The Mean Eighteen
A walk on the wild side: 18 challenging holes guaranteed to be hazardous to your handicap.
Featuring photography by John Fortunato Published March 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM
Westchester Holes Most Hazardous to Your Handicap
Westchester golf can be a walk on the wild side. Trees reach out and slap your ball right out of the air. Bunkers slide around the green and scoop up what you thought was a perfect approach. Walls of water leap over cliffs to drown your tee shot. Or at least it seemed that way when we set out to choose Westchester’s Mean Eighteen, the holes most hazardous to your handicap.
Golf courses are more than just exquisitely manicured lawns. In fact, fairways, greens, and tee boxes—the pretty stuff—take up only about a quarter of the area on the average course. Most of the rest is devoted to places where your ball doesn’t want to be: the woods, the lakes, rivers, ponds, streams, and marshes, plus the bunkers full of sand, the long fescue, the tall cabbage, the dreaded environmentally sensitive waste areas. In Westchester, we’ve even got a fine selection of granite cliffs, rock outcroppings, and more than one waterfall to put a bulge in your score.
No. 1: Century Country Club
Hole No. 1, 444 Yards, Par 4
When the US Open qualifiers tee it up at Century this year, they’ll be faced with a hard, fast golf course that begins with one of the most deceptively simple holes on the course. The long par-4 first hole is characteristic of Century County Club, where as Superintendent Kevin Seibel says, “The golf course defends itself.”
“The first hole looks gentle but packs a punch because less than half of the fairway is available to you off the tee,” says Head Pro Nelson Long. There’s a large oak 260 yards out that brushes the fairway to create a slight dogleg and a large bunker on the right, but the real hazard is a maple that overhangs the short grass 130 yards from the green. Unless you’re in the right third of the fairway off the tee, you don’t have a clear approach to the green.
Salvation for many lies in the invitingly open front of the tiny green, which allows for a bump-and-run approach. But accuracy is key because three big bunkers surround the green waiting to grab a slightly off-track shot.
No. 2 Ardsley Country Club
Hole No. 8, 160 Yards, Par 3
Just when you think you’ve successfully navigated the stream on the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth holes at Ardsley Country Club, here comes the pond on the eighth hole, fed by the same wicked Wicker’s Creek. The water protects the tiered green on the short, but it’s a potentially treacherous downhill par-3, making the bunker next to the green the most popular patch of sand on the course because, next to the green itself, it’s about the only place your ball can land where it won’t get wet.
“The water makes the hole picturesque as well as hazardous,” Head Pro Jim Bender says. The pond is just one of the hazards that architect Ken Dye moved closer to the green during the club’s recent extensive rebuilding project. Every designer in the pantheon worked on Ardsley, including Willie Dunn, who laid out the original track in 1895. He was the club’s first professional and the original designer of Shinnecock Hills. In later years, Donald Ross, Alister MacKenzie, and Robert Trent Jones put their marks on the place before Dye came in to toughen it up.
If you’ve put one too many balls into the pond, you can always switch sports at the ninth hole turn and try your hand at curling. Ardsley Country Club is the only place in Westchester with a curling sheet, the iced court used in the Winter Olympics’ oddest sport.
No. 3 Anglebrook Golf Club
Hole No. 4, 582 Yards, Par 5
From the look of it, the environmentally sensitive hazard that haunts the fourth hole at Anglebrook could be the home of the mythological Bigfoot—and he may be the only player strong enough to reach the hole with fewer than three shots. This par-5 is the toughest hole on the course and certainly one of the toughest in the county. “There’s no give-up on this hole,” declares Head Pro Rob Davis.
The tee presents a nice wide landing area, although there’s a Robert Trent Jones, Sr., signature bunker menacing the left side. (Anglebrook was the world-renowned architect’s last design and the only course he laid out in Westchester.) Just to start you out in the properly intimidated state of mind on this hole, your drive has to fly over an environmentally sensitive waste area before you get a chance to land in the bunker.
The second shot is the key to the hole—but don’t even dream of trying to reach the green. A marshy lateral hazard full of ferns, trees, blackberry brambles, and hundreds of golf balls (and maybe Bigfoot?) hugs the left side of the fairway all the way down, totally blocking your path to the green. “The hole makes a complete ninety-degree dogleg,” Davis notes. “Your second shot has to get down into the bend inside the one-hundred fifty marker.” That’s at least a 200-yard shot for most players. Anything shorter or too far left, and you still can’t see—or reach—the green.
When you can finally see the putting surface, you also see the lake in front of it, which you must carry with your third shot. That shot needs to land in the right place, too, because the green is an expansive 48 yards deep with four distinct pockets and a nasty diagonal spine, so three putts—or more—aren’t uncommon.
