Westchester is home to an unmatched collection of classic, timeless golf courses that are vibrant, ever-improving playing fields for an ever-changing game.
Nearly every golf course in the county has been renovated, updated, and reimagined in recent years. Modern golf architects, like Gil Hanse and Mike DeVries, have restored and tweaked the Golden Age designs of A.W. Tillinghast, Donald Ross, and C.B. MacDonald, to keep them fresh and challenging, holding onto their ideas while strengthening the courses for players who hit the ball farther and expect to putt on greens faster than the old masters ever imagined possible.
We “constructed” a golf course from some of the great new holes — many of them newly built, all of them significantly changed for the better — that have come into existence during the last few years. We literally had dozens and dozens to choose from, but these 18 make up what we consider the “Best New Course” in Westchester.
Our new course opens with one of the most entertaining risk-and-reward holes in Westchester, the new 4th at Pelham Country Club, a drivable par 4 that even moderate strikers of the ball can reach from the tee. Early in your round, you can card a birdie or even an eagle — or a bogey or worse — depending on how you manage the risks involved. The narrow green is protected by a mound that rises across the front and makes the tee shot semi-blind. A solid, 240-yard drive will carry the top of the hill and roll onto the green, while a 270-yard bomb will reach the front on the fly. If either one is off-line by a yard or two, however, disaster awaits in greenside bunkers or deep swales on either side that leave a tough up-and-down. Head pro Mike Diffley points out that a 180-yard tee shot leaves a simple wedge approach for a nice, safe par.
Our risk-and-reward theme continues with one of the newest holes in Westchester, the new 14th at The Summit Club. In one of several major improvements to the old Brynwood CC course under the direction of architect Rees Jones, the club stretched a picturesque par 4 with ponds along the left side into a fun but challenging par 5. Managing partner Jeff Mendel explains, “We took down the old elevated green to fairway level and built a new one a hundred yards or so farther away across the creek, where the 16th tee used to be.” The hole will measure about 530 yards, giving big hitters a chance to reach in two if they’re willing to challenge the hole with an approach shot that needs to carry about 240 yards to clear the creek and a false front.
Bonnie Briar may be celebrating its centennial this year, but the club hasn’t hesitated to update its golf course with major improvements in the modern era. Among the most significant was a restyling of the 6th hole, where a boggy creek was converted to a pretty pond that raises the interest level of the dogleg hole substantially. “Play off the elevated tee as close as you dare to the water on the left,” advises head pro Frank Mattei. “If you’re accurate, you will have only 150 yards left to the green.” The safe play to the center of the fairway will guarantee a dry golf ball but a long, uphill approach.
An iron shot floating through the air to a downhill par 3 may be one of the most wonderful sights in golf. The renovation of Knollwood’s fabulous 16th hole gave such a shot a beautiful target. Architect Ian Andrews deepened the surrounding bunkers and placed a couple more short of the green to add some danger to the scenery while he recontoured the huge green to make accuracy off the tee absolutely essential.
There’s no road near the “road” hole at Sleepy Hollow, but Gil Hanse modeled it after the famous 17th hole at Saint Andrews in Scotland, with a menacing bunker that swallows errant approach shots that miss short and left of the newly contoured and reshaped green. Plenty of errant shots are made, too, especially since the fairway’s many humps and bumps have been liberated by improved fairway turf conditions that catch even the best of drives and leave the player with an uneven stance for the next shot. The fairway now plays hard and fast thanks to removal of hundreds of trees that weren’t in play but restricted airflow to the grass.
It is long; it is hard; it is not for the faint of heart. The 12th hole at Hudson National has undergone substantial changes to make it both more challenging and more visually appealing. Removal of trees opened up both sightlines and airflows while the addition of several fairway bunkers both framed the landscape and kept the biggest drivers of the ball aiming for the center line. In a bit of golf architectural genius, the hole plays as a 503-yard par-5 from the white tees, where most of us tee off, but that just brings the fairway bunkers into play on the second shot instead of the drive.
Immediately following the longest par 4 on our course is one of the trickiest: the 13th hole at Fenway. Architect Gil Hanse altered just about every feature on this hole to build interest by providing different angles of play. A line of trees in the left rough was removed, since they primarily hurt bogey golfers, but a bunker replaced them about 240 yards from the tee, to keep the stronger players honest. It pinches the fairway but can be carried by a 280-yard uphill drive. The bunker on the right side of the fairway was moved into play, as well. Head pro Tyler Jaramillo adds, “The green complex became a lot more interesting. The potato-chip green was expanded, and three swales make for some really fun approach shots.”
Few players are going to reach this long par 5 in two shots, but an aggressive strategy is still the best, according to head pro Dave Gagnon, especially now that the green complex has been tweaked to demand an even more accurate approach shot. “The key is the second shot,” he says. “You need a good drive but then want to get as far down the fairway as you can with your second, to set up a wedge into the green. If you have to hit a long iron into it, you’re in trouble because the green isn’t designed to accept that kind of a shot.” During the recent remodel, a grass swale replaced the greenside bunker on the left, increasing the player’s options but not making it any easier to save par on the narrow, slick green.
