6,583 yards, 134 slope from the Silver tees
The history of the game in the United States is enshrined in Long Island. Fortunes were made and golf courses built on tremendously ideal land for the cause, sandy soil and an abundance of coastal proximity. The Creek is among those historical treasures that has remained so for just over a century. The views, scenery, grounds, beauty and affluence are all breathtakingly impressive. C.B. Macdonald designed the course while his protege Seth Raynor constructed it, which includes some templates, as well as others that are unique to the course. The course opened in 1924 and was famously called the, “Million Dollar Club,” as titans of industry and finance were among its ranks. Indeed, this part of Long Island as well as Southampton and to the east have been called “bastions of affluence.” You are certainly made aware of that as you drive through the splendid, stately streets and then through the brick gate posts marking your arrival. The drive weaves through the grounds, showing itself off a bit before eventually seamlessly floating to the pro shop.
The aura of prosperity may leave some envious but it is very much a part of the game on our side of the pond. The proximity to New York City helped, as did the Long Island terrain. Macdonald saw the potential of the area in the early 1900’s and for those decades that followed, he along with Emmet, Tillinghast and others would use the terrain marvelously for budding memberships that were never wanting of resources. What may be even more impressive is that these course have been able to endure and preserve for over a century. Most clubs in the U.K. sustain off the local community and subsidize with visitors but in the U.S., the model is different, solely relying on generations of membership to continue the legacy of their clubs and as a result, have been able to maintain their storied historical golf roots.
The Creek was one of Macdonald/Raynor’s later designs. A few years upon opening, however, the club realized that something must be done about the flooding issues that would plague the a few holes on the early back nine. While solutions included reconstructing the holes altogether, Macdonald offered to investigate the best way to rectify the issue with the same engineers involved with the initial design. The club, however, decided it on seeking out another team to explore how to deal with the issue and shortly afterwards, Macdonald resigned from the club (of which he was a founding member). Raynor tragically passed away the year before Macdonald’s resignation, so the club turned to Flynn, which began a working relationship that lasted several years. Flynn raised fairways and greens, as well as added bunkers and some mounding, mainly to the back nine. He also lengthened the Third, as well as re-worked its green and bunkering. Flynn also added the sandy waste areas that are prevalent on the lower holes near the Sound, which significantly add to the remarkable naturalism of the place. Gil Hanse and company were retained in 1997 for restoration work, to which they have been ongoing consultants ever since. Yet for anyone who wants to get a true sense of a Macdonald design, this is among his finest.
There is indeed a maturation of the design that can be felt as early on as the First. While many may discount the early parkland holes because they do not have the views of the latter holes, I am not among them. The interaction between fairway and hazards is remarkable early on, which then becomes even more unique and artful later in how the fairway interacts with the strewn sand sites, all of it feeling like you’re golfing across a deserted island . . . which just happens to have masterly sculpted greens. Indeed, what the Creek does so well is ingrain itself into the land so that the golf is in unison with it, which is then complemented by the views and sounds of the nearby water. This incorporation of the native sandy areas and how they meshed with each hole enhances the spectacular natural setting and its playing structure. Macdonald utilized space so well here it seems there is overwhelming width while bunkers are well placed in their variety. Yet it’s the greens that mesmerized me, time and again. Some of the best I played all season, sophisticated in their movement and configuration to fairways. They set the tone for the rest, all of it playing as a unique links one could not find elsewhere. The width mentioned above enables the flexibility necessary for the course to accommodate and utilize the winds and weather that come in often. Moreover, there is a certain polish to these higher end Long Island courses. You can feel it on the greens and fairways especially. Each footstep feels a bit lighter, the ball lands quieter and rolls true with the flat stick. No doubt that the Creek is in the company of shrines to the game and is one of the favorites played last year.
The First is a 385 yard par 4 (from the Silvers). “Orchard.” The opening tee shot is inviting enough, starting us off on the right welcoming note. With formalities out of the way, the rest of the hole gets us right down to business. A couple bunkers breaks up the fairway with bunkers that angle themselves across the fairway. The fairway starts on the other side offset to the right, rich in width that dissipates as it moves to the far left corner of the green. The left side of the green falls off to the abyss of a bunker, which sets up the Redan green. It is the only Redan greens I’m aware of on an opening par 4. Only at the green do we realize that approaches from the left are ideal, which constantly brings the treachery of that side a lot more into play than we initially believed.
The Second is a 360 yard par 4. “Vines.” The strategic placement of the bunkers starts to show off well. Thus far, they have all been below grade, which gives them an air of mystery and plays on the golfer as he tries to discern how to go about avoiding them. Their presence within the interior of the fairways as opposed to only off to the sides adds to this predicament. The centerline bunker set just to the right is a good line off the tee, so long as your ball doesn’t go in it. From there, the approach needs to come in from the air and should avoid the wealth of bunkers situated around the green. Those who would like the option of a rolling approach should take aim at the left bunker off the tee and if carried, opens up the entire depth of the green.
