6,409 yards, 133 slope from the Blues

Course:  The Course at Yale is some where I’ve been wanting to play for a long time.  As I became more interested in golf course architecture and began delving into varying design styles and courses, Seth Raynor is someone I’ve become more and more interested in.  His courses were unlike anything I’ve ever seen; there were more rigid lines and precise geometrical shapes involved than trying to emulate the natural landscape.  They were bold designs.  Camargo, a course outside of Cincinnati, is a great example.  I attribute a lot of his style to his engineering background.  One of the more fascinating things about Raynor is that he wasn’t even a golfer.  Raynor learned golf course design from C.B. Macdonald, whose courses are among the oldest and elite in the country.  Macdonald famously proclaimed that the National Golf Links of America, which he designed, was just as good as any course in Scotland.  McDonald studied at St. Andrews University and became well acquainted with the Old course.  Mcdonald’s design philosophy was essentially that there were about 25 different hole designs that should be selected from, then should be adapted to fit the specific course area.  Raynor followed suit and on the courses they designed, you will invariably find versions of the Road, Eden, Short, Alps, and Redan holes, among others.  Old Macdonald at Bandon is an ode to C.B., as his courses, as well as those by Raynor, are among the world’s best and include Chicago Golf Club, Fishers Island, Shoreacres, Yeamans Hall and Shinnecock Hills.  Pretty good portfolio for someone who wasn’t an avid golfer.

And that’s what I like about Raynor so much.  He didn’t golf, but loved building courses and went through pain staking detail to exact what he wanted from his courses.  He moved a lot of earth, probably more than anyone else during his time, but none of his courses look contrived or unnecessary.

So that brings us to Yale.  Simply put, Yale is considered one of Raynor’s crowning achievements in course design.  Easily one of the top, if not best, college courses in the country, Yale’s course is known as one of a kind.  It’s bold, grand, and unlike any other course.  I don’t get up in New England that often, but when I realized I was going to be in the area and had enough time to play here, I did what I could to secure a tee time.

Yale’s course is set on hilly terrain full of ponds, lakes, rock formations and trees.  There are numerous blind shots, forced carries, and alternate routes to the green, creating a lot of decision making and navigating around the course.  It’s one of, if not the most, visually intimidating courses I’ve played, as everything is on a grand scale.  The course is on about 700 acres; a normal course is usually a couple hundred.  There were multiple holes where it looked like the green was a mile away and I had a hard time believing the score card when it told me it was only 382 yards, etc.  Bunkers were enormous and creatively shaped and placed.  Greens were subtle and fair, but also gigantic.  Each hole had an entirely different personality from the other, yet remained in the same style.

Most notably, the place just felt like it was made for golf.  The area is serene and seemed isolated from the outside world.  The only sounds you really hear are those of golf shots and the ringing of bells, telling the group behind the ringer the fairway is clear.  As you drive into the course, you pass the driving range, Tenth and Eighteenth holes, practice area and putting green.  There were a good number of people on the course, but everything is large enough that it never felt crowded.  With the sounds of golf, gorgeous natural terrain and a sprawling course featuring one of the most interesting designs I’ve played, my round here made me wish I studied harder growing up so I could go to college here and play this course earlier and more often.

My friend and I were paired with a husband and wife whom were members, whose guidance throughout the round was a great help.  Repeat play is a huge factor here.  I can think of 5 shots off the top of my head I would have played differently if I played again, including the entire Eighteenth.
We arrived a few hours early, so spent some time at the range.  The range itself was great, with baskets out every 50 yards that I thought was a nice touch.  They also had a stack of clubs near the ball machine, to try out and hit at the range.

The range

Baskets at the range

After spending some time in the clubhouse, pro shop, putting green and soaking up the fantastic atmosphere, we were able to get out earlier than our scheduled tee time.  With that, we were ready to take on the course.

The First is a 383 yard par 4 (from the Blues), named “Eli.”  The tee shot is elevated and is a forced carry over a large pond to what looks like a rather large fairway.  The enormous green is tucked in on the left side around a few trees, protected by deep bunkers towards the sides.  The First sets up the round perfectly; grandiose views, intimidating shots and estate-like greens that are defended by large, deep, and a lot of times, hidden, bunkers.

