6,587 yards, 135 slope from the Blues
I had some time to kill. One does not want to show up as a guest too early, whether for social functions, doctor appointments or the golf course. There was a liquor store nearby so I naturally went in to look at the bourbon. I walked out with a Colonel Taylor, which have become tougher and tougher to find nowadays. The day was already a win. Still had time to kill. There was a driving range nearby, as good as any where to spend time sharpening up. What stuck with me though was across the street from the range. My golf course radar started pinging and I noticed a club across that way. Fenced and apparently shuttered, that struck me as fairly odd considering the area. There are almost ten very well known courses in the immediate vicinity; I could probably hit each with my driver from that driving range. Yet this one stood as a graveyard, no longer in existence. In the midst of affluence, some how this course could no longer find a way. It was Elmwood Country Club, initially designed by Tillinghast in 1930. Apparently the Tillinghast features had slowly vanished over time and membership dwindled to a point where the club closed altogether a couple years ago. The property is now slated for housing development. I realized I was now a few minutes behind my schedule but the site hit a chord and made me wonder. How does it happen? And when does it actually start?
Decisions are made at every club, for one reason or another. It’s a series of decisions, really. Some times the decision is there is no reason to do anything at all; the name of the club is enough to solve any old problem. Some times the decisions are wrong. Other times, the decisions are for the better. Regardless, the golf course evolves. While it would be nice if a great golf course will solve any other issues out there, the reality is there is no guarantee on that front either. A change in ownership, a new membership structure, an entirely new course, an entirely restored course; all are options. Change can be good and is sometimes sorely needed.
The renovations, restorations and other projects. Each course and club is on a quest just as much as the golfer out there. A quest to stay relevant. A quest to stay interesting. A quest for the right perception. A quest to survive. A quest to be the best club possible. It never ends.
Mind you, Metropolis is doing just fine. I just happened to come across poor old Elmwood before my visit and its sad state of affairs remained with me for a bit. Yet just like most any other course out there, there have been changes at Metropolis through the years as part of their quest. Originally designed by Herbert Strong in 1904 for the Century Country Club, Metropolis purchased the site in 1922 when Century moved to its current location in Purchase, New York. Strong is a bit underrated in how talented he was and doesn’t get the same fanfare as others, but should. His original work includes Saucon Valley (the Old Course) and Engineers while he performed work to existing courses as well, such as Apawamis and Inwood. In 1929, A.W. Tillinghast made some changes and added the Seventh, Twelfth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth with newly acquired land. In the 1970’s, Joe Finger was brought in to make changes to the Fifteenth and Sixteenth in response to newly installed parking lots. In 1998, Ken Dye lengthened the course. In 2013, Ron Forse was brought in for a restoration project and worked in conjunction with course superintendent David McCaffery, which was completed in 2015. The intent of the project was to bring the course back to its original design. This included expanding greens, reinstating bunkers, tee box renovation and returning acres of native grass fescue to several areas. The restoration efforts are ongoing. In fact, my round there was with McCaffery, who was talking about and soliciting discussion on a few other changes around the course.
The changes are constant, that quest never ending, as it should be. Nay, as it must be.
The routing of the course is excellent. It rounds the hills more than confronts them horizontally or vertically and that creates a lot of variety from hole to hole. It also drops down sharply yet climbs up gradually, making it an easier walk than it looks at first blush. There’s also a remarkable contrast between width and constriction here that the golfer is never sure which he is faced with from shot to shot. This type of complex subtlety can also be found at the greens where it’s difficult to discern their movement until the careening of the ball makes it evident after the fact. The tree work and green expansions now highlight the remarkable terrain and the bunkering is very well done in terms of proper scale and variety of depth. The very slick greens were fed into by short grass areas that stretched around these bunkers and over contours, all framed by thick rough, which made for a very strong challenge yet sapped the course of strategic options and emphasized survival around the greens more than creativity at times. The shaping and undulations certainly promote course knowledge, however, and the set of par 3’s were engaging and worth the weight of the round alone. It’s a very cool course in how it’s draped about the terrain. In terms of Hebert Strong courses I have played, it certainly adds to my admiration of him as an extremely gifted designer that had a knack for finding thrilling variety within the terrain.
In thinking about my questions on how a place starts down the path of demise, the answer became evident. It’s complacency above all else. Pine Valley, Augusta, Merion; these are a few of the most revered clubs in the world and all of them are in a constant state of flux. Never on their heels, all of them always wondering how to improve, how to evolve, to become even better. This reverberates throughout the golf sphere. Change, evolution are inevitable. Recognizing that and influencing it by remaining in that constant state of pondering helps ensure the next day will be one with golfers on the tee sheet. Metropolis has certainly evolved over the years and its current iteration is a terrifically unique blend of parkland and heathland structures of play that offers degrees of challenge and strategy throughout.
There was an extra zip in my first tee shot as thoughts of Colonel E.H. Taylor settled nicely in the recesses of my subconscious. The hills and greens of the course took over after that as late Spring offered a promising day of sunshine, a harbinger of things to come on the horizon.
