6,398 yards, 128 slope from the Red tees
The first hole came and went quickly. I was able to get out ahead of a threesome and there was plenty of width to work with even though the wind was up. The green was large. A bump and run, then a putt, and I was able to clear and move to the Second. A nice Short, two putt par and I was off yet again. The Third, a par 4, the Maiden. A hill came across off the tee, might as well hit one out there and see what’s what. An approach to the front of the green, I start walking towards it.
It was then.
There’s a point during the round where a course moves from a nice play to something special for me. Some times it doesn’t happen at all. It doesn’t matter how easy or hard it was to get on, or what others say about it one way or another, or how pristine or terrible the conditioning; it’s some intangible feeling that I get. Time slows down and the course comes into focus while everything else seems to blur. The course starts speaking to me. There’s a connection between us and land, which is part of what golf is for a lot of us. And here, coming upon that Maiden green and seeing the course beyond, it was then I knew we’d become fast friends. Sure enough, as I walked off the Maiden green to the next, a bald eagle swooped down from a tree just in front of me, showed off his wing span and glided off majestically. Fast friends indeed.
The gathering place of the Great Peconic Bay, Shinnecock Bay and Shinnecock Hills is one of infinite splendor and beauty. The coastal vibrancy of the bays stands side by side with the lazy hills that twist and turn on whims while the shaded woods are never too far off. The hills moves down the Great Peconic and its tidal pools while the edge between land and water can’t decide between abrupt cliffside or a gentle rocky gateway so they give us both. On this side, there is Sebonack and of course, National Golf Links of America, which border each other. Moving back towards the hills is Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, which is a bit more inland and makes use of those hills before the coastal fringe. It borders National Golf Links. Even more inland where the hills start to mellow and roll amongst the woods, meadows and occasional pond is Southampton Golf Club, which borders Shinnecock. Four golf courses, all unique in their character dictated by the rich land that changes dramatically in a short time yet is all connected and one.
Seth Raynor was born about twenty miles away from this gathering place. Perhaps the call started early growing up so close but however it happened, he found himself involved in the surveying and construction of National Golf Links, which was completed in 1911. It would be ten years later he found himself in the area again, this time to design Southampton Golf Club. Play began on the course in 1926. Tragically, Raynor passed away a short few months after Southampton’s opening. The course remained as designed, however, until 1967 when William Mitchell (of Cedarbrook, among others) was retained for renovations. Mitchell changed the course by removing cross bunkers and raised green side bunkering above grade of the greens. A tree plan was also implemented. The course moved away from many of its Raynor characteristics with the bunkering changes and from an open style links layout to a parkland structure full of trees. Brian Silva was brought in for restoration work, which was completed in 2010. The bunkering was changed bank to below grade, cross bunkers were reinstalled, mounding was incorporated and the greens were expanded and squared off as needed. And of course, the trees. Gone.
As it stands today, Southampton resembles the course Raynor designed. The greens have always been well preserved and they shine in their brilliance, many of them monumental in size. The low lying meadows transitions to moderate rolling terrain, which Silva used mounding to accentuate appropriately. The bunkering has always been an important part of the Macdonald/Raynor/Banks design style and here, they vary from low lying expanses to more abrupt depths of all shapes and sizes. The bunker faces have a tendency to lurk steeply above in places around the greens while a lot of the fairway faces are rounded off, varying their purpose and effect on the golfer. There are similarities to Piping Rock in how width is used in conjunction with the trees and how one set of nines feels more inlaid with them while the other set more out in the open. The templates flourish here nicely, the Maiden, Knoll, Redan, Double Plateau and Punch Bowl of note. The greens are largely the focal point, which set up the rest of the hole, with nice contouring about the fairways as well. Very much strategic in how one confronts the terrain and greens, it has a distinct manner of ramping up measure of recovery for those who get out of position, whether they know it or not. While it was at that Third green that I knew I came upon a special place, the ensuing couple hours affirmed it over and over. A remarkable course made for the well thinking shotmaker with a deft flat sick, it earns its place among its conjoined compatriots in the area.
The First is a 392 yard par 4 (from the Red tees). “Silo.” A gentlemanly welcome with a tee shot out into the great wide open. There are two fairway bunkers, the first on the left and jutting towards the middle at an angle while the second is further down on the right, flatter and more outright against the run of the fairway. The green is wide open while bunkers frame the sides.
