The Garden City Golf Club

6,922 yards, 139 slope from the Championship Tees

Course:  Garden City Golf Club is on Long Island, just 20 minutes from downtown Manhattan.  The Golf Club is situated in Garden City proper, which has a posh Main Street feel despite being so close to the Megalopolis that is NYC.  I actually really liked Garden City the town.  The houses had a Victorian feel to them, there was a lot of wide open space and Leo’s was a great bar for breakfast and drinks.  As for the Golf Club, it was established in 1899, designed by Devereaux Emmet and work done by Walter Travis and Tom Doak.  It’s an exclusively private Men’s Only club that is well known for its requirement that a jacket is worn at all times in and around the clubhouse.  It doesn’t matter what else you’re wearing, so long as you have on the jacket.  Indeed, most can be seen in their golf shorts and shorts, along with their jacket, providing a casual sense of decorum, if that makes sense.

The course itself is spectacular and instantly one of my favorites.  It is the finest example of inland, flat terrain becoming an endlessly interesting, thrilling course with plenty of challenge in a minimalist design.  Many of its features are sunken into the ground, while other bunkers are upside down, which appear to be mounds of sand well formed and a touch hard so the ball lands and stays on it.  There are some blind shots and a couple dog legs but for the most part, the holes are straight and rely on bunkers, manageable fescue and slight dips and nooks for their intrigue.  Approach shots are at a premium here as well, with the greens creating lots of subtlety that demands attention.  Most notably, the course feels natural, like it’s been there forever, as does its routing.  The course, clubhouse, membership and even surrounding neighborhoods seamlessly make a relaxed traditional ambiance that lulls you in to appreciating the history of the game and the spirituality it invokes in us as golfers, all in our own separate ways.

Currently ranked 56th in the world from Golf Magazine and 28th best classic course from Golfweek, Garden City has been revered for over a century based on its unique style and emphasis on strategy.

Many say that stepping onto the grounds of Garden City is like stepping into a time machine and going back 100 years.  I would agree to some extent, as there is a sense of ease and old fashion permeating throughout the locker room and clubhouse.  Everything is understated, with one of the more impressive libraries I’ve seen with displays of historic memorabilia throughout.  The clubhouse and patio area look out onto the First tee and more specifically the Eighteenth green, which is a par 3.  I found the membership to be friendly and many enjoyed talking about the history of the course.  I found it to be one of the more ideal settings for a golf club.

I was fortunate to play Garden City a couple times this season and while I fell in love after the first play, I learned and enjoyed it even more on the second play a couple months later.  There is forgiveness with the tee shot, but driver isn’t necessary all the time if you prefer something else, just be straight or else you’ll likely find a bunker or the fescue, both of which can be hit out of and finding those balls is fairly easy.  Most importantly, the tee shot sets up the approach and the approach shots here are demanding.  The greens are of sufficient variety, yet provide some respite from the more precise ball striking required on the approaches.  The routing is extremely good and each hole fits in nicely with the next and one before it.  The course is walking only, which is quite nice since it’s one of the best walkable courses I’ve played.  A gorgeous setting, not a challenging walk by any means but of sufficient terrain to remain engaging and the transitions from green to tee were flawless.

Golf is indeed a mental and perhaps spiritual exercise.  I know this because a sense of calm, serenity and contentment washed over me as I started each round here, culminating in my lowest score for nine holes on the back, with back to back birdies on two of the toughest holes.  It was effortless.  My mind was too occupied with all the fulfillment.

The First is a 302 yard par 4 (from the Championship tees).  Teeing off a mere steps from the pro shop and patio area, there’s a forced carry over the long grass to the fairway, which is straightaway yet has a deep bunker guarding the left front.  There is also a long grass waste bunker area off the right side of the fairway, reachable from the tee.  A great opening and shorter hole still requiring a good deal of precision on both the first and second shots.

The Second is a 137 yard par 3.  It’s all forced carry over a ravine to the diagonal green that’s generous enough to receive most decent shots, but bad shots will be extremely difficult to recover from.  A great looking hole.

The Second

The Third is a 407 yard par 4.  An area of long grass partially obstructs the fairway from the tee, but the fairway is straightaway, with a tree on the left and a row of trees placed well wide right and bunkers lining the right side.  Closer to the green are two bunkers taking up most of the fairway, then bunkers surrounding the green.

The Third

Terrible photo, but shows the narrow opening of the green between the bunkers

One of the upside down bunkers

One of the greenside bunkers and shows its depth

The Fourth is a 523 yard par 5.  More long grass between the tee and fairway, which skirts the right side of the property, goes slightly downhill before reaching the elevated green.  Aside from a couple bunkers, the narrowness of the fairway is the biggest challenge, with the left side falling off into a pit.  There is temptation to go for the green in two, which is another decision that must be contemplated carefully.  The green is the hole’s biggest defense, as it moves from back to front and anything near the front could fall off of it completely.  After the first three fairly challenging holes, this is a bit of a reprieve, but the theme of not being entirely forgiving for mis hits is still true here as well.