The First is a 523 yard par 5 (from the Blues). A bit different here in that the opening hole is away from the clubhouse a little, starting on the perimeter of the property and moving down to one of its out corners. Trees line the perimeter on the right while trees are also on the left at the start, almost out of necessity. The Fourth tee is perilously close on the left. The fairway moves downhill and much stronger to the right than it appears. This means the golfer must hedge to the left a lot more than he is likely comfortable with. The fairway flattens a little over 100 yards to the green with bunkers covering the spectrum of sides at different points leading up to the green. The entry point is on the left, the green moving down and away from it and around the bunker at the front right. The golfer must be accurate from the start, as strategic positioning of one’s ball is valued for score.
The Second is a 362 yard par 4. The precision requirements of the starting hole continue here. Water is off to the left while bunkers and trees are on the right for this tee shot. The approach is similar. The water remains on the left and the green actually moves behind it while the right side is fraught with larger bunkers. The green has plenty of size, however, so the landing area of the approach has a bit of give.
The Third is a 395 yard par 4. That menacing water just won’t go away and is now off to the left of our tee shot. The right side features a bunker, hillside and trees. The fairway dog legs hard around a swatch of bunkers on the right. The turn is the widest point of the hole. It begins to narrow progressively as it advances to the green. It’s also a little uphill while bunkers pop up on each side. The bottlenecked fairway feeds in to the green, which is set on the immediate hillside and runs back to front.
The Fourth is a 174 yard par 3. The first par 3 of the round. The set of par 3’s here make the round worthy of play by themselves. Like here, they find nice little pockets of the terrain and situate on them splendidly. Here, the green is set on a terrace of the hillside while bunkers are on its more sharper slopes. The bunker on the left may be the toughest of them all, as well as the most mischievous. Mind the rear. There’s a deep bunker lurking along its width.
The Fifth is a 375 yard par 4. The tee area diverges to fairways to the left and right. Our hole is the left fairway while the Eighteenth is the one to the right. Incidentally, the First through Fifth, or even using the Eighteenth instead of the Fifth, makes a nice mini loop of golf. Likewise, one could go off the Sixth through Ninth form the clubhouse for another such loop. A remarkable trait for a private course, where some members may want or only have time for a brief interlude.
Here, the stretched out dog leg right signals the left side as the safer route off the tee, which leaves a longer approach in to a deep green with some interior contours that skew a left to right movement. A bit of a reprieve from the accuracy demands of the opening quartet, but the green is a tough one to putt.
The Sixth is a 416 yard par 4. We now head to the opposite side of the property then the opening sequence, which is essentially the other side of the hill. Heading downhill, the tree line hugs close on the left while the hillside on the right gives some precarious vibes as to exactly where would be acceptable for the drive. Bending left and still heading downhill, the green finally comes into view. A lion’s mouth structure with a center bunker, the golfer must decide which side his approach will take and whether it will be by ground or air. The shaved banks surrounding it, as well as the strong back to front and left to right movement, make it a lively scene where the roll of the ball demands its screen time.
The Seventh is a 438 yard par 4. At the bottom of the hill and moving across the property similar to the Second, the hillside moves every shot right to left. The fairway bunkers start on the right, then there’s a larger one on the left, below the fairway. There really isn’t any where to miss off fairway that will give you a chance, so the tee shot is vital. The green sits slightly above. The center line fairway before the green results in an enormous false front, so there’s plenty of work left once it is carried. There are bunkers on each side of the green, the high right and low left, while the right to left movement is evident.
The Eighth is a 370 yard par 4. Heading back up the hill, this is a long dog leg left with a blind tee shot. Getting as close to the trees on the left as possible is the most direct line to the green but there is a fescue mound on that side that must be avoided. The fairway melds with that of the Tenth, so missing left will likely find short grass although the approach may be blocked out depending on how far over you go. There’s a bunker barrage to the left of the green but lots of width and green otherwise. The hole allows a variety of angles and shots up the hill and on to the green, so take advantage and get up that hill.
The Ninth is a 137 yard par 3. We are back at that center ridge which is a marvelous central point the holes loop back to. The green sits atop the hillside and the bunkers even appear treacherous, playing even more so. It’s a Sophie’s choice if you miss the green. Does one decide on the lower right bunkers with the green high above and out of sight, or does one prefer the higher left, where recoveries run the risk of plunging into the right side with the narrowness and speed of the green? I say neither; hit the green and opt for the flat stick!
The front nine showcases the brilliant routing in using both sides of the ridge and looping back to it four times. The hillsides are constantly on different sides, which ensures complete diversity of terrain movement. The par 3’s are outstanding while the par 4’s are a rich mixture of strategy and accuracy tests. I would rank them 6, 2, 4, 9, 3, 8, 7, 5, 1.
The back nine starts with the 444 yard par 4 Tenth. Using the same hillside as the Eighth and running parallel to it, the fairway is a long dogleg right. The fairway moves even faster than the Eighth since it’s more on top of the hill, right to left. The double fairway on the left provides a little more room to miss off the tee over there, but the approach will likely be blocked. The green is deep and has that same strong movement as the fairway right to left. The ball will certainly roll.
