The par-3 15th hole at St. George's
Every once in a while a course pops up on the radar screen and just speaks to you powerfully and relentlessly.
In another realm of life it might be called “falling in love,” but in golf the experience of such a discovery too often gets reduced to the cheap cliché of “hidden gem.” But that’s to presume the course has been under wraps, whereas in the case of an enchanting place such as St. George’s Golf & Country Club, it just has been sitting there in plain sight on Long Island’s North Shore since 1917.
Well, maybe not exactly in plain sight. For the last few decades this unique Devereux Emmet-designed layout has been shrouded in a kind of tree-induced fog, its quirky mounds and bubbling cauldrons of bunkers struggling for recognition under dense canopies of amateurishly planted conifers. Now, thanks to a sustained tree-management program, the course has been freed of its nuisance evergreens. Tall, proud, century-old white oaks dot the site and define perimeter areas, but the interior hole corridors have been opened to the point where the fairways seem to melt into one another.
The effect, looking out from the clubhouse onto the property, is simply transformative. Of all the retro-movements in golf architecture of late, perhaps the most revealing is the widening of playing corridors to the point where they overspill onto one another. That means less rough and more room for the ball to run askew. It means wind is a greater factor. And it allows the moraine topography of the site to emerge synergistically rather than having to start over on every tee.
At 6,232 yards, this par-71 layout (70.8 rating/130 slope) is not long or severe. But it is fun, and it does demand ball control. And what a relief to see only three sets of tee markers on each hole. Surely, the proliferation of tees in the name of liberal social values is among the most regrettable in all of golf design.
Emmet (1861-1934) was a fellow traveler of Charles Blair Macdonald’s and helped him on the planning of National Golf Links of America. When it came time for St. George’s, Emmet saw it as his chance to stake his claim to an artisanal approach to course design. Here he displayed a flair for modestly scaled bunkers, some of them linear if not coffin-like. In an era where earthmoving was virtually unheard of, Emmet nudged some mounds into shape by piling dirt over semi-buried rocks and tree stumps and letting native fescues and bluestem overtake them. Some bunkers are placed strategically to create optional landing areas; others are strung in linear fashion like pearls on a chain and serve double duty on adjoining holes.
At St. George’s ...
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