Even before the club hired Rees Jones to develop a master plan for the golf course, Westchester Hills turned this pretty but toothless par 3 into a challenging one-shotter by adding a new tee box set at a slightly different angle, farther from the green, as well as one closer, to provide another way to play the hole. Most significant, though, was removal of the bunker in front of the green to make room for expansion of a pond to bring water closer to the putting surface. Head pro Brian Giordano points out, “Up-and-down pars from the old bunker were common — now, from the pond, not so much.”
The number-one handicap hole at Metropolis became even harder thanks to major bunker changes and rebuilding of the green as part of a multiyear redevelopment of the golf course. The fairway narrows in the landing area for players from nearly every tee, with bunkers, woods, and a creek in play for errant drives. The real test comes on the long second shot, though. The player has to navigate over or around a nasty bunker 50 yards in front of the green and bring the ball to rest below the cup, which is no easy task since the newly built green slopes sharply from both right to left and back to front.
A.W. Tillinghast named this spectacular par 5 Sahara for a good reason, and the Gil Hanse renovation made the sandy appellation even more apt by expanding the 20 bunkers that define the hole. The first two come into play off the tee, where your drive needs to stay between a big trap on the right side of the landing area and an even bigger one on the left, the first of eight sandy hazards on that side of the fairway. Then, there are the five cross bunkers, which force most players to lay up rather than chance reaching the green in two with an uphill blind shot than can easily end up in yet another bunker. There are four of them greenside, as well as two right of the fairway, closer to the hole. Laying up has another advantage: You’ll have a better chance with a wedge to find the right spot on the exceedingly complicated multilevel green.
The 13th hole at Salem epitomizes the club’s commitment to continual improvement. Over the years, the water hazard on the right has expanded; the woods and wetlands on the left have been groomed; and church-pew bunkers have been added in front of the green, to make it one of the most difficult second-shot holes in the county. Most recently, tree removal made it more tempting for big hitters to boom one off the tee, but recontouring of the fairway line brought the hazards more into play on both sides of the fairway.
Members at Siwanoy can attest that this beauty will bite you if you don’t show it the proper respect. The Mike DeVries renovation of the Donald Ross gem made the shortest hole on the course one of the toughest. Head pro Grant Turner says you absolutely must hit to the fat part of the three-tiered green. The back is very narrow, and a shot there could leave a downhill putt that’s impossible to stop anywhere near the cup. The left greenside bunkers are only for the most adept sand players, while the right side of the green complex repels errant shots into oblivion. Aim for the center, take two putts, and be thankful for your par.
The character of this short par 4 changed completely during the renovation of the course under the direction of architect Keith Foster, who specializes in restoration of historic Colt and Alison courses like Century’s. Among other improvements, Foster did away with trees that limited the potential angles for the second shot, making it both more inviting and more dangerous to play for distance off the tee. The green was expanded, but grass-collection areas around it make accuracy essential for the second shot.
When the finishing hole at Leewood was rebuilt at the beginning of the club’s course renovation, head pro Dean Johnson said, “It’s definitely now one of the best finishing holes I’ve played. It will put some butterflies in your gut.” The tee shot is blind and uphill, but that’s just the beginning of the fun. The average player will have about 180 yards into a green with water on the right and a deep bunker front left. There’s an ample landing area in front of the green, but it feeds toward the water, and there’s fescue rough behind the green, so distance control matters, too.
The crowning achievement of the extensive Mike DeVries renovation of the course at Sunningdale is the finishing hole, a formidably long but excitingly playable par 4. The drive needs to be long, as would be expected on a 450-yard uphill hole, but the fairway is generous and inviting. The approach shot to the small green, however, is a test for even the best players. Golfers who might have to hit a career fairway wood to even reach the green are well-advised to lay up and set up a one-putt par with a pinpoint wedge.
The penultimate hole on the West Course at Westchester Country Club has always been one of the most interesting challenges on the course. The recent Tom Fazio redo made it even better, according to assistant pro Dirk Giannotti, who says, “You now have more options, more sight lines, and more chances to make par.” A massive rock outcropping on the corner of the tricky dogleg left was blasted into submission to provide another strategic option off the tee. The fairway was expanded to make more room for error, although water is still very much in play for long hitters who mistakenly drive their ball through the fairway. An entirely new angle of approach was opened up by removal of the tree that stood to the left of the green, one of the best changes on the course.
It was difficult to choose the best new hole at Winged Foot, so we turned to U.S. Open scores to aid the decision. In 2006, the 14th hole was the third-most difficult of the tournament, a rank that held up in 2020, when it’s scoring average of 4.3 made it the fourth-toughest, according to longtime WFGC member Gene Westmoreland. Major alterations to the green complex as part of the Gil Hanse restoration changed the nature of the hole in several meaningful ways. The green itself was expanded back to its original size and shamrock shape. The greenside bunkers, which weren’t part of the original design, were removed and a cross bunker restored short of the green on the left. Removal of trees behind the green was another major change that significantly altered your depth perception when planning your second shot. The cumulative effect of the changes makes this one of the most difficult holes on the course to strategize. The fairway seems to twist and narrow in the most inconvenient places, and the new green complex demands a different approach shot from every angle. The redesign created a brilliant short par 4.