The Eleventh is a 573 yard par 5. Moving to another area of the property altogether now, this hole is straightaway as it moves up and over a dramatic ridge. The first half of the hole is uphill to it while the rest plummets down to the green. The green and area before it accommodates longer approaches, even to the point of some shots running the risk of running off the rear if they’re hit too much into the green. Read the terrain and hedge a bit short on the approach.
The Twelfth is a 445 yard par 4. Still moving in the same direction, this dog leg left has a similar approach structure as the hole prior coming in from above but the green configuration makes it an entirely different shot. The green tilts towards the front right corner, so approaches from the right are a better angle in while those ending up in the left greenside bunker will have a hell of a time. The approach here is as good a time as any to ask yourself WWTRBD, what will the rolling ball do. For most shots here, a lot.
The Thirteenth is a 173 yard par 3. The green is above us, sweeping from the top of the hill to the right, leaving a pit of bunkers and rough below on the left. The green is immense yet a lot of it is hidden from the tee. Instead, the golfer gets a view mainly of the bail out room on the right. The green moves from back to front with some interior contours to complicate matters.
The Fourteenth is a 408 yard par 4. The tee relative to the fairway is a bit off angle, so it is not straight off. Instead, it leads off to the right, then levels down. The green becomes above us, with water off to the immediate right then a bunker that wraps around the right side of the green. Suffice to say that any right side approach must be aerial yet the left side allows running shots on, with the contours set up to welcome the ball in open arms and send it to the belly of the green.
The Fifteenth is a 138 yard par 3. For those still wondering what all the fuss is about with the routing, look no further than the par 3’s. They are all efficiently placed in corners of the property without taking up too much room or advancing to other areas so tees for the subsequent hole can be placed nearby, saving bushels of space for those par 4’s and 5’s. Here is no different with the green in a reprieve of the hills, draped about the hollows and nooks with the bunkers surrounding the green yet feeling like they have been there since the dawn of time. It’s a great looking par 3 with a back to front moving green and all kinds of spots for tricky recoveries around it.
The Sixteenth is a 486 yard par 4. Playing uphill and with its yardage, it’s a beast of a par 4. The tee shot is blind with uphill ridge block the rest of the hole but it’s straight out with the only concern the trees on either side. Most everyone will be getting out their fairway woods for the next shot, unless the golfer opts to lay up and try to get up and down for their par. Truth be told, those opting for the lay up may be much wiser than those thrashing with their woods. The green is set off to the right with large, long bunkers lining a lot of the front left and entire right side, so even those coming up short must hit it in the right spot to avoid sand. The green also moves ferociously from left to right. A challenging hole for sure that doesn’t rely on length alone, as the green is one of the best out here.
The Seventeenth is a 343 yard par 4. We have one final out and back around the driving range even though the laughs and cheers of the clubhouse are discernible from the tee. Yes the closing trio switches back of each other but is saved with the greens for the most part. Here, the fairway moves uphill and the green is above. Rising up from the ground and arching off to the right, the green has a precipitous drop off on that right side that will send the ball back down to ground level even for respectable approach shots, so favoring the left is a necessity. The volcano-esque green has steep drop offs almost every where else but the one on the right happens to be the most effective and mischievous.
The Eighteenth is a 387 yard par 4. Coming in to the clubhouse from the other side of the range and on the same tee as the Fifth, we head off a bit to the right and try to avoid the trees further over on that side. The views from this tee show us a lot of the back nine as well as the opening set of holes, so is a good time to reflect on the round before finishing things out. The green is almost at grade with the fairway, with the bunkers below it, so most of the trouble remains out of sight in approach shot territory. There is plenty of room at the entry point and at center but those off line will likely be in one of the prevalent bunkers. A gentle, fading finish after the crescendo of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth.
The back nine is a little leggier than the front with two very solid par 3’s and a peppery closing stretch where the diversity of the greens inject levels of character into the play. I would rank them 12, 16, 15, 13, 10, 17, 14, 18, 11.
Generally, Metropolis is probably better than most think. The routing has been sufficiently praised, the par 3’s are these fun, challenging ball striking exams that most if not all will take on with irons and the terrain is used splendidly in the heathland style of firm and fast, opening up avenues and avenues of play on each hole. Ron Forse brought back a lot of the character and charm the routing was meant to take advantage of and ensured the course is able to evolve and thrive in the face of the modern game. The Eighteenth is a bit of a let down from the exciting closing sequence but something could be said for the mellower ending imparting a degree of gentle finality to the round. The considerations for walking on the hilly terrain are remarkable. In all, the course is an excellent play and even better member’s course that is set up to excite us all for generations to come.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: A separate structure across from the main clubhouse, the pro shop is well stocked with a variety of goods. The clubhouse does well to appear unassuming while actually being quite large and abundant.
Practice Area: The grass range is nice with all kinds of targets with a chipping area and larger putting green closer to the pro shop. Perfect for putter shopping.