Founded initially as a social organization in 1890, Willie Dunn Jr. laid out the course at the Apawamis Club in the early 1900s. Dunn served as the head professional at Westward Ho! and also designed the original course at Biarritz Le Phare with his brother Tom before sailing to America.
“A very conservative club,” remarked Tom Doak in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, “epitomized by the name given to the double row of cross-bunkers guarding the 4th green, known as “Eleanor Roosevelt’s teeth.” Despite several attempts at revisions, the small greens and semi-blind shots between rock outcroppings still feel like it’s 1911, when Harold Hilton won the U.S. Amateur here after a fortuitous bounce out of the woods at the 37th hole.”
Since Tom Doak’s visit to Apawamis, his protégé Gil Hanse renovated the course in 2001. The club suggests the renovation was more a “restoration”, but curiously Hanse Golf Course Design does not list Apawamis as one of its projects. In 2017 the club commissioned Keith Foster to enhance the golfing experience by expanding greens, widening fairways and renovating the bunkers.
Apawamis was founded in 1890; the original nine holes were laid out in 1896 and became a USGA member in 1897. While not a long course, it is tight, with very small fast greens. Its history is impressive. Both Ed Sullivan and Gene Sarazen were caddies there. Sarazen of course invented the sand wedge and is remembered for his unlikely double eagle at the 1935 Masters on the 15th hole. It has been called the greatest shot in golf history as well as “The Shot Heard Round the World”. (No offense to Bobby Thompson and the 1951 New York Giants) Regardless, it enabled him to force a playoff for the next day, which he won handily. This was only the second Masters, which at the time was still called the Augusta National Invitational, and the publicity enabled it to become the fourth major. Ed Sullivan hosted one of America’s longest running TV shows and may best be remembered for the myth of censoring Elvis and only showing him from the waist up, which is not true, and his classic introduction, “Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles!”. Amazingly, these two icons caddy numbers were sequential, 98 and 99. I was also told that George Bush met Barbara Pierce at a 1941 Christmas dance at Apawamis and now you know the rest of the story. On a side note, the biennial Walker Cup is named after Bush’s grandfather, George Herbert Walker, who was a past president of the USGA. By most accounts he was a real rascal.
The first three holes should allow you to get off to a good start. The first is a straightaway, 372-yard par four. Favor the left side of the fairway to avoid the treelined right. You should have an attack iron to an uphill green that slopes toward you. It is a small green with bunkers right. A key to Apawamis is being below the hole. The 2nd is a short par 4with trees down the left. Keep the driver in the bag and favor the right center. This is a shallow but wide two tiered green. The 3rd is a fun short par four flanked with trees on both sides. It is uphill and then downhill. If you are confidant with you driver it is a birdie oppty. I favor the go bold approach as this green is extremely shallow with 3 bunkers, thus a flip wedge improves the scoring oppty. The signature hole is the short par four fourth nicknamed Eleanor’s Teeth due to the sixteen bunkers that protect the elevated multi-tiered green. I asked several people why it was called that and I was told it was named after Eleanor Roosevelt. I suspect there is more to the story. The 5th is the shortest hole on the course and the green is surrounded by half a dozen bunkers and tilts left. The 6th is another short but tight par four, trees left and fairway bunker right. This green is protected by 8 bunkers. The 7th is the longest par four on the front and is the number one handicap hole, a dogleg left. While a high draw is best the fairway narrows significantly in the landing area. Consider a hybrid off the tee. The long approach will be like coming out of a chute. The 8th is also a dogleg left and hit the high drawer here. The drive should clear the large mound in the middle of the fairway and take the three fairway bunkers right out of play. Be wary of the deep greenside bunker left. The front closes with a 3 shot par 5, the longest hole on the course with OB right. This is the largest green on the course and tilts right.
The back starts with another par five, but this one is reachable. However, the fairway narrows in the landing area and there is OB right. If you hit a great drive go for it, otherwise carefully navigate the small pond left and the three bunkers that are about 50 yards short of the green. If you are spraying the ball lay up on the short par 4 11th. There is OB right a stream left, bunker front right and pond left of the green. The 12th is the longest par 3 and plays a club longer as it is uphill. The 13th is a dogleg right, bunker inside elbow and one thru the fairway. A water hazard greenside front right and this is a two-tiered green. The 14th is the longest par four, fortunately, the tee box is elevated. Hit it far and straight down the treelined fairway. There is a creek that bisects the fairway about 50 yards out along with jack and jill bunkers. The 15th is also a long par four but, the fairway ends about 260 yards out. This leaves a long albeit downhill approach to another two-tier green with a deep bunker left. The 16th is a mid-length uphill par 3 with a very small green and three bunkers front right and a pot bunker front left. The 17th is a reachable par 5 with a fairway bunker left and OB right. A good drive will leave you with a 200+ yard blind approach. If you are laying up, play to the top of the hill to give you a 100 yard flip wedge. The green has a bunker left and two right. The finishing hole is a short par 4 with a blind tee shot. Fairway bunkers left and OB right, consider laying up. This uphill approach is to a green that is surrounded by 9 bunkers.
