St. George’s Golf & Country Club

6,408 yards, 136 slope from the Championship tees

“And the child in the dress was our first club champion.” I was wrapping up my visit when my host walked me to the photo sitting in the lobby. A black and white photo with a couple families standing side by side, and yes, this included a child in a dress. That child, however, was a boy. The photo is of the Emmet and White families on a trip to Egypt. Devereaux Emmet and Stanford White had married two of the Smith sisters, a family that helped found Garden City and its commercial properties (including the Garden City Hotel, which Stanford White designed). Emmet and White were close friends and of course brothers in law, so the two families would often travel together, which included the aforementioned trip to Egypt when little Richard Emmet sat in a dress. It turns out that boys in dresses were very common in those days. It made it much easier to potty train and change them and the thinking of the time was to treat all kids as precious little beings instead of mini-adults, so the dresses on all kids was a way to reinforce that. When they became older, there would be a coming of age event of sorts, which were called “pants ceremonies.” This marked a transition for boys, where they would get a haircut and even a toy sword, letting the world know they were indeed ready for swashbuckling manhood.

So it went at St. George’s that day. My host was a source of knowledge about the club and I learned something new at each shot almost. The course had been on my very short list for a few years. I finally decided to be extremely ambitious and drive up and back in one day to play it and the round was one of the best of the year for a few reasons. The design of the course very much lived up to its billing while the company was splendid. The early fall weather was perfect, a clear sunny day without a tinge of wind and comfortable as can be. And yes, I played well. Some feeling with the swing came over me at the range and everything seemed to click. It was all confidence over the ball. And so it is with golf. A long journey to parts unknown, a few hours with those just met on a course seen for the first time, a personal scoring round achieved. After the round as we sat on the patio and watched the sun set over the Eighteenth, we talked about the course, other courses and regaled each other with stories of one round or another but one thing that wasn’t mentioned was my score. Just as when my score is much much higher, it was simply immaterial to the enjoyment of the day for us all.

Devereaux Emmet and C.B. Macdonald were close friends. Emmet would visit his old buddy and saw National Golf Links coming to fruition (with his help), Mac telling him all about how great it was going to be. Emmet became inspired and decided he needed his own tour de force. A course that represented his style and excelled with those virtues to the utmost. These virtues included artful bunkering with the capacity to unleash a savageness against the golfer, sharp mounding where he incorporated a bit of earth moving atypical at the time, below grade pits and bunkers set as strategic traps and a wondrous set of greens with aggressive individuality. In his Centennial book of the club, Bradley Klein includes an apt description of the design philosophy at the time, “[T]he morality play out there has nothing to do with fairness. In their church of golf, the classic-era architects did not pray for equity of justice. The game was a test of character, to see what people could deal with and how they handled what fate has in store for them.” It is challenging in the right way, offering the golfer much to ponder at each shot yet if there is falter in strategy or swing, the golfer pays dearly in measures of recovery.

Emmet and a group of founding members equipped with sufficient capital thus established the club. Emmet designed the course and it opened in 1917. A hilly site bereft of trees, the course was meant to play like a links with a ground based playing structure requiring thought and battle worn wisdom. The original routing ended at the first site of the clubhouse, which is now the halfway house and the brawny par 3 Eleventh was the final hole. The other Emmet course ending at a par 3? Garden City Golf Club. St. George’s routing changed in the mid 1920’s, then once again to its current iteration when the site of the clubhouse was changed to the top of the hill in 1931. After lean times during the depression and World War II, the club began to flourish yet again and changes to the course began. Lengthening of tees, filling in bunkers in lieu of tree plantings, the installation of an irrigation system, even a beautification committee consisting of planting flower beds and trees was established. In 1999, however, the club retained a young Gil Hanse in an advisory role to restore the original design of Emmet. This work was carried out in earnest in 2008 – 10, which included managing the trees, widening and reconnecting fairways and expanding greens to original sizes. Cart paths were also minimized, especially when they interfered with sight lines (this is something that should be done at every course, in my opinion). The rough fronting the bunkers was also removed, allowing shots a more free moving collection into them. In 2011, the course was included in Golfweek’s list of top 100 classic courses and has been on that list ever since.

