#12, "Alps," Par 4, 387 Yards
"The narrow tee box opens up to a wider fairway, however the woods to the left and right will leave no shot to the elevated green. The second uphill shot is blind to a two terrace green with two traps in the front and a trap wide on left side of green. As with many of the other Yale holes, reaching the correct tier on the green is a must in order to make par or better."
As with several other holes at Yale, the blindness of the approach creates uncertainty and challenge. A marker at the tee box indicates the hole location for the day to help with some of that uncertainty. However, clearly there is a benefit to having played the course there to have some local knowledge as far as how large the green is and where the tiers are. The flagpole behind the green attempts to give you an idea of where the center is.
#5, "Short," Par 3, 135 Yards
"As with most of the par 3's at Yale, the fifth hole requires accuracy from the tee. The plateaued green is surrounded by ten foot deep traps that punish any way-ward tee shots. If reached from the tee, expect an easy birdie putt."
As with most Seth Raynor designs, the course features four template-style par threes--Short, Biarritz, Redan, and Eden--which all pay homage to famous holes from Europe. At Yale, he starts off with the Short hole. Usually, with the Short, it's a short pitch to a large green where hitting the green is key to avoid difficult hazards, but not necessarily enough to ensure an easy two-putt. This is a relatively straight-forward green for a Raynor Short. The bunkers that surround this green cannot be seen from the tee.
#2, "Cape," Par 4, 362 Yards
"The second hole plays relatively easy unless the trap on the left hand side of the green catches hooked second shots. The narrow fairway is lined with trees on both sides allowing almost no relief off the tee. The thirty foot deep trap to the left side forces all second shots to the right of the green, resulting in a sloping putt towards the deep bunker to the left. There is seldom an easy putt unless you tempt your fate with the left side of the green."
As it says above, there isn't a ton to this hole until you get around the green. The bunker is the main obstacle to be avoided on this hole. Two sets of stairs lead down to the sand due to the bunker's depth. This was out first hole of the day given our impromptu shotgun start, so playing the somewhat intimidating approach into this green was a bit tougher with no warm-up shots, but it's only a wedge.
The hype and reputation of Yale are long-reaching, and it's not just in the circles of academia that Yale is considered a world-class asset. Outside of the ivory towers of the Ivy League, Yale also owns an operates another world-class asset, and that is its Golden Age golf course. Built by Seth Raynor, with some consulting help from C.B. Macdonald and construction help from Charles Banks, Yale Golf Course has stood the test of time as one of the game's classical masterpieces.
The origin of Yale's golf course dates back to 1926, when Raynor was handed a 700-acre property where an architect with lesser capabilities would have shaken his head and walked away. The Yale property is hilly, rugged, and filled with rocks and water that needed to be managed in the course's routing. Leave it to a man with an engineering background to figure it out. With that said, building Yale was about more than just engineering and architecture skill, because completing such a difficult construction project would also require a large sum of money. In fact, when it was built, Yale Golf Course was thought to be the most expensive course ever built. In his usual fashion, Raynor would work many of his "template" holes into the property, paying homage to some of his favorite holes from classic European courses. However, he'd add a few originals to the Yale property as well that were received to critical acclaim and still drop jaws of players to this day.
My day at Yale started off in an odd and unique way. We were assured that we had an early morning tee time, but needed to be off the course by 12:30, when the course was hosting a shotgun-starting event. When we arrived, there were 25 or so golfers congregated around the putting green, which is immediately adjacent to the 1st tee. We parked our car and got ready to go check in at the pro shop, only to learn that the shop was closed, and in fact nobody showed up to work this morning (except the superintendent), apparently because they thought the afternoon outing on this Friday before July Fourth was the only golf planned for the day. Unfortunately, all of the golfers in the practice area had secured tee times, with nobody to give us the go-ahead. All of the golfers were members/alumni/tied to Yale in some fashion, and it was a clear understanding that you are not to tee off without the blessing of a starter or other employee. We actually tried making a move to the first tee, saying we had a tee time and would be getting started...that didn't go well! We were sternly shown back to the practice area by the equally-frustrated patrons. Eventually, one of the members was able to connect with the superintendent who realized the issue and took control of the situation. Everyone would be given a cart and we'd head out on to the course to play our own shotgun start to ensure that we'd be finished by the start of the outing later in the day.
