Rock Spring Golf Club

6,611 yards, 136 slope from the Black tees

The geese had reclaimed the land. While we were carving our turkeys and going to holiday parties and ringing in the brand new 2022, the geese were able re-colonize and establish order amidst the empty parking lot, clubhouse and fairways. It was there for the taking. They waited patiently as those of us trudged around the hills chasing our white balls in sun and green. They knew. It would go away eventually as the leaves went away and the cold air started to blow through. And now, it was their time. A sea of them were off to the left as I teed off, voraciously vocal in either their support or opposition to my presence. I couldn’t tell. They would be heard, there was no denying that. This was their time, damnit.

There are a handful of courses that Seth Raynor designed that were then were built by Charles Banks after Raynor’s death. This is one of them. Designed by Raynor in 1925 who then untimely died in 1926, Banks thereafter built the course. The course enjoyed a solid reputation in an area of renown golf while green committees and chairs tinkered with this and that through the years. Professional help was finally brought in to address the decades of tinkering by retaining Ken Dye in the early 2000’s for bunker works. Kelly Blake Moran was then retained and in the process of restoration work when the club began feeling the effects of the financial crisis and ceased that project in 2008. The Fourth and Seventeenth greens, however, were completed.

You can certainly see components of both Raynor and Banks design styles throughout the round. The strategic and flowing of Raynor with the bold and abrupt of Banks. The hilly terrain is routed well with a good deal of variety in how it moves about. The greens are situated on hilltops or hollows or ridge lines or at the base of hills again with an impressive amount of variety. What really stood out was the ruggedness still very much a part of the character here. The club’s financial struggles continued and ultimately resulted in its sale to Kemper Sports, who opened the course to the public in 2019. While the future of the course was on the brink for a number of recent years, Kemper has steadied the ship. In the process, the public now has access to a very good golf course designed and built by Raynor and Banks. It is in rare company in this regard. Which brings me back to that rugged individualism throughout. The winter conditions likely brought some more of this out but most every Raynor and Banks course out there is a beautiful, well polished museum piece. Rightfully so. Here, there are some rough edges, in a very good way. There’s some rub of the green. There are facets that raise forth the grind in the golfer who will need to embrace the element of randomness he will no doubt encounter every now and then. This is the understated and perhaps unintended layer of character I saw within the course that I found distinct. The bunkers are likely the next piece of the puzzle that need to fall in place within all of this as well. In all, however, Rock Spring is a respectable Raynor/Banks golf course with a lot of distinct and memorable character whose public access makes it even more worthy of note and should be on everyone’s list of places to play.

It was colder than I anticipated but so it goes in the Winter. Snow was coming and who knows when I’d be able to get a round in again (it turned out to be weeks). I was on my way to Long Island and while their courses were closed, Rock Spring was open. In a matter of hours from the round, I would be shoveling piles of snow off my car in some hotel parking lot. All the more reason I’m glad to have seized upon a few hours of enjoyable golf and get the first round of the year in the books.

The First is a 351 yard par 4 (from the Black tees). Cable Lake sprawls out in front of that First tee to collect those nervy opening toppers while the fairway eventually runs downhill out of sight. Once we reach the crest, we see the fairway narrows and necks slightly up to a green that spills out into a punchbowl, bunkers on either side below while mounds surround it all. It’s a nice opening salvo, the smaller green still allowing a fair amount of shots into it while demanding the same measure of precision to properly sharpen us for what’s to come.

The First
The green
Looking back
The rear of the green to see just how pushed up it is on the backside

The Second is a 385 yard par 4. Going back uphill towards the clubhouse to the other side of Cable Lake, the tee shot is blind save for the tree line on the right. We know the water is up there some where on the left and certainly in play off the tee. The fairway bends to the right and as we walk uphill to our second shot, the green comes into view, as well as the lake on the left. The greenside bunker on the left runs the length of the green and I found its placement merciful, saving my approach from plunging in Cable Lake. The right side of the green has a larger bunker just a tad shorter but in conjunction these ensure the golfer has to keep it relatively straight to hit the deeper green. The approach is certainly a wake up call, as it will be on the longer side and the margin of error is on the small side. Yet now having played it and knowing the next hole requires a similar longer purposeful shot, it is fitting and proper that introductions are now over and the golfer must address the task at hand.

