Golf Course Review - National Golf Links of America

11:02 AM, Jun 2, 2013   |    comments
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Southampton, NY (Sports Network) - FACTS AND STATS: Course Architects: Charles Blair Macdonald (1910), Seth Raynor. Year Opened: September 1911. Location: Southampton, New York. Slope: 145. Rating: 75.2. Par: 72. Yardage: 7,079.

Hole-by-Hole:

1 - Par 4 330 Yds 10 - Par 4 450 Yds

2 - Par 4 302 Yds 11 - Par 4 432 Yds

3 - Par 4 473 Yds 12 - Par 4 459 Yds

4 - Par 3 195 Yds 13 - Par 3 174 Yds

5 - Par 4 478 Yds 14 - Par 4 393 Yds

6 - Par 3 141 Yds 15 - Par 4 419 Yds

7 - Par 5 505 Yds 16 - Par 4 476 Yds

8 - Par 4 407 Yds 17 - Par 4 375 Yds

9 - Par 5 540 Yds 18 - Par 5 502 Yds

Par 36 3,399 Yds Par 36 3,680 Yds

Key Events Held: Walker Cup Match (1922, 2013)

Awards Won: Ranked #11 by Golf Digest - America's 100 Greatest (2013-14), Ranked #4 by Golf Digest - Best in State (New York) (2013-14), Ranked #9 by Golf Magazine - Top 100 World Courses (2007-12), Top 100 Most Prestigious Private Clubs in U.S. - Golf Connoisseur.

Website: natgolflinks.org.

HISTORY: It's a course that was designed to have fun. Now that's a rarity in this day and age, as course architects are generally mandated to craft the impossible in hopes of landing a major championship.

That certainly was not the case, when legendary course designer Charles Blair Macdonald envisioned The National Golf Links of America back in the turn of the 20th century.

At an early age, Macdonald was obsessed with golf and was sent overseas to St. Andrews University, where he gained invaluable knowledge of the greatest courses in Great Britain.

Upon returning to America, Chicago more specifically, Macdonald became a stockbroker, with golf mainly on the backburner. With the sport becoming more prominent in the United States, Macdonald, along with several associates in 1892, founded the Chicago Golf Club, as he crafted the first nine holes and a year later expanded the course to 18, the first full-length course in the United States and first course west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Part of the delegation that created the United States Golf Association, Macdonald was the winner of the first U.S. Amateur Championship held in 1895 at one of the founding clubs, Newport (R.I.) Country Club, as he defeated Charles Sands by a 12 & 11 margin, still recognized as the largest winning margin in history.

With golf architecture in the United States still in its infancy, Macdonald sought a site to create a venue worthy of the British courses and seaside links of Scotland.

Working with local engineer Seth Raynor, the duo fashioned a course out of 285 acres on pristine Long Island property, and some holes are reminiscent of some of the greatest in golf. The "Redan" fourth hole mimics the 15th at North Berwick; the seventh resembles the famed 17th "Road Hole" at St. Andrews; and the eighth, called "Bottle," has the feel of No. 12 at Sunningdale Golf Club.

Along with Chicago Golf Club and The National Golf Links of America, both of which are ranked in the top 20 of America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses by Golf Digest, Macdonald and Raynor also left their mark on the Course at Yale (Connecticut), Old White TPC (West Virginia) and Mid Ocean Club (Bermuda), to name a small few.

Founded in 1908 and officially opened three years later, The National coined its named due to the 67 original members who ponied up $1,000 each to be vested in the club. Some of the heavy hitters included Charles Deering, Findlay S. Douglas, Devereux Emmet, Henry C. Frick, Walter J. Travis, William K. Vanderbilt, Jr., and, of course, Macdonald, who all lived in various parts of the United States.

When the course first opened, the nines were actually reversed, as an inn, near what is now Route 27, played host as the clubhouse. However, shortly after opening, a fire burned the inn down and Macdonald enlisted one of the founding members, Jarvis Hunt, to design the clubhouse. Overlooking the Great Peconic Bay, the clubhouse was ready just in time for the official opening and the nines were established to their current configuration.

The National Golf Links of America has a storied past in the anals of golf history, as it played host to the first Walker Cup Match in 1922. It only stood to reason the match would be staged at The National, due in part to member George Herbert Walker, the USGA president back in 1920 and whom the trophy is named.

When looking back at the beginning of this iconic event, one wonders at the names of that inaugural team from the United States, starting with Robert Tyre (Bobby) Jones Jr. In addition to the great Jones, the squad featured the likes of Chick Evans, the first amateur to win the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur in one season, and Francis Ouimet, who captured the 1913 U.S. Open at the age of 20. Ouimet, referred to as the "father of amateur golf," played on the first six Walker Cup teams (eight overall) and was a six-time captain. Jones was a five- time participant in the Walker Cup, captaining twice and boasting a perfect 5-0 mark in singles play.

