6,466 yards, 128 slope from the Black/Blue Combos
Tillinghast intrigues me the more and more I read and talk about him, as well as play more of his courses. He was a prolific writer and I have recently enjoyed his first person accounts of designing this course and that, where he certainly focuses on the challenges of the project but gets into the details that bring these experiences more to life. This includes such things as dealing with rattlesnakes and bears. How to make sure the labor had enough water in sweltering conditions, and dealing with those drinking too much. Logistics, personalities and the challenges of the early Twentieth century are all told almost like folklore, as if Tilly is sitting across from you at the dinner table.
There’s a lot to his story and much of it will be coming in a Bourbon chat, but his design style is wide-ranging. Several of his courses host professional tournaments, as well as a bevy of regional amateur championships. The championship pedigree is only part of his story, however. To get a more comprehensive context of the man, one should seek out places like Paramount.
Somerset Hills, San Francisco GC, Essex County, Quaker Ridge, Spring Lake and his contributions to Pine Valley; all were within his portfolio before he was asked by the Founder of Paramount Pictures, Adolph Zukor, to design a golf course for his family and friends. Zukor was not just anyone. A titan of the entertainment industry at the dawn of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Tillinghast had every incentive to make a lasting impression on the golf course he produced for Zukor. Zukor purchased the property due to its proclivity for leisure and proximity to Manhattan, with its rolling hills and views of the Hudson and Palisades, so Tillinghast enjoyed a rich canvas from the get go. A favorable site, a client with ample resources and all the motivation to put his best foot forward, there was a distinct question I had in all of this. How would Tillinghast design such a memorable course for the everyman? Not for a golf club with its committees of competitors and others involved in the golf course trade, not for an owner determined to host championships or rival the best known golf courses of the time, but for someone who wanted some where to spend time with his family and friends?
I’m not sure the tenor of the club has changed since that initial charge of Zukor to Tilly in 1920. Interest and engagement seems to have been Tilly’s predominant answer to the questions above and that seems to be the club’s primary motivation today. There can be a refreshing perspective when there are no aspirations of championships or how difficult the course could be.
While Tillinghast showed uncanny variety in his design style, he did have foundational principles that he espoused in his writings. Those provide context to his approach here. “The real objective of a private course is congenial play.” “The merit of any course should be judged by the satisfaction it affords to those who play it.” “Golf is not a game of trick strokes. But no hole should be open to the criticism if it demands thoughtful and accurate play.” Paramount has seen its share of changes and work, with a redesign by William Mitchell in 1951 and RTJ in 1956, yet in 2013, the golf course was completely renovated towards restoration by Jim Urbina. Alas, Urbina’s work returned the course to much of its original Tillinghast design concepts, which are now on full display.
Urbina’s charge from the club was to restore the course as faithfully as possible to the original design and when change was absolutely necessary, the work should be something Tillinghast would have done and have it tie in to the rest of the course. This included tree removal that had clogged up corridors over the years, as well as restoring mowing lines and green expansions that likewise opened up playing angles unused for decades. Lowering the rough to an inch and a half, collarless greens and no rough surrounding the greens all facilitate a firm and fast identity where balls roll as the mood hits them without undue interference. Urbina also changed the Ninth par 3 (which was the Eighteenth at the time) to an interpretive “Reef” hole, a par 3 template used by Tillinghast that allows strategic options short and long of a prominent bunker structure from all sorts of angles (similar to a protective reef). Urbina, with significant assistance from the green superintendent Brian Chapin, repositioned, reshaped and occasionally installed restored bunkers, as well as as transformed the greens and playing structure to its Tillinghast origin while smartly keeping the routing, which has always remained intact.
