6,722 yards, 132 slope from the Gold tees
In Accord, New York is the newly opened Inness, a nine hole course designed and built by Tad King and Rob Collins. Part of a new lodging experience, the golf course opened last year and is open to the public. The Catskill and Shawangunk mountainous terrain is hilly and rumpled, the course climbing and traversing at first, then resting easily into a forest canopy before coming out to the meadows for the finish. As I wrote in my 2021 recap, “I won’t shut up about this place. I refuse. I talk about new horizons and this is as good of a place to start as any where else. Inness plays like Tobacco Road looks. It’s extreme with its visuals and in playing structure yet strategy and course knowledge are invaluable in understanding its complexity. There’s also a comparison to Bandon Trails in how the course seems to transition into different natural environments, from sleek twisting hills to a wetland canopy with marshy frothiness to a more wide open wavy finish. All of that in just nine holes where the golfer goes back out wondering how much he has learned, only to find out there’s a lot more out there than he realized. The clubhouse is one of my favorite in how it sets itself along the horizon line. It is rare to feel like you’ve been on such a journey in nine holes but you do here and it’s remarkable.”
There’s certainly a one-of-a-kind sensationalism to King/Collins courses that brings Mike Strantz to mind. Yet like Strantz, the visuals always have a purpose and here, the course is full of strategic conundrums that require the pangs of battle to fully develop a plan of action. This starts at the greens, with their array of blind shots and wild movement, and includes the tee shots, where the golfer is left to ponder how to go about managing the landscape. What was impressive here is how the course seemed to transition to different natural environments in nine holes nonetheless. It certainly added to what felt like a journey into the native countryside where the golfer must keep his wits about him. It’s a raw and rugged naturalness where one doesn’t expect a perfect polish, which some how makes the experience more substantial.
Nine holes is always magnified in terms of relying on each hole for its character. There is no room for also-rans that could possibly hide within an eighteen hole layout. With no time to lay off the gas pedal, the challenge then becomes ensuring the excitement and thrill doesn’t dull or become repetitive. King/Collins seem to grasp this well and their nine hole designs are dynamic and full of complexity that reveals itself over time to ensure the golfer doesn’t tire of playing the same set over and over. It’s inevitable that Inness will be compared to Sweetens and indeed, its website is already claiming to be “Sweetens back nine.” I’m not sure I agree. They are quite different courses on different landscapes and while Sweetens amplifies and dramatizes classic design tenets in a very original and impressionable manner, Inness has a pointed originality that dazes the golfer with awe inspiring intimidation, occasional befuddlement and grinding strategy. If Sweetens is the blue square intermediate ski run that you could stay on all day, Inness is the black diamond that does the same.
There was certainly some exhaustion setting in as I went to the back tees and played them the entire time, without ever looking at the score card. The heat was yet again oppressive even so early in the morning and while I reached some automatic playing mode from all the rounds in the last few days, I was thoroughly enjoying the course while taken aback at the contrast in settings from each course played during the trip. This was a fitting end. The golf felt post apocalyptic in a way. Roaming the hills in secluded countryside as I studied the design and how it should be approached, the wilderness surrounded me, civilization more irrelevant than ending altogether.
The sun began to rise as I was on the road to the course. Restored from the night of sleep, knowing I’d be home at the end of the day and looking forward to checking out more work from King/Collins was enough for me to cast aside the time of day and enjoy the emptiness of the road as the sun climbed higher and higher above the mountains. I was the only car in the lot and going in the clubhouse, was told I essentially had the place to myself. I already knew I was going around twice so without any kind of warm up, I grabbed my bag and headed into the wild.
The First is a 392 yard par 4 (from the Gold tees). Heading uphill, the tee shot is to a fairway that immediately sweeps to the right while a couple evergreens on the right frame things. After the turn, the fairway climbs with rumpled contours and tucked away hollows and nooks. The green seems to come out of the ether yet it’s still tough to make out. A bunker on the left, the fairway spills around it and to the left. This becomes the green but the bunker and front contours make it tough to figure out the surface. The green moves ferociously down and to the right. With the rear portion leaning in that direction, playing with the bounce and roll of the green seems to be the only way to even begin to know it. It’s a great introduction to where you are.
The Second is a 340 yard par 4. We turn back for the clubhouse. The tee shot is blind because of the fairway diving downhill. The fairway seems to deflect every where and there’s a small center line bunker within it all. The green is large and as we saw on the hole prior, shots that come up short will be rejected with impunity. Lots of heaving within the green but most approaches will at least have a good look at the green to plan accordingly.
The Third is a 201 yard par 3. The green is above us, draped over the hillside. The green is next to the Sixth green, which both blend into one another as a sleek, massively fast hillside. You will likely find your tee shot, where ever it goes. Some will probably hope it was lost. Those that don’t reach the green could find the right slopes and cascade all the way down the hillside. Others may figure out how to remain on the hillside with an incredibly tight lie for the golfer to then manage. Trying for the top left and have the ball fall to the hole is a good decision. Realizing the speed and terrain movement will factor into every tee shot will help properly accounting for it.
The Fourth is a 584 yard par 5. From the hillside, we tee off over the wetlands to the low lying terrain, which moves through trees on both sides to the green, moguls throughout. The green is wide, receptive to an array of approaches, with a center bunker short the only hazard to avoid. Knowing how the contours affect direction is paramount in coaxing the ball ever closer to the hole. Some of this is fairly subtle, so be sure to pay attention to the terrain with each step of the hole.