The Second is a 137 yard par 3. “Short.” A small pond lies between us and the green while in traditional Short fashion, the green is raised with bunkers surrounding its base. A nice little interior thumbprint keeps things spicy on the green as well.
The Third is a 410 yard par 4. “Maiden.” The hillside comes down from the left and the tee shot is blind as the ball bounds over the crest line. The fairway flattens and straightens on the other side with a sole bunker on the left short of the green complicating the approach. The green is marvelous, however, grabbing my attention immediately with how defined the Maiden template was and how much it affected the approach as well as all of the putting. Truly remarkable.
The Fourth is a 423 yard par 4. “Squaw Hill.” Water is between the tee and fairway but only in play for the worst of missed tee shots. The fairway climbs and twists left up to the green with undulations and knobs and even a pronounced yet quick swale on the left. An approach ending up short of the green will succumb to these, sending the ball to various areas of purgatory. The most severe of these is off to the right of the green. That greenside bunker and beyond faces a wall of a bunker face, towering and blocking any visuals of the green, or anything else really. indeed, the approach is vital, as the recoveries will not be an understanding bunch.
The Fifth is a 280 yard par 4. “Knoll.” Teeing off on the same hill as the green prior, there’s a lot of room out there and not too much to worry about except a thumbprint chasm on the left. There’s a bunker further up in the center yet the green is still a ways beyond it. In fact, the contours are what really what impacts shots into this green, which indeed sits on a pronounced knoll. Managing the pull of the terrain is enough for any golfer here.
The Sixth is a 427 yard par 4. “Raynor Dog Leg.” You may hear a golf shot off in the distance and wonder where it’s coming from. That would be Shinnecock, which borders the course over on the left. The name of the hole isn’t lying; it dog legs left and there’s a healthy dose of bunkers up its sides. The green is slightly uphill and has bunkers on each side of the green.
The Seventh is a 203 yard par 3. “Redan.” The immense green set at the angle that shots will run when they land makes this an outstanding rendition of the template. The size of the bunker to the right of the green follows this grand scale while a few others are more towards the front at center and left. The hole is essentially set up for the golfer to boom his tee shot on the green and have it run on fire to where ever the pin may be. Roaring fun.
The Eighth is a 444 yard par 4. “Double Plateau.” The left side is preferable off the tee, as the approach need to get at the green tucked over on the other side of a creek while a few bunkers menace at the sides. The length here makes that tee shot vital, as the approach will likewise be long and needs to fit in between those bunkers. All to reach the green and deal with the plateaus.
The Ninth is a 423 yard par 4. “Tuckahoe.” The tee shot follows that of the hole prior and is a bit more demanding than we saw earlier in the round. Trees on either side dictate the corridor in which the golfer must use off the tee, with a bunker on the right in play further down. I initially thought this was the punch bowl green with how the fairway leads down to it and its sides seem to be pulled up. It certainly is meant to receive longer approach shots in and can careen whose walls back in the direction of the green, so punch bowl or not, it’s fun as hell regardless.
The front nine excels with its variety and terribly impressive greens. Every hole is solid and asks different questions of the golfer, remaining an interesting romp throughout. I would rank them 3, 4, 7, 9, 1, 5, 8, 6, 2.
The back nine starts with the 152 yard Tenth. “Eden.” The bunkering position on this template is nicely done and the rear is completely lined with a below grade bunker as well. If they’re not careful, Edens can turn into Short holes rather easily but here the bunkering and green shape instill distinct strategy into placement off the tee and degrees of recoveries depending on the miss.
The Eleventh is a 368 yard par 4. “Valley.” The valley is rather small and is just after the tees, which then turns to fairway and bends left to the green. The bunkers at the green are deeply inset below grade as the green is pushed up from the fairway, falling off on all sides.
The Twelfth is a 510 yard par 5. “Long.” Back across Tuckahoe Road, the course transitions to the more wide open structure we had a glimpse of at the First. The tee shot carries water to the fairway that runs straight on to the green with a bunker or two mixing things up in between. Missing left of the fairway risks being in bunkers on that side while the right side is fescue. The green is well defended by bunkering, including a pesky one front and center that may require an aerial approach for some. The hole is equipped for heady wind, with plenty of ground game.