The work returned Paramount to a unique Tillinghast experience. Paramount always included design components Tillinghast used sparingly, such as severe uphill climbs to perched greens, centerline fairway bunkers and skyline greens, yet they are all present and accounted for here, even more so after Urbina’s work. The dramatic elevation changes are also a unique character trait and along with its larger scale, the course uses the land for interest and fun as opposed to the challenge and penal elements one would find at some where like Bethpage Black. It’s a distinct member’s course, with a rich Tillinghast pedigree that focuses on his concepts mentioned above; congeniality that still demands thoughtful and accurate play. Indeed, the views from various heights of the course inspire the adventure of the round while the arching and careening hills can be carried or used to ride the ball along, all the while paying careful attention to those mischievous bunkers, which seem to be in play regardless of how one approaches each hole. Both sets of nine end with a par 3 and the nines have been reversed in recent years. Careful thought is still focused on what to do with the road, which comes into play on the Tenth and Fifteenth. Such is the nature of any course, the work is never really done. I found it be a remarkable member’s course with some serious architectural merit. The golfer is much more apt to want another go round than he is to cry no more, yet must rely on a fairly deep skill set for a score he’ll say out loud at the Nineteenth. I dare say the course connoisseurs among us would do very well to play Paramount for what it has to offer while the rest of us would do very well to play the course for the fun and adventure that await.
In the middle of a swing transition that would give me glory and disaster in random fits, it was easier to focus on the course than it was my game. And what a place to do so as my ball seemed to have a mind of its own most of the time. No matter. Some days we do well to breathe and admire the beauty around us. That was the point here in the first place and perhaps subconsciously, what I set out to do.
The First is a 410 yard par 4 (from the Black/Blue combo tees). The opening tee is set just so at an angle. Trees on the left and a quartet of bunkers on the right, it all seems simple enough with the width of the fairway but a bit more precision is needed than one might be expecting at the outset. This apprehensiveness continues on the approach. The green is wide and inviting, yet the bunkers on either side do not look like any where you want to be and with little rough, the ball can even roll in if you’re close (which it did for me). This is also our first foray with the greens. Large, complex and subtle. Again, looks simple enough but there’s much more to learn beneath it all.
The Second is a 370 yard par 4. The tilt of the terrain shows just how impactful it can be with the hillside moving right to left as the golfer marvels at how far the tee shot moves upon landing. You would think one would learn, but the approach shot seemed to move even more and I ended up to the left of the green. With the possibility of the ball rolling in to the bunkers with all this terrain movement, they become even more harrowing and thrilling.
The Third is a 394 yard par 4. Heading in the same direction as the First, the hillside is now even more prominent even though it’s tough to discern from the tee. Indeed, overaggressive tee shots will jump and run to the right, into the grove of trees and maybe even past them. A more thoughtful tee shot is needed here. Of course, the elevated green and approach length from the turn complicates matters for those who might have been too careful off the tee, who now may need more heft and a lot more precision for a manageable approach. Indeed, the green moves swiftly from left to right and of course back down the hill for those approaches that lack strength. Tremendous movement in the opening trio and all of a sudden, I realized I needed to get my act together to prevent the dam from breaking altogether.
The Fourth is a 220 yard par 3. A long par 3 with a couple bunkers short right. the green is tilted and moves right to left, back to front, in general. Recognizing the challenge of the length, there’s a lot of room to miss up near the green, yet the bunkers short right come in to play more often than you would think.
The Fifth is a 353 yard par 4. If the terrain movement hasn’t made an impression on you yet, it will after this hole. A slightly off angle tee shot with trees and bunkers to consider on either side. While the further out right side bunkers may seem like a good line off the tee, the hillside will then push the ball further right, leaving a decidedly difficult blind approach. This leaves the left bunker and tree more in play, yet opens up the fairway once the ball lands and starts moving. Of course, there’s always the extreme left, which is where I ended up. Always the overachiever. The left side approach is to a green screaming away from you, so the absolute left side is the line. I managed a miraculous shot under the left tree that ended up a few feet off the green yet 15 feet from the pin. A touchy chip to a green just dying to send my ball down to the depths of the bunkers came to a few feet of the hole for par. It comes and goes. The house that Urbina stayed in during the project is just off this green, making this hole the first he saw of the course each morning.
