Engineers Country Club

6,801 yards, 131 Slope from the Black tees

Course:  On Long Island in Roslyn Harbor lies Engineers County Club.  Formed in 1917 by the Engineers Club in Manhattan, the course was initially designed by Herbert Strong, but then was remodeled into the design present today by Devereux Emmet in 1921.  Emmet was responsible for Garden City as well as several other well known designs.  He was C.B. MacDonald’s principal partner during construction of NGLA and is known for his bold designs.  Unlike MacDonald, Emmet did not use template holes and instead tried to integrate his bold designs into the landscape.  While this is apparent and he accomplished this task wonderfully at Garden City, Engineers is a much bolder design, likely due to the more severe terrain, but also features wild greens and twisting fairways that turn, climb and plummet to the greens.  Even with this boldness, the course stays within what was provided by the terrain and incredibly, there is a natural feel to it, despite even the namesake suggesting otherwise.

I actually found the course to be pretty challenging, much more so than its slope rating suggests (even though the course rating of 72.7 is more in line with my thinking, especially as it’s a par 71).  The various lies encountered throughout the round and the greens made it necessary to get inventive with shots, which was even more crystallized closer to the green.  There was not a whole lot of forgiveness off the tee and ending up on the wrong side of the green likely meant an onslaught of strokes.  The challenge, however, was commiserate with the excitement, as there is no denying you have played a set of holes like this before.  Each hole was chock full of character and could be played a variety of ways, using the contours of the land on every shot, which placed an equal premium on the aerial and ground game.

I found this description of the course and found it to be spot on for me.  And of course, better said than anything I can come up with:

The lure of the Engineers [course] is difficult to capture in words, but to this writer it will always remain one of the most fascinating of golf courses. The Engineers’ course glorifies the second shot. We know of few links that put such a premium on an accurate approach. The greens are not surrounded by ghastly traps as are those at Garden City and Inwood. They don’t have to be. Nature went mere man one better when she undertook to flank the Roslyn greens with deep ravines, insidious gulches and yawning chasms. Let your approach be a bit off the line at Roslyn and you are apt to be looking up at the carpet, niblick in hand, wondering how you are ever going to make the pesky pill stick on the green even should you be fortunate enough to excavate the ball cleanly.
— George Trevor

I’m not sure how I found out about Engineers, but once I did and looked up photos of the course, it made my short list of places to play post haste.  I appreciate so many different styles of course architecture and the fact there is so much variety is probably one of the reasons for that deep appreciation.  While Emmet produced one of my favorite courses in Garden City, that is fascinatingly subtle, what intrigued me about Engineers was how unique it looked, especially the greens.  It looked like a links course that was tilted 60 degrees vertical. This variety between the two courses is surely due to the terrain but what remains consistent between them is how flexible they are to a range of playing styles, how strategic they can get, and more to the point, how they harken you back to the First tee immediately after putting out on the Eighteenth, to embark on an entirely new adventure.  While I need to play some courses before realizing how much I like it, Engineers was one that I knew I’d like just by looking at it.

In a strange coincidence, I was invited to play Engineers a day after I learned that the membership sold the club to developers.  I’m not sure what the plans are for the course entirely, but I believe at least a portion of the course will stay while housing will be built in other areas.  From a purely course architecture aficionado standpoint, it’s sad that this gem will some day likely not be around.  At the same time, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to play it while it’s still here, bounding up and down the hills and around the greens, tensing over downhill 2 foot putts and rejoicing on crisis-averted bogeys, all with a smile on my face.

The First is a 420 yard par 4 (from there Black tees).  A slight dog leg left with lots of room for the tee shot, although favoring the left side and getting as close to the cluster of bunkers on that side gives you a shorter approach to the green.  The approach is to a green set downhill of the fairway, falling off into bunkers on all sides, which is also multi-tiered, with a chasm on the right side that pulls shots into it if you’re not mindful to stay more on its left side.  The green sets the tone for what to expect throughout the round, classically wild that will challenge not only the acumen but the creativity of the flatstick.

The First

Approach shot territory

The green, looking at it from the right side

The Second is a 439 yard par 4.  The fairway is framed with trees on both sides, with bunkers on the left as well, but getting in good position is critical for the approach shot, which is one of the more difficult on the course.  The green is set on a ridge well above the fairway, with a severe run off the front.  The green moves very quickly from back to front, and from left to right, that any shot above the hole is in jeopardy of going off the front if the most exact care is not taken to finesse the ball to the hole.  A great hole with a thrilling green.

The Second

Approach shot territory

The Third is a 228 yard par 3.  A longer par 3 with a lot of room to miss off to the right to a green that moves well from right to left.  The right side is above the hole, so with the green speed any misses in that direction will face a tricky shot to the pin while those who miss left will likely end up in the large bunker on that side.  A fair par 3 that’s a but of a reprieve from the first two holes.

