6,258 yards, 135 slope from the Blues
My only regret was not seeing “There Will Be No Miracles Here” sign sooner. Such an apt saying for most of us and this game. The biggest, most direct, conspicuous reality check on a golf course I’ve come across. It begs the question though. If there aren’t miracles here, what exactly can there be? Does that take out hope? Optimism? Are we to settle, become resigned to our lower, mediocre place in the game? No. Actually, to hell with the sign. I’ll tell you if there will be miracles or not. In fact, each time I get the ball in the air is a miracle. That bounce of the ball in the right direction, taking that perfect roll to the hole, perhaps that will be the time it falls in. That miracle is there, waiting to happen. Still, you have to appreciate that sign. Maybe it’s there to temper our expectations and instead, look around. Focus on the course . . . and the coolest golf club I have come across. This sign included.
I now know why it’s called the Bridge but at first did not. It is in Bridgehampton, New York, so I suspected that was the short of it. Designed by Rees Jones in 2002 with his associates Keith Evans and Bryce Swanson, returning for more work in 2012, the course is on higher ground overlooking Noyack and Little Peconic Bay. The hills are dramatic, which is where Rees Jones excels in establishing green sites in natural plateaus and hollows. Running holes vertically amongst those hills, the green sites are where the course stands out, each one distinct in some way, with a barrage of run offs and very good, intelligent bunker placement. The shaping took a while, was crafted, with care and articulation. It’s a course plenty challenging but allows the inventive among us to flourish, particularly around the greens. The clubhouse is ultra modern with a dedication to the sport car and auto racing, which is fitting since the course is on the former Bridgehampton Motor Racing Circuit. That’s where the name came from. Driving up the hill to get to the clubhouse, the vintage billboards and the Chevron Gasoline Bridge with flags on either side, get you in the right frame of mind. The parked classic cars in random spots didn’t hurt either.
The sleek clubhouse feels like something Howard Roark came up with. More art gallery than golf place, I dug it. I went into the locker room to change my shoes and there was indeed artwork abounding. In fact, I went to the toilets and they were in the middle of a photo shoot. The director or whoever just told me to go about my business, he acknowledged it was a little awkward but art must prevail. The club hosts an exotic car auto show each year, all of them parked on the golf course. Yeah, all of it is cool.
As I started having visions of me pulling up in my vintage Ferrari 250 GT for a quick nine and then a couple Negronis, I pulled myself back to wonder how good the course actually was. I went outside to the range and it was then I realized I was the only one out there. Enormous rain clouds hovered above. I met my caddie and he seemed upbeat enough so were headed out. It began pouring as we walked to my ball in the First fairway. He kept walking to the ball. I finally said that I understood if we needed to go back. He told me I was the boss and he would stay out as long as I wanted. I told him I never care about rain so I’ll keep golfing until we have to go in. Twenty minutes later, the clouds parted to the sun and we had the course to ourselves. So we paraded up and down those hills with the bays glistening below and had ourselves a round.
My first car was a 1970 Mustang. Black on black with a vinyl top, chrome wheels and a 350 engine that screamed more than roared, it was called, “The Beast.” It would want to leap into an all out sprint after second gear. With all that metal, I suggested where the car should go more than I drove it. Some of the girls I knew were afraid of the beast. Some, were not. I loved that car. It broke down a good amount. I learned to fix it, to some extent. Drove to proms in it, took it to college. I remember driving it for the final time, to some repair shop. The beast was sheer joy. It was. Growing up for me.
There were nights where I’d be driving home on Arroyo Boulevard from Linda Vista with the windows down and some song blaring. From the Rose Bowl, the road would start to climb and arch, each turn getting tighter before letting out and curling up again. I could drive that road with my eyes closed, the beast screaming to go faster and faster as everything else quiet and dark, the Arroyo Seco sprawled out below with its canyons and packs of coyotes, some where. That’s the exhilaration from the past that remains more than most of it. I haven’t thought about that car in a long time but as I started in with this course, running up those hills of green and occasionally sticking it close to this pin or that, it all came flooding back. That joy in racing the roads, that speed. The daring interlaced with calm, knowing control only takes you so far. The shining gold sky above, those views of the rich blue below. I stopped caring where the ball went. Of course, it started to go where I wanted.
See? Miracles are sure out there, go find them.
The First is a 410 yard par 4 (from the Blues). Elevated tee and a charitably wide fairway for that opening tee shot, the bunkers provide definition as does the contouring early on. Rees is a firm believer in laying the hole before the golfer so he can decide how to chart it. You get that here, as proceeding up the sides or middle all have their own features to confront. The green is set off to the right at the top of a hill, which runs down left to right. Bunkers guard it from the front and right, as well as off to the left a bit. The width remains through the green. A solid opener that gets the juices flowing just a touch.