The Third is a 429 yard par 4. “Fairview.” We are making our way about the upper part of the property, slowly towards the perimeter. Flynn did a good amount of work to this hole, shifting the green off to the right, altered the green side bunkering, all of which are mainly intact at present. The Spectacle bunkers must be carried off the tee, which reside in our line of play to the center of the fairway. They actually help adjust our line if anything, as many will look to the green and aim more to the right than they realize. While the bunkers stay off to the sides here, the devious positioning of the green brings them into play as the golfer realizes he needs to start favoring the right to reach the green. Pick your head up at some point here and look around, as the holes comprising the opening sequence are outstanding examples of parkland golf.
The Fourth is a 168 yard par 3. “Eden.” The bunkering scheme is a good one for this template. Most Edens ensure the golfer wants to keep his ball short of the hole while the bunkers serve as very tough recoveries, the severity of which is position dependent. There is room to work with short of the green here, so long as the ball doesn’t tragically divert into the bunkers triangulated there.
The Fifth is a 401 yard par 4. “Lindens.” The rows of trees set up a magnificent gateway to the horizon, which we march and hit our ball towards. A single fairway bunker on the left suggests we stay more to the right, but of course there are advantages to an approach from the left. I enjoy coming in from the right, however. Most approaches will be blind to the green, which sits just on the other side of the ridge where the neck before it dips down and to the right. Indeed, those who are short of the green or end up on the front half with insufficient gusto may fall victim to the movement of that neck. The oblong green angled from the fairway with bunkers on both sides, further complicating the approach. Nothing short of a true approach shot neither too short or too long will assure the golfer won’t succumb to the perils of the green and its surrounds.
The Sixth is a 481 yard par 4. “Sound View.” The golfer trudges over from the Fifth green and the extraordinary view of Long Island Sound reveals itself. Filled with inspiration and thrill, he now gets to belt at his ball and watch it sail high in the air, becoming a fascinating addition to the scenery as it moves about the landscape and reveals the intricacies of both wind and earth with its flight, bounces and rolls. Our journey towards the Creek and Sound has begun in earnest.
The approach continues the excitement. The fairway narrows closer to the green as it climbs up the bank of the hillside, then curls on to the green. The golfer can come in directly by carrying the massive bunker in front, or can hedge a little and avoid the bunker by choosing the left side, relying on the ball to then fall towards the green from the contours of the hillside. The hole provides an array of thrills for the golfer in both the visuals and strategic versatility on the approach.
The Seventh is a 566 yard par 5. “Long.” We continue heading downhill to the Sound. The tee shot is blind as the fairway plunges downwards and while the second shot is likewise straightforward, one must certainly consider where the ball will end up once it is done rolling about after landing. A small pot bunker is short and center of the green but otherwise, there is lots of width feeding into the green.
The Eighth is a 180 yard par 3. “Redan.” A reverse Redan to be clear and the offset tee in line with the treacherous right bunker means the tee shot needs to be swung to left a little to take advantage of the sloping grounds moving towards it. There is a bunker on the far side as well that’s not as visible from the tee, but imagine it running parallel with the front bunker and the green situated directly between them. Yes it’s possible to go over the bunker and get to the pin yet it’s advisable to consider using the left side of the green to coax the ball down as well. One of my favorite holes on the course and it was really at this point where I had seen enough, I knew I was some where I was going to love.
The Ninth is a 433 yard par 4. “Inferno.” The sandy waste areas start here, which I absolutely adored. It went a long way to signify the transition from the early parkland holes to the beachy coastal plains we now get to play along. I suspected this was the work of Gil but it was actually Flynn that added them. Flynn also added the fairway bunker on the left, which complicates the tee shot a bit. The green is pitched above and is separated from the fairway by bunkers. I’m not sure why it’s called “Inferno” but that hole name is absolute fire.
The front nine starts off with a brilliant strategic stretch of parkland holes before a magnificent transition to the lower sandy site. Every hole is strong, every green individual in spirit. My rankling of them is 8, 1, 6, 2, 9, 7, 3, 5, 4.
The storied beach clubhouse sits beyond the Ninth green. Larger than a lot of clubhouses in general, the beach house sits at the shore overlooking the Sound. Members are able to enjoy its pleasantries while the beach and bay are steps away. Impressive indeed.
The back nine starts with the 313 yard par 4 Tenth. “Shore.” We tee off almost directly in front of the beach house, now parallel to the beach and must carry the creek for which the club is certainly named. This is a Leven template done as well as can be. A short par 4 where the wind will certainly be a factor, the fairway is to the left of the tee and creek. The golfer will need to decide how far along the fairway his tee shot should go while still carrying the creek. The green is tucked away some and slightly elevated from the fairway. It reveals itself more from the right side, rewarding those who were able to carry the creek and remain on that side, properly gauging their tee distance. And any tee shot too aggressive could end up off the left side and on to the beach while those to the left in general are blind to the green. The concept of the Leven is right on here; those who are able to flirt with yet control their ball to the prevailing hazard are rewarded with a much better second shot while those not as courageous are left with a tougher approach.
