6,680 yards, 140 slope from the Blue/Whites
The apex of Summer was upon us. There’s a time in each part of the season when it feels like it has been this way with this weather forever and will be this way forever more. Accustomed to the heat, the air conditioning, the trees, grass, flowers in full bloom, the mid afternoon showers. The vibrancy of Spring settles in and the colors meld with their surroundings. All of it like it’s been that way for as long as we can remember. At some point it begins to dip. A general malaise whispers in those hot days and nights, the breeze just a touch cooler, leaves one by one swirling. Fall eventually arrives before succumbing to winter and so on but we were not there yet. This was certainly the earmark of summer and it possibly couldn’t be any other way, ever.
The river is not shy. There’s a point in the drive when you crest over one hill or another and it seems as if you are driving right into it. At that point, the river is every where. During the drive it would be through the windshield, then the side window, the rear corner as we ascended higher into the hills. Through the clubhouse windows and at lunch, there to greet us after holing out. The views were indisputably tremendous. The river would certainly be there forever more, just like it has already been there forever. Like everyone else, we were simply there to be, for a while.
The golf course in the sky, overlooking that river as it’s always been. The river was certainly there as the Kitchawan tribe watched Henry Hudson sail down it. Was still there as Hudson helped establish Dutch colonies in the area. Was there when George Washington and his crew were able to survey the British sailing down it during the Revolutionary War. Was there a couple hundred years later as the Hessian Hills Golf Club came to be in the 1930’s, the remains of its clubhouse amidst the course. The river turned its shades of cerulean in the sun as Hessian Hills failed to actually open. The jaws of the Depression closed for good on it and the clubhouse torched as an act of arson. RTJ stood in the hills looking down upon the river in the late 1980’s, crafting a course that would be known as the Prickly Pear Country Club, yet never finalizing in the face of community disapproval. And the river must have plumed in azure splendor as the founders of the current club won the community over with its plans, intent on minimal impact to the environment, assisting with the local water supply and incorporating hiking/cycling trails along the perimeter. Local residents are able to play the course at times as well.
The river. It regarded us slightly or was showing off indifferently as we sat down for dinner at the end of the day. And as I settled down for the night, it was still impressive, shining through the dark. Yes, it is easy to see how the Kitchawan and the people before and after chose here. Just as it’s always been.
Tom Fazio designed the course, which opened for play in 1996. On his team at that time that contributed here included Mike DeVries. While set on the severe upper reaches of these Westchester hills, the course has a gradual cascading nature that avoids confronting the steepness head on. The green sites seem to find the hollows and terraces about the property, which the fairways then use the hills to influence ball movement in several directions while the configurations of green to fairway provide strategic interest with their approach lines, especially considering the hillsides. The hills can indeed be used to the golfer’s advantage and most of the time, missed shots to the lower side of the hills will be lost while those missed on the upper side are more likely to be found. The greens are subdued visually yet have intense bouts of movement to them in spots, thousand of years of hills and rising undulations coursing through them. Fazio allows the unique views to flourish, whether of the river, hills, woods or meadows. The bunkering was a bit uneven, meaning there were times I thought it was very good and others where it seemed out of place to me. It should be noted the course is closing this year for a good deal of renovation work, which I believe includes the bunkers.
I found the course to hold a great amount of inspiration and charming tranquil in a pleasant measure of harmony. The golfer is taken nicely through the hills in a fairly engaging manner, the setting showcased splendidly. Make no mistake there is challenge in those hills, where the shots vary and some quite demanding if one is in search of a score, yet those not interested in such things always have a manageable way to the green. There’s definitely a sense of place throughout and that translates into the club’s identity; homage to the hills and river and an opportunity to enjoy it in style.
The First is a 460 yard par 4 (from the Blue/White tees). A longer par 4 off to start that insists on a pretty good tee shot for a manageable approach, almost assuring those out of position will be scrambling early on. The fairway moves downhill, which sends tee shots towards the green so those with enough length can benefit from that roll. The fairway continues downhill to the green, where the left side is lower and right is higher, a right to left movement of the green and bunkers on each side. The entry point can be used on the approach as well, so long as that left to right theme is kept in mind.