William C. Fownes was named captain of the American team in 1922. Fownes was an accomplished amateur player in his own right, winning the 1910 U.S. Amateur, but one his most significant gifts to golf was the design, along with his father H.C. Fownes, of Oakmont Country Club, site of 18 major championships, including eight U.S. Opens.

The United States prevailed in the inaugural match against a British team that was led by Robert Harris and included famed golf writer Bernard Darwin, who was asked to fill in for Harris when he grew ill. Although the team lost 8-4, Darwin, who wrote for The Times of London, played in two matches (1-1), defeating Fownes, 3 & 1 in singles play.

In its infinite wisdom, the United States Golf Association has decided to bring the Walker Cup back to The National Golf Links of America in 2013. Although plenty of clubs were in the running for the Walker Cup, the decision was almost immediate to bring this event back to NGL.

During a visit back in 2005, Mike Davis, who was the senior director of Rules and Competitions for the USGA before taking over as Executive Director, commented early in his round, "We're coming to National," and the stage was set.

The 2013 Walker Cup captains, Jim Holtgrieve of the United States and GB&I skipper Nigel Edwards, have plenty of respect for this storied layout. "The course is all about seconds shots into the green," Edwards said. "It tests every part of your game." Holtgrieve added, "The National Golf Links of America is a tremendous match play golf course."

The beauty of this course is that although it dates back to the early 1900s, little has changed at The National. Yes, it has been lengthened some 800 yards over the years, but design-wise, it's virtually unchanged.

"One thing we try not to do at the USGA is mess up the Mona Lisa," said Tom O'Toole, the USGA vice president. "The National is an architectural gem. The complexes that Macdonald created here are so special. It's one of the most treasured masterpieces in the U.S."

An additional part of the lore of The National Golf Links of America is its historic windmill.

The fact of the matter is that when a member of the club commented to Macdonald that the club should erect a similar windmill to the ones along the east end of Long Island at The National, he took his suggestion to heart and had one built. Following its completion, Macdonald sent the member the bill. The celebrated design still stands supreme in overlooking the magnificent golf course.

HOLE-BY-HOLE REVIEW: The opening hole at the National Golf Links of America is a short par-4 of just 326 yards in length. The landing area is quite generous off the tee, but stay away from the left side, as thick rough and sand will gobble up your tee shot. As you'll find with many holes at The National, your approach will be a blind, uphill play to the most severe putting surface on the course. Yes, you'll have just a short iron, but you won't be able to see the bottom of the flag stick. Miss short and your approach will slide back down the fairway and a long attack will bound down toward the second tee, leaving an impossible up and down. If you haven't figured it out already, this is where your caddie will earn his due. The first hole may yield birdies, but bogeys are quite prevalent.

The shortest par-4 on the course, although length has been added, is the second at just 302 yards from the tips. Played uphill to a blind fairway, this hole is reachable off the tee, as long as you take the correct line with your opening shot. Miss toward the right and you'll finish in sand and thick native grasses, leaving an uphill and blind approach. Miss left and you'll have a chance of clipping the impressive windmill structure that stands guard over The National. However, if your shot is true, you might just end up on the green, as the hole plays downhill from the fairway, leaving an eagle putt. The putting surface is very large, but compared to some of the other greens, pretty docile. Birdies galore.

After playing two relatively simple holes, The National rears its teeth with the hardest hole on the course, the massive par-4 third. A new tee has been added, stretching this behemoth to 473 yards. In addition, it plays uphill from the fairway to the putting surface. Aptly nicknamed "The Alps," you'll need a big tee ball in play to have any shot at par. Your second shot is played to an elevated green, partially surrounded by a moat of sand, with the top of the flagstick barely visible from the fairway. The putting surface is immense with an amazing amount of slope. Need I say more? Hardly. Making par here is stealing a shot or two from the field. The third hole starts a stretch of 10, where eight are rated as the top-10 most difficult holes at The National.

The Redan-styled fourth is classic C.B. Macdonald. The longest par-3 on the course, reaching 195 yards in length, this gem features a gaping bunker covering the left portion of the green, forcing the player to produce a draw off the tee, thus avoiding the trap and a back-left pin. The elements certainly come into play, as the wind will play havoc with your shot and there are no trees to speak of to deflect the average 10-15 mph cross winds. The green slopes hard from right to left, so landing on the front right portion will allow the ball to funnel toward the pin. The surface is quite slick, so to make a par here, you'll need a stellar short game and a hot putter.

