OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. – It’s always exciting to see a new tournament venue on the PGA Tour calendar, the more so when it’s part of the season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs and there’s something on the line beyond prize money. In this case, we’ll watch the top 125 on the FedEx Cup points list compete for one of 100 places to tee it up the following week near Boston.
The scene this week is the Glen Oaks Club in Old Westbury, 24 miles east of Manhattan’s Times Square. That’s a 35-minute commute without traffic, but because the club’s entrance abuts the notorious Long Island Expressway, the drive can sometimes take two hours.
Old Westbury is one of those comfortable, leafy communities carved out of the sprawling country estates that used to dot northern Long Island. The golf neighborhood is equally upscale, with the likes of Meadow Brook Club, Garden City Golf Club, Piping Rock Club, The Creek Club and Nassau Country Club all within eight miles of Glen Oaks.
The is a relative newcomer to the area – a 1971 design by Joe Finger. The club’s 27 holes were treated to a major overhaul of bunkers, surrounds and tees in 2011-13 by architect Joel Weiman and the construction firm of McDonald & Sons, Inc. A key participant in the work was superintendent Craig Currier, who presided over U.S. Opens at nearby Bethpage State Park’s Black Course in 2002 and 2009 before moving to this ultra-private club.
Tour pros accustomed to sumptuous treatment might feel even more spoiled by the service at Glen Oaks. The club’s legendary buffet is one of those meals where there’s more food on display at the end than at the beginning. The club’s sprawling, 60,000-square-foot clubhouse might look like a modernist corporate campus, but the quality of custom cars parked in the circle out front (detailing available by the staff) suggests that a far more relaxed culture abounds here.
Recent tree work reducing years of accumulated clutter has revealed the club’s rolling, 260-acre grounds as a lovely piece of landscape. There’s 60 feet of elevation change across the site, with three nines maintained to the same nearly flawless standards. For the Northern Trust on Aug. 24-27, a composite course was stitched together comprising White Nine 1 & 2, Red Nine 4 & 5, White 3, and White 6-9, followed by the entirety of the Blue Nine. The result is a par-70 layout measuring 7,344 yards.
(Note: all photos courtesy of Glen Oaks Club)
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Hole No. 1: Par 4, 505 yards
An elegantly flowing, right-to-left opener, with the key obstacle being a pair of fairway bunkers on the inside of the turn. The last of them is 296 yards to carry, but to the narrowest part of the fairway, only 26 yards across. From there the approach shot is 15-feet uphill to a perched green heavily guarded on the right by sand. There’s a classic principle at work here; the tee shot bending one way (left) and the approach working the other way (right). At an average of 7,000 square feet, these bentgrass/Poa greens offer plenty of room to work the ball once it lands.
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Hole No. 2: Par 3, 230 yards
The prevailing wind across the site comes out of the southwest, thanks to the determining presence of the Atlantic Ocean. That means a crosswind from the right on this long downhill shot, falling 20 feet from tee to green. A left-to-right shot will hold up well and fit the bunker pattern that envelopes this green – sand front right and back left. There’s a well-protected back-right perch to the putting surface for one of the most closely guarded hole locations on the course.
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Hole No. 3: Par 4, 625 yards
The routing zigs over to the Red Nine’s fourth hole for this long, straightaway par 5. Impressive red and white oaks line both sides of the fairway, and players from the elevated tee looking to power a drive past (or over) a left-side bunker that’s 305 yards to cover will need to be mindful of out-of-bounds looming along that side. There’s nothing to worry about on a layup second shot short, but anyone trying to power a long approach to this elevated green needs to be wary of a massive array of sand short, and a dicey bunker long left. In an earlier day, this green would have been thought unreachable in two. Nowadays, even into a prevailing cross breeze, guys will get home in two here, though holding this relatively thin green, 26 yards from back to front, will require considerable skill.
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Hole No. 4: Par 4, 490 yards
Next is the Red Nine’s fifth hole, an attractive if entirely anomalous par 4 out there. The hole is dead flat from tee to green, as if running along the bottom of an old riverbed. In fact, the hole feels that way because of those gnarly oaks that impinge upon the corridor from both sides, creating the tightest airspace over any fairway at Glen Oaks.