The Sixth is a 413 yard par 4. A slight dog leg right, the dueling tree lines on either side are set apart enough to work the ball downhill to the fairway. One of aspects of this course that may not get highlighted all that much is the use of trees. Yes there was an over reliance on trees decades ago that countless projects are addressing but make no mistake that trees are an important part of course design, used appropriately. We see that here, as their placement impacts strategy, playing lines and terrain movement consequences. Here, one almost needs to play off the right side tree line because of the ball movement after landing. It’s also necessary to clear the tree line on the right for a clear approach to the green, which is set downhill from the fairway.
The Seventh is a 410 yard par 4. A longer par 4 that bends to the left, our focus off the tee moves from the trees to the ground. The land shifts and twists, so the tee shot can take advantage and propel the ball forward if played correctly. After the bend, the green is a bit above us with bunkers on either side. The fairway moves right to left, the green moves left to right. Take note.
The Eighth is a 520 yard par 5. An uphill tee shot and a slight crook to the right is all that is needed to make the opening shot a blind one. Once again, trees do their work in forcing the golfer to calculate off the tee as opposed to slashing away recklessly. The fairway keeps working slightly uphill after the crook, straightaway to the green. The bunkers do their work here; the one short right creates a bit of a false front impression while a couple others are set against the green on either side.
The Ninth is a 195 yard par 3. Tillinghast writes about the Reef hole in his, “The Course Beautiful.” There are iterations of it at Bethpage Yellow (12), Newport (4), San Francisco (4), among others, and Urbina decided to produce his interpretation of one here. The bunker runs across the line of play and the golfer has options to play short and long of it. The bunker is set on a ridge running at an angle diagonally. Golfers can likewise take on the ridge and play to various sections of the green. There’s also a bunker at the rear left of the green for good measure. The wind and elevation had it playing a little longer than the stated yardage and I managed another rare highlight as my tee shot ended up 15 feet from the pin. The bunker configuration is indeed a nice one and I can see using the shorter option when the wind is up or if trying to close out the nine holes safely. Either way, it calls for a well thought out tee shot even though long seems like a good bail out.
The front nine starts off with a trio of par 4’s that introduce the golfer to the torrent of terrain movement he will be facing before stretching its legs a bit then ending on an impressive par 3. The land, trees and sand conspire together to ensure each shot is purposeful and pondered. I would rank them 3, 5, 2, 9, 1, 8, 4, 7, 6.
The back nine starts with the 372 yard par 4 Tenth. Most of the back nine resides on the other side of Zukor road, which we cross either on our tee or approach shots. The fairway shifts to the left after the road, and significantly uphill, leaving a very blind approach. The green moves right to left and without much of a collar, is prone to eschew shots off its edges if the approach is not taken care of just so. It’s indeed a precarious green but the view from above is worthy reconciliation.
The Eleventh is a 590 yard par 5. A slight dog leg left going downhill with trees on either side and the hillside definitely moving the ball a long ways upon landing. The possibility of shots landing towards the right side then rolling past the trees on that side is very real. Some may welcome the occasional bunker to stop their ball and keep it in play. The fairway continues on to the green with bunkers on the left and grass, perhaps a little deeper than we have encountered elsewhere on the course, to the right. The terrain movement has the capacity to shorten the distance of the shots if the tee shot and approach are set up correctly.
The Twelfth is a 135 yard par 3. At the bottom of the hill and now needing to climb back up, we start with a par 3 with an elevated green. A deep bunker protected most of the front side and with the elevation change, appeared to play much longer than at looks at first blush. With a green moving back to front, any putts above the hole will be nervy.
The Thirteenth is a 360 yard par 4. Back up the rest of the hill with a wide fairway at the disposal of the tee shot. The approach will likely be a long one with the hill and probably blind to some extent. The green does have an inviting entry point while bunkers are off to the sides, right the higher and left the lower.
The Fourteenth is a 400 yard par 4. Using the top of the hill where the Tenth green, Eleventh tee and Thirteenth green are located, the tee shot here heads out down the hill in a different direction (the direction of the Tenth). One of the more well known Tillinghast features not present here is the Great Hazard, but the center line bunker seen from the tee here serves similar purposes. Manage to avoid it or the likelihood of a lost stroke getting out of it. The trees seem to part here more than usual and the fairway heads straight to the green after the center line bunker while the sides seem to slide off a little faster here.