The course doesn’t feel like it’s on a smaller piece of property while a number of its below grade greens stun the golfer with their movement and deception. An array of angles and abrupt hills comprise this lively, spirited and masterful course I would happily play every day of my life with a smile on my face. The character of each hole – nay, each shot; is such a pleasing challenge. Indeed, one of the biggest feats a golfer faces out here is finally settling on a decided shot strategy and going through with it, stifling any doubts, second guesses or what ifs that will inevitably arise and then amass throughout the round. The routing strikes that wonderful balance of moving across the hills vertically, horizontally and diagonally, which adds to its vexing charm. There is a nice amount of width most of the time, even if the golfer doesn’t realize it based on the visuals presented to him at the time. In all, it’s a superb member’s course and architectural delight, showcasing Emmet’s playful, mischievous and brilliant design style.

I was playing decent enough heading into this round. The cooler morning and evenings with the comfortable warm days of early Fall are my favorite for golf and the day I played here was ideal in that regard, surely helping my swing. I headed to the range to warm up and a sudden realization took hold, I couldn’t tell you what specifically at present. Something to do with swinging my arms and quieting the lower body. Brimming with this newfound realization, I went through the round fairly certain where the ball would go and even mis hits were no bother because I knew the next would make up for it. The score was secondary and while I knew it was good, never checked. The conversations, course, setting and weather were simply too enjoyable to bother. Perhaps that was the secret all along.

The First is a 385 yard par 4 (from the Championship tees). “Sahara.” The first tee is some what perched from the rest of the land as we survey the dog leg left. Staying more right than you initially may think is generally a good idea because its sweeping turn is quite sharp, leading downhill to the green. The bunker for which the hole is named is no longer here but used to be short and right of the green. The green is elevated with larger bunkers on either side to make up for it, running off the front as well as rear. Sharpness about the green must come to the golfer quickly.

The First
Approach shot territory, from the left
Short approach
Sneaky bunker at the rear

The Second is a 589 yard par 5. “Warlock Knowe.” The name is one of five that originated at Gleneagles Queens Course. Small world, as the Seventeenth at my club derives its design from the very same course. At any rate, heading straight out to the far side of the property from the clubhouse, the tee shot is clear cut. It is once we reach our tee shot that we see the bunkering crossing the fairway in a sinewy, orderly fashion. Bunkers are then interspersed on the right side to frame the fairway leading up to the green, which all feeds into it. The green is the largest on the course, capable of handling any longer shot bounding into it. Even with all the green space a golfer could expect, the contours and bunkers will ensure an honest score.

The Second
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory
Closer just before the green
A view across to the clubhouse from the green
Another one, showing the Eighteenth

The Third is a 429 yard par 4. “Perfection.” Now at the perimeter of the property, the tee shot leads downhill and is blind. A well hit tee shot will take advantage of the hill and propel forward towards the green while the right to left cant should be accounted for since there’s a longer strip bunker along the left side. With the fairway once again feeding right into the green, one has options to avoid the lurking inset bunkers on either side of the green.

The Third
Approach shot territory, from the right
Short approach
The green, from the right
Looking back

The Fourth is a 373 yard par 4. ” Stey Brae.” Now on the other side of Sheep Pasture Road, the tee shot is blind up a substantial hill, trees close by on the right. This is Emmet’s rendition of the Alps hole, with each shot blind with hills and mounds obstructing the views. Once we reac h the top of the hill to the fairway, we see a couple fescue mounds and an oak tree in the distance. The green is not readily visible until we get closer. What is not evident at all are the green side bunkers, well below the green and out of view from the fairway. These are treacherous, as I watched one in our group swallowed hole in an avalanche of strokes trying to reach the green from their depths. Macdonald and Raynor apparently loved this Alps design.

The Fourth
Moving up the fairway into approach shot territory, green is blind
Even this close to it, still hiding
The below ground bunkering here is a mischievous marvel

The Fifth is a 364 yard par 4. “Cape.” This is not a Cape template for those familiar. Like the hole prior, it’s as straight as can be, yet maintains an entirely different identity. Low profile and subdued, a nice flow from the excitement of the Fourth green. Bunkers are at either side in range of the tee shot while the green is a smaller affair and slightly below grade. The green pulls more than it appears to the right. With all the subtlety and mellowness this hole exudes, the off green areas are not to be trifled with. The bunkers are deep and the rear is a sheer hillside to heaven knows where so if you must miss, make sure it is short in the fairway.

The Fifth
Approach shot territory
The green
From the right

The Sixth is a 515 yard par 5. “Westlin’ Wyne.” Running into the opposite side of the property on this side of the road, we turn back. Incredibly, this hole is straight as well, just like every hole since the Second. The fairway is visible from the tee, as are the three bunkers on the right, within range. This brings the left tree line more into play as left center seems to be the ideal line off the tee. The fairway eventually careens downhill a bit to the green, which has settled comfortable into a nook within the hills, bunkers spaced about before it to the right, encouraging approaches to run in from the front left. A wonderfully splendid green complex that’s receptive to an infinite array of approaches and short game inventives.