The First tee shot

View to the right of the First tee

To the left of the First green, with fairway off to the right.  The bunker cut into the side of the hill is a good example of what to expect here.  It’s much larger than this photo shows.

Another look at a couple of the bunkers.  Lots of interesting shapes.  I’d say this one was about 10 – 15 feet below the hole.

A look at the First green

A close up the the First green.  Enormous.

The Second is a 362 yard par 4, named “Pits.”  I’m pretty sure the Second gets its name because of the large area to the left of the green that drops well below the green, which can aptly be considered a pit.  The tee area is elevated and the fairway is canted and shaped almost like a ramp; it ascends before abruptly jutting down towards the green while the left side of the hole becomes increasingly downhill of the green, until it’s nearly impossible to see the green from that side.  The Second goads you into going up the right side of the hole, but there isn’t as much room on that side as you might think.

The Second

Approach shot territory.  The pit on the left is obvious at this point.  

The pit, stairs and all

Another view of the pond, past the pit and First tee

The Third is a 399 yard par 4, named “Blind.”  You can probably guess that the name hints that the green, and second shot in general, is completely blind.  As in, we had no idea where to hit it, even with the guidance of the members in our group.  Once we heard the bell letting us know we could hit, I trusted my GPS and swung away, apparently not accounting for the elevation difference and flying the green.  The tee shot is semi elevated to a fairway that sweeps and narrows to the right, while a huge mound juts up to block your view of the green completely.  This is definitely one of the holes I’d like to play again now that I have the lay of the land.  There is water along the right side which the fairway cants towards and the closer you get to the water on your tee shot, the better chance you’ll get a glimpse of the green on your approach.  A very strategic hole.

The Third
The Third fairway.  No idea where the green is.

On the Third green, looking back towards the fairway.

The Fourth is a 425 yard par 4 named “Road.”  Raynor usually incorporated a Road hole in his courses, which is emulated after the Seventeenth at the Old course at St. Andrews.  Here, the pond creates the OB you face off the tee at the Old course while the road bunker is larger than the one you’d face in Scotland.  I hit a great tee shot and then a great second shot, which rolled to the left of the green.  One of the members told me I was in a bunker, but couldn’t see anything resembling that from where I was.  But alas, I was in a bunker.  Hidden secret bunkers every where on the course.  This certainly became a theme throughout the round.

The Fourth

Approach shot territory.  Do you see any bunkers on the left?  Neither did I.
The Fourth green

The Fifth is the first par 3 at 135 yards named “Short.”  Pretty self explanatory; this is the short par 3 of the course.  This is the type of hole I was really looking forward to playing.  The green is raised probably about 10-15 yards in what I like to call a “plateau,” with a trench bunker surrounding the base of the green.  You’re not done if you don’t hit the green, but recovery shots can be interesting.  I over hit and landed in the trench bunker on the back side of the green and essentially I had to pitch over the wall to get to the green.  I always appreciate short par 3’s getting creative to defend against the smaller distance.  This instantly became one of my favorites.

The Fifth

The trench bunker wrapping around the Fifth green

The Sixth is a 409 yard par 4 named “Burnside.”  It’s a dog leg left, with a stream, woods and deep grass protecting the inside of the turn while larger bunkers reside on the right side of the hole for those shying away from the trouble on the inside of the dog leg.  A well done par 4.

The Sixth.  The bunker on the right is the trench bunker from the Fifth.

Down the fairway of the Sixth.  You can’t see the bunkers on the right up towards the green, but they’re there.

The Seventh is a 365 yard par 4 named “Lane.”  The holes turns a little right, then shoots uphill to a green that’s tough to see from the fairway.  The green slopes severely from back to front and is likely the toughest on the course.

The Seventh

Approach shot territory.  The green is actually towards the right of the photo.  Right above another super secret bunker.

