A deep sense of golf history lives in the Hudson Valley, where players are still challenged by courses built during the game’s beginnings in America, while new clubs pay homage to the past with classic upgrades of modern facilities. We chose a trio of the Hudson Valley’s finest private clubs founded as long ago as 1882 but still offering great golf in 2011.
Trump National Golf Club
Hopewell Junction, NY 845-223-1600
• 7,693 yards • Par 72
• Rating 77.3 • Slope 147
Donald Trump knows plenty about real estate, finance, management, and the art of the deal — but he really, really knows golf. He added to his growing collection of first-rate golf facilities last year with a track carved from the rolling hills of a former bison farm overlooking Stormville Mountain. It’s a course as big as the Donald’s persona, with wide fairways, big greens, and vistas that just won’t quit. The layout was a modern design originally built in 2001, but Trump undertook a major rebuild of the course, clubhouse, practice facility, and men’s and women’s locker rooms within days of taking over. The results were spectacular.
New tees on eight holes — there are now five sets to accommodate players of all levels — stretched the course to 7,693 yards and turned a few quirky little holes into man-sized challenges. The second hole, for example, is now a 685-yard monster with a split fairway that presents a mind-bending approach-shot strategy. Hint: Go for the left side for a better angle onto the green, but only if you’re confident you can navigate the six-bunker complex that guards it.
The biggest and best change Trump made to the course was to remove the trees that once surrounded the lake separating the 15th and 16th holes. That bold move made the holes not only more scenic, but much more dangerous for the slice-afflicted golfer. It also created a grand vista from the clubhouse, where you now can enjoy a quick bite or after-round libation in the newly enclosed grill room while looking past the ninth and 18th greens to the lake framed by the wooded hills beyond.
Perhaps the most dangerous hole on the course is the 17th, a 239-yard par three that’s all carry over water from the back tees. Even a layup to the bailout area on the left front isn’t necessarily safe — you might have to pitch from there over a massive bunker to reach the pin if it’s tucked on the right side.
Dutchess Golf & Country Club
Poughkeepsie, NY 845-452-3110
• 6,475 yards • Par 70
• Rating 71.1 • Slope 128
Known as “Golf’s Lady of the Hudson,” Dutchess Golf & Country Club is imbued with history. It was established in 1897 and its first six head pros came from the British Isles. It’s the only course in New York that has hosted all of the state championships. In a trophy case filled with well over a century’s worth of memorabilia is a dues payment signed by Franklin Roosevelt. You may enter the club from a strip-mall-lined thoroughfare, but beyond the parking lot you’ll find a classic golf course.
The original nine holes were designed by Mungo Park, one of a family of golf professionals that came from Scotland to make their mark on American golf in the 19th century. Another nine were added later, but all made excellent use of the up-and-down topography and many rock outcroppings, water courses, and other natural landforms to create a tough test of golf that’s as much about ball placement as distance off the tee. The par four, 450-yard 11th hole, for example, plays from an elevated tee so the player has a good chance of reaching the dogleg with his or her drive, but the second shot is to a green with a wicked false front. The green on the seventh hole, a 437-yard par four, sits on a tabletop that demands two good shots to reach in regulation.
The par threes are delightfully varied, ranging in length from the 194-yard sixth hole to the 92-yard 13th. Scoff if you will at a hole under 100 yards, but be forewarned that any shot above the hole — or more than three feet away on either side — will most likely result in a big number on the scorecard.
The Powelton Club
Newburgh, NY 845-561-4481
• 6,193 yards • Par 70
• Rating 71.4 • Slope 134
Just how old is the Powelton Club? Dues for founding members were 10 dollars! That was in 1882 — and the golf course was still 10 years away — but still, 10 dollars! Today’s members pay a bit more than that, of course, but they get a lot more, too. Five clay tennis courts, a pool, and several restaurants are available as well as a short, but demanding, classic golf course.
The original golf course — of five holes — was laid out by a member in 1892 and added to over the years until Devereux Emmet was hired to design a full 18-hole course in 1923. There have been a few changes since, but most of the course harkens back to the time when golf holes were built without massive earth-movers and golfers relied as much on their skills as on muscle power to play the game. Water is in play on 11 holes, while trees pinch most of the fairways and postage-stamp greens protect par on many holes.
Head pro Bob Minicozzi, who has been at the club for over a quarter-century, considers the 12th hole the hardest on the course. It’s 425 yards on the scorecard but, he says, “it plays more like 450.” The green on the par four is narrow and wildly elevated, so a smart player often lays up to the right and chips close to leave a par putt. Another tester is the 187-yard par three seventh, where two huge trees frame a narrow chute to the green, bunkers lie on both sides of it, and out of bounds awaits the overly long hitter just off the back. •