This was all well-and-good, but we had a round planned later in the day at Eastward Ho! a few hours away on Cape Cod. This delay in our start time did not make us comfortable in getting out to the Cape in a timely manner on the afternoon leading up to the biggest holiday weekend of the summer. More on that later.
When we were finally allowed to start, we were told to start on the second hole. However, I'll still write my review in order, starting with the first. The Championship Tees at Yale play from 6,825 Yards, with a par 70 rating and slope of 72.9 and 135. Theoretically, we would have been up for that, but we'd played 54 holes the day before at Winged Foot West, Winged Foot East, and Whippoorwill, so we were a little tired and cranky when we finally put our pegs in the ground. We decided to just have fun from the Blue Tees, which sounded like a more reasonable 6,409 yards with a rating and slope of 71.3 and 133. With a par of 70, that sounded like enough challenge on this course that is known to be quite challenging to begin with. I'll quote those yardages below, and include hole-by-hole commentary from the course's website in italics, with my own comments below them:
#7, "Valley," Par 4, 365 Yards
"This hole is definitely a second shot hole. The tee shot requires avoidance of woods to the left of the fairway and deep rough to the right. The second shot adds a club or more onto any club selection due to the extreme elevation of the green. The green itself slopes violently to the front, thus distance control is required. Any shot missing to the left side will roll down into the woods and shots to the right may sometimes catch the bunker to the front right leaving a tricky bunker shot."
Only one bunker on this hole, which sets to the front/right of the green. However, there is amply trouble to be found in the wall of trees on the left.
#14, "Knoll," Par 4, 353 Yards
"The fourteenth hole is an easy dog-leg to the right. Woods line the right side, and the woods on the left only catch the longer hitters. A long iron from the tee will leave a mid to short iron to an elevated green. No bunkers guard this hole, but if the green is missed to the right the woods will cause a difficult recovery shot to the green. If the green is reached, expect a straight birdie putt."
The famous gnome (a wood-carving) watching players from a perch in the right woods. It used to be more secluded in the forest until recent tree removal gave him a better view. There is a crazy drop-off to the right of the green, so make sure to keep your approach away from that.
My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
#16, "Long," Par 5, 495 Yards
"The sixteenth hole is a relatively easy par 5. The green is visible from the tee box and a long drive and fairway wood will allow occasional eagles. Woods line both sides of fairway, therefore smart play is straight play. The tee shot requires a carry over rough for 180 yards to an undulating fairway. If the top of the undulations are reached, the hole sets itself up for an easy fairway wood to the green. However, the undulations cause frequent difficult stances, thus forcing lay-up's to the front sloping green. The green itself is guarded by shallow traps on left and right side which pose no significant threat."
Finally, a par five! This one is a definite opportunity to score, as there isn't really much to it. The green site is relatively dull, partly because it's not the original green. The original green lays closer to the tee and to the left, making this a shorter hole, and possibly just a long par four. This was my only birdie of the day.
#6, "Leven," Par 4, 409 Yards
"Playing from the back tees changes this hole from a relatively simple hole to a long dog-leg left. The left side of the fairway is guarded by a winding brook and out of bounds. This brook winds its way into the fairway at 240 yards from tee catching longer hitters. The second shot is deceptively long with the green sloping to the back, requiring a long iron approach. A tricky 40 yard trap guards right side of green which will punish those that push or slice their second."
This is one of those holes where the handicap rating is in no way indicative of how hard a hole is. In my opinion, this is one of the harder holes on the course, and it carried a 15 handicap number. Perhaps that due to the fact that handicap ratings are a reflection of the variance in scores between good and bad players, and in this case, this hole might be equally hard for everybody! The creek and OB are definitely in play from the tee and need to be avoided. In the photos taken from the tee, you can see the bunkers and their stairs and the back of the prior hole.