When you arrive at the club's entrance and leave the hustle / bustle of normal everyday life you come to a course that's clearly a benchmark in the development of golf in the United States. The Apawamis Club was in the second wave of clubs that joined the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the rolling, tumbling terrain is its finest attribute. You see this immediately when arriving at the 1st tee.
The club has smartly and intuitively realized that living in the past would not be a wise matter and the engagement of Gil Hanse and now Keith Foster has certainly demonstrated a proactive approach. In 1911 the club hosted the US Amateur and later USGA events came with the Girls' Junior, Curtis Cup and Senior Women's Amateur respectively.
The club did bring on board architect Hanse at of the new century and his efforts knocked off some of the dust that had collected. Matters were greatly enhanced in 2017 when architect Keith Foster was brought on board and through the hiring of superintendent Michael McCormick prior to that.
The layout for the property is interesting. The property is an inverted "T" -- with parts of holes in certain areas and others elsewhere. Getting everything to work in tandem is no small task, however, Foster and McCormick have done exceedingly well in bringing back to life its original charm and character.
Apawamis is located on rocky terrain -- a common feature for many Westchester-based clubs. It's really amazing how the holes from the early days of infancy were slotted through and eventually linked together.
Much of what is now at Apawamis has been exposed by McCormick and his hard-working team. Underbrush eliminated and tree removal in certain locations carried out as well as putting surfaces being reclaimed with certain bunkers removed and others improved upon. There has also been the expansion of fairways areas - most notably when playing the 7th and 8th holes which are both superb holes. The grass coverings of the rock outcropping have also been removed and this has really served the "eye appeal" when playing the course.
The implementation of the updated master plan is not yet complete. The 18th hole will undergo a few improvements given the pre-existing awkwardness of the hole as it turns abruptly in the drive zone. There is also the forced inclusion of "out of bounds" left of the hole given the close proximity of the club's practice area.
The early holes in the round are not long but are cleverly situated and securing proper fairway angles will greatly determine one's success. Much has been written about the famed 4th -- "Eleanor's Teeth" and the hole is both sporting and testing. The expansion of the putting surfaces there and the vexing internal contours keeps golfers on their toes.
The par-3 5th is hindered by the inclusion of a man-made wall at the teeing area. Given how Apawamis embraces the natural rock outcropping it does stick out as a sore thumb.
It's interesting that two of the three par-5 holes are situated on the top portion of the "T" I previously mentioned. The par-5 9th and 10th holes form a straight line and are engaging but hardly noteworthy.
The routing is well-served by the manner in which holes 11 thru 14 are located. In many instances such a grouping of holes on such a narrow piece of land would seem forced and likely result in having a series of inferior holes. That's not the case at Apawamis. Each is quite engaging and the shot requirements are clearly varied.
Hole 15 thru 17 are splendidly done. The par-4 15th is aptly named "tribulation" and the tee shot is central to one's success. The hole turns slightly to the left and as you look at the green for the approach you cannot fully appreciate the amount of slope the green has. The key is being sure one's ball is not above the hole or finishing to the right of the putting surface as the wherewithal to recover from those locations is on par with jumping out of an airplane without a parachute!
The par-3 16th is the club's most demanding par-3. The hole plays 186 listed yards but is often into the prevailing wind and players must somehow flight's one ball high enough to land softly on the elevated target. The hole is free of clutter and it is both majestic and utterly unyielding in sorting out the pretenders from the contenders.
The par-5 17th is another thought-provoking hole. You commence from an elevated tee and the key is securing the fairway and avoiding the fairway bunkers. The green is located below a hidden dip and it is a treat to go for the green in two shots and wonder how things played out when walking over the rise and seeing where one's ball is located. Shorter hitters can simply position second shots to the end of the fairway and have a view of the green below.
Apawamis has done well in understanding its roots -- bringing back to life a true connection to its past but not so anchored as to be nothing more than a relic. There are a number of fun holes to play and the club's desire to present day-to-day firm and fast conditions makes for engaging shotmaking at various times.
Foster's work is still going on and a return visit in the near term will be most interesting to see how the final chapters playout. Right now -- the outcomes have by and large been successful and the club has smartly realized how to invigorate the rustic side while pushing aside the rust.
M. James Ward