The Links at Union Vale
• 6,646 yards • Par 72
It’s not Ireland, but it’s close. Darn close. Not only is the Links at Union Vale an excellent approximation of a true links course, it’s 3,000 miles closer to home — and available for daily fee play at quite reasonable rates.
Great swaths of the course are links-like, with wide-open treeless vistas, rolling fairways dotted with pot bunkers, and fescue rough that will teach you to keep your ball on the short grass where it belongs. Many holes, though, are laid out in traditional parkland style with trees and elevated greens. The result is a great mix, where you may play a bump-and-run approach on one hole while flying a wedge into the next.
Regardless of how you get to the green, you’ll want to pay attention when you take the cover off your putter. The Links at Union Vale may be a daily fee course, but the greens rival the best of the Hudson Valley private courses. They are not only huge and well contoured, but typically run around 10 on the Stimpmeter, so careful, precise strokes with the flat stick are a must.
The front nine is the shorter and easier of the two, although shot placement is crucial: there are several blind landing areas and many fairways are littered with pot bunkers. The course turns cruel after the turn. The 14th hole is a brutal 587-yard par five where bunkers line both sides of the fairway and there’s a hazard 350 yards out that forces either a strategic lay up or a heroic second shot. The green is a monster, too. Watch out for the shelf that falls away from front to back — it’s not very receptive to long, hot approach shots.
Weekday greens fees $49, weekends $76, with substantial savings at non-peak times or with annual membership.
» Next country club: Spook Rock Golf Course, Suffern, NY
Spook Rock Golf Course
• 6,806 yards • Par 72
Its name notwithstanding, there’s nothing scary about Spook Rock — as long as you can shape your shots, manage your distance, and own a putter that never misses. Do all that and you have nothing to fear from this Rockland County course that’s regarded as one of the best layouts in the area — public or private.
“Spook Rock rewards the strategic player,” says Howie Munck, a member of the course advisory board. “There are a lot of holes like the first where you can cut the corner of the dogleg but have to be careful not to drive through the fairway.” The 538-yard sixth is another thinking player’s hole. If you stay to the right side off the tee, you may have a shot at the green — if you want to challenge the water in front.
Spook Rock underwent a major renovation in recent years, but it’s been a championship-caliber course since its creation in 1969. Over the years it has hosted seven MGA competitions, most recently the MetLife Public Links Championship in 2010. The course is mostly flat, which makes it an easy walk, but the fairways are tree-lined and there are more than 50 bunkers to keep you honest. During the renovation, spearheaded by noted golf architect Stephen Kay, a new irrigation system and driving range were installed, trees were trimmed to improve air circulation and turf conditions, and bunkers were upgraded. New tees stretched the course to 6,806 yards from the tips and new bunkers and redesigned hazards brought the course into the 21st century. The result of the multiyear project is a golf course that will challenge scratch golfers while giving high handicappers a fun day on the links.
Greens fees $65, with substantial savings at non-peak times or with a Ramapo resident ID.
» Next country club: Garrison Golf Club, Garrison, NY
Garrison Golf Club
• 6,497 yards • Par 72
Many clubs in the Hudson Valley are proud of their views, but few have more to brag about than the club at Garrison, where the setting 800 feet above the river yields jaw-dropping vistas of the Hudson Highlands and West Point. In addition to stunning views, the course features varied topography with demanding elevation changes, steeply canted fairways, and challenging greens.
The front and back nines have distinctly different characters, although both demand precise shot making and reward bold play. The front nine is tighter, with tree-lined fairways and some intimidating carries both off the tee and into the greens. The sixth hole, 404 yards, has a blind tee shot where a draw is perfect but a straight ball won’t hurt too much. The second shot is all carry over water, but the pressure is more mental than physical. The seventh, a 449-yard par five, looks like a pushover, but a creek runs all along the narrow fairway on the right side, then turns 20 yards in front of the green to make you think twice about being a hero with your second shot.
The back side is set on a shelf among the hills and opens up a bit. The short holes are the most interesting, especially the 343-yard 12th, a dogleg left with a bunker in front of the green that eradicates any advantage for the long hitter. The 14th, a 215-yard par three, is all carry over water, while the 202-yard 17th hole has everything — trees, sand, and water, not to mention an undulating green.
Weekday greens fees $50, Weekends $75, with substantial savings for twilight times.