The Second is a 173 yard par 3. In my experience, Fazio likes to show the golfer what he is up against early on and I think that holds true here. For instance, the rear bunker is in full view whereas some designer might tuck it below the green. Here, the left bunkers certainly send a visual cue that the high right side should be sought after since the right to left movement of the hillside is still in play. Still a little stiff from the car ride up, I hit a lower shot that popped the flagstick head on. At last my aim was on but unfortunately, it did not drop in the hole. Instead, it scooted off the green in mocking fashion.
The Third is a 431 yard par 4. Still moving downwards in the direction we started from the opening tee, the fairway bumps out some allowing enough width for some deviations with the tee shot. The right to left movement is still in play and the left lower side is still very troublesome, so a focus on the right to right center is ideal. The crook near the neck of the green, as well as the narrowness leading up to it, sets this hole apart, as the prevalent right to left movement changes to left to right. This makes the left side of the green an attractive landing spot for the approach yet brings those greenside bunkers very much into play. Of course, the golfer is invited to play up the right side and can even utilize the ground for that.
The Fourth is a 356 yard par 4. We have strayed out far enough and now start back, climbing to the top of it all. Abutting the horizon are the remains of the Hessian Hills Clubhouse. Parts of the structure and foundation remain and are among the course. A fleet of rain clouds came over the hill in a huff, showered us with rain then promptly left, all before we reached the green. The fairway is allowed to flourish, recognizing the climb and contours will likely be sufficient yet also allows the golfer a chance to take in the magnificent surroundings.
The Fifth is a 431 yard par 4. Now moving down the hill in a different direction, the past clubhouse looks down upon us on the fairway. Racing downhill with a right turn, most any shot will run with the hill. The green is terraced on the hill so those shots catching the rear may never be seen again.
The Sixth is a 530 yard par 5. The tee shot is a carry over water coming from the right. Belt it over. Bunkers crowd the landing area, the left side being a bit safer. Meandering up to a grove of trees, the second shot is blind up the hill, the tops of those trees the only guiding light. Upon cresting, the green is straight ahead a bit below the fairway. A couple bunkers guard the front corner posts of the green, which widens as it moves back. Determining the second and third shots are really the crux of the hole, so long as one isn’t spending strokes trying to get back into position from their tee shot. The green seems to be set on more subdued terrain yet there is still quite a bit of movement to consider with the flat stick.
The Seventh is a 385 yard par 4. We head back in the direction of the hole prior. The fairway is wide at the start then narrows towards the green. I can tell you the trees on the right are nice and healthy, getting a good look at them with an uncalled for wild tee shot. The green uses a small knob well, spilling off the sides abruptly and almost certainly demanding a pitched approach.
The Eighth is a 161 yard par 3. A little bit of aerial continues at this par 3, where some growth must be carried to reach the green. There is plenty of room short right of the green to use while the entire area around the green is on the larger side.It’s a welcome contrast from the more focused precision needed on the last few holes, so enjoy amongst the greenery.
The Ninth is a 554 yard par 5. A dog leg left that again presses the question of what to do with the second and third shot. The tee shot climbs to the turn before leveling out while the crook near the green sets up all kinds of possibilities with the approach. I’d favor something on the longer side above all else.
The elevation spectrum is on full display at the front, moving all sorts of up and down among it. There is good variety visually and in playing structure and a good rhythm to the nine that starts off quickly then eases, before getting down to business with the closing sequence. The par 5’s stuck out to me most of all. I would rank them 6, 9, 1, 4, 5, 7, 3, 2, 8.
The back nine starts with the 370 yard par 4 Tenth. There are options off the tee. The wide, safe, short right side is for those who want a comfortable tee shot and a longer, riskier and more challenging approach whereas the left side continues opening up for those who are willing to wager a bit and a bit more for a more comfortable approach. Bunkers understand the importance of the turn and have gathered there at both sides. The entry point is at the left while a chasm of bunkers are below and short to short right of the green. The golfer can take on the chasm to get to the pin directly, or use the entry point in order to coax the shot close.
The Eleventh is a 174 yard par 3. A forced carry over the ravine and a swale in the green complicate this shot, which seems to be right before us for the taking. Recoveries vary in difficulty but the hillside assures a tough one to save par and get on the green, which of course runs back to front with the swale confounding things.
