6,456 yards, 137 slope from the Blues
Quaker Ridge is in Scarsdale, New York, which is right above Manhattan for the uninitiated. I am among those who have not spent a whole lot of time in this area, even though it is an absolute mine field of spectacular courses that pretty much sit side by side. Case in point is Winged Foot, which is directly across the street from Quaker Ridge and a few blocks away is Wykagyl and Siwany while Fenway is just a tad north. We’ll be here all day if I keep going but the proximity to New York City as well as the hilly terrain made for a number of well established courses that have settled in nicely over the last several decades.
Quaker Ridge is one of these that sits in splendor and has intrigued me for some time.
The course started as nine holes laid out by John Duncan Dunn in 1915, who was the golf professional at Les Golfs d’Hardelot in France. Dunn attempted to emulate famous golf holes in the U.K. and leaned towards a sporty style as the course was carved out of the woods as a brook called the Sheldrake River saunters through various hills, nooks and dells. The club thereafter underwent ownership change and consulted with A.W. Tillinghast to inspect the existing nine holes in 1916. His report was fairly critical, generally commenting that the nine holes were, “not impressive” and “lack distinction,” but with “modern methods and an intelligent placement and building of hazards will add greatly to the layout.” The club also acquired new land that Tilly inspected for an additional nine holes, which he remarked as “thoroughly good” and “will serve admirably every demand of the modern game.” And with that, Dunn was out and Tilly was in. He re-designed seven of the holes and built eleven of his own, then returned in the mid 1920’s for some revisionary and refinement work.
“In my review of Baltimore Country Club, I wrote about how the course seemed to be a grand expression of Tillinghast as he had the freedom to do as he wish among the sprawling hills. You then have other courses of Tilly, like Wissahickon and Somerset Hills, where there’s a ying and yang between grandeur and intimacy. Quaker Ridge is a brilliant display of another side of Tillinghast. A leafy, idyllic parkland with a serene brook or pond here and there, width and creative freedom of playing structure is maintained even while trees are integral to the design. The ridges, contours, center line roughing mounds and bunkers all bring forth a wonderful tee to green experience that is subdued and restrained, anchored a bit more to traditional presentation. Yet the play structure is rich with strategy and subtlety, where the golfer must consider terrain movement, angles and playing lines, as well as hazard placement. The bold directness and vast intimidation I have encountered at other Tillinghast courses is not present here. There are more exquisite tones that lull the golfer with its relaxing setting yet demand the sharpness and resolve of any of his other courses. I haven’t even mentioned the greens yet, which is where subdued and bold expressions blend in harmonic intrigue. One of the best parklands out there.” This is what I wrote in my Year in Review of Quaker and is worth reiterating verbatim here.
Indeed, there’s a complete immersion here that was fascinating to experience. The lulling of the golfer cannot be emphasized enough. The test before him is comprehensive and stiff yet the visuals do not give any of that away. This challenge begins off the tee and makes for a bit of a driver’s course. The trees, contours and bunkers then conspire into a ball striking gauntlet, leading to the greens that are mischievous and fickle. The golfer never notices as the strokes pile up, as he is too immersed in the pleasant setting to fully focus on the task at hand, or if he does notice, seldom cares all that much as he moves from one lovely landscape to the next. The terrain is used masterfully and even for the golfer who is able to direct his attention to the game, will face ample strategic decisions as he makes his way around.
Fortune found me here last fall in more ways than one. The course seemed to be in peak form and as rare as rare can be, my game was following suit. Brimming with confidence and overjoyed to finally visit, I teed off, beaming.
The First is a 510 yard par 5 (from the Blues). The front nine famously moves in a counter clockwise direction, which makes any shot to the right certain death. Knowing of this in advance, I promptly duck hooked my tee shot as far from the right as possible yet the rough held my ball from straying in the trees. The opening tee shot is raised from the fairway just enough so that it is all in front of you, weaving around bunkers on the right before disappearing altogether in the distance. The fairway isn’t terribly wide before those right bunkers but widens after them, arching to the right where a large centerline bunker dominates before the green. This central bunkers and those at the front corners of the green assure most approaches will be aerial into the green, which leans around the bunker on the right and moves from back to front. The golfer must be precise at the start, navigating the bunkers and considering the movement of the green. There is no gentle handshake here. The course wants to get right to it and the golfer must be able to oblige.
The Second is a 405 yard par 4. Moving past a couple holes we’ll see later in the round, we continue to move on the rightmost perimeter. A dog leg right to a tree-framed fairway that crooks back to the right at the very last moment. Moving downhill to the green ever so slightly with some right to left tilt, avoiding the deep green side bunkers should be a primary focus here. The interior movement of the green is enough for the golfer to take in on its own, which starts on the various avenues for the approach.