The Eleventh is a 195 yard par 3. “Island.” Another unique template with this Biarritz island green. The green is deep, receptive to those longer shots coming in and the swale is defined yet moderate, more of an influence on putting than the tee shot. The size of the green also adds to the impact of the swale, so that a golfer putting from one side to the other will be left with a vexing and daunting task. Or you roll it in for birdie, like me. Easy game.
The Twelfth is a 345 yard par 4. “Squirrel Run.” Now in the heart of the lower portion of the course, the sandy waste areas are on both sides, which gives the feeling that we never leave the water side that is now to our backs. The sand intrudes a bit on the left as we get closer to the green, so move up the right side or lay up before the intrusion for your approach on the left. The green is above us and much smaller than the green prior. In fact, I’m pretty sure we could fit two of this green on to that island. The bunkers around the green are deep and abrupt, and of course the smaller size of the green doesn’t make it any easier to extract oneself from them.
The Thirteenth is a 445 yard par 4. “Creek.” A dog leg right among the sand while water accompanies us down the right side. The fairway remains wide at its start but narrow just before the turn, so those really trying to get it out there will need to get focused as to exactly where their ball is headed. The fairway keeps turning with the fairway eventually turning into the green.
The Fourteenth is a 421 yard par 4. “Water Gate.” We start to head away from the water and lower lying land for the hills once again as the fairway slightly dog legs to the right. The water we encountered on the last hole is with us again, this time as a smaller creek sashaying its way across the fairway. The tee shot needs to decide whether it is staying short of the creek or making a go of carrying it. The green is up the hill a bit, guarded by bunkers on either side.
The Fifteenth is a 370 yard par 4. “Hunch Back.” The transition to parkland is gradual and stays relatively open until the last but the most telling indicator of change might be the off fairway areas, which have changed from sandy water to wispy beach grass. There’s nice large fairway for us to take aim at from the tee but mind the hillside pull from right to left. There are some bunkers on the low left side to collect those shots that did not appropriately heed to the terrain movement. There’s also a smaller center line bunker that brings some definition to the fairway just short of the green. Approaches must decide how to take it on while the green evinces the same aggressive movement shown by the fairway, though the stakes seem to be higher as the run offs around the green are sharp, steep and very much want to carry your ball away from the hole and back down the hill.
The Sixteenth is a 456 yard par 4. “Oak.” There is an oak tree that serves as the turning point of the hole where it starts to up to the left. It’s a guiding light off the tee, as most shots in its direction will benefit from the contours propelling the ball forward upon landing. The fairway sweeps left while the green remains tucked away on the right, mere paces up the hill from the oak tree. Goodness do not hit past the green, as there is a larger bunker lining the entire back of it which then faces a recovery that could possibly take the ball and run it off the front of the green and down the hill. A deviously tough hole where it feels the golfer is given plenty of rope to tangle himself up in strokes.
The Seventeenth is a 132 yard par 3. “Short.” A template that has to help with routing more than any other, we simply use some of the spare room between the prior green and Eighteenth tee for the final par 3, which abuts the Frost Family Cemetery. Yes we have the bunkers running alongside the perimeter of the green like a moat with the green slightly raised from grade level but the interest here lies with the green. The lasting thumbprint resonating from the front creates that Biarritz effect where a line to the hole seems more and more difficult to discern. Of course there are others, like me, who are able to navigate that line regardless of the undulations and walk away with another birdie. My better moments on the course are few and far between so are in need of memorializing.
The Eighteenth is a 503 yard par 5. “Home.” The time has come to finally make our way back up the hill to the clubhouse. There are a few bunkers off to the sides that should be navigated from the tee while the cant of the terrain becomes more evident as the golfer begins to labor up the hill. There is a small break in the fairway worth noting for one to plan his second shot and after it, the green is just ahead, with two bunkers on the left. It’s a hearty home hole where one really should look back and survey the beauty and brilliance just experienced for the last couple of hours.
The back nine takes us from the water back to the clubhouse and once again, it is impossible to think of a hole I did not thoroughly enjoy. I would rank them 11, 10, 15, 16, 12, 18, 17, 13, 14.
Generally, the Creek is a wonderful course with an artfully restrained routing and strategic subtlety at every shot. The terrain movement is nicely concealed even though the undulations are fairly significant while the staggered placement of the bunkers at the fairways ensure the tee shot is never taken for granted. What was especially impressive was the individual character the course asserted amidst such a magnificent setting. The bunkering and the greens are all unique unto the course, even most of the template holes are crafted so that they are distinct from any where else. Then of course there is the randomness of the strewn sand areas signifying the golfer has transitioned to the coast and its intermingling water ways. The grandiose of the playing corridors and greens adds to the exceptional aura, all of it against one of the more gorgeous backdrops one could imagine. In all, the Creek is a sublime Macdonald masterpiece that shows just how legendarily he was able to transform spectacular land and make it even better.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: The club is on sprawling grounds with a number of structures about the hillside and down to the beach but the main clubhouse, like the course, is a well preserved historical wonder.
Practice area: The range is adjacent to the Eighteenth fairway and the short game area is a little off to the side from the main teeing grounds.