The Eighth is a 394 yard par 4 named “Cape.”  The Cape hole is a widely known hole design that is essentially a dog leg, but the turn is usually not blocked by anything to allow anyone bold enough to try and carry it, bringing a significant risk reward element into play.  Here, you have an elevated tee sot down to a fairway that is tough to make out from the tee area.  The fairway then curves left and down into one of the better green complexes I’ve seen.  The green has a steep bank on the right side that can be used to get closer to the any pin in the center or left of the green.  I mis hit my approach, which left a chip shot from the right side of the hole and was able to use the bank to my advantage with a great bounce.  Anything too far right and long of the green is pretty much done, as there is a steep drop off into long grass and eventually a bunker.

The Eighth

The Eighth green

The Ninth is a 201 yard par 3 named “Biarritz.”  It was my favorite hole on the course.  I’ve detailed what a biarritz is in some of my other reviews, such as Lederach, and here, the biarritz is enormous, bisecting the even more enormous green.  The tee shot is elevated and the entire shot is a forced carry over water.  From the tee area, it appears the green ends at the biarritz, but it’s just that deep that you can’t see the bottom of it.  It’s a dramatic hole and its effect is evident as you stand on the tee.

The Ninth

The Ninth green

Another look at this great hole

The front nine did not disappoint from my lofty expectations.  More than any other course I’ve played, each hole had a unique personality and was presented superbly in both routing and shot selection.  This was one of the best examples I’ve seen of excellent course architecture raising every aspect of the playing experience here to a very high standard, as it should.  As difficult as it is to do, I’d rank the front nine 9, 5, 8, 1, 4, 2, 3, 7, 6.

The back nine starts with the Tenth, 382 yards, par 4 and named “Carries.”  The name of the hole actually amuses me, as the carries here are very intimidating.  From the tee, the green looks like it’s about a mile away and 1000 feet in the air.  The tee shot must carry the road you drive in on, go over a large ridge to get to the fairway you can’t see (another bell ringing is necessary here).  Then, the green sits atop a large hill, presenting one of the tougher approaches, as you’re likely to take too much club as the green towers almost directly above you.  And if you’re short, there are a couple tremendously menacing secret bunkers waiting on the mid ridge of the hill.  This was one of my other favorite holes on the course.

The Tenth.  The green is straight ahead, just in front of the tree line.

Approach shot territory.  It kind of reminded me of what it would feel like to hit an approach shot on top of one of those Aztec (or Mayan) temples.  Don’s ask me why; maybe it’s the staircase.  

The Eleventh is a 347 yard par 4 named “Valley.”  That’s probably because your elevated tee shot goes down into a valley and then turns right to the green.  A picturesque tee shot and a green that’s on the large side, with cross bunkers just short of the green.

The Eleventh
The Eleventh fairway

Further down the Eleventh, with the green in the shadows

The Twelfth is a 387 yard par 4 named “Alps.”  Alps is another well known design hole, where the green is usually protected by a large hill, making the approach blind.  Here, both the tee shot is blind and the approach is blind.  I suppose the difference with this hole is the blind shots on both are due to natural mounds as opposed to created.  There is a very large bunker protecting the green, which you can’t see from the fairway and I was informed about after I hit my approach.  After seeing the bunker, I was just glad I actually cleared it.

The Twelfth.  The green is just in front of the tree clearing in the middle of the photo
The rather large bunker protecting the front of the green

The Twelfth green

Looking back at the fairway from the green

The Thirteenth is a 196 yard par 3 named “Redan.”  Redan is another well known hole design and my review of Glen Mills goes into detail about it.  This is a drop shot with an elevated tee area, which sets itself apart from typical Redan holes, which are uphill.  This hole presents another spectacular view and watching a nice ball flight glide down to the green is one of the more rewarding shots the course has to offer.

The Thirteenth

The Thirteenth green

The Fourteenth is a 353 yard par 4 named “Knoll.”  The fairway turns right from the tee area and rolls downhill and towards the right, so any tee shot hit on the left side will bounce and roll a considerable distance down the fairway.  The green is raised, with much of its edges shaved for balls to roll down the sides of it.  Another well done classic par 4.