The Third is a 424 yard par 4. The green is straight out in front of us from the tee, but is deceptive in appearing much shorter than it actually is. Right is still purgatory while left is really not that much better as I began to realize just how on point one’s tee game must be. Like the hole prior, the fairway is a gentle descend to the green and looks inviting enough; until one takes notice of the green side bunkers, treacherous and deep. The path to the green is simple enough, until one misses their intended line.
The Fourth is a 408 yard par 4. Our introduction to the center line rough mounds is here, this one fairly harmless just after the tee. Asserting its character and foreshadowing as a feature we will need to deal with more at length later on, it does obscure a clear view of the fairway but as is custom at this point, we at least know not to stray right. The fairway is on the slender side after the mound and the far left drops off to the rough of an adjacent hole. The green complex was one of my favorite as the left to right tilt is strongly evident while the bunkers are carved deep into the hillside. Water is off to the far left of the green but very much in play because of the slope before it. While the First was a stiff introduction and the Second and Third more of an indoctrination, the Fourth is a bit more direct in its blended thrill and challenge. A great shorter par 4.
The Fifth is a 151 yard par 3. A forced carry over water with large shallow bunkers at its sides and a deeper more compact bunker at the rear. If the Fourth is more direct, the Fifth is downright curt. Hit the green or deal with the consequences. We’re far enough in the round that it’s there or it isn’t. Here we find out.
The Sixth is a 434 yard par 4. The hillside on the right sits high above the fairway while bunkers are to the left and below. The golfer may be tempted to cut the turn and aim further right in this area, but it’s much longer to the fairway than can be seen from the tee. Regardless, the early turn of the fairway signals that any tee shot straight out will end up in the rough, so a bit more plodding is needed for the opening shot here. The fairway narrows after the bunkers on the right, funneling between two larger bunkers on either side before moving up to the green where a long bunker rests against the left side and the undulations seem to stir about. It’s a hearty and tough hole where the tee shot is vital to setting up a manageable approach. Otherwise, the golfer will likely be scrambling.
The Seventh is a 416 yard par 4. A dog leg right with the trees encroaching tight against the right side. In fact, my tee shot finally succumbed and while it was far out, it was not enough to carry the trees and I fell victim to that right side OB. My caddie God bless him trudged in and found my ball, however, so not all was lost. A creek runs across the front of the fairway and should be carried from the tee rather easily. After the turn is yet another creek that must be carried, then an array of bunkers to reach the green, which is pushed up above it all. Those out of position off the tee will need to decide how much to contend with the creek and bunkers short of the green. The front apron comes in handy, as the green is only of moderate size and the bunkers on either side are to be avoided, so the extra room front and short should be utilized.
The Eighth is a 335 yard par 4. Another rough mound greets us from the tee, this one larger and a lot more in play that the prior. Deciding a side to move around it may be better than trying to carry it altogether, as it is much longer than it appears at first glance. The fairway narrows and crooks a little to the left to the green. The green is smaller and gets wider towards the rear. It was here I was suddenly grateful my game was in order. Negotiating the mound on a narrower fairway to a smaller green, there is width in the rough off to the left but it is clear here that one must have control of his ball in various ways.
The Ninth is a 143 yard par 3. A green surrounded by bunkers below it as the clubhouse is a few paces away. Triangular in shape with the width on the left as it narrows off to the front left, the movement of the green gets vexing as it seems to trail off in opposite directions depending on its mood.
The front nine is an outer loop with out of bounds always on the right. Opening with a par 5 before settling in with a barrage of par 4’s, there’s a terrific rhythm and contrast between the thrill of the challenge and zen of the surroundings. My ranking of them would be 1, 4, 6, 7, 8, 3, 2, 9, 5.
The back nine starts with the 186 yard par 3 Tenth. From one par 3 to another, the creek strolls across fairly close to the tee while the green is set at an angle with bunkers lining both sides. There’s also a couple bunker short of the green amongst short grass area. The tee shot must carry to the green and if the shot is off line, will likely end up in one of the bunkers or beyond it, in which case the recovery pitch must carry them. One can bail out short but again, will need to carry the bunkers on the second. The angle of the green and configuration of the bunkers makes this a very good par 3.
The Eleventh is a 372 yard par 4. The creek is now running alongside the left of the hole, eventually crossing over in front of the green for the approach. The fairway dog legs slightly to the left at the creek so that the green is tucked off to the left. This in turn makes it necessary to get the tee shot off to the right. The trees on the left also signal this to us on the tee, yet the bunkers on the right tell us not to go too far in that direction. With the tee shot clearing the trees on the left and avoiding the bunkers on the right, the approach is before us. The green is wide with the creek just off the front side. A bunker is at the front left and rear, with the green running back to front towards the creek. It’s a wonderful green complex, vexing in how the golfer must impart gusto on the approach to carry the creek yet mind the movement of the shallow green and the bunkers that become a lot more complicated with the creek, lingering.