The Third

A look at the green complex from the right side

The Fourth is a 534 yard par 5.  Excellent routing thus far.  Cross bunkers await near the tee landing area of this dog leg right that climbs uphill to the green once it turns right.  Trees properly defend the right side from those who want to cut the dog leg while the fairway narrows as you get closer to the green.  The green has a bail out area off to the left and plateaus at the top of the hill, softening the speed of the green.

The Fourth

Moving up the right side of the fairway

A look at the green

The Fifth is a 475 yard par 4.  It’s the number one handicapped hole going back down the hill from whence the prior hole came.  Tree block out the right side off the tee while bunkers are on either side of the fairway, which terraces down to the green.  Favoring the left side gives you a chance of hitting the downslope and gaining significant yardage off the tee.  The green is milder than others, but anything off the far side is likely gone while bunkers are short and on either side.

The Fifth

Approach shot territory

The Sixth is a 398 yard par 4.  A relatively straight hole that dips downhill before climbing back uphill to the green, trees again block the right side off the tee while a hillside frames the left side.  The fairway narrows as you get closer to the green, which slopes from back to front and is smaller than average.  Excellent use of the terrain with the holes thus far, with different green complexes and necessary shots to the uphill and downhill greens.  

The Sixth

Moving down the fairway

Just short of the green

A look at the green from the front left side

The Seventh is a 292 yard par 4.  A short par 4 that I thought was a par 3 until I holed out for a 4 and my group complimented me on a nice par, even though I thought I had just bogeyed!  The tee shot is across a valley to the green on the other side, with bunkers lining both sides of the fairway and continue up to and around the green.  The green itself has a lot going on, with the left side raised up as a side board and everything moving from back to front.  Lots of options on this hole, as there are plenty of defenses to protect against the long ball while those who opt for the safer short shot off the tee will still be faced with a challenging uphill approach shot blind to the green.

The Seventh

The back side of the green

The sideboard on the left side of the green

Looking back at the tee from the green

The Eighth is a 355 yard par 4.  A much more vast hole than encountered before, there are still bunkers to contend with on the left and trees on the right.  The fairway terraces uphill to a wide yet shallow green that is one of the tougher on the course, set into the hillside with a severe drop off into bunkers along the front.  The green moves a lot from right to left, so much so that I was in one of the greenside bunkers on the right and even though I hit the most precise shot possible, it still sprinted all the way to the left-most side.  A great hole but by all means, stay below the hole!

The Eighth

Approach shot territory

A closer look

The Ninth is a 193 yard par 3.  A long-ish par 3 to a generous green that has a ridge running through the center, creating pockets of undulations.  Bunkers surround the green, with the right side falling off into deep set bunkers while anything off the far side of the green will get into a group of trees.  The green is the star here, as even getting on the green from the tee really doesn’t guarantee much.

The Ninth

Front side of the green

The front nine dips, dives, rises and undulates into a very good set of holes with great routing and excellent use of the terrain.  The greens added another level of complexity and enjoyability, again using the terrain to its utmost advantage.  I’d rank them 2, 8, 7, 1, 5, 6, 9, 3, 4.

The back nine starts with the 551 yard par 5 Tenth.  A hard dog leg left where you must clear the turn and trees from the tee to maximize your strokes.  While there is more room off to the right, the distance to the green grows exponentially the further right you end up.  Trees and a bunker protect the inside of the dog leg from the tee as well.  The green is set uphill from the fairway, but then is only slightly elevated from it, with collection areas on pretty much all sides of it, with movement going from back to front.

The Tenth

At the turn

Approach shot territory

A look at the rear side of the green

The front left side.  Note the run off, which is steeper than the photo suggests

The halfway house is just past the Tenth green, with a nice deck and sitting area for a breather, set in a quiet area of the course.

For the Eleventh, there are two options.  The Tribute course, which is what I played, features a 360 yard par 4, but the Tradition course features a 160 yard par 3.  The Tradition course then skips over the par 3 Fourteenth, the, “2 or 20,” while the Tribute course keeps the 2 or 20 hole.

At any rate, I played the Eleventh as a par 4.  The fairway is set at a 7:00 to 2:00 angle from the tee, which features a narrow corridor to the fairway with trees encroaching on both sides.  Shaping the shot left to right off the tee is helpful, otherwise, hitting something shorter than driver straight out is a good play but will leave you with a longer approach.  The green moves from back to front and is quite deep, with not a whole lot of room to miss left or right.  The tee shot is the critical shot here while everything else should be relatively straightforward.