The fifth hole is the longest par-4 on the course at 478 yards. The tee shot here is critical, as anything just offline to the left will end up well below the fairway and in a massive bunker, while right will land in deep rough as the fairway is crowned or as aptly named "Hog's Back." The cross bunker down the center is 205 yards to clear, which should not present a problem for most players. Now on to the approach. A medium to long iron should remain to a well-guarded green that falls off sharply to the left. Originally a par-5, you'll still need to stay on task or you'll make a big number on one of the most difficult holes at The National.

Although the sixth is the shortest hole on the course, it features one of the largest putting surfaces on the property. At least 45 paces in length, the par-3 has several quadrants, which can provide even the best of players headaches. The edges of the green feed directly toward the bunkers, so any play a smidgen off will filter toward the sand. Let's not forget the three separate tiers, and when the wind is up, it certainly will get your attention as you stand on the elevated tee box.

Originally just 456 yards in length, the seventh has been increased to 505 yards, but it is a very reachable par-5 and can be had. The key is the tee ball, which is played to a blind landing area, as the fairway rises from the tee prior to dropping off. Fescue down the right and bunkers to the left will certainly test the player, so pay attention to your caddie's line of sight for your best results. Named "St. Andrews," after the famed Road Hole 17th, it will now require a modest second shot to either a layup spot or to take on the green. The layup needs to avoid the crossing bunkers, while the go-for-broke play must bypass the fronting pot bunker and negotiate the crowned putting surface. A severe drop-off to the right and rear, along with the deep bunkering to the right, will provide plenty of anxiety.

The eighth is a medium-length par-4, which features diagonal bunkers down the left center of the fairway that split the landing area in two. The play left will feature a level approach to the green, while the right side will bring the trees into play, but will afford the player a better angle to the putting surface. Your second will be uphill toward the green, so take at least an extra club to reach the short grass, otherwise, your approach will trickle back down the fairway ... or worse, into a bunker. The false front that is created, gives an illusion that the green is closer than reality, so be cautious. Miss right or long and you'll have a steep, uphill recovery, leaving little chance of making par.

The final hole on the outward nine is also the longest on the course. One hundred yards have been added since its inception in the early 1900s, making this a true par-five. Slightly similar to the monster at Pine Valley, where your second shot must clear "Hell's Half Acre," the ninth at The National features a deep waste area of sand, scrub and who knows what else, to which you must cross with your second. Once clear, the fairway is quite generous and devoid of trouble, unless, of course, you sway off line. Now it's up to your wedge game to attack the green, although the putting surface is quite large and runs away toward the rear of the green ... and long is a big mistake. Rated one of the top seven most difficult, No. 9 can be beaten.

Over the years, 36 yards have been added to the 10th hole, making it one of the most difficult holes on the course. Nicknamed "Shinnecock," after its nearby course namesake, the 10th is a robust 445-yard par-4, rated fourth-most difficult at The National. The key is your tee ball, as unruly rough and sand guard both sides of the landing area. Now a medium to long iron will remain to a back-to-front and left-to-right sloping green. Miss long and your first putt might not stay on the putting surface. Pick the right stick to approach and use the backstop in the middle of the green for your best result.

What makes the 11th so difficult is your blind second shot to a two-tiered green. This par-4 is just 432 yards in length, but the fairway must be dissected, otherwise it's a layup over the road and then a pitch to the green, with little hope of making par. However, with a properly placed tee shot, a mid-iron should enable you to strike paydirt. A word of caution: Do not miss right, as your approach will slide down the shaved embankment into sand, while long will make for a difficult up and down, as the raised green will present plenty of distraction.

With added teeing grounds, the 12th is now the third-longest par-4 on the course, reaching 459 yards in length and is rated the second handicap hole. With that being said, the main component is the tee shot. With a fairway running from left to right (where sand waits), you'll need a well-placed first shot to have any chance. Your approach to the green, with Bullhead Bay in the background, will be to a putting surface that slopes hard to the front with a false front, repelling balls back down the fairway and to the right. The green is quite wide, so playing your shot with accuracy will be key.

The final par-3 on the course, the 13th can play as long as 175 yards from the back markers. It features a carry over water and sand to a slightly elevated putting surface that slopes hard toward the front. In addition, sand guards the entire right side and rear of the green, making pinpoint control a must. Fifty paces wide and 40 steps in depth, the green will create havoc with even the best of putters. The word of caution here, avoid the pot bunker in the front of the green.

Picking the right club off the tee on No. 14 is of utmost importance. The reason being, the fairway slopes toward the trouble on the right and the landing area with a driver will tighten the closer you are to the green. So play smart, take 3-metal off the tee, leaving just a short iron to the circular putting surface. Again, accuracy is key, as sand guards both sides of the fairway. Your approach to the green will be affected by the wind, which usually plays directly in your face. Several pot bunkers adorn the left side of the green, while the right side features a severe drop-off into a sandy waste area. Although it slopes toward the front, this putting surface is not as undulating as some of the greens at The National, so take advantage if you can.

