6,603 yards, 136 slope from the Black tees
This round marked a sad occasion. No rhyme, reason or rationale behind it but like the fickleness of the game, there are times when it seems ripe for change. It may have not been the right decision and some times, I wonder what may have been, but that call for change sounded.
This was my last round with blades in the bag.
This is poignant after my chronicled journey playing blades in the first place and the ensuing philosophical revelations. I stand by all of it and even now months removed, I was more in tune with the terrain and club face at impact than currently. It was curiosity more than anything else, whether I was cheating myself out of distance or more consistency. I probably would have gone back after a few rounds but ended up with a set of TaylorMade P790’s, which look like blades (kind of). They feel great and after seeing a couple of rounds with lower scores, earned their place in the bag. I actually just took in a 2 iron of that set, we’ll see how that goes. I always do.
Mind you, there were some loose shots during the round but for the most part, I utilized the accuracy needed for the approaches to these greens. And my how the greens here delightfully seared into the recesses of my mind. Their bold contours, draped along the series of hills and valleys peppered about the course, were terrifying to take on at times, yet spectacular to encounter. An early Seth Raynor design with input from C.B. Macdonald on the bulging hilly terrain of this part of Long Island that he revised in 1916 from an earlier course designed by Devereaux Emmet, the current iteration is the result of extensive work by Tom Doak and Brian Schneider in 2000 and 2010. This included reversing the first two and last two holes to vary up the sequencing, created a new First from the old Eighteenth green to the old Second tee, a new Second using the old Seventeenth, creating the “Short” Seventeenth based on the NGLA version, creating a new par 5 Eighteenth that finishes on the old First tee, making the Seventh a short par 4 and revising the greens at the Sixth and Fifteenth.
For a long time, it was believed Tillinghast was involved with the design here. There’s a very long thread on Golf Club Atlas that chronicles the research into the origins of the course, which reveals Tillinghast was not involved. It’s an interesting thread to go through. It details the research performed into the history, yet also shows conflicting perceptions, personalities and interpretations that accompany this area. As the thread makes clear, very rarely will research reveal definitive proof that satisfies everyone and leaves no doubt. It takes a combination of many things, like common sense, historical perspective, logic and some times even educated presumptions to settle on what probably happened. Here, there were newspaper articles but also well documented meeting minutes of the club’s board that led the course to confirm Raynor’s primary involvement, Macdonald’s consult, along with the input of Robert White as greenskeeper. An excerpt that was hotly debated in that thread was the following: “The results secured are the product of the deep thought of Mr. Robert White, our greens expert, Mr. Seth J. Raynor, the leading Golf Architect in the United States, Mr. Charles B. MacDonald, the recognized authority among amateurs on golf course construction, and the unremitting and well-considered work of our Greens Committee.” Determining what was meant, when this was written and the attribution that should be ascribed to White were among the more controversial topics of discussion in this realm.
At this point in Raynor’s career, he was transitioning into his own projects yet still relied on Macdonald as a mentor. In these early stages of his solo career, Raynor emphasized dramatic greens and strategic bunkers, which are evident here in spades. The greens are quite dramatic and the star of the show. Some of the holes, like the Road, Biarritz and Eden, are excellent. Doak’s work is a great example of integrating historical design as a renovation instead of restoration in line with the wishes of the client. I would say, however, the routing didn’t feel as good as I felt it could be. It has undergone a slew of changes on its own perhaps for that reason but the interior and perimeter holes felt discombobulated to me. Perhaps it was the hills and contours doing their work but is at least worthy of note. More importantly, however, North Shore is a great example of the rich golf history of Long Island that has been revitalized and is a distinct showcase of Raynor’s work.
Truth be told, there are times when I miss blades. I remember stepping up to the Seventeenth Short here and having no doubt whatsoever that I’d get the ball close to the green. Those shorter iron shots stick out the most, where you’re more in tune with rhythm and sense of terrain and everything was more conceptual than about the swing. Yes, it’s all coming back to me, why exactly did I switch again?
Ah hell, I may have to put them back in the bag.
The First is a 359 yard par 4. “New Leaf.” A large hill can be seen from the clubhouse. It reminded me of a ski lodge with the hill before it, all running down home. We start by climbing straight up it, a nice wide fairway welcoming us. We get down to brass tacks with the approach, however, as the green is at the top of the hill and is some what blind. It’s wonderfully shaped, the front open yet steep enough to eschew balls back down the hill while the interior leads back and to the right, teetering towards bunkers on the right side below. It’s a proper introduction to the greens and with cresting the hill, we now see where most of the course resides.
