6,607 yards, 139 slope from the Blues

Course:  In East Hampton, New York, Maidstone was established in 1891, with the golf course starting as 7 holes by Willie Dunn, Seth Raynor drafting re-design plans in 1921, then Willie Park, Jr. and his brother John designed the majority of the property, expanding to 36 holes until a hurricane in 1938 destroyed 9 of the holes.  It is now 27 holes, with the well known 18-hole course known as the West course.  Coore and Crenshaw restored a lot of the bunkering in 2012 while renovations were performed by Perry Maxwell in 1939, Alfred Tulles in 1963 and Brian Silva in 1988.

Wille Parks, Jr. is a legend in the game, as a player and architect.  Winning the Open Championship twice and designing a number of long standing and revered courses such as Sunningdale, Olympia Fields and Glen Ridge, as well as here.  Park’s architectural work was a large part of the Golden Age of golf course design, ensuring his courses were rich with character and strategy.

In Maidstone, Parks was given some of the most ideally diverse terrain for a links course in North America, sandy soil by the ocean and inland bay, set within larger sand dunes interspersed with wispy sea grass.  Parks did not disappoint, as Maidstone is heralded as one of the best courses in the world.  It is currently ranked 70 on Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Golf Courses of the World and 34 on Golfweek’s Best Classic Courses.  The routing through such terrific land is seamless, yet presents a unique hole one after the other.  The intricacy in ensuring variety in direction was impressive, which makes the wind a true hazard and always keeps it a dynamic factor throughout the round.  The other hazards presented during the round; the bunkering, water, dunes and trees, are very well placed and add to the excellent routing.  It’s quite an experience to play in such coastal tranquility, amongst the bay and dunes, with the beach always nearby.

There’s no denying that Maidstone is one of the finer golf courses you can play.  Perhaps it was all the driving to get there, or that it was the sixth round for me in four days, or that my play was more disastrous than usual, or that this was one of if not the most anticipated rounds of the season, but the course was different than what I was expecting.  There was a lot more emphasis on the aerial game than anticipated, with a good amount of the greens raised from the fairway and bunkers surrounding a lot of them, which made it a premium if not necessary to land your shot next to the pin, along with forced carry tee shots.  While there were holes where you could decide on different shots or paths to the green, there were quite a few where instead I found myself ensuring my tee shot was straight and avoided going into the bunkers on either side, then trying to hit another straight shot to the green so it would avoid the green side bunkers.  Granted, I think there’s a lot of strategy in figuring out the best line to the green, which means taking on some of these bunkers from the tee, but perhaps my struggles during the round put me more in a survival mode over everything else.  I suppose I didn’t see how it played liked a links in a lot of spots.  Elevating the ball and getting it to land softly on the greens were paramount here while the ground game didn’t seem possible in several instances.  Maybe I would have benefited from playing the White tees instead of the Blues as well.  It’s difficult to note some of my personal observations on a course so widely revered and I explain myself as best I can below.  At any rate, the members I met were all very nice to talk golf with and the staff I interacted with all made me feel welcome.  My poor caddie, who had to follow me from bunker to bunker, was always upbeat, even when I told him I usually don’t suck this bad.  It could have just been one of those days for me.

Aside from the all world landscape, Maidstone impressed me with how congenial it felt.  Families arrived and were off to the beach, everyone was stopping each other and asking how their respective families were, making plans for dinner, the holidays, etc.  The old world charm and intimacy is another aspect of Maidstone that sets itself apart from many courses in that echelon.

After spending some time down at the beach, I felt a nice peaceful zen as we walked over to the range.  The ball effortlessly launched from whatever club I was using and I felt good things were in store for me.  We met our caddies and before I knew it, we were off, another jaunt, this one along the coast of the Hamptons.

The First is a 424 yard par 4 (from the Blues).  With the ocean to your back and nothing but golf course ahead of you, the fairways heads straight out before dipping down just short of the green, making most tee shots blind.  There are fairway bunkers on both sides, with those on the left blind from the tee.  The green is also well bunkered as the fairway slopes from right to left short of the green, with the entire left side in that area bunkered, then a large bunker front left of the green.  While the front and sides of the green are all bunkered, there is a short grass area off to the back right, but the green will be moving away from you.  There’s also a short grass area off to the left, below the green and beyond the bunkers, which may catch those approach shots pulled in that direction.  I’d want to approach the green from the left side of the fairway, which brings the bunkers on that side and before the green in play, but allows you to use the slope as a backboard and if hit too strong, the short grass area is there for relief.