With the iconic windmill as the forefront, the uphill 15th presents several challenges. First of all, its length; second, it plays into the prevailing wind; and, finally, the steady climb to the green. All of which makes it the sixth-most difficult holes on the course. The landing area is quite generous, unless of course you miss right (into sand) or left into thick native grasses. A myriad of bunkers line the fairway, so any play just a smidgen off-line will be toast. The square-shaped putting surface, again runs toward the front and is quite slick. The front trap, which appears to be just short of the green, is in fact 30 yards in front, making your club selection much more difficult.

What was once a simple, pitch-and-putt par-4, the 16th now stretches 476 yards in length, as new teeing grounds were added. Originally one of the easiest holes on the course, this gem is now the longest of its kind at The National. Playing uphill from the tee, the fairway swings from left to right and features a huge, ball-snatching bunker on the right. The landing area is the widest on the course, but with a catch. Although it's 100 yards in width, the right side slopes severely down into a bowl, where you will sit some 30 yards below the green. Regardless, you'll be faced with a blind approach to the green, aptly nicknamed "Punchbowl." Cross bunkers will throw off your depth perception, so listen to your caddie. Most shots just off-line should bound toward the pin, so don't worry if you're off a bit.

Just when you thought the course was too much to handle, the closing two holes will give you a breather of sorts and a real shot at birdie. The 17th is one of the shorter holes at The National as it plays downhill from tee to green and is less than 400 yards in length. Although its name is "Peconic," for the wondrous view of the bay, it certainly could have been nicknamed, "the second Sahara," as no less than 20 bunkers occupy the hole. If your tee shot can avoid the cross bunker in the middle of the fairway and stop short of the massive grouping 40 yards past, then you're home free. Now you're faced with a short wedge to a fairly small target, surrounded, almost entirely by sand. The putting surface is as easy as it gets, so stay focused and you'll make a three.

The closing hole at The National Golf Links of America is a short par-5 that plays a lot longer than the yardage indicates. When scanning the scorecard and reading a 501-yarder for the last, birdie certainly came to mind. Well, not so fast. The 18th plays uphill from tee to green, as the Great Peconic Bay frames the entire right side of the hole. Avoid the massive bunker down the left side and you'll have an outside shot at getting home in two. With a play down the right-center, you'll still have 240 to the green, a shot perched to the right, overlooking the water. Sand, short and left of the putting surface gathers plenty of attention, as players try in earnest to reach the green. The smart play is to lay up around the 50-yard mark, thus leaving a straight-on pitch to a very accessible, but lengthy green.

OVERALL: When checking over the scorecard prior to teeing off, most players are caught licking their chops, thinking, "This will be a walk in the park and I should shoot a good score."

Think about it, four par-4s under 400 yards, two slightly over 400, two par-5s just a shade over 500 yards and two fairly short par-3s of 123 and 166 yards. That's 10 holes that a player can dominate.

Whoa Nellie! Think again.

Similar in length to Merion Golf Club's East Course, the National Golf Links of America features only three par-3s and three par-5s, and the topography is a roller coaster of natural sand dunes, hills and valleys, so you'd be mistaken if this course plays like a pushover. In essence, it plays well over 7,200 yards from the tips, with its elevation changes and let's not forget the elements.

"Wind I consider the finest asset in golf," Macdonald wrote in his book, "Scotland's Gift: Golf." "In itself it is one of the greatest and most delightful accompaniments in the game."

No, it's not the longest course, and, yes, the fairways are incredibly generous, but with over 300 bunkers that are strategically placed and greens that will befuddle the best, you better be ready to golf your ball.

The putting surfaces range from 5,000 square feet on the 16th to 13,000 square feet on the 13th.

"The most unique thing about The National is the wonderful putting green complexes," O'Toole said. "They are very unique with their own sense of style and each one is different."

How good was C.B. Macdonald's design? It's virtually copied in some form or another, every time a course is created. And you know that people say, "To copy is one of the most sincerest forms of flattery."

"The course dates back to the beginning of golf course architecture in this country, but has a design that has successfully stood the test of time," said former USGA president Jim Hyler when The National was chosen out of 150 courses to host the Walker Cup for a second time.

The quality of golf in this area is outstanding. From Shinnecock Hills and Sebonack, both right next door to The National, to Maidstone and Atlantic. The Southampton region is overflowing with prestigious layouts, a combination of old and new.

Character is usually bandied about when discussing people of certain caliber and standing, but The National Golf Links of America certainly fits the bill.

Style, reputation, constitution, mystique and, yes, character.

High praise, sure, but more like, well-deserved praise.

Aces, pars or bogeys, send your thoughts to psokol@sportsnetwork.com.

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