The Second is a 351 yard par 4. “Sahara.” Still heading in the same direction yet now downhill, the tee shot is again fairly receptive but the Sahara bunker lurks out of sight off to the left. Most of the dramatic features are actually well hidden from the fairway but once the bunker and green come into sight, we can appreciate the mounding and ruffles, all of it moving front to back. The course begins to assert a theme of inviting tee shots followed by approaches where all the complexity and interest is.
The Third is a 483 yard par 4. “Road.” The back and forth within the interior of the property starts here as we head back in the direction of the First. The left fairway bunker gives the golfer pause off the tee while the right side is further away from the green and fraught with rough. The fairway also narrows after the fairway bunker before widening yet again to the green. And what a glorious green it is. Lying at an angle and terribly deep, long trench bunkers line the back side while a small treacherous pot bunker hides on the left side after short grass contours ramp up that left side. All that room staring at the golfer yet the angles and movement are confounding, all as it should be. I could have stayed there and hit infinite shots into and around the green, all day. Worthy of the round alone.
The Fourth is a 482 yard par 5. “Highlands.” Why yes, the hole prior was longer and a par 4 while this is a par 5. We head back the way we came, the tee shot blind over a hill while the second shot is back uphill. The right side leading up to the green is no where any decent gentleman wants to find himself. Deep bunkers with the green high above makes for a tough recovery. The green, shallow and wide, makes those thinking about a second shot in think twice as those longer bounding approaches don’t have a whole lot of rope. The left side bunker lining that entire length of green should also be avoided. A shorter par 5 requiring ample precision and navigation about the hills.
The Fifth is a 236 yard par 3. “Biarritz.” Over a ravine, the green is lined with bunkers on either side as the Biarritz is a fairway swale before the green. Other Biarritz greens have the entire swale within the green itself. A hard, flatter shot that can release and roll up the swale on to the green is ideal. Otherwise ending up short means a recovery chip to the large green. Outstanding.
The Sixth is a 434 yard par 4. “Punchbowl.” The tee shot seems challenging visually, but there’s lots of room past the ridge coming from the right. Once the tee shot is taken care of, the green is up and to the right. The entry point skirts around a bunker on the lower left hillside and spills in to the punchbowl, encircled by a smaller shelf of rough. The approach angle can get tricky and using the movement of the punchbowl to offset the hillside was pretty fun.
The Seventh is a 325 yard par 4. “Bandon.” Teeing off adjacent to the green prior, we’re still heading in the same direction at the lower end of the property with the hillside coming in from the right. The movement will be right to left throughout, starting with the tee shot that is set to the right initially. The sleek green is set on a terrace with bunkers spaced out on both sides. It’s a tough green to hold, so coming in from the left side helps on that front a bit.
The Eighth is a 385 yard par 4. “Pond.” There is indeed a pond off to the left that is in play off the tee. We have turned back towards the clubhouse but the terrain is still moving right to left. The water on the left and larger bunker on the right almost touch at the entry point of the green which, you guessed it, moved decidedly from right to left. This means getting as close as possible to the water off the tee puts you in the best approach position while those without the stomach for that will need to be a little craft with their approach to deal with the pull of the green.
The Ninth is a 178 yard par 3. “Redan.” Trees surround the green, which is on a bluff of sorts with swift, immediate movement to the left and not a whole lot of room on the right to utilize. The green is narrow and with rough close on that right side, the window of acceptable landing area was a sliver of the right side of the green. I enjoy Redans immensely but this one was a bit too severe for my liking, bereft of the necessary room on the right for the golfer to take advantage of all that intense movement of the hillside.
The front nine features some very strong holes but fades at the closing sequence a bit, yet remains engaging with its hillside movement throughout with some very highly notable greens. My ranking of them is 3, 5, 6, 2, 1, 7, 4, 8, 9.
The back nine starts with the 154 yard par 3 Tenth. “Eden.” The Eden hole is a good one, situated on a ridge across from the hill where the tee is located, with a valley between. The front right pot bunker straddles the line between relief in stopping shots from plummeting down the hillside and mischievous depending on the lie while the left bunker doesn’t seem to come into play all that often with the trees on that side. The green is wide and moves back to front with additional movement from one side to the other.