The First

Approach shot territory

From the left side

The green, from the right

The Second is a 562 yard par 5.  A road runs along the left side of the hole while a tree line runs along the right, but there’s enough width that neither side comes into play unless your shot really tries to reach it.  The tee shot is a forced carry over an inlet of water, with bunkers on both sides at the start of the fairway, then along the left side moving towards the green.  Moving straight to the green, large bunkers are on the lower left side and upper right side while the green itself runs almost perpendicular to the fairway.  There’s a lower front shelf to the green and an upper shelf towards the back, with a short grass area on the back left.

The Second

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory

Right side of the green.  Note how it slopes right down to the bunker

Looking back, with the contours of the green

The Third is a 408 yard par 4.  A forced carry to a fairway with bunkers on both sides; lining the left side and more of a large waste area on the right, to a green that is surrounded by bunkers, although the front is open for those that would like to run it on.  Avoiding the several bunkers, which vary in size and shape, is key to getting on the green and making a run at par, which is a challenge with its undulations and movement.

The Third

Approach shot territory

Looking out to the left of the hole

The green, with all its waves

The Fourth is a 176 yard par 3.  The first few holes were a march away from the coast and now we head back, across the bay.  The first par 3 is all carry over water to a raised green, with bunkers on each corner of the green.  The few trees in the background from the tee serve as a splendid back drop for this hole, with nothing but the hole and the sky beyond.  I can’t recommend enough taking a breath here to enjoy tranquility at its finest.

The Fourth

Off to the right of the tee

Left of the tee

The bunkers and their interaction with the green and slopes is terrific

The Fifth is a 325 yard par 4.  This short par 4 heads out to Hook Pond, the tee shot a forced carry over native ground to a fairway with bunkers on each side, the left fairly large and severe while those on the right are smaller.  There is an area to run the ball onto the green, but bunkers pinch the opening, with the right side expansive from the front right side.  Pin position determines a lot here, as that will determine the better angle within which to approach the green, in turn helps determine where to place the ball off the tee.

The Fifth

Front right side area before the green

Front left side

Note the drop off on that left side.  Touch around and on the green is vital to stay on it 

The Sixth is a 403 yard par 4.  Bending right from the tee, you have a forced carry over marsh and reeds as you move along Hook Pond on your right.  There should be no surprise that there are cross bunkers, then a bunker in the fairway left center closer to the hole, as well as bunkers along the right, then a green side bunker left front and the right side.  The fairway leads right up to the green, however, so laying up and relying on an up and down from that area is not a bad play if you really want to avoid the green side bunkers, which are challenging.

The Sixth

Approach shot territory

A closer look

The green

The left side of the green.  That bunker lip though…

The Seventh is a 349 yard par 4.  Still moving along Hook Pond to the right, this dog leg right is similar to a Cape hole in that you’re free to take on as much of the water as you want off the tee, which rewards you with a closer approach shot.  The left side is all sand, as the round transitions from the inland bay to the dunes.  The ocean is very close, so the wind will no doubt have an impact on this hole, which will vary in direction, possibly from group to group.  The green is adjacent to the water, so any shot too far right or long will be wet.  Also mind any shots out of the bunker to the left of the green, which could also find the water if hit too aggressive.  This hole can indeed be played on the ground and with the wind, water and bunkers all very much in play, that’s very much a good thing.

The Seventh

Approach shot territory

Looking back from the green

The green moves towards the water, making this bunker shot demanding touch

The Eighth is a 151 yard par 3.  Our march to the ocean is nearly complete, as this par 3 is directly in that direction, and likely into the coastal wind.  The dunes block most of the green from the tee, although originally the dune made it a completely blind shot.  Not surprisingly, there are bunkers all around the green, with a nice trench one to the left of the green and sand from the dunes completely covering the right side of the bunker.  The green is raised, so all of the bunkers are below the hole.  The wind was really blowing against us, so I took my 180 club, opened the face a little, and intended to cut the ball right to the pin.  Instead, the ball stayed on its line to the left and while I was pin high, as to the left of the bunker on that side.  With a very tight lie, I promptly botched that shot so badly it ended up above the green altogether, which mercifully I was able to putt down to the pin for a tidy doubly bogey.  Regardless, I was happy that my shot was pin high considering the wind we were facing.