The Second is a 173 yard par 3. An uphill par 3 with lots of ground to work with, a bunker short left to contend with and a couple at the rear right for those overly ambitious tee shots. The hole allows all types of shots in but the undulations of the green and pin positions take care of those who are trying to score.
The Third is a 372 yard par 4. The first three holes loop about the high right corner of the property around the driving range so this moves in the direction of the clubhouse. A wide fairway greets us at the tee and as we’ll see through the round, a lone small sharp bunker breaks up all that green to provide a bit of definition. The fairway narrows just a touch as we get closer to the green. There is a lot of room to the right sloping up to the green while the left has a few bunkers so decide on the approach with what’s ahead.
The Fourth is a 368 yard par 4. A dog leg left where the fairway is uphill from the tee, the visuals signal that the right side is safe yet the closer you get to that left bunker, the closer approach and better angle you’ll have for the approach. The right side juts straight up and not only blocks a view of the green, but will take any shot close to it and hurtle it down to the green at Mach 800, most certainly to fall off on the other side unless pulled off perfectly.
The Fifth is a 148 yard par 3. A drop shot par 3 flashing a lot of green with the bunkers larger than we’ve seen thus far, placed precariously for those trying to get close to the pin. The green is shallow as well so distance control is a must even with all of the width. A few members let me through here as my swing decided to hang out back at the clubhouse for a few holes. These members were not shy about making fun of my game, which I certainly deserved. I told them my swing was missing but they weren’t sure I had one to begin with. I at least gave them a nice tee shot at the next.
The Sixth is a 374 yard par 4. Now moving uphill, there’s plenty of fairway save for a bunker here and there that seems to make all the difference. The fairway bends to the right from the tee where a long bunker complex in the middle of the fairway short of the green defines the approach. It creates a false front and clearing the bunker is only half the battle, as one then needs to deal with the movement and contours of the short grass areas surrounding the speedy green.
The Seventh is a 486 yard par 5. A downhill par 5, but the fairway for the tee shot is wide and level. It is only after the second shot that the fairway tightens and moves down, some of its slopes seem to fall off the ends of the world based on where you are in the fairway. A center line bunker short of the green then a small pot bunker ahead of it give the golfer pause on the approach. A larger bunker complex off to the left and well below the green do the same. The golfer must make some decisions near the green and the entry point is enticing.
The Eighth is a 343 yard par 4. We go down then up. A forced carry off the tee to the fairway below is one of the more challenging on the course and is one of the rare occasions where the fairway is partially obscured to the golfer. This may urge a more spirited swing off the tee to reach the visible part of the fairway, but it should not. It’s a shorter par 4 and the approach is inviting save for some rough between fairway and short grass before the green. Just be sure to stay relatively straight because off fairway gets very dicey quickly.
The Ninth is a 497 yard par 5. Continuing upwards to the clubhouse, The fairway structure is a bit different with narrowness at the start widening as it proceeds to the green. A few small yet effective bunkers are to the left and then to the right a little closer to the green, which should be accounted for as the golfer charts his way to the green. There’s a lot of width yet all bets are off once you look to the sides off the fairway. As we have seen, the holes are generous and accessible, yet seem to tighten against those trying to go low with its contours and approach angle positions.
The front nine is two loops form the clubhouse and back again with nice variety amongst the holes as well as effective bunkering and shaping. Its versatility and flexibility is impressive considering the terrain yet there are certainly limits on how horizontally off line one can go. Pleasant yet firm at times in its challenge, I would rank them 4, 3, 9, 7, 1, 6, 2, 5, 8.
The back nine starts with the 473 yard par 5 Tenth. Once again the hole stretches out before us from the tee. A forced carry over fescue to the fairway with cross bunkers at its start. Then moving uphill, a small bunker lies within the middle while a trench bunker is cut along the left side short of the green. There’s a good amount of room on and around the green and while the right side is bunker-free, one must deal with the slopes moving away from the green.
The Eleventh is a 396 yard par 4. The tee is at one of the high points of the course, the bay in the background as the fairway and green seem miles below. The hole is well bunkered for the tee shot with a noticeable right to left tilt. Bunkers remain on the sides, then stay on there left side as we get closer to the green. Like the hole prior, the right side doesn’t contend with bunkers but will need to deal with the slope movement away from the green.
The Twelfth is a 347 yard par 4. Back uphill, the fairway moves right to left with bunkers starting on that side with a larger one further out on the right. The tee shot should start out right to use the tilt of the fairway while avoiding that large right bunker. The green is raised from the fairway and this time there are bunkers on either side below, pinching the front. There are also bunkers at the rear but enough room about the green for all reasonable approaches.