#10, "Apron," Par 4, 382 Yards
"This hole takes the curve of the land with no remorse. The fairway starts elevated and then falls into a gulley to an even more extremely elevated green. The hole requires a 240 yard drive to be in gulley of the fairway, yet a shorter drive may result in an easier but longer shot to the elevated green as the pin will be visible. The fairway is lined with thick woods on both sides leaving no shot to the green. The green is elevated 40 feet above the fairway and a deep trap extends across the entire width of the green to catch short shots. The green itself is double tiered which requires accuracy with the approach."
The front bunkers on this hole are really cool and clearly force the player to hit the fairway to be able to have a good approach and playable shot to clear them. A fun hole for sure.
#3, "Double Punchbowl," Par 4, 399 Yards
"A long drive from the tee leaves a blind second to the green. Any shot right will catch the lake, making par almost impossible. A target second shot to a right sloping green will always leave a tricky putt. Any shots that miss the green will result in a fast downhill chip shot to the pin."
A good strategic hole, as the closer the drive lands to the water on the right, the better angle and easier shot into the green. A safe play to the left will leave a more awkward shot into the green that will need to carry the taller portion of the hillock that blocks it. The original green on this hole was actually farther to the right, and apparently much more interesting that what currently exists. The Yale flag behind the green helps to orient the player on the blind approach.
#18, "Home," Par 5, 580 Yards
"Requires a long drive over the hill to the middle of the fairway. Second shot is intimidating over a trap to an elevated fairway on left side or an easier yet longer option to right low side of the fairway. Trees line right side of fairway and rough between elevated and low side of fairway. There is a blind shot to green if second shot is hit to lower side of fairway. There is a lateral brook near the green on right side of fairway. The 18th green is exceptionally large with a 5 foot deep trap the length of the left side and a smaller trap on the right side, any ball hit to the middle of the green should have a makeable last putt."
The finisher at Yale is a really crazy hole on a really rugged piece of land. The split fairway on the second shot creates a strategic decision that needs to be made. I think I'd need to play this hole another one or two times to get a good feel for the options. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it.
#9, "Biarritz," Par 3, 201 Yards
"Yale's signature hole is world famous due to its unusual 65 yard-deep green with an eight foot depression separating the front and back. The tee shot requires at least a 190 yard carry over water to the green. Any wayward tee shot will find woods, making both distance and accuracy a premium. Depending on whether the pin is located on the front or the back portion of the green, to allow any attempt at par the ball must be placed on the correct area of the green. Any ball finding the depression faces an extremely difficult two putt. The trap to the side of the green also leaves a tricky up and down. If played correctly, this hole will give up its share of birdies, yet if played poorly, expect the hole to win."
Probably the most famous Biarritz outside of the original (in France). This is Yale's most famous hole, and it's a doozy. What makes this Biarritz unique is the long carry over water that's required with the tee and green on the high ground and the pond between them. It really is quite a hole.
#8, "Cape - Redan," Par 4, 394 Yards
"A hooked drive will carry deep into woods or a deep gully making the second shot to the green impossible. The hole requires a precise second shot to a narrow green enclosed by 30 foot deep traps both left and right. The player should favor the right side of green when making the second shot as the ball will roll gently towards any middle pin placement as well avoiding the bunker on the left hand side, however the bunker to the right should be avoided at all costs also."
Nothing to add here. The above is well said.
#11, "Reverse Redan," Par 4, 347 Yards
"Probably the least difficult hole on the course. Most elect a long iron off the tee to set up only a short iron for the approach. A slight fade from the elevated tee should set up for an easy second. Woods line the fairway on both sides with patches of long rough. The green is large and level, but requires distance control as it falls away to the front and back to bunkers."
This one is all right in front of you. No blindness, no doglegs, no tricks. Make a couple good swings, and you'll be all set.