The Eleventh

Approach shot territory

Just off the front of the green

The Twelfth is a 364 yard par 4.  The fairway turns a bit to the right and trees ensure that you’re not able to cut off the turn in any way.  The problem is that too far left off the tee hits s drop off into some bunkers.  The approach is to a green set on a hillside that moves severely from right ti left, while the approach must carry rough that stands between the fairway and green.  Approaches from the left side of the fairway to the green are probably the best angle to minimize the effect of the green speed.  Anything to the right and/or above the hole, good luck.

The Twelfth

Approach shot territory

The Thirteenth is a 455 yard par 4.  It’s the number 2 handicapped hole.  A dog leg left with bunkers on the inside of the turn and a fairway that cants a little in that direction.  The fairway remains narrow throughout, to a skyline green that falls off on the left and far sides.  The green also moves from right to left.

Fairway of the Thirteenth

A view of the front nine from the green

The Fourteenth is a 122 yard par 3, the famous “2 or 20” hole, aptly named by Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen describing the easy range of strokes it takes to finish this hole, after both of them took double figure scores during a competition with Canada.  One of the tougher short par 3’s out there, the green is set on a plateau and is narrow yet deep.  The green is one of the most severe on the course, moving from front to back and falling off all of the sides into bunkers.  Being exact here ensures nothing, as even putts pin high made across the green will fall off significantly.  Only the deftest putts will remain close to the hole.  It’s probably best to just hole out from the tee.

The Fourteenth

The green, from the front side 

Front of the green, right side

The Fifteenth is a 465 yard par 4.  Running parallel with the Second but going in the opposite direction, the elevated tee shot is to a fairway with bunkers on the left and a drop off on the right into rough.  The fairway descends gently to the green, which curls to the right and moves from front to back.  Anything off the far side is in deep trouble.  There is a trench bunker on the far side while other bunkers are on the left and right sides.  Like many of the greens here, this one falls off into trouble on its sides.  I like to call them infinity greens because they remind me of those infinity pools where you can’t see the edges.

The Fifteenth

The Sixteenth is a 365 yard par 4.  Going back over across the road for the final three holes, this is a straight hole that goes up, then down, with the fairway slanting from left to right.  After the blind tee shot to the uphill fairway, it then starts downhill to the green, which is down in a nook beyond the fairway, requiring an aerial approach.  The green slopes right to left, opposite of the fairway tilt, with the drop off on the right side.  A fun approach to the green below and a nice hole overall.

The Sixteenth

Approach shot territory

A look at the green

The Seventeenth is a 370 yard par 4.  Going in the opposite direction of the Sixteenth, the tee shot is likewise blind to a fairway that slopes from right to left.  There are a row of bunkers on the left that constrain the fairway near the green, so a line to the green more towards the right side is ideal.  The green moves in the same direction as the fairway, so keep attacking that right side and anticipate the ball moving back down towards the left.  
The Seventeenth

Approach shot territory

The Eighteenth is a 415 yard par 4.  The fairway is inviting off the tee, which is a good thing since the green sits in an alcove below the fairway, which narrows considerably as it goes downhill to the green.  The green is deep yet pretty narrow, dropping off on the right side.  A nice approach shot reminiscent of the Sixteenth to a tamer green for the finishing hole out and what was certainly an exciting round.

The Eighteenth

Approach shot territory

Looking back at the fairway from the back of the green

The back nine continues the trend of the front with wild greensand terrific use of terrain.  Even though the routing was a steady stream of par 4’s to finish, it’s a great example of the architect taking what the land is providing without feeling the need to stay within defined norms.  Beyond that, the par 4’s are of sufficient variety that there is no sense of redundancy, again showing that par is simply a number and routing is more about flow than anything else.  The short par 3 is a fine example of how to more than adequately defend itself, which was simply by using the hillside for the green.  Ranking them would be 16, 18, 17, 14, 12, 10, 13, 15, 11.

Generally, Engineers was a great course, a classic that creatively used the interesting terrain it’s set upon.  It’s truly unique and beyond the greens, the angles, juts, ridges and hillsides all result in several visually deceptive shots and almost holes require a good deal of strategy get close to the hole.  A fine example of classic architecture dripping with character by simply using the land as effectively as possible.  There are no forced carries here and I can’t think of a single instance of water coming into play.  It’s a course I would strive to belong to if I lived in the area, as I don’t think I could ever tire playing it.  If you get the opportunity to play here, I’d recommend taking it immediately, while it’s still here.

Gripes:  The forecaddie was a little off in more ways than one.  Beyond that, I hate that this course will soon be forever altered.

Bar/Grill:  Pretty nice area.

Clubhouse/Pro shop:  Loved the Frank Lloyd-ish architecture and the clean, modern look of the locker room.

Practice area:  Grass range and putting green, although the putting green was fairly mild compared to the course greens.

Nearby:  You have Roslyn Harbor for the views and downtown Roslyn, which has a couple places to eat and drink.

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