The Sixth
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory
Before the green, to the left of the fairway
The green, looking back towards the fairway

The Seventh is a 187 yard par 3. “Oasis.” The green resides next to Sheep Pasture Road well below the tee. While it may seem as if a shot short of the green will trickle down to the hole, it will in fact move away from the green altogether based on the contours in place. With deep bunkers on either side just waiting for your shot, this leaves the green itself as the only oasis on this hole. Aim and swing true.

The Seventh
The green
The intricate bunkering

The Eighth is a 386 yard par 4. “Dog’s Leg.” It may very well be that the course is taking note that this is the first hole with a turn in it since the First, there is only a hint of the dog leg to the left with the first section of fairway we can actually see from the tee. The rest of the fairway is beyond the crest line and upon reaching it, we see it turns a lot more than anticipated. The trees on the left and behind the green frame the approach for a right to left shot that will curl right onto the green and settle right next to the hole but mind the bunkers that are short right on this line and the others that are at the rear. The wide open nature and some what level ground of the approach is a nice respite moment to take in, as we head to the green and knock it in before moving on.

The Eighth
Approach shot territory
The green, taken from the right

The Ninth is a 149 yard par 3. “The Kirk.” The fescue between tee and green teases the visuals of the green, which fades in and out of view with the wind. It’s downhill only slightly and like the prior par 3, do not rely on a shorter shot bouncing and rolling towards the pin. It is true that shots to the front of the green will roll some what but nailing the green in the first place is what Emmet is trying to get into out heads. Thin bunkers line each front side of the green, again emphasizing a cute little short shot will do nothing for you.

The Ninth
Looking back to the tee

The front nine really stays to the outer perimeter before using the interior of the outer side of Sheep Pasture Road the last few holes. I enjoyed every single hole as its own entity yet the flow of it all was remarkable. I would rank them 4, 6, 2, 8, 1, 3, 5, 7, 9.

The back nine starts with the 380 yard par 4 Tenth. “The Cedars.” There is nothing to mark the occasion of another set of nine holes other than teeing off. That is fine and well with me. A dog leg right moving downhill toward the sheep pasture, the contours of the fairway should be used to coax a much shorter approach. Indeed, the downhill will surge shots down it more on the right side but there is a bunker halfway down the hill to contend with. We finally get our downhill green that moves away from us. In fact, a little too much at the rear and you’ll need a crossing guard to stop traffic while you figure out your recovery.

The Tenth
Approach shot territory
The green

The Eleventh is a 204 yard par 3. This used to be the closing hole when the original clubhouse was off to the right. I’m glad the photo below turned out the way it did because that is exactly how I saw the green before I teed off. My shot was a good one, a little to the right but I thought I would be fine. Unfortunately to my dismay, there are two don’t go in their bunkers on the right that escaped my surveying. It’s the second largest green so there’s plenty of room out there to the left, even if the visuals seem to keep whispering soft nothings about that right side.

The Eleventh
The green
View of the closing holes spanning across the course (Thirteenth at the nearest)

The Twelfth is a 430 yard par 4. “Needle E’E.” Remarkable vision by Emmet in seeing the strong and moody contours of this hillside, realizing that terracing it horizontally hole by hole would result in the most lively variety imaginable. It all starts with the tee shot to a narrower valley where the hills are on both sides. Always favor the right to get center or to the left, the terrain is the main feature here as there are only two green side bunkers. The green of course moves from right to left yet there is a lot of green to work with, almost lightly insisting you get a little ground game in.

The Twelfth
Left side fairway
Center fairway
Green from left side
Green from short front

The Thirteenth is a 458 yard par 4. “The Knoll.” I was having a great round despite my driver but it came alive here, out of no where. No doubt Inspired by the brilliance. The expanse is likely the real culprit, as the course seems to now join hands into one big undulated work of art. There are places where the hillside drops from itself down to the right in fits of rage, so the left side to left center is best to steer clear of such chaos. At some point, however, the hills must be used and with the green below the fairway, that time is closer to the green. In fact, the green complex is very punch bowlesque on the left side but like a few other drop shots on the course, keying in on the green is more ideal while the sidebars are help for those out of position. I think of this hole often.