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Hole No. 5: Par 4, 475 yards
We’re back on the White Course, this time at the third hole. Confused yet? No worries; with the roping and the flow of spectators and players, it will all come off as a seamless transition. It helps having strong holes like this, with a modest downhill tee shot to a fairway bending steadily left. A pair of bunkers down the left is decidedly in play, from 260 to 300 yards out. So, too, for longer hitters is a lake that is 320 yards off the tee on the right. Here’s another green canted the opposite of the tee shot, ideally calling for a left-to-right approach thanks to massive bunkering on the inside right and the deep left. It’ll be easy for incoming irons to run through the neck of the green into the back bunker, leaving a tough recovery from the downward-sloping sand. Here and throughout Glen Oaks, the greenside bunkering is large and flashed-up to face the approach zone, even when the hazard sits behind the putting surface.
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Hole No. 6: Par 3, 185 yards
That’s it for the zigzagging, as we’re back on the White Nine in sequence. Here’s a paradigmatic Long Island par 3. Woodmere Club, where I grew up caddying, has a twin set of them on the back nine. A pond fronts the green on the right, with a bunker at 7 o’clock and another at 2 o’clock. Front left is a surprisingly tough hole location on a par 3 like this, what with players squeezing their approach between sand left and water right. The other tough pin, obviously, is back left, as the green is only 15 yards deep on that side and pinched by water short and sand long. The standard tee alignment is from the left at 185 yards, but with the hole cut on the right, a new tee on the far right might be used, calling for a shot of 178 yards. Tour-grade players rarely come up short with iron shots on par 3s. But they do miss long, and recovery from the back here will be exciting to watch.
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Hole No. 7: Par 5, 470 yards
There’s a strange bunker pattern here, with sand splayed across the fairway 140 yards short of the green. It helps knowing this is a members’ par 5, converted for the Northern Trust to a par 4 by using the up tees. No need for a driver here; the idea is simply to steer clear of hardwoods left and right and keep it short of the cross-bunkering, leaving an approach from 175-210 yards from a low, slightly awkward fairway position over those cross bunkers to a green that’s tipped steadily from high-side right to low-side left. That low-left greenside bunker is especially in play thanks to a mowing pattern that has short grass leading right in to the sand.
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Hole No. 8: Par 4, 450 yards
PGA Tour golf would be more interesting if more holes had the options off the tee that this one has. The hole takes a two-step rise, 10 feet on the tee shot and another 10 on the approach, with a fairway phalanx of sand that fulfills two intended options but also rewards a third. The smart, boring, tee shot is a 3-metal out to the right, safely away from sand, leaving an uphill approach of roughly 185 yards to the raised green. There’s another option, which is to blast a drive (using a bit of helping wind from the left) 305 yards worth of carry, up and over the sand to a perfect little flat spot only 130 yards from the green, leaving a perfect view in. With recent tree removal and the creation of shared fairways, there’s a third path possible – blasting a drive left over the trees to the adjoining 13th fairway, leaving a pretty clear shot in that’s somewhere between the length of the other two alternatives. Should make for fun practice rounds.
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Hole No. 9: Par 4, 440 yards
A little bit disorienting, since the green you see most readily from the tee is actually the 18th, not the ninth. The fairway also seems to roll and twist with particular kick, running low left and them coming back uphill to the right to a green sloped from high right to low left and heavily bunkered all around. There’s enough of a reverse camber effect here to want to lay off the tee shot some and keep the ball under control in front of you, rather than letting it run out way left.
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Hole No. 10: Par 4, 445 yards
From here in it’s the club’s Blue Nine, in order, starting with this power-fade par 4. The drive has to slip by or over a pair of bunkers on the inside of the dogleg right, 310 yards to clear. From there the green sits 15 feet above the landing area and offers a steep, two-tier surface guarded all around, especially front right, by sand. In its day this would have been a formidable hole. Today it’s no more than a 3-metal/8-iron.
