Every ranking is subjective, especially with something as arbitrary as the quality of a golf hole. Beauty, it is said, lies in the eye of the beholder.
Well, not here.
This list was compiled by two golf nuts, The Post’s Brett Cyrgalis and Mark Cannizzaro, and not only is it objective, but it is comprehensive. There is no way that anything was missed in the wide range of great golf courses in the New York area, and no way that two judging golfers disagreed on the inclusion or exclusion of any holes. What follows is perfect.
For this exercise, the golf courses were limited to those in the Metropolitan Golf Association (MGA) — which spans from the city through all of Long Island, southern Connecticut and northeastern New Jersey. So no Pine Valley. Both public and private courses were given equal shrift — even if there is an inevitable leaning towards the private — with only one hole allowed per course. (If not, 17 holes would be from Shinnecock.)
Everything was taken into consideration, from the hole’s beauty, to its difficulty (or lack thereof), to its place in history, to the general atmosphere at the course or club. There was no need for the two-person panel to use “shot values,” as other famous rankings do. The opinions of two of The Post’s golf writers are beyond reproach.
One other indisputable statement is that this area is the home to the best collection of golf courses anywhere in the country. An argument could be made for Northern California — and possibly Chicago — but they’re wrong. We have the behemoths in the Hamptons and the stately parkland-and-tudor clubs in Jersey, both groups of courses which set the standard in excellence. There is history (Shinnecock, Baltusrol) and there is modernity (Liberty National, Bayonne). There is everything a golfer could want — besides, you know, accessibility. But put all the great public courses together, and you’d still have a better list of golfing options than the vast majority of the country.
This is an especially important time of year to start thinking about golf — the grass has started to grow, the flowers have started to bloom and the trees are waking up. The first round of the Masters was supposed to be April 9, and the coronavirus pandemic has shown the depths of its evil by taking our golf away, at least temporarily.
Though some golf courses in the area are still open for walkers willing to keep an appropriate social distance, the vast majority of courses have closed. If you are lucky enough to have a backyard and bring a club back there, you will soon find out the difference made by over-seeding. And you should remember that when golf courses do reopen, the superintendent deserves a thank you.
But for now, distract yourself with imagination. Allow yourself to be brought to the tees, fairways and greens of some of the most magnificent places in the world of golf. Allow yourself to imagine what clubs you would hit, and just how fast your birdie putt would be going when it falls. Allow this list to be a slight respite from reality.
Because it is unequivocally the most definitive list ever compiled of the best holes in the New York area. Enjoy!
All photos courtesy of Jon Cavalier
Best 18 holes in the Metropolitan Golf Association (MGA)
1. Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, No. 11: Par 3, 159 yards
Cyrgalis: If it’s the shortest par-5 in golf, then Brooks Koepka made an all-world birdie after he missed it long during the final round of his 2018 U.S. Open win.
Cannizzaro: Shortest hole on the course might be the most difficult to par. Lee Trevino famously called it “the shortest par-5 in the world.’’ If you’re short, you’re dead (in the treacherous bunkering), and if you’re long, you’re dead (a virtually impossible up-and-down with the green slanting from back left to front right).
2. Bethpage Black, No. 4: Par 5, 517 yards
Cyrgalis: The Glacier Bunker that cuts across the fairway might be the best hazard ever designed by master architect A.W. Tillinghast.
Cannizzaro: With those daunting, diagonal cross bunkers sectioning the hole, one of the most visually spectacular holes in golf — and there’s not even an ocean view. Unless you’re Koepka, a classic three-shot hole that requires precise positioning.
3. National Golf Links of America, No. 17: Par 4, 375 yards
Cyrgalis: A strategic wonder even now with its diminutive distance, and the view of the Peconic Bay in the background is unbeatable.
Cannizzaro: Named “Peconic” for the view of the bay from the tee, this is a classic risk-reward short hole that’s all about position. It forces shorter hitters to lay-up off tee and dares longer hitters to carry bunkers on the right side.
4. Fishers Island Club, No. 4: Par 4, 412 yards
Cyrgalis: A blind drive and then down into the best punch-bowl green that Seth Raynor ever built, all hard against the Long Island Sound. Spectacular doesn’t do it justice.
Cannizzaro: A Seth Raynor classic, with punch-bowl green complex and a Long Island Sound view to die for. It’s one of just two holes at Fishers that has no bunkers.
5. Sleepy Hollow Country Club, No. 16: Par 3, 155 yards
Cyrgalis: With such a beautiful view overlooking the Hudson River and the Palisades, it’s easy to miss the new “thumbprint” that Gil Hanse restored in the middle of the green.
Cannizzaro: I’m biased, because I once won a closest-to-the-pin prize on this hole at an outing for use of a Mercedes for a week. But this is one of the finest par-3s you’ll ever see with the view of the Hudson River and the unique “thumbprint’’ green.
6. Friar’s Head, No. 14: Par 5, about 540 yards (no yardage on the scorecard)
Cyrgalis: One of the great green locations in golf, tucked into the base of massive sand dunes. Behind it, the “stairway to heaven” leading to the 15th tee and a gorgeous view of the Long Island Sound.
Cannizzaro: The most amazing hole, at a place Phil Mickelson has told me is his “favorite golf course in the world.’’ This hole takes you on a ride straight out to the Long Island Sound and finishes with a green that’s carved into a huge sand dune. Magical.
7. Winged Foot Golf Club (West), No. 10: Par 3, 194 yards
Cyrgalis: Maybe the best green complex Tillinghast ever built, tilted severely from back-left to front-right, with all sorts of machinations between.