The Fifteenth is a 343 yard par 4. Bunkers are off to the sides of the fairway that is all uphill. Each shot will likely end up shorter than intended, so the golfer would be wise to plan for that. The green runs back to front with bunkers front left and to the right. It’s a simple approach, complicated by the slope and of course what can’t be seen at address. Above all, the terrain movement is a primary consideration here as it is with most shots during the round.
The Sixteenth is a 395 yard par 4. Suffice to say the top of the hill on this side of Zukor Road is used as a congregation of various greens and tees. In total, it houses the Tenth green, Eleventh tee, Thirteenth green, Fourteenth tee, Fifteenth green and Sixteenth tee. The tee shot here takes us back over the road where we circle the clubhouse to the final hole. The fairway is out before us and trees are in full force on either side. The green is hidden below a ridge line, so any recovery out of the trees will likely prevent one from hitting the green without a whole lot of luck. The fairway does lead right down to the green, however, and its downhill slope can be used to bounce the ball on short of it. There’s a lot of green and grass to work with, recognizing the proclivity of shots missing the green and allowing all sorts of recovery.
The Seventeenth is a 419 yard par 4. Sneaking behind the Ninth tee and heading in the direction of the Eighth tee, the fairway is once again before us and and a bit downhill. The green is at grade but perched on a hillside, which drops abruptly at the rear. Cozying the approach to account for the movement towards the rear of the green is ideal.
The Eighteenth is a 167 yard par 3. The last is a par 3, the green cradled into the hillside and swathed by large rigid bunkers. It’s a wide green and some what shallow, leaving a steely final approach. It did not go well for me. Aye, I have it marked on my list. Of holes I want another crack at, to end such a delightful round the right way.
The back nine is on stronger hills and slopes, to the delight, excitement and consternation of the golfer. This adds to the variety of the holes as they climb and plunge about. I would rank them 11, 14, 16, 10, 13, 15, 18, 12, 17.
Generally, Paramount focuses on a wealth of engagement and interest on a thrilling piece of property consistent with Tillinghast’s design style. He believed par 3’s were a foundational aspect of quality, which is certainly shown here with its strong set of one shotters. He believed strategy and shot placement were likewise critical to excellence as well. The hills, slopes and contours here varying with their sharp and long movement assure these strategic considerations, where deciding where to place the ball then where it will end up are two very distinct concepts. Tillinghast also viewed green contours as the balance of a course, where golfers of any skill level could be challenged and delighted alike. As he wrote, “The contouring of the greens places a premium on the placement of the drives, but never is there the necessity of facing a prodigious carry of the sink-or-swim sort. It is only the knowledge that the next shot must be played with rifle accuracy that brings the realization that the drive must be placed. The holes are like men, all rather similar from foot to neck, but with the greens showing the same varying characters of human faces. The presence of an old-fashioned featureless green would be just as much out of place on an up-to-date course as cobble-stone paving along Fifth Avenue … If the greens themselves do not stand forth impressively the course itself can never be notable.” The complexity and subtlety of the greens at Paramount, with their strong movement beneath the surface of simplicity, are worthy of note.
I find the following from Tillinghast an important point. “A round of golf should present 18 inspirations — not necessarily thrills, because spectacular holes may be sadly overdone. Every hole may be constructed to provide charm without being obtrusive with it. When I speak of a hole being inspiring, it is not intended to imply that the visitor is to be subject to attacks of hysteria on every teeing ground.” Tillinghast believes in strategy, options and variety within confines of artful and wise restraint learned over time. Paramount is an outstanding example of this doctrine in practice. It would have been easy to dazzle Zukor with extreme boldness and quirk on such an undulating piece of property but instead, Tilinghast allowed the terrain to take hold and impart its brilliance, developed over centuries. In an area full of famous golf courses, including several designed by Tillinghast, Paramount may stand in the shadows of most discussions but should not. Its design features are unique and concepts well done, presenting an important perspective on the genius of Tillinghast.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Several buildings are scattered throughout the property in an unassuming yet accommodating manner.
Practice Area: Driving range, short game area and practice green are all present and accounted for.