The Fourteenth
A look at the Fourteenth green

The Fifteenth is a 171 yard par 3 named “Eden.”  Eden is another style of hole, modeled after the Eleventh at the Old Course.  Its characteristics include a shallow green with a pretty good back to front slope, pot bunkers protecting the front and some type of hazard along the rear.  At the Old Course, the Eden river runs along the rear of the Eleventh, hence Eden hole.  Here, all aspects exist, including the pot bunkers, back to front green, and deep grass followed by woods along the rear.  It’s a shame I made a mess of this hole because it’s yet another classic style hole very well done.

The Fifteenth

The Sixteenth is the first par 5 at 495 yards and named “Lang.”  The tee is slightly elevated and funnels around the tee landing area towards the center and downhill.  The approach to the green is pretty straight forward, but the green is on the smaller side and protected by bunkers around the sides.

The Sixteenth

Further down the Sixteenth

The Sixteenth green

The Seventeenth is a 425 yard par 4 named “Nose.”  I believe the hole is named after the Principal’s Nose bunker that resides short of the green.  There’s a lot to like about this hole, as the tee shot is a forced carry over water and over a bluff while the approach shot is one of the more interesting on the course.  There’s the infamous Principal’s Nose bunker that guards the left side of the green while the green itself is a double plateau.  It’s one of the more interesting green complexes on the course.

The Seventeenth
Approach shot territory, with the Principal’s Nose bunker lurking
The Seventeenth green

The Eighteenth is a 580 yard par 5 named “Home.”  It’s a monster.  In fact, the last three holes really get leggy for the home stretch.  I didn’t think I would have an issue with any of the holes here, but I was scratching my head the entire time I played this one.  Essentially, the tee is on one side of a mountain and the green is on the other.  The tee shot is blind, as there is a ridge that must be carried before you get to the mountain.  You can try to tee off to the left of the ridge, which is a narrow strip of fairway.  The mountain itself contains random strips of long grass, as it tries to separate the fairway going up the mountain, and an alternate path going around it on the right.  There is no way to know where you’re supposed to hit it if it’s your first time playing and our members had left after the Fifteenth, so we were on our own.  It felt like a maze and after finding our second shots, did our best to get to the green.  The course is designed to reveal itself over time, but this felt a little impossible for the player playing here for the first time.  It’s a controversial hole and whether you like it or not, or are just confused by it, you will never find anything like it any where else.

The Eighteenth

The front side of the mountain

Looking back towards the tee area on the front side of mountain

On the back side of the mountain, with the green in sight

The back nine is significantly longer than the front (by almost 300 yards) and gets a little more dramatic with the elevation changes and sweeping fairways.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.  Ranking the back nine, I would go 10, 13, 17, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 18.

Generally, I found the par 3’s and 4’s to be the best collection I’ve played at this point.  It’s simply a shining example of top tier design turning a course into something very special.  The course exudes personality with a flair for the dramatic without having to rely on spectacular views of the ocean or doing anything remotely gimmicky.  Nothing felt contrived, even though this is hardly a minimalist design.  Because of all of this, I’d say this is the best designed course I’ve played.  If you have the opportunity to play here, I’d suggest taking it every time.

Beyond the design and the course, the area just felt idyllic for golf.  Lots of green, natural ponds (with no fountains) and towering trees framing holes and maintaining a serene isolation reserved strictly for golf.  Even though I faced a 3 hour drive home at the end of a long day, I found it extremely hard to leave.

One last photo before getting in the car

Gripes:  Securing a tee time was an endurance test.  Not to get on, but just confirming what time we were supposed to tee off.  At first it was 12:30, but then I called back and they forgot to put me in the system and forgot they had an outing at that time, so we had to settle on going out in the early afternoon.  I’m actually glad now, since it gave me more time to hang out.  Otherwise, nothing.  It was a perfect round and day.

Bar/grill:  Understated, but great food and a terrific view.

Clubhouse:  Great selection of equipment and great view of the First as well.  I actually liked the architecture of the building.

Practice area:  I described the range above.  The short game areas and putting greens were also fantastic and more than adequate to spend hours practicing.

Getting there:  I took CT Route 15 to New Haven, then about 10 minutes on side roads.