The Twelfth is a 403 yard par 4. Moving uphill with the fairway swerving between bunkers on either side. A slender fairway for sure but the green is on the larger side, draped over the top of the hill like a picnic blanket. There is cagey movement here with a general back to front proposition.
The Thirteenth is a 209 yard par 3. The area before the green on the back none par 3’s are impressive in how the interplay with bunkers rewards various shot shapes while those shots that end up short are not spared from requiring precision to finish the hole. Yet those familiar enough with the angles and slopes will know how to best unlock that area and feed the ball on to the green, where that type of finesse is preferred or required over the tee shot carrying the entire way. These bunkers also obfuscate just how much room there is to work with before the green from the tee. The bunker shaping here really popped, showing variety in structure and function.
The Fourteenth is a 517 yard par 5. Speaking of bunkers, it’s as if they decided to start defining things a bit more after the hole prior. Here, they line the left side as the fairway curves left and uphill while a larger one slumbers on the right. The bunkers then intrude on the fairway altogether and must be carried on the second shot to continue uphill to the green. All shapes and sizes are on display. The bunkers some what disperse after their center line congregation, a few on the right up to and at the green while one is green side left. There’s a ridge in the green that is rather pronounced, making the right side low and left side decidedly high. Moving from one side to the other is quite the ask and should be thought out on the approach. It’s a solid par 5 where bunkers and topography are used in fine fashion.
The Fifteenth is a 375 yard par 4. Apparently the trees became jealous of the attention given the bunkers and decided to get in on the action. They line; nay, loom on either side of the fairway as we head downhill. The creek is in a precarious position crossing the fairway and will pose the decision to longer hitters whether to try and carry it or lay up short. The placement of the bunkers near the green seem delightfully random yet as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, obscure the amount of space there is between them and the green. The green is deep yet narrow and not all that large, all the more the reason to know there is more room short after the bunkers to work with as necessary.
The Sixteenth is a 414 yard par 4. The trees yield a bit as the fairway heads uphill to the green, bunkers staggered about the sides. The golfer maneuvers around the trees and bunkers to reach the green, which sits on a plateau of sorts while bunkers serve as pits of despair below on the sides and rear. Moving up the right side ensures a clear line to the green but the left side is a better angle in considering the contours. Decisions must be made.
The Seventeenth is a 344 yard par 4. Decisions must also be made off this tee, as the fairway narrows quickly where the bunkers on the right reside. Getting past the bunkers leaves a short approach while playing short of them leaves a longer shot in. Considering the smaller size of the green and the bunkers that are on the verge of swallowing the green whole altogether, there is a premium on an approach that can be controlled the most. If that’s a shorter club for the golfer, it may make sense to gamble off the tee. It’s a fantastic, devious and strategic par 4, at the right time of the round.
The Eighteenth is a 410 yard par 4. The trees decide to send us off in style by getting a close look at the tee shot as the fairway disappears downhill, only to rise back up climbing to the green. The fairway swerves around the right bunker, then the left further up while a large green complex greets the golfer’s final strokes. Make no mistake that its movement is just as confounding as those before it, but there’s something to the size and orientation of it that seems to express compassion to the golfer. Knowing of the travails he has faced up to this point, the course provides this oasis to send us off in the right frame of mind.
The back nine features stronger par 3’s and a bit more challenge than the front. There is no weak hole and there are a few, such as the Eleventh and Seventeenth, I would consider world class. I would rank them 11, 17, 13, 14, 10, 15, 16, 18, 12.
Generally, Quaker Ridge evokes subtle and complex decisions from the golfer, which he makes in a sublime idyllic setting. Considering the course alone, the manner in which it presents the challenge is alluring and most often indirect. One doesn’t realize the error of one’s ways until it’s too late. An angle into the green may be foreclosed, a swale may brisk a shot into one of the cavernous bunkers, a seemingly harmless putt suddenly turns to parts unknown. The visuals belie the playing structure brilliantly and it’s only after much introspection that the thorough, advanced challenge presented here becomes apparent. Considering the course within Tilly’s portfolio, the well measured scale with restraint on bombastic visuals and reliance on more traditional parkland virtues, all while asserting a rich character with boundless strategy, its place on the mantle of world class course design is rightly deserved.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Separate structures that are unassuming, laid out horizontally with plenty of open air. The pro shop is well sized with a nice selection of pretty much everything.
Practice area: The putting green is sprawling and a must prior to the round to find some familiarity with what is out there. The Seventeenth is used as a hitting range in the morning and I suppose otherwise when the course is not in use.