The Thirteenth
Early movement in the fairway
Long approach
Approach shot territory
Closer, even if we don’t know it yet
The green
Looking back from rear of green
A great reverse look at it and the twisting hills

The Fourteenth is a 394 yard par 4. “Drum Sichty.” Another walloped drive and I started wondering if I needed a faster car. Again, I just saw one big fairway and I’m sure that freedom was enough to uncork. At any rate, the name of the hole is translated to, “Sight of the Hills,” another lift from Gleneagles. An apt name, as one will likely need use one of the hills on the left as an aiming point off the tee, with no bunkers to mind once you cross over to the left. Apparently all the bunkers decided to instead gather around the green and I decided to meet as many of them as possible. The rear right corner kind of drop and curls down and to the right, a cruel little touch for those who may have dared to impart a bit more firmness on their shot to the green for bravado. And this hole essentially made sure I didn’t break 80 for the first time. Such is golf as is life.

The Fourteenth
Approach shot territory
A bit closer
The green

The Fifteenth is a 171 yard par 3. “Bastion.” Squarely in the interior of the course, the sun was hitting the green and fescue just right. I know, enough of my game but the next few holes were as confident as I’ve ever played golf. No worries at all that the ball would waver, I saw the line and my ball settled up on the green. That line seemed to be left center, as the right side starts moving gradually then precipitously down and away from the green. The left side of course, is the high side, so great care with the flatstick is advised.

The Fifteenth
Walking to the green
The green, from the right

The Sixteenth is a 323 yard par 4. “Water Kelpie.” The water is short left and more of an aiming tool than hazard demanding attention. Over the oak tree and just to the left of it is ideal, the wider fairway is completely lined with bunkers on both sides. The green enters a hill that Emmet uses again and again; the Thirteenth green at the base, the Seventeenth tee and green, The Eighteenth tee and overall troublemaker at the Eleventh. Do not end up short short of the green or it will fall to the bottom of the hill.

The Sixteenth
Short approach

The Seventeenth is a 129 yard par 3. “Sunken Forest.” There used to be a swatch of trees between tee and green here that was referred to as the sunken forest. At present, the ground and fescue remain, revealing the true depths a missed shot will fall while all it takes is an adept short iron to get to the other side. The green is perched and runs off on all sides, bunkers down below all around. A tightroped short par 3 at the best point in the round for such feast or famine.

The Seventeenth

The Eighteenth is a 542 yard par 5. “Hame.” A dog log left at the top of the hill leading to the clubhouse. The fairway pulls to the left and the chasms are much larger than they appear but unfortunately the golfer doesn’t realize that until he is in one or sees his ball helplessly flail in a downward spiral. It is much wiser to use the high right side and avoiding the chasms and bunkers that trouble the left. Bunkers completely encase the green, which is a above the fairway and is a tiered affair, green waves moving slowly towards the clubhouse, where onlookers gaze upon the course and while they are likely not paying attention to you, it feels like it, adding to the suspense of the final few strokes.

The Eighteenth
Moving down the fairway
The turn
Short approach
The green

The back nine uses the larger hill so well. Every undulation, mound, imperfection, ridge and hollow is laid bare into a brilliant field of golf that the golfer encounters differently at each run of it as he gets through the holes. Every hole is great. I would rank them 13, 10, 18, 16, 15, 17, 11, 14, 12.

Generally, St. George’s is a masterpiece in routing. The flow and sequencing are tremendous, Emmet hand selecting the terrain to complete his vision, which balances perfectly between variety and cohesiveness. Emmet made sure the course revealed itself slowly for those that pay attention. How the terrain pulls, moves and mellows, where the ball will surge forward as opposed to darting to unearthly voids and the play between what is seen and what is felt beneath the golfer’s feet are some of its wonderful traits. The play with width is also done well. Indeed, it is no mistake that my tee shots were much better once the back nine opened up. No longer defensive with attempts to steer and conjure the ball, the driver was able to do its work unfettered. Finally, the character of the course is something I haven’t encountered elsewhere. It appears to be a manageable scale but is a little more grand than it looks yet plays more intimately than something of a larger scale. It coaxes and teases but settles and rewards when the golfer’s shot is sound and well thought out. It sets a pleasing, relaxing tone early on, letting us know this golf; let us deeply enjoy our time out here no matter what.

Clubhouse/Pro Shop: On the higher point of the property and striking wonderful views of the Eighteenth and back nine in general. The clubhouse was moved to this location in 1931.

Practice area: The driving range abuts the First fairway, trees narrowing it further out. This is the place where swings click.