Cannizzaro: Tillinghast called this the “finest’’ par-3 he ever built — and that’s saying something. Ben Hogan called it like hitting “a 3-iron into someone’s bedroom’’ with a neighborhood home on the back side of the green.
8. Sebonack Golf Club, No. 11: Par 4, 466 yards
Cyrgalis: Arguably the best second shot this side of Pebble Beach comes after you crest the hill and look down to see the green nestled just above the beach and the Peconic Bay in panorama.
Cannizzaro: Long, brutal par-4 that plays uphill off the tee then downhill to the green with a delicious Peconic Bay view as the background. If you need a distraction from the mounting numbers on your scorecard, the beach below has been known for some clothing-optional sunbathing.
9. Maidstone Club, No. 14: Par 3, 152 yards
Cyrgalis: Just the cutest little thing you ever did see, tucked in there among the swirling sand dunes with the Atlantic Ocean crashing on the beach out to the right.
Cannizzaro: Possibly my favorite par-3 in the world. Elevated tee to an elevated green carved into the dunes with the sound, the smell and view of the Atlantic Ocean are almost overwhelming to the senses.
10. Bayonne Golf Club, No. 16: par 4, 486 yards
Cyrgalis: The views of lower Manhattan over the New York Harbor from the elevated tee are supplemented by a fairway that abruptly ends before playing over a rugged ravine to a green abutting the bulkhead.
Cannizzaro: The only thing cooler than the tee shot from the elevated tee box with the view of the Manhattan skyline in the distance is the approach shot, which is one of the most daunting in the Metro area to a peninsula green that’s well-protected by some diabolical bunkers.
11. Richter Park Golf Course, No. 12: Par 5, 527 yards
Cyrgalis: The public gem in Danbury, Conn., hits its peak by playing out to a narrow fairway before opening up to show the green on a sliver of land out in the West Lake Reservoir.
Cannizzaro: The best hole on one of the best public courses in the area. The challenge is the nerve-racking approach shot to a peninsula green protected on the ride side by water. This is a good warm-up for the 15th and 16th holes, where there is an area with quicksand (yes, really) adjacent.
12. Baltusrol Golf Club (Lower), No. 4: Par 3, 199 yards
Cyrgalis: Brute and beauty, as this long carry over a pond artfully bordered by stones to a green that is strategically delineated for easy and difficult hole locations.
Cannizzaro: This hole is a painting. Robert Trent Jones lengthened and strengthened this iconic hole in 1952. There’s no bailout. The tee shot must carry the pond, but there is trouble left and right of the green, too. Balty’s signature hole.
13. Trump Ferry Point, No. 18: Par 5, 576 yards
Cyrgalis: If you forget you’re in New York City during the walk among the contrived dunes and fescue grasses, you’re reminded with one of the more unique views in golf, playing to the base of the Whitestone Bridge.
Cannizzaro: This finishing hole sweeps its way to a green that looks like it’s located right under the Whitestone Bridge. It’s such a cool look it appears to be fake.
14. Liberty National Golf Club, No. 14: Par 3, 150 yards
Cyrgalis: The Statue of Liberty is so close you feel like you can almost touch it, but this little short-iron shot to a small and sectioned green is far from easy.
Cannizzaro: It looks like a simple, short par-3 that requires anything from a wedge to an 8-iron off tee, but the green is tricky and the view of the city and Statue of Liberty will either serve as inspiration or distraction.
15. Plainfield Country Club, No. 11: Par 3, 148 yards
Cyrgalis: There is no miss here for one of Donald Ross’ most extreme greens, which drastically slopes off in all directions.
Cannizzaro: Another short par-3 that’s deceptive in its difficulty. There is trouble everywhere. A short tee shot will repel off the false front of the green and roll back toward you. A long tee shot leaves you with an impossible chip to a green that slopes from back to front, so good luck stopping the ball.
16. Lido Golf Club, No. 16: Par 5, 487 yards
Cyrgalis: No, this is not as good as the “Lagoon Hole” from the original Lido that was across the street along the Atlantic Ocean. But this recreation is beautiful and terrifying.
Cannizzaro: Known as the “Double Island” par-5, this is a tribute to C.B. Macdonald’s “Channel Hole” at the original Lido. It’s a risk/reward hole over water with plenty of trouble in between.
17. Garden City Golf Club, No. 15: Par 4, 447 yards
Cyrgalis: A crossing waste area separates the lower from upper fairways, then one of the terrific old-school “plate” greens slants hard from left to right. A classic gem.
Cannizzaro: This is the longest hole on the course with the most generous fairway. But beware the cross bunkering at the 300-yard mark and leave your approach shot below the hole to the right of the flag or forever hold your peace because of the significant left to right tilt on the green.
18. Hudson National Golf Club, No. 10: Par 4, 428 yards
Cyrgalis: With the Hudson River in the background, the downhill tee shot is wonderfully fun before having to navigate a second shot into a tricky little green.
Cannizzaro: Sweeping, angled fairway from an elevated tee shot with a magnificent view of the Hudson River as the background. If you like that kind of thing.
The “Emergency Nine” honorable mention: Winged Foot East No. 17, Country Club of Fairfield No. 4, The Creek No. 11, Timber Point No. 5, Glen Oaks No. 11 (composite), Ballyowen No. 6, Patriot Hills No. 3, Engineers No. 7, Bethpage Red No. 15.
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