This hole was one of my favorite on the course.  A great example of a blind shot done well, preserving the sense of adventure that accompanies having no idea where your ball will end up.  The wind, the dunes, even the short grass areas and slopes conspire to foster a great deal of creativity with recovery shots if your tee shot did not find the green.  The tee shot also needs to be well navigated to get close to the pin.  Although I did my best to play the hole in as many strokes as possible, it really stood out to me as a spectacular par 3.

The Eighth

A little further to the left as the green starts to reveal itself

From above, near the Ninth tee.  Yes, my ball ended up there while playing this hole, thanks for asking

My caddie, likely wondering what on earth he did to get paired up with me.  That bunker is the far left corner of the green

The Ninth is a 415 yard par 4.  Now in the dunes and at the ocean, we proceed along the coast on our right.  The tee shot is a forced carry over native grass and sand – hitting the fairway is critical.  With the wind now demanding attention, a narrow fairway and sand on both sides, maneuvering the tee shot to its ideal spot is akin to landing a 747 during a blizzard, at least when the wind is up.  This would have been a great place to use the bunt driver shot I learned for Bandon earlier in the year, keeping the ball below the dunes and having it run a little on the fairway, but I couldn’t fight temptation and went full throttle, only to see my ball swerve right and into the dunes.

Speaking of Bandon, it was a great time to reflect on another great year of golf.  Playing links on both coasts in the same year will always make my season and as I tried to find my tee shot within the dunes, I relished the sense of adventure and places golf takes me.

As for this hole, the approach will likely be a longer one based on the wind and how elevated the green is.  The fairway, initially in a valley between the dunes, twists and climbs to the green, with sand encroaching on both sides.  There is an area short of the green that may be worth settling for to avoid the consequences of missing to either side; the left side of the green slopes severely and steeply down to a narrow gulley whereas the right side is a steep bunker.  I went from one side to the other, all for the sake of research of course.  The hole is no doubt challenging, with little margin for error.  There’s also really no other way to play it, other than to hit two long and straight shots.  This is one of the things that was different from what I was expecting here.  Regardless, this hole teems with character from tee to green with its features and where it’s placed on the course.

The Ninth

The ocean, just on the other side

Approach shot territory

Closer approach shot territory

The left side of the green. Yes my ball ended up here.  I wanted it to be there, for research purposes…

The front nine moves from the coast to the most inland of holes, then to the inland bay waters before ultimately reaching the coastal dunes.  This type of geographical diversity, in such a pristine setting, is impressive.  As for the holes, I really liked the par 3’s and the array of par 4’s work well together.  My ranking of them would be 8, 6, 5, 4, 1, 9, 3, 2, 7.

The back nine starts with the 401 yard par 4 Tenth.   We now head in the direction from which we just came, a little forced carry off the tee over native grass to an inviting fairway, with sand on both sides.  Moving up the fairway, it ultimately ends before an apron rises to the green, which is well elevated from the fairway.  Anything off the sides or back of the green will meet a steep slope into a bunker or tight lie.  The approach shot needs to be true, unhindered by wind and land softly on the green, or else.  Again, nothing but two well belted straight shots will have a chance at par here and like the Ninth, the approach will need to be aerial.

The Tenth

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory

A closer look

The Eleventh is a 464 yard par 4.  We start to move out of the dunes, but will come back in on the Twelfth, with this coming in and venturing out a theme over the next few holes.  Most of the fairway bunkers are close to the tee and the fairway is generous.  The green is wide as well and feeds in from the fairway, with bunkers lining the left and right side completely.  Punching the approach shot in to skip up to the pin is something I’d take any day over risking yet another bunker shot.  The green runs from back to front, so the green helps in that regard as well.

The Eleventh

Moving down the fairway

Left side, approach shot territory

A closer look

The Twelfth is a 181 yard par 3.  Once again we see the green immersed in a sea of bunkers, with the sides rising up and hillocks beyond.  The width of the green is inviting and the dirt path on the far right corner gives it a bit of a Road hole feel.  This is indeed one of the more generous greens on the course.

The Twelfth

The Thirteenth is a 500 yard par 5.  The hole bends to the left as we head back to the coast.  The tee shot is to the fairway ahead, with bunkers of each side of the fairway to contend with.  Angles and lines to the green are important here, especially with the green set at an angle from the fairway and the trench bunker below and to the left of the green, in which the green feeds into on that side.  There are benefits to approach the green from either side, but in general the right might be the best line in.  As a par 5, there is the opportunity to best set up the approach, or go for it altogether, and with the wind coming in from different directions as the hole keeps bending, it was a nice par 5 to play.