The Twelfth is a 503 yard par 5. A dog leg left where the fairway takes it sweet old time getting to the green. The fairway is straight out from the tee but it feels like the fairway must be hit to avoid too many complications. It then quickly turns left and drops before turning back and coming back up, then makes its final climb and turn to the green. The turns and bunkers at each give the golfer fits in trying to map out his second and third shots. The green feels like a bit of a reprieve, realizing reaching it should be a lot of the challenge here but still moves enough to be dangerous.
The Thirteenth is a 193 yard par 3. The hillside on the left obscures the green but at least clues us in on the general movement of the ground. There is a lot of green to work with, hiding from the tee, and even shots off to the right present manageable chips back up to the pin. There has been tremendous variety on the back thus far and that continues here with this great looking hole.
The Fourteenth is a 530 yard par 5. A 3-5-3-5 sequence on the routing that works rather well. A dog leg right arching around water that hugs the lower fairway leading to the green. The narrowing of the fairway closer to the green has bunkers on the left and water on the right, giving golfers pause in terms of whether to take that section on or trying to lay up to it before using the approach to carry it altogether. The green leans towards the water and is on the smaller side, making a precise approach a bit more mandatory.
The Fifteenth is a 443 yard par 4. Like the hole prior, the green is blind from the tee and so will many of the tee shots once they disappear over that hill. The fairway begins and ends in different directions more than it dog legs. The approach is one of the tougher on the course and not everyone will thread it to five feet like I did but the green sits above and to the right on a hillside. The center bunkers make it seem like the green is just behind but there is a lot of room left to the green. It’s a very good hole and not just because I was finally able to out two good shots together.
The Sixteenth is a 224 yard par 3. The Sixteenth par 3 with the Hudson in the background is here as well as another nearby golf course with this one being longer with much more expansive short grass run off areas. These are needed considering the longer shot the golfer must pull off, as well as the run of the ball once it lands from these longer distances. A plethora of recovery shots for those ending up off green or in sand, I thought it was a great par 3.
The Seventeenth is a 325 yard par 4. Our ascent to the clubhouse starts here. And that ascent includes a tee shot that needs to carry the long grass and bound as far up the hill as possible. The green is on a terrace, smaller and surrounded by bunkers about the sides.
The Eighteenth is a 437 yard par 4. The clubhouse hides in the trees but is there beyond the green. The fairway cants from left to right and is narrow throughout. In fact, the hole relies on its slenderness as a primary defense; the only fairway bunkers are to the right off the tee. The green is a wider affair, laying across the ledge upon which it sits and the entry point at the left side. It’s a tough closer, I was perhaps a little too overjoyed when my 10 foot putt for bogey putt went in.
The back nine uses the range of topography like the front, yet I found it to have the more interesting holes. The use of bunkers on the elevation differences and turns created some great visuals and strategy while the hills were kept at bay in terms of their imposition on structure of play. I would rank them 15, 12, 10, 16, 13, 14, 18, 17, 11.
Generally, Hudson National provides a wonderful balance of setting and challenge in the golf round. The design manages to temper the severity of the terrain well for the most part while the undulations are used well for visuals, that leads to strategic decisions baked in to temptation, deceit, even delusion as the golfer looks on and plots his way to the green. The views are very much ingrained into the character of the course and deserve worthy recognition for the unique inspiration and calm they provide. Beyond the views, it’s simply a wonderful piece of property to spend a day on in all respects.
Pro Shop/Clubhouse: The clubhouse was an existing stone manor structure on the property that was previously used for market research into soap consumerism. The back patio is a command to do either before or after the round while there is lodging for those needing or wanting it. I was one of those and after dinner with the river turning its hues in step with the setting sun, was able to head to my room for the night. The staff eventually left and the lights were all turned off yet the river was just outside my window, appearing so big it seemed like I could reach out and wash my hands in it. Waking up the next morning, the river was still there, basking in the early young bouncy sun. And as I eventually drove back from whence I came later that day, the river was still there in my rear view mirror, bidding me adieu.
Practice area: Fairly comprehensive with a larger indoor practice facility and outdoor range. The short game area is one of the more scenic you will come across, enjoying the views from the top of the hill.