How Should Golf Be Contested? Match Play, Of Course

And Elmwood Country Club’s Tillinghast design fits the original game perfectly.

Elmwood Country Club in White Plains is a course that’s ideally suited for match play. It’s long enough for modern medal play competition, but the fair mix of long and short holes, great number of risk-and-reward opportunities, and the emphasis on positioning tactics makes it ideal for the way golf was meant to be played: in matches.

Consider the ninth hole, a 493-yard (from the blue tees) par five. It plays uphill all the way to an elevated well-bunkered green the size of a postage stamp. Does length off the tee matter?  Sure, but the player who is most accurate on the approach shot will stand a better chance of a birdie, which makes it tough on the bomber who’s trying to reach in two with a fairway wood and definitely favors the player with the wedge in his hand who can be sure to keep the ball below the hole.

Elmwood is replete with holes that reward strategic play over brute strength. The eleventh, for example, plays downhill at 389 yards, but the fairway curves left in an Augusta-like conformation that rewards the player who can shape his or her tee shot around the trees on that side. The line of the fairway basically takes the driver out of the hands of the big ball hitter who can easily hit through the fairway. 

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The course is not all about finesse, however. The fourteenth hole is a classic risk-and-reward par five at 495 yards where the second shot plays downhill, so a power player can capitalize on strength if he or she dares. Same for the driveable seventeenth hole: It’s 340 yards off the tee but downhill most of the way, so stronger players have a choice to challenge the bunkers surrounding the green.

A recent round at Elmwood showed how much more fun match play can be. My colleague Dan Berger beat me by five strokes in medal play. Even with handicaps applied, he led from the second hole and my cause was lost by the end of the first nine. On a match play basis, though, I made the turn three down but came through on the back side to end the match even. It was golf the way it should be played, and the course fit the contest perfectly.

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