The Fourth

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory

Looking out to much of the course from the right side of the fairway 
Moving down the fairway some more

The green

The Fifth is a 360 yard par 4.  A nice tee shot is needed here to avoid the long grass just off the tee and to the right of the fairway, as well as the bunkers on the left and right pinching in the fairway.  Like many of the holes, there is freedom of club selection off the tee to ensure the most comfortable approach shot in, where the green has two sunken bunkers off to the sides.  While the terrain is so flat you could probably put a coke bottle past the green and see it from the tee, the hole maintains a lot of interest and challenge without it being manufactured or overly penal.

The Fifth

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory

The Sixth is a 440 yard par 4.  As the number 1 handicapped hole, the par 4 has length and the tee shot is fairly blind with the long grass blocking your view of the fairway.  The fairway is narrow and the green is set off straightaway and there really isn’t a great place to miss.  Getting the right line off the tee is important for the line to the approach, especially with he length and lack of acceptable miss areas.  A great hole that feels pretty heathland in the best way possible.

The Seventh is a 550 yard par 5.  The fairway curves slightly left, with the green set off to the left.  The green is not very receptive to all shots, so using all three shots to make sure you’re on the green in a  safe spot is objective number one.  I could see this hole being completely terrifying and fun at the same time when the wind is really up.

The Seventh

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory

The Eighth is a 418 yard par 4.  A forced carry awaits off the tee and the approach shot.  For the tee shot, the further right means a shorter approach, but gets risky the closer you get to the right side of the fairway.  I felt the approach shots here was one of the toughest since it’s so reliant on the tee shot, as well as the angle it’s at from the fairway.  Kind of a Road hole feel to it, with the bunker off the rear helping complete the effect.

The Eighth

Moving down the left side of the fairway

A little further up on the fairway

The Ninth is a 323 yard par 4.  A forced carry tee shot that bends slightly to the right before the fairway ends at a waste area, which is between the fairway and green.  The tee shot is less than a driver and finding the fairway is truly important.

The Ninth

The Ninth

Approach shot territory, off to the right

The waste area separating fairway from the green complex

The front nine features routing that seems to fall into place around the Southeast portion of the property.  What stood out to me is that despite the flat terrain and a single par 3, the par 4 and 5’s all stand out on their own and emphasize different components of the game.  The par 3 is brilliant, especially where it presents itself during the round, setting the tone by placing a high value on ball striking.  The high grass is sparse enough to find balls that wander into it and offers a chance at recovery while bunker placement is smart, creating challenging lines to the green.  I’d rank them 2, 1 4, 9, 7, 5, 6, 3, 8.

The back nine starts with the 414 yard par 4 Tenth.  At the easternmost point of the property, the holes now being to move west before finally looping back home to the east.  A forced carry tee shot to a wider fairway with a couple bunkers to avoid on the left side.  There’s also a bunker on the right, but it’s wide to the right that if you end up in it, you should only feel lucky that your terrible the shot stayed inbounds.  The approach shot is over a fantastic bunker that spans the entire fairway and there is some of the most creative bunkering on the course towards the green, along with an area in front of the green that’s where to miss on your approach.  One of my favorite holes on the course, mainly for striking a very nice balance of challenge and forgiveness, providing accessibility and allowing golfers of any ability to enjoy it or be frazzled by it, as the case may be.

The Tenth

Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory

The Eleventh is a 426 yard par 4.  This “S” shaped fairway has an interesting angle from the tee, bringing a larger upside down bunker into play off to the left.  Once the hole turns left towards the green, it fairly straight and forgiving, although the green has some interesting undulations.

The Eleventh

Moving from the tee area

Approaching the dog leg

Another look
An upside down bunker, on the left hand side

The Twelfth is a 204 yard par 3.  The second par 3 of the course is on of the best holes on the course, and possibly one of the best longer par 3’s any where.  Again, the fascination is not due to a forced carry over the ocean or water, or to a plateau green high above, but rather, creating an intriguing green complex surrounded by bunkers, then with raised contours around the edge of the green that leaves a semi-punchbowl impression, then having a green with sufficient undulations that it does not let up from the challenge off the tee and around the green.  Deceivingly difficult yet fascinating, the Twelfth is one of those holes I could play again and again and never tire of any shot, nor get any closer to making par.

The Twelfth 

Closer to the green

The green.  The photo doesn’t do the contours and undulations any justice.

The Thirteenth is a 538 yard par 5.  With the treeline all along the the right side while a diagonal bunkers comes in from the left side, encroaching and narrowing the fairway for the tee and second shots.  The fairway then narrows after it bends past the encroaching bunker, straightaway to the green.  Bunkers are placed on either side of the fairway as you approach the green and the green itself is pretty intriguing, tilting a good amount towards the back left.  Three well executed shots are necessary to reach the green, although the real long hitters among us may certainly try to go for the green in two yet suffer appropriate consequences if either shot is misplayed.