The Thirteenth

Moving down the fairway

A closer look at the green

The Fourteenth is a 152 yard par 3.  Now back in the dunes, the green sits amongst native scrub, beach grass and sand, with a dramatic view of the Atlantic Ocean in the background.  There’s almost nothing to say here.  The setting of the hole is idyllic, its natural appearance within the dunes disarming and the wind enough on its own to challenge the golfer from the tee.  There are awe-inspiring places in golf I have encountered and this is one of them.

The Fourteenth

Just behind the green

The Fifteenth is a 493 yard par 5.  The routing taking what the terrain gives, without worrying about standard norms.  A par 3 sandwiched by par 5’s may be unusual but it was the right call here as we finally depart the coastal dunes for the return to the clubhouse.  The tee shot is elevated and a forced carry over the dunes to a fairway that’s abounds with bunkers on both sides.  The green is straightaway and if the wind is to your back, you almost have an extra shot to work with in setting up an ideal approach.  Bunkers of course are on both the left and right side of the green, with the far side being a short grass area.

The Fifteenth

Moving down the fairway

Looking back towards the tee

The Sixteenth is a 485 yard par 5.  The routing continues to do its own thing and rightly so, with back to back par 5’s.  A forced carry all you want to take on tee shot awaits as we’re back in the same area as the Fourth, which is essentially right in the middle of the bay.  The fairway moves across from left to right.  Bunkers on the left side prevent you from getting too conservative off the tee, unless you want to carry them and end up on the Third.  Water is along the right side while a tree line is along the left.  The green is open to the fairway, with the obligatory bunkers on the the left and right side, these wide and shallow.  While there are plenty of bunkers here, they are diverse and natural looking.  You have to keep it straight to the green once you hit your tee shot, but as a par 5 there is some freedom to advance to the green.

The Sixteenth

Moving down the fairway

A little closer

Approach shot territory

A closer look at the green

The Seventeenth is a 328 yard par 4.  Similar to the Sixteenth, the tee shot is a forced carry over water, yet this time the fairway runs right to left and as the hole is much shorter, the options off the tee and lines over the water are a little more abundant.  The green is spectacular.  Right against the road on the back side and with bunkers on the left and front right, there is an opening from the fairway, which rises, then falls into the green.  The green slopes towards its perimeter in pretty much every direction (except the front opening), so using that tee shot to set up the most ideal approach is vital.  It’s an exacting shot, but comes in the right time of the round, especially for match play.  If you end up off the green, delicate recovery shots are all that will do here, to avoid the road that is just waiting to come into play.  A terrific short par 4 and one of my favorite on the course.

The Seventeenth

Approach shot territory

A look at this fantastic green

Looking back

Crossing the road to the Eighteenth, with the clubhouse waiting

The Eighteenth is a 390 yard par 4.  Crossing the road back over, the Eighteenth goes up the same hill the First goes down, finishing mere yards from where the journey began.  A forced carry tee shot over some long grass with large bunkers on both sides of the fairway and the hole is one big climb to the green.  The green is quite large, running from back to front, with bunkers on all sides except the front.  A healthy approach shot is needed with the elevation and with its width, there are several ways to attack the green.  As you hole out to end the round, the view of the ocean beyond, the clubhouse and golfers being off paces away makes for a splendid finish.

The Eighteenth

Moving up the fairway

Approach shot territory

The back nine starts off in the dunes until eventually moving to the bay before ending on the perch where the clubhouse sits.  The routing is terrific and there are some holes and features of this set of nine that showcase the wide acclaim for the course.  My ranking of them would be 17, 14, 18, 13, 16, 10, 12, 11, 15.

Generally, Maidstone enjoys some of the best land in North America for a course and uses it well.  There is a lot here worth being excited about.  From the transitions in coastal environments to the differences in shots needed to score well, Maidstone has everything that makes for good golf.  While my expectations were a little different going in, I certainly appreciate the qualities of the course that make it special.  There were times when the ground game could be used to the green and a few holes had good width to allow options, yet there were a few holes where the focus was more on challenge and execution.  It certainly was a more difficult course than I was expecting and perhaps I was expecting being able to use the ground more with firm and fast conditions, where instead the aerial game was more of a factor.  A broad range of skills are tested, however, and the course is accessible to a broad range of golfers.  The routing and how the course makes its way through such a perfect natural setting, as well as the shaping of the holes within that setting, makes this a very special place.

Clubhouse/Pro Shop:  Very well stocked and with one of the game’s best insignias, I made sure to check out every square inch.

Practice area:  Driving range, short game area and putting green.