The Second
Looking left to the clubhouse
Approach shot territory
The green, from the left

The Third is a 201 yard par 3. There are only three par 3’s here and you play two of the in the first six holes. We realize just how high the hilltop upon which the course is situated as we gaze to the left of the tee and see Manhattan below us, the mass of steel and concrete rising higher and higher. A ravine cuts in from the left, the hillside plummeting down on that side so that any shot in that direction will be lost. The run up to the green is generous, moving uphill. Once at the green, however, the large contour slopes to the left towards the bunker off that side. Indeed, this is their Redan. A long shot that needs to get there to take advantage of the slope, with anything left gone and anything short likely moving away from the green.

The Third
A view of Manhattan off to the left
The green

The Fourth is a 445 yard par 4. Walking across Walker Road for the next two holes, the fairway turns right shortly after the tee while trees are on both sides of its starting section. The green is the Double-Plateau template, which is quite expansive and makes for a large target area. Putting across it, however, is reason enough to seek precision on the approach, as the movement and contours of the greens can serve even more challenge than the actual journey to the green.

The Fourth
Approach shot territory
The green
Right side

The Fifth is a 428 yard par 4. Coming back in the opposite direction and a bit uphill on the tee shot, the green doesn’t save the engagement here as much as it did the hole prior. It’s straight with trees on either side, then opens up near the green. The green is a good one to be fair, with bunkers below it at its sides, tiling from left to right slightly and more dominantly back to front.

The Fifth
Approach shot territory
The right side

The Sixth is a 145 yard par 3. Back across Walker Road, this is the Short hole. Large swaths of bunkers wrap around the front of the green yet the rear is unscathed from them. A massively wide green sitting a tad below the tee makes this point about the rear highly relevant, as the golfer needs a good deal of distance control to land and stay on, even if the width allows a measure of horizontal freedom. Of course, putting from one end to the other is an adventure unto itself.

The Sixth

The Seventh is a 377 yard par 4. Now back in line with the Second, we head downhill with the fairway dog legging to the left around a row of trees. A bunkers is at the outside of the leg and not really any where you want to be on the approach. The downhill continues into and through the green, moving right to left. A bunker lays across the green with its entry point on the right. Managing the movement of the hill both vertically and horizontally, the bunkers and the movement of the green that happens to run counter to the fairway makes for an exciting approach and very solid hole overall.

The Seventh
Approach shot territory
The green
Looking back

The Eighth is a 414 yard par 4. Sweeping uphill to the right from the tee, a slender bunker on the left encroaches into the center of the fairway further up and away from the tee while another further up on the right makes them cross bunkers for the approach. The green is at the top of the hill, a narrower entry point to a large green enclosed in with mounds and the hillside at the right and rear. It’s a cool green and makes recoveries around it a bit precarious.

The Eighth
Approach shot territory
The green

The Ninth is a 495 yard par 5. This is the first of the two par 5’s here. Going back down the hill we just climbed up, the fairway dog legs left with a mean looking bunker on the outside of the turn. The fairway moves from left to right with the hillside. The second shot can take some though depending on position, as one needs to maneuver the trees and terrain movement to ensure a clear approach. The perched green runs at an angle from the fairway and a bunker from the left cuts across its front. Another greenside bunker at the rear pinches in the entry point and all but ensures approaches will need to be aerial unless you are on the far right side of the fairway and relatively close to the green. It’s another very good green that raises the overall quality of the hole.

The Ninth
Approach shot territory
A bit closer

The front nine stays on top of the hills before finally coming down at the end. A relatively engaging string of holes that seemed to hit that extra gear at the opening and closing. I would rank them 9, 7, 3, 4, 1, 2, 8, 6, 5.

The back nine starts with the 328 yard par 4 Tenth. All uphill, the tee shot doesn’t look like much save for a couple bunkers on the left and trees on both sides. The approach on the other hand, is superb. The hilltop upon which the green is set is high above and blind to the fairway. A trio of bunkers appear before the green yet it is difficult to discern where they are positioned with respect to the green. They are in fact to the front right of the green as a run way to the left up the hill lends a visual cue where the green is located. It’s a fantastic approach as your shot climbs the hill up into the unknown. The green is fun with its contours and hillside movement as well.

The Tenth
Approach shot territory
Slightly more to the left

The Eleventh is a 429 yard par 4. Now going down the same hill as the hole prior, the fairway dog legs to the right after yet another trio of bunkers on the right. The fairway moves downhill through the green, which has a significant left to right tilt to it with bunkers below it on either side. It’s almost a reverse Redan with the amount of tilt the green has and bunker on the right side.