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Hole No. 11: Par 4, 315 yards
It’s time for fireworks, or at least some wild action. PGA Tour officials running the Presidents Cup figured the best way to make a short par 5 interesting is to make it a short par 4. That explains the 200-yard walk up to the tee. From there players will look at an S-curved fairway winding its way through a dominant lake left and a smaller pond far right, just in front of the green. From slightly above the fairway and with a favoring wind from the right, the green is easily within reach off the tee, providing the drive skirts a tree, lands between the ponds and finds the 15-yard wide neck of the entrance to the putting surface. With sand left and long, the smart play might be to blast a driver and recover from there. Besides, even if the tee shot is wet you get a favorable drop and can still make four. All of which suggests there’s less risk than reward if you do the calculations correctly.
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Hole No. 12: Par 4, 450 yards
The last of three mid-length par 4s in low-lying terrain (along with the fourth and seventh holes), this one bends steadily left. The ideal play, into the prevailing wind, is to keep a drive short of a bunker 300 yards out on the left and another hazard 330 yards away on the right. From there it’s a short iron to a green pitched back to front that tumbles away sharply at the rear.
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Hole No. 13: Par 5, 539 yards
Interesting how the addition of a single strategic bunker can have a profound effect on how a hole plays, even a relatively short par 5 that the entire field can reach in two. But such is the influence of one of Weiman’s bunkers that he (and Currier) put in during the recent renovation. There’s great little pot bunker here, about 80 yards short of the green, and its presence heightens the pressure of the tee shot because the bunker becomes a factor for anyone missing the fairway. The hole plays steadily uphill, 20 feet from tee to green. The key on the drive is carrying a prominent left-side bunker that’s 285 yards to clear. The green is extremely well bunkered, and that little front-center pot bunker becomes a nagging factor for anyone who can’t reach the green.
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Hole No. 14: Par 4, 438 yards
Here’s another example of the shared fairway concept, with the landing area blending seamlessly into the landing zone (from the other direction) of the 18th hole. The unbunkered fairway is draped heavily along its entire left side with trees, leading players to make use of the wide right side, a drift aided by the prevailing wind from the left. A bunker presides over the front-right entrance. At 9,000 square feet, this is the largest putting surface on the course and also one with a lot of runoff.
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Hole No. 15: Par 3, 184 yards
Downhill, with a green sliding left to right, and the shot played into a crosswind from the left that will bring a pond on the right side dangerously into play. It’s an unusual green, vaulted in midair and seemingly suspended on the right side with a narrow back-right shelf that will prove a very ticklish little area for landing and controlling a tee shot. The water is not directly in play, except for the steep falloff on that side that is closely cropped. Balls landing a foot short will trickle some 10-15 yards down the slope into the hazard. If there’s any evidence of wind during a round, it will make this little hole something of a knee-knocker.
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Hole No. 16: Par 4, 400 yards
All of a sudden, a golf course marked by expansiveness gets squeezed down into a little corner. No hole at Glen Oaks feels more confining than this uphill par 4, with hardwood overhanging the length of the right side along the inside of the dogleg and threatening woods looming on the right. The play here is a layup for safety off the tee, then an uphill second shot of a short iron to the smallest, most undulating green on the course – only 4,000 square feet, and with a steep divide across the middle that creates a back tier. It feels just like the 15th at Merion.
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Hole 17: Par 3, 233 yards
The sense of compressed intimacy evident here from the elevated tee is due not to the natural features of the land but to the spectacle of a modern golf event. Stadium-style seating on the right – more akin to a bandbox than to TPC-Scottsdale-style festivities – and a lake hugging the left side create a sense of urgency to a tee shot played from 15 feet above the green. The putting surface is well bunkered up front and left and has a mild but unnerving tilt to the left – and the water. There’s a cool little back-left hole location tucked behind the bunker, with the lake looming just a few yards to the side, and the short-grass area giving way to the hazard. It will take some nerve to work the ball close to that position.
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Hole No. 18: Par 4, 470 yards
Imagine if someone took the 18th hole at TPC Scottsdale and bent it completely into a 90-degree dogleg. That’s about what you have here, replete with a strategic bunker at the far end of a 300-yard-long pond that must be dealt with. Either play it right about 275 yards off the tee and play a second shot in from 170-190 yards to a green 20 feet above you. Or smash the hell out of the drive, carrying it clear over the lake left of that bunker, 310 yards in the air. That leaves a flip shot in from 110 yards out. All of which will make for an exciting finish.