, beyond the knoll. The most unusual feature of the hole, for Winged Foot: there are no bunkers around the green."
This bunkerless hole played as the hardest hole on the golf course during the recent Met Open, which hosts some of the Tri-State area's finest players. Missing on either side of the green presents a really difficult up-and-down. It was the second of a heroic three-par finish on 16-18 that made me feel a whole lot better about my round. The elevation of the green above its surroundings is so steep it requires stairs!
#8, "The Hook," Par 5, 451 Yards
"Played as a par 5 by the members and a par 4 in this championship, this hole emerges as pretty short, even for a par 4. The hole 'hooks' left about 250 yards from the tee, a dogleg design that asks for a 'lay-up' drive, unless the players decides to go for broke over the left trees, courting a short chip to the green. Even then, he faces a green that is one of the most difficult in the full 36. The green is domed and incorporates a series of hump-back rolls and other severe undulations."
The difficulty of the green makes sense for a very short par five where the hole is otherwise quite easy. However, on a long par four, a green of this difficulty might be a little over the top. This short par five, is actually 20 yards shorter than the long par four that precedes it. Given the shape of the hole and the inability to hit one's longest drive from the tee on the eighth, that isn't unreasonable. The left greenside bunker isn't visible until the last 100 yards or so.
#13, "Cameo," Par 3, 146 Yards
"If the West is a course of great par 4s, the 13th hole contributes mightily to the East's reputation of great par 3s. The name Cameo likens this elevated green to the raised carving in a cameo brooch and brings the mind the jewel-like appearance of this green, mounted in a setting of bunkers and trees.
The the 1923 brochure announcing the course opening, the 13th is called 'one of the most beautiful holes on the course.' The hole has been playfully dubbed 'the shortest par 5 in America.' Shots missing the green result in a devilishly steep bunker shot or delicate pitches off hardpan. Shots falling short of the green will run the risk of spinning all the way back down the hill toward the tee. This is one of the fastest greens at Winged Foot."
It says something on a complex like Winged Foot's when I say that this is the best par three on the property, and it's only a 140 yard shot! The 13th is just plain awesome.
The Golf Bucket List
#10, "Parade," Par 4, 353 Yards
"This is one of the most scenic holes on the course, with the view from the tee taking the full beauty of the east side of Winged Foot's Tudor clubhouse. The days past, the green was bowered by an enormous elm--the largest in Westchester County--whose hanging branches would deflect and redirect too-high second shots into the bunkers. Sadly, the tree fell victim to the Dutch elm disease a number of years ago.
Historically, this hole encouraged a lay-up drive that respected the large bunker crossing the fairway near the green. In the recent Metropolitan Golf Association Championship, this writer witnessed a drive that reached the front edge of the green. To recall an earlier thought, the four-ball format will spur risk-raking of that sort by one of both of the partners."
The trees in front of the tees create a bit of a chute that needs to be split on the drive. On the second shot, it's key to stay below the hole on this steeply sloping back-to-front green.