The Eleventh
Approach shot territory

The Twelfth is a 342 yard par 4. A left to right hillside is before us while the center line bunker must be accounted for off the tee. The fairway angles to the right to a green terraced on the hillside. This leaves the right greenside bunker as some where no mortal would want to be while the left greenside bunker may actually be worse since the green runs away towards the one on the right. The hillside as it’s configured to the green and bunkers makes for a well done par 4.

The Twelfth
Approach shot territory
A bit shorter in
The green, left side

The Thirteenth is a 417 yard par 4. We’re now moving uphill back towards the Sixth, running parallel with Walker Road. The green seems to be eons away so much so that I had to make sure this wasn’t a par 5. All uphill, the green is raised with a serviceable entry point that will come in handy for the inevitably long approach. The hole is short on hazards, realizing that its length and uphill is likely enough for most golfers to handle.

The Thirteenth
Approach shot territory

The Fourteenth is a 528 yard par 5. We get our par 5 coming back down the hill. There’s super width yet trees off to the sides and a couple bunkers on the left to note. The green is at the end of the gradual down hill with a steep fall off at the rear. It is well positioned for the ground game for those so inclined while it is best to avoid the greenside bunkers off to the side based on their severity of depth.

The Fourteenth
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory

The Fifteenth is a 379 yard par 4. At the bottom of the hill that moves fairly intensely right to left, both tee and approach shots will need to favor high above where the golfer would like them to ultimately end up. The entry point understands this and is situated to accepted shots with that movement. The hillside and green are plenty excitement while missing too far either side will not be good for anyone.

The Fifteenth
Approach shot territory
The green
Looking off to the right at the hills

The Sixteenth is a 187 yard par 3. Ah, we finally come across a par 3 again and it’s a very good one. The slightly elevated tee shot gives us a great view of the green, which is their Eden template. Expansive bunkers rest on either side while the one on the right wraps around the rear. Well shaped and falling off abruptly off the rear in true Eden fashion, it closes out the par 3’s here in style.

The Sixteenth
From the rear

The Seventeenth is a 415 yard par 4. Moving uphill next to the Ninth, the fairway narrows from what we saw of its predecessors. Regardless, recovery shots out of the trees is something to avoid even though the green is immense. In fact, it’s indeed one of those holes where simply hitting the green will not be enough and those that need to traverse any significant amount of distance across it will face an array of challenge in figuring out the proper line and speed.

The Seventeenth
Approach shot territory
Looking back

The Eighteenth is a 345 yard par 4. We continue to climb uphill to the clubhouse which is readily apparent with the tee shot here looking out at the face of a hill. Once we crest the hill, we see the green relatively close by, lying to the left behind a lengthy scalloped bunker. There is a smaller entry point to the right, but that bunker messages to us that an aerial approach is a much better idea.

Looking off to the right at Cable Lake, the geese were gone. Snow was coming soon so they surely took their party to some refuge from the storm, anxiously awaiting to coming back out and overtaking the land once again. The first round of 2022 safely in the books in the midst of winter, I too would seek shelter from the storm and return to the links. In due time.

The Eighteenth
The fairway
Approach shot territory
Looking off to the right
Shorter approach shot territory
The green

The back nine is loops around the lower portion of the property yet climbs to its higher points at the start, middle and end of the round. This imparts more elevation changes than the front and the hills are used cleverly, especially at the green sites. I would rank them 10, 12, 16, 15, 18, 14, 17, 13, 11.

Generally, Rock Spring is a hearty Raynor/Banks course with a handful of very good holes, a lot of solid ones and just a couple nondescript. The greens are well shaped with some of the templates notable while I really enjoyed the holes that embraced the severity of the hills in several ways. The degree of strategy and execution seemed to be ramped up quite a bit on those holes in a very good way. The fact that it’s public is a pretty big deal since it allows those who otherwise may not be able to experience the distinct style of Raynor and Banks. I still remember my first round on a Raynor course (Yale) and it dramatically emboldened my interest in course design, as well as in the game generally. For those who might be able to access Raynor’s courses regularly, Rock Spring is still very worthy of a visit for its Eden and Double Plateau templates as well as experience such a design style on a hillier site, comparable to some where like Lookout Mountain. In all, Rock Spring is a solid classic available to us all that will likely only improve as time wears on now that it appears in the right hands of ownership.

Clubhouse/Pro Shop: A larger clubhouse overlooking Cable Lake with the pro shop off to an inner side. Lots of rooms for outings and such. Google Maps reveals a pool off to one side but I have no idea what they are doing with it and there is no mention of it on their website. Still, a fine place to relax after the round.

Practice Area: I don’t think there is a driving range but there is a putting/chipping green near the First tee.