The Thirteenth is a 397 yard par 4. While the holes have been going back and forth, the golfer barely notices since each hole is attacking the hills at various angles. Here, the fairway moves at an angle from the tee, down to the green. In fact, the fairway funnels to the green, which is set off to the left, bunkers at the lower left of it. The right to left movement can and should be used to feather the ball to the pin, while making sure the ball doesn’t move off the slopes to the left. It’s a fun approach and while some may prefer coming in from the left over the bunkers, the ground game seems to be preferred by the green here.
The Fourteenth is a 153 yard par 3. A forced carry to the deep green, bunkers are on either side while the contours move up to the green at the front and away from it at the back. Lots of room to work with and even a good amount to miss with. A refreshing reprieve of a hole to help move us into the thick of it ahead.
The Fifteenth is a 395 yard par 4. The fairway moves up and to the right, bunkers below followed by a lower laying area of rough. The conservative line off the tee is to the visible left while other may opt more towards the right, the landing area partially blind. The left side slopes up to create more movement to that right side, all which should be accounted for at the tee. The green is above the fairway, the wider entry point at the left. It’s a cool hole with options abounding as to how to get up the hill and into the hole.
The Sixteenth is a 158 yard par 3. Apparently the tees used to be further back and way up the hill back and to the right. From this angle, the bunkers short and near the green are both along the line of instinct. The green moves right to left but the left side is pulled up and can be used as a sideboard to move shots towards the hole. Missing high right means a recovery downhill to a green that runs away from you. It’s no good, which I learned from experience of course. It was my favorite par 3 here.
The Seventeenth is a 273 yard par 4. A short par 4 moving uphill with bunkering encroaching a bit on either side as we continue moving towards the green. There’s a spicy congregation of bunkers short of the green that the fairway moves around and over to the green. Pin positions impact how that bunker complex and the approach interplay. The ground game is once again called upon along with all kinds of pitch and releases, using the contours beyond that bunker to tease those shots near the pin. One may opt for a shorter tee shot before the bunkers for a more straightforward albeit longer approach. As short par 4’s should do, there are a number of ways to play this hole while those who hit it longer are not guaranteed anything.
The Eighteenth is a 495 yard par 5. The last is a par 5, the early portion of the fairway wide and inviting for the tee shot. From the width it begins to move downhill and tighten up a bit, a large bunker on the right to avoid. Then moving uphill to the green, the top of the hill is vast with lots of short grass, a small pot bunker off to the right and a row of them at the rear. It’s receptive to those trying to reach the green in two while others will be able to use the contours around the green as needed.
I saw the sign about the miracles as I was walking to the green. As I reached into the hole to get my ball, I looked back to the course. The sun rose above the clouds and was in full bloom, kissing the fairways, sharp shadows highlighting the contours, ridging and shaping. It was almost the perfect send off, nature showing itself off for that brief moment and I walked off the course fulfilled. Don’t believe everything you read.
The back nine progresses in variety, moving up and down the hills steady at the start before revealing all kinds of different looks, shots and plays as the nine goes on. The latter half of the nine is where I thought things got pretty interesting, the land used well while the shaping of the fairways, bunkers and greens stood out nicely. I would rank them 17, 18, 15, 13, 16, 14, 12, 10, 11.
Generally, The Bridge s a challenging yet flexible course that is set very smartly among some dramatic hills that yield splendid views of the remarkable surrounds upon which it is in. The shaping and bunkering sets up an array of strategy with a nice dance between the aerial and ground games. The overall cadence and flow of the round cannot be emphasized enough, so long as you remain relatively near the fairway. Those that stray too far will start to feel the true severity of the terrain, the forgiveness and deliberation of the course essentially disappearing after a few paces off.
It’s a very good course in an area full of some of the best in the world. Some may discount it for that reason and they would be wrong to do so. It’s one of if not the best Rees Jones original designed courses I have played. Its ability to remain playable, fun and receptive to play after play amidst a strong undercurrent of challenge and intense terrain is a Herculean achievement.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: There are clubhouses that seem to pervade a particular tone that resonates throughout the course. Oakland Hills, Shinnecock and the Old Course at St. Andrews are a few that come to mind. The Bridge does this as well, with its hip, ultra-modern trappings and homage to the vintage race car culture of yesteryear. I loved it. It certainly infused a dimension of character one will not come across any where else.
My regret is perhaps not shopping enough at the pro shop. The apparel mirrored the vibes of the club yet I was short on time so simply picked up a hat.
Practice area: A very good one, the range looking out to the bay and the putting green just outside the clubhouse.