The Fifth is a 177 yard par 3. Sitting in the middle of the course among some lazily swaying Chestnut Oaks, wetlands and water short and along the right, the hole is intriguing for the variety of natural elements about it. The green wraps around a bunker that’s front and center, which is much deeper than it looks from the tee, while large cavernous bunkers are at the right and behind. There are slopes around the front bunker that will send the ball away from the green if not hit far enough and the left side also slopes off even more so. Then there’s the green with its assorted rumpled contours. I hit my tee shot to 4 feet on the second go and ended up missing the putt, as some movement crept in undetected. In all, it’s a fantastic par 3 in presentation, play, character and uniqueness. Definitely one of those give me a bucket of balls and let me stay here all day kinds of holes.
The Sixth is a 338 yard par 4. Heading to the hill where the Third green resides, the tee shot must carry more wetlands and water, which is set to the left of the fairway. There’s a lot more width for the tee shot than it appears, which allows the golfer to select their line into the green. I became partial to coming in from the right but couldn’t say if that line is ideal. The green has a lot of movement and something tells me pin position could impact ideal fairway position as well. There’s a general back to front movement of the green and the left side of the fairway is above the right moving up to the green, so those bold enough to use that left side could have an advantageous approach that is a lot more level than the right. Any shot too far behind the green will likely catch the hillside and move down towards the Third tee, making for an awkwardly difficult recovery back to the green.
The Seventh is a 443 yard par 4. Even though there are only three holes left, there is still a lot of ground to cover. Among the toughest holes, the tee shot is elevated to a fairway that has water lining both sides. No matter; the tee shot must get out there to get to the turn of the dog leg left so there is a look at the green on the approach. I found it to be the most challenging tee shot of the course. After the turn, the fairway funnels and tilts to the right, where water is still lingering off to the side. The green is pushed up with some similarities to a Biarritz in how it swales while the edges fall off pretty much every where. Good luck.
The Eighth is a 310 yard par 4. As we saw with the Fourth green and Fifth, this side of the property is more level and rich with flora and perhaps fauna every now and then. The wetlands and canopy of the trees starts to take hold. A short par 4, water is short of the green, leaving room to the left. This means that something less than driver is a smart play off the tee to end up short of the water. It bears mentioning that the green is pretty wide so those who hit it long enough could go for it from the tee but could end up in the one of the treacherous bunkers. Regardless, there is room up there to play with. Those that end up in the fairway will have a shorter club in, with the green moving left to right and a valley running through the right side.
The Ninth is a 576 yard par 5. A dog leg left with the strong turn starting from the tee as we move from one end of the property to the other. For those wanting their tee shots as far down the fairway as possible, the turn in the fairway must be accounted for. Others may hedge their tee shots to stay in the fairway but will then have much longer second and third shots. Once the turn finishes, the trees clear and the sheen contours we saw in the beginning reappear up to the green. While the clubhouse is in view, a lot of the green is obscured by mounding a larger bunker on the right. The green is wild, even for here. Its crowned structure confounds the approach as shots seem to land and wander off as they please. I’d need more time here, a lot more time, to get a better sense of it. Yet it’s a fitting end and as I finally managed to get the ball in the hole, my eyes were already looking for the First tee as my hand was pulling the ball out. The pro was on the porch and hollered out that he’d see me in a little while and hope I was having fun. Indeed.
Generally, Inness is an exciting set of nine holes with variety that is complex and complete. The visual artistry is beautiful yet accomplishes its purpose of stirring particular senses within the golfer to affect strategy and play. The contours and terrain demand attention, as the ball will roll whether you like it or not. I happen to love and embrace it, planning my shots accordingly. This is not to exclude the aerial game, which is well represented here as well and can be used effectively, even occasionally necessary. The greens are nothing short of spectacular, with wild movement that require thought and skill. They demand the golfer give in to a certain doctrine of the game. Those who think their well executed shot should be appropriately rewarded will be disappointed here, as execution is only one aspect of the game. A more complete sense is needed here, hitting to the right areas depending on one’s configuration to the green and accounting for the inherent randomness of the game that this course so sharply portrays. One day you will hit one of the best nine irons of your life only to see the ball take an unfortunate bounce and turn into one of the many hidden hollows some where ill favored to the hole while on other days, such a shot will hit the contour just right and find its way near the hole with determination. That is the game and that is life. Resolve is essential for the golfer and that usually means a deep understanding and appreciation of the concept of randomness is in order. Inness, with its drama and thrill, does well to confront the golfer with these time honored principles in a post-modern presentation that for many reasons, is a refreshing path ahead for course design.
I would rank them 1, 5, 8, 9, 6, 2, 7, 3, 4.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: I am very partial to this one. What looks like an old homestead fitting in perfectly with the landscape is a simple, large open building, very much concrete and modern inside. A huge glass door slides out to the rear porch that overlooks the course. Drinks were in the fridge while the pro and assistant pro were generous with their time and enjoyed talking all things golf.
Befitting the day, the drive home winded down through the mountains, then the Poconos, until I found myself in Bethlehem and took the turnpike from there. I had a dinner to get to and with lots of golf, people and places to mull over, I was finally content to put the clubs aside and tend to other matters for a spell. It only seems like there’s never enough time. The time is well spent in places never seen before but well regarded and loved and worth it all. Each minute is chock rich full of experience with the game, a relationship ever changing and renewed. The road will beckon once again soon.