No. 4 Salem Golf Club
Hole No. 13, 407 Yards, Par 4
Triskaidekaphobiacs have plenty of reasons to fear the number 13 at Salem Country Club. That’s where they’ll run into hazards on every single shot they take on the newly redesigned hole.
The elevated tee invites a full swing with the driver, but be sure it’s straight. A lake is well within reach just over the right rough and a tree-lined stream forms a lateral hazard on the left. A perfect drive is aimed at the innocent little birdhouse marking 150 yards to the green on the right side of the fairway.
From there, though, the fun really begins. You now have to aim for a green elevated some 40 feet above your head—and hidden behind not one, not two, but three bunkers that stretch completely across the fairway like some kind of demented ladder. They’re each only about five yards from front to back, but they’re fringed with fescue and downright mean. Even the green is tricky, with multiple tiers that can give you a putting line that looks like something left behind by a drunken snake.
I asked member Mike Burns if he’d ever birdied the hole. His answer: “Yeah, I got a par once.”
No. 5 The Apawamis Club
Hole No. 11, 362 Yards, Par 4
Ben Hogan once called Apawamis “the toughest short golf course I have ever played.” The tight-lipped Texan may have been referring to the eleventh hole, where two perfect shots are required to make a par and a miss on either one usually means a score worse than a bogey.
Even though it’s a short hole, Head Pro Jack Perkins says, “You have to hit a good tee shot. If you don’t, you have to decide whether to lay up or to challenge the hazards in the front and to the left. The green must be approached with a short iron to keep from running thrgh it.”
And that tee shot must be straight. “If you hit a draw off the tee, that can mean trouble because the fairway pitches left and there’s a lateral hazard there,” Perkins explains. Locust Street—definitely out of bounds—awaits the slicer’s tee shot to the right. Better players typically hit a three-wood or two-iron, Perkins reports.
That sets them up for a short iron into the green, but it needs a special touch, too. The green is guarded by a pond on the left, a rock-walled creek in front, and a monstrous trap to the right. Plus, the green is steeply sloped from back to front and toward the water on the left. “If you run through the green, you have a tough pitch coming back down the hill. From the bunker on the right, you’re coming back toward the water,” Perkins says.
While you’re at it, make sure that short iron shot is shaped correctly. “It’s best to hit a fade into the green so it will hold the shot,” Perkins says. “A draw brings the water into play.”
No. 6 Trump National Golf Club
Hole No. 13, 218 Yards, Par 3
Water seems to fall from the sky on this, the most expensive, if not the most hazardous, hole in Westchester. The 101-foot waterfall thunders down behind the green, then races around to a shorter cataract in front, and finally empties into the lake you have to carry from the tee.
It’s spectacular, of course, but also distracting as hell, which may have been Jim Fazio’s intent when he designed the hole. The Donald was just being his usual build-me-the-biggest, make-a-mark-on-the-world, can-you-top-this self when he conceived it. You would think the water would be enough, but your tee shot also has to rocket through a narrow chute of trees that line the flight path to the green. Playing this hole in the wind is like trying to land an F-16 during a gale on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise.
No. 7 Mount Kisco Country Club
Hole No. 5, 453 Yards, Par 4
The fifth hole at Mount Kisco is long, it’s uphill, and the green will break your heart. So will the ball-hungry bunker on the right side where errant approach shots are buried in the sand. As Head Pro Nick Manolios explains, “This hole is so long and hard, many members just play it as a par-five.”
The tee shot is relatively simple: long and left. From there, you get a good view of the green set against the sky, inviting you to go for it. But pay attention. “Even a good drive to the left center will leave you with an uphill, side-hill lie for your second shot,” Manolios explains. The green is guarded by a big, mean, schoolyard bully of a bunker on the right front. The fairway feeds into it; so does the green. If your approach is short and right, which is what usually happens when you have an uphill side-hill lie, you’ve got trouble. The green is a killer, too, sloping severely from the back left to front right. In between are some subtle dips and curls that even make a two-putt from below the hole less than a sure thing.
No. 8 Sleepy Hollow Country Club
Hole No. 10, 168 Yards, Par 3
Getting to the green on this short par-3 is easy—just take a leisurely stroll across the rustic wooden bridge that winds picturesquely over the lake that fronts the hole and wraps around to the right side. If you want your ball to get there, too, aim carefully from the tee and pick the right club, because that placid lake is a ball gobbler.
You’ll breathe a big sigh of relief when your tee shot carries the water and avoids the bunkers around the wide, inviting green, but wait until the ball is in the hole to relax. From the tee box, you can’t see how severely the green slopes from back to front. Putting from above the hole may even bring the water back into play if you’re not careful.
No. 9 Brae Burn Country Club
Hole No. 9, 495 Yards, Par 5