The Thirteenth

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory

The Fourteenth is a 343 yard par 4.  From an elevated tee position, the fairway cants from right to left and is littered with bunkers and long grass on the right side, the fairway bottlenecks, then bends off to the right just short of the green, with a number of bunkers placed on either side of the green on the short side.  You can actually use the Fifteenth fairway off the tee for a shorter approach, although it will be a blind shot.  It worked for me though in getting birdie, so what do I know….

The Fourteenth

Approach shot territory

A closer approach

The Fifteenth is a 447 yard par 4.  The number two handicap hole features two forced carry shots, the tee shot over some long grass to a pretty wide fairway, the second over a sand and mounds to a slightly elevated green, set at a slightly different angle than the first fairway.  Club selection off the tee is critical, but your second shot will likely be with a longer club.  For that reason, hitting the fairway from the tee is vital to get the opportunity to hit the green on your second shot.  The green slopes substantially from left to right and needs to be considered when playing the approach.  Walking away here with birdie for back to back birdies went right into the memory book; it just doesn’t happen all that often!

The Fifteenth

Second shot territory
A little closer to the break in the fairway

The Sixteenth is a 405 yard par 4.  The turn home starts here with one of the more intriguing holes of the course.  A dog leg left that descends from the tee to the green, bunkers and long grass line the left left side while the tree line is on the right.  The fairway starts to narrow immediately and by the time it reaches the dog leg, is less than half of what it was.  The effect is that those opting to go longer off the tee will be rewarded with a much shorter approach, but risk ending up in one of the bunkers on the left or long grass on the right while those opting for the safer, shorter fat of the fairway will be left with a tougher approach to a partially blind green.  There used to be water off to the left side that came into play, but it is now a bunker and long grass beyond.  The green slopes from back to front and right to left, maintaining the challenge of the first and second shots.

The Sixteenth

A look at the green from the left side

The Seventeenth is a 495 yard par 5.  A fine example of design injecting intrigue into straight and flat, this shorter par 5 is a little narrow, with bunkers infringing on the left side off the tee with the right side is lined with trees and OB.  The second shot is a forced carry over a little rough, the green is protected by bunkers on both sides, with the one on the left being most severe and deep.  Yet another hole where shot and club selection can vary, all with the purpose of staying as straight as possible, and the temptation for the longer hitters to reach the green in two shots but go down in flames if they’re off line.

The Seventeenth
Moving up the fairway

Approach shot territory

A closer approach

The larger greenside bunker on the left
The Garden City Hotel and clubhouse in the background 

A closer look, with the Eighteenth off to the right

The Eighteenth is a 190 yard par 3.  Ending on a par 3 is rare yet seems to fit in perfectly here, with the clubhouse and those on the patio looking on.  It’s by no means a pushover; in fact, is a fairly challenging par 3, perfect for deciding those close matches, with a forced carry over water and bunkers on every side, with the green sloping pretty well from left to right.  The bunker on the left is to be avoided at all costs based on its severe depth while any shot too far right of the green ends up on the putting green.  Anything far of the green right side ends up in someone’s salad on the patio.

The Eighteenth

The back nine loops the the north and west side of the property, featuring one of the strongest nine holes I’ve played.  The par 3’s are all world while the par 4’s and 5’s have so much diversity even though set on fairly benign terrain.  Every shot is interesting and while ball striking is the premium here, there are several ways to play each hole.  I’d rank them 12, 10, 16, 15, 11, 13, 14, 18, 17.

Generally, Garden City was one of my favorite golf experiences ever.  Throughout both days and both rounds, I enjoyed every aspect of it and the score became irrelevant, even though it ended up being pretty good for me.  It’s difficult to categorize GC into a specific type of course.  Whether you want to call it an inland links, heathland or even parkland, the course has so much flexibility that it can be played in any weather conditions, balls are easily found off fairway yet it retains a lot of what I’ll call “fair challenge.”  It’s indeed challenging, but without being penal.  The routing, strategy and balance of the design is phenomenal.  Beyond those, there are a lot of intangibles here that are tough to point out that make golfing here feel special.  Perhaps it’s the history, perhaps it’s the charm or perhaps it’s simply the legendary design, turning this terrain into a masterpiece, showing us just how splendid course architecture can be.

Gripes:  Nothing, other than wanting to play here all the time and not being able to.

Bar/Grill:  Viewing the historical pieces and impressive library in the clubhouse that has no need to change all that much gives it a sense of history and comfort.  It quickly became one of my favorite places to relax either before or after a round, with the outdoor patio area being an ideal setting for a golf club.

Taken while relaxing on the patio after the round 

From the patio looking towards the putting green
From the patio, but the left greenside bunker on Eighteen

Clubhouse/Pro shop:  The pro shop is in a different building and has a lot of great stuff, with one of the best insignias ever.

The locker room was stepping back in time and wanting to stay there

Practice area:  A range and a couple putting greens, just in front of the patio and next to the Eighteenth green/First tee.

Nearby:  Downtown Garden City, which is essential Main Street Americana, some how only 25 minutes from downtown Manhattan.  Go to Leo’s.

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