The Thirteenth is a 390 yard par 4. “Horseshoe.” Coming back from whence we came, the fairway raises its right shoulder, signaling to those at the tee we are heading left. Left it is, yet that shoulder can be utilized off the tee to careen down the hill that follows. The fairway runs to the green straight on at the bottom of the hill, a trench bunker encasing it on all sides except the front. I’d venture the bunkering fits around the green akin to a horse shoe on a hoof, hence the name of the hole. If that’s not the case, it should be.
The Fourteenth is a 183 yard par 3. “Biarritz.” There’s a sense of comedy in the short game practice area located just to the right of this green. Some could see that as a harbinger of things to come while others may head straight over based on the day they have been having. It’s a deeper swale, at ground level from the tee, at a nice mid distance. Those off the green may just need that practice area afterwards, as one needs to account for the complications of the swale in conjunction with the pin position, all while trying to remain on the green with the recovery.
The Fifteenth is a 434 yard par 4. “Sebonac.” We have made our way over to the far side of the property without realizing it all that much. The tee shot heads back up the hill and while it bends to the right after cresting the ridge, there’s a bunker there that collects shots not hit with the proper gusto. Cresting the ridge reveals the green and admirable bunkering leading up to and around it. As we have seen, the entry point and green and heart enough for the golfer to approach it in a variety of ways but we seem to find those flat bottomed bunkers off to the sides a lot more than we care to admit.
The Sixteenth is a 334 yard par 4. “Punch Bowl.” The routing is excellent and we see that come together marching to the green, which is situated in the far corner. The prior and latter holes are all staggered to allow this hole to use this corner well before heading back out of it and eventually turning one last time for the clubhouse. There’s some fescue just after the tee that should be taken care of in short order, the fairway beyond. Plenty of room to work with there but it’s the approach that brings all the consternation. A large bunker wall precludes the golfer from getting too much of a sense of the green but the punchbowl sits well below grade after it. What struck me about this punch bowl was how one really had to figure out the directions it pulled, both on approach and while putting. This is no easy task and if you ever do figure it out, please let me know. It’s an outstanding shorter hole I could play all day every day.
The Seventeenth is a 491 yard par 5. “Narrows.” The final par 5 takes us from the corner to where we can clear the left tree line for the Eighteenth. The tree line, as well as the bunkers scattered about the fairway, are what I suppose makes things a bit narrow. The bunkers are rather relentless here and one really has to figure out how to slalom around them at each shot. There’s a grace and elegance to the hole, culminating with the green that has a gradual forceful movement to it.
The Eighteenth is a 397 yard par 4. “Road Hole.” The clubhouse is upon us and we head towards it after the tee shot , a couple stray fairway bunkers on either side leading to the green. The road bunker is reversed, meaning on the left side of the green, while the right side has its own bunker to avoid. It’s an engaging finish, not letting you off the hook without some respectable shots to close things out.
The back nine continues the themes established during the front with more marvelous greens, bunkering and variety. The routing does well to engage the more moderately rolling terrain on this side of the road by showing off an array of angles and contours that play with directional pull. I would rank them 16, 17, 13, 12, 18, 15, 14, 11, 10.
Generally, Southampton shows off the well crafted, thought out character of Raynor’s design that favors links attributes in how it welcomes the elements in its challenge, mixed in with its strategy. The greens are stunning, doing their job of resonating in all aspects of play. Moreover, their movement and character varies like a bunch of individual pleasant idosyncracies, from the large sweeping ones like the Redan and Biarritz, to the more subtle and deceptive, like at the Narrows and Silo. It’s very much a round full of classic era feel. The ball bounces and rolls down the fairway and into the horizon, always making the golfer second guess whether he ended up alright or found some bunker lying underneath it all. The bump and run excites as the ball runs up and around, teasing the pin before deciding on where it wants to rest. The wind comes in with whispers of its travels at National or Shinnecock while the golfer manipulates his shots to accommodate. The fairways are likewise subtle in their placement of bunkers and contours, which gives the seemingly wide open tee shots some complexity. All of this character, as well as the greens, have it for me as one of the best under discussed Raynor designs.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Similar to the course, understated yet full of charm and memorability, without any superfluous fluff.
Practice Area: There’s a practice range and short game area and putting green, all accounted for within the confines of the property.