#1, "Road - Punchbowl," Par 4, 383 Yards
"The first drive at Yale is certainly intimidating. A long drive is required to carry the water and the steep portion of the fairway to help avoid a blind second shot. If an uphill lie is avoided, the resulting roll will add many yards to an already long drive. Trees line both sides of the fairway and obstruct any shot to the two tiered green. The bottom of the pin is hidden making the second shot deceptively long causing many shots to fall short. This shot, however, leaves an easier pitch to the green than if you fall into either of the ten foot traps that guard the green to the front and the right side."
Since we started our day on the second hole, this was actually our last hole of the day. It plays easier after you're all warmed up than if it had been our opening hole--that's for sure!
Yale is a raw, wild, and rugged roller coaster ride. As a University course that is only open to those with Yale ties, it's a bit unfortunate that so many people can't play it. Anyone who has an interest in classic architecture and even civil engineering needs to see what was constructed here on such a severe piece of land. Did I like it? Well, I liked some of it. I guess I was expecting a bit more. I found it to be a Raynor course with fabulous bones, but lacking a bit in final execution and playability. I would love it if Yale would spend a few million dollars of the multi-billion dollar endowment to restore some of the Raynor features that have long gone by the wayside. It sounds like the course is slowly but surely moving in that direction, largely due to the hard work of the superintendent. Maybe some day the course will truly represent the complete architectural intent of Seth Raynor...it's close, but not quite there right now. Regardless, it was a fun day, and a course that every golf geek needs to see.
From Yale, it was off to the Cape, to Eastward Ho!....or so we thought. In literary cliff-hanger style, I'll continue that story on the Eastward Ho! review.
The Golf Bucket List
Since it's another blind hole, when you're finished, ring the bell.
#4, "Road," Par 4, 425 Yards
"Tommy Armour once chose this hole as 9th in his selection of the most difficult holes in the world. The difficultly is still true today and requires two perfect shots to reach the green. The initial drive requires a 150 yard carry over water, however at about 230 yards the lake curves back into the fairway to catch longer hitters. The second shot is generally hit with a wood or a long iron to a slightly elevated green. The bunkers to the rear of the green are generally out of play, however the deep bunker to the front will require a special shot in order to complete the up and down."
The opening nine at Yale is a rarely found par-34, with no par fives. In fact there are no par fives on the course until #16. From a handicap perspective, this is the hardest hole on the front nine. There is a bell by the fourth tee to ring once you've cleared the blind third green.
#17, "Plateau," Par 4, 425 Yards
"An uninviting tee shot threads drives over a lake to an extremely elevated fairway at a distance of 170 yards. Once over the hill, the fairway opens up and almost any drive will have a shot to the green. A rocky mound that guards the entrance to green is usually out of play, but may block the view of the pin for accurate drives. The second downhill shot to the green is relatively straightforward, yet once on the green, expect a lively putt."
The principal's nose bunkers, modeled after those at St. Andrew's are a cool land-form that need to be taken into account if the player is playing a ground shot on the approach. Otherwise, these bunkers can be carried without a problem. This green is a classic Raynor "Double Plateau" where the approach relatively to the hole location needs to be carefully planned to avoid a possible three-putt.
#15, "Eden," Par 3, 171 Yards
"Following the relatively easy fourteenth, this par three requires accuracy from the tee. The trap on the left is usually out of play, yet the 10 foot deep trap at the front punishes tee shots that fall short. Those who avoid this bunker will usually leave themselves a tricky 2 putt."
As with most Eden holes, the back-to-front slope of the green is the primary obstacle that needs to be managed. Obviously, being under the hole is critical to having a reasonable two-putt opportunity.
#13, "Redan," Par 3, 196 Yards
"Again, from an elevated tee, golfers must avoid water to the front of the green and out-of-bounds on the left. The green is surrounded by traps, but accurate tee shots should have a rolling putt for birdie."
Not the best Redan out there, mainly because it doesn't really play like a Redan. Being downhill, shots tend to hit an hold rather than release off of the kick-plate.