The Eleventh is a 391 yard par 4. “Woods.” A dog leg right, sharp, rings around the corridors of trees on either side. The tee shot needs to get around it or the approach will be decidedly long. The fairway narrows and moves a little uphill until ending altogether at the base of a hill where the green is resting, at the top. There’s a lot to learn on the approach and there are run offs over on the right side of the green that can be used advantageously. It can be an awkward shot and hole in general, with its sharp turns and rises, taking a heavy measure of precision to navigate well.
The Twelfth is a 349 yard par 4. “Hilltop.” The climb that began on the approach of the hole prior continues here, the tee shot needing to intrude between the rows of trees on either side. A large bunker short of the green needs to be avoided, as its depth and uphill nature of the green makes it a difficult recovery and a loss of at least a stroke is likely. There’s also a bunker lining the left side of the green, not as deep but likewise tricky with the movement of the green.
The Thirteenth is a 403 yard par 4. “St. Christopher’s.” The first fairway bunker is on the right, followed by another a little further down on the left, both below grade. The below grade bunker theme continues at the green, dominating the sides while leaving the rear alone. The rear juts up to out of bounds anyways, so those hitting it past the green have other issues. The last few holes fell a little flat for me and I was starting to wonder.
The Fourteenth is a 419 yard par 4. “Double Plateau.” A slight crook to the left in the fairway gives it enough turn to keep the tee shot interesting. The approach gives us the first view of the green, which at first is tough to discern all that much other than there seems to be lots of room to work with. As the ball hits the green and takes one unexpected bounce or another, our curiosity grows. It is not until we reach the green that the contours of the Double Plateau are finally revealed, with its dips and run offs and bumps and knobs. It’s a marvelous green, which really is one that needs to be learned over time. A highlight of the back nine.
The Fifteenth is a 378 yard par 4. “Dell.” The wide open fairway greets us at the tee even though there are trees in the distance to greet us on the second shot. The fairway dog legs right and heads downhill. The green is at the bottom of the hill, a section of rough between it and the fairway. The false front does its job and lulls the golfer into a shorter shot than is necessary, even with him standing above it all. I liked how the terrain was used here, the slopes and hills crossing and pulling several ways.
The Sixteenth is a 512 yard par 5. “Ravine.” Likely the tightest dog leg of the course, the tree line on the left hugs tight as the fairway is out yonder, canting left out of view. Clearing the dog leg reveals the shank of the hole before us, moving at a diagonal to the left. The fairway moves downhill to the ravine of rough before bounding uphill yet again to the green, all of leaning to the right with a single bunker at the front right corner of the green. The second shot is the momentous one. The golfer must decide whether to go for the green or otherwise how to best use the hills for an advantageous approach.
The Seventeenth is a 125 yard par 3. “Short.” Ridge to ridge, the short needs to fly to the green, avoiding the the bunkers lining the front edges below. The meat of the green is center and rear, but the green moves in that direction for the most part as well. It’s a nice hole, the sharp mounding and bunkers melding in to the hillside while the multi-tiered green is multi-dimensional depending on the pin position.
The Eighteenth is a 639 yard par 5. “Westward Ho!” Heading straight out, the crest of the fairway is in view, as well as a monster bunker on the left. It must avoided. The fairway then leads downhill to the green, with the left side once again one to avoid with another deep bunker awaiting. The entry point on the right is nice for rolling the ball on close to the pin. The large green slowly careening, trying as it can to delay the round’s final stroke.
The back nine wanes a bit before a nice closing stretch. I would rank them 14, 10, 15, 18, 17, 16, 12, 11, 13.
Generally, North Shore is full of character exhibiting some exciting and dramatic Raynor work. The greens are the star while the bunkers a notable supporting cast, insisting on deftness of touch with intermittent strategic considerations. A lot of it works well but it is not without its faults. The terrain gets severe mostly around the perimeter, which some times is used well and other times not so much. This doesn’t obscure the highs of the memorable features here, some of which compare with the more famous Raynor and Macdonald courses out there.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: The clubhouse frames the coastal side of the property, staying low profile while the pro shop is at the end closer to the course.
Practice area: Range, short game and putting green.