The golf course at Century Golf Club in White Plains is quickly approaching the goal established by its title, having been constructed during 1926.
The course, like many in the area, is awash with history. Although local Walter Travis consulted on the property during 1922, it was ultimately Harry Colt and C.H. Alison who were chosen for the job (with the latter handling most of the work). Alister MacKenzie, although not involved in the design at all, came by the site to converse with the pair. Eventually Robert Trent Jones would stop by for some updates during the late ‘50s but the course maintains a more Alison essence today, with greens tending toward straight lines and bunkers doing very much the opposite. That appearance is thanks in large part to a Keith Foster renovation during 2016-’17.
In a humorous anecdote, Ben Hogan was hired as the assistant professional for, in the words of the recommending member, “he made a nice appearance.” Hogan would eventually serve as head professional for two years before moving on to win nine major championships.
I agree with M. James Ward that Century Country Club is a gem. In the golf rich state of New York as well as the area with the best golf in the world (Long Island/Westchester County/northern New Jersey/southeast Connecticut), it does not get the recognition it deserves. In 42 other states, it would easily be in the top ten.
It sits on land that is only slightly hilly, unlike some other courses in the area such as Sunningdale where there are defined hills and valleys. Because the changes in the land is more gradual, it takes a good routing and design to elevate a course within the top 40 in New York which it where it currently ranks.
The course was basically designed by C. H. Alison as Harry Colt visited but then left to go to Pine Valley. Due to the recent efforts of the green committee, working with Keith Foster who has successfully undertaken restorations of significant courses, the work of Robert Trent Jones is nearly gone and the course is closer to what was originally built.
The course is best remembered by several characteristics. First is the fine routing, more intimate on the front nine while the back nine is more expansive. Overall the course feels “big”. The second is the outstanding condition of the course. Third is a deft use of bunkers and trees to provide defense. Lastly and most Important are the terrific green surfaces.
The club has restored many of the greens to their original larger size. With the exception of a couple of greens, they are large. They are in perfect condition and are very quick. At various times I felt the greens were just a touch less quick than Oakmont. The greens do not have a lot of internal movement in the form of hollows, humps, tiers, or swales. Instead most of them have long gradual slopes, generally front to back but also sometimes side to side. It is critical that one try to stay below the hole location in order to take the break out of the hole as well as limit the speed of the downhill putt. In sum, the greens look somewhat simple, but they are definitely not.
Due to the quality of the greens, the routing and variety of the holes, the length at over 7000 yards, it is obvious why Century is used by the USGA for sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open.
I think the front nine is more interesting architecturally than the back nine but thought the back nine to be a touch more difficult. Other than hitting a ball into the water or a very wayward shot into the woods, it is unlikely that one will lose a ball.
I agreed with my host that the two best holes on the course are the fifth and sixth. The sixth offers the most compelling view from the tee as it winds from an elevated tee flanked by thick trees and very well placed bunkers. I liked every hole on the front nine with the exception of the short par five eighth hole which plays more as a long par 4. The eighth has a good green complex, but the club owns land behind the green which could extend the hole 50 yards from a slightly downhill 477 yards from the back tee. I am sure the club could replicate the green in a new location. It is by far the weakest hole on the golf course, diminishing the wonderful front nine.
The back nine features the best par five on the course which is the long eleventh. The second most beautiful hole on the course is the twelfth due to the pond and location of the green. The thirteenth is the shortest par 3 over a pond to the smallest green on the course steeply banked to the front. Sixteen is likely the most difficult par 4 on the course as the second longest with a difficult green.
Both nine and eighteen end the nines as uphill par 4’s with very sloped greens back to front with the eighteenth having also a strong break to the right. I had a pin location on the right with a short chip and I aimed 25 feet left and it still went right of the green after a 90 degree turn.
The course is a par 71 with the back tees at 7026 yards rated 74.5/135. The blue tees are 6721 yards, rated 72.8/133. The white tees are 6377 yards, rated 71.3/129. I describe the course as difficult, but fair due to its playability.
I will reference the black and white tees. One can split the difference for the blue tees.
1. Par 4 - 444/429. From an elevated tee, one should get a favorable rollout as long as they avoid the fairway bunker on the left. The land also cants to the right. Two long and deep bunkers frame the large green, sharply baked back to front. It is a strong starting hole and one immediately is faced with the difficulty of judging both pace and line of the greens.
2. Par 4 - 388/368. Trees go down the left forcing one to go right on another downhill par 4. Off the right is taller fescue. The green is large with large, deep flanking bunkers on the front corners. This green has a slight depression towards its front right. It is a pretty hole from the tee due to those trees coming into the left side off he fairway.
3. Par 4 - 377/343. This uphill hole features one of two greens that have two front bunkers. In this case they seem to go across the entirety of the front. There are flanking fairway bunkers in reach for most players although longer hitters can clear them. This is a raised, plateau green resulting in the bunkers being about twelve feet deep. The green is tilted to the front but not as severely as the first two holes.
4. Par 3 - 188/160. Three deep bunkers are at this green with a back right location being the most difficult to access. While not unique, it is a challenging par 3.
5. Par 4 - 476/427. This long hole goes right with a fairway that does not seem to offer a level lie. Scattered trees go down the left side. The green has flanking bunkers on the front to middle sides but not quite as deep as the previous holes. It is a strong hole due to its length and a slight false front to the green.
6. Par 4 - 458/398. A big difference in the tee boxes yet the hole is a challenge from any tee box. The hole is a slight dogleg left but the fairway moves left. An inner corner left bunker has to be carried or avoided. The fairway has various rolls but one should get a level lie. The green is in a corner of the property with deep flanking bunkers on the sides and an additional one in the front one. The green is steep back to front. A ball going through the green should not reach the trees behind it as the rough is fairly high to stop balls. A chip behind the green has to be judged perfectly to a green running quickly away from you.
7. Par 3 - 163/145. This is the most visually attractive par 3 on the course with trees left and behind the green. This hole also has two front bunkers but with a narrow opening. The green is very quick back to front. It is a strong par 3.
8. Par 5 - 477/454. As mentioned, this is the weakest hole on the course. It features two bunkers and scattered trees down the right but due to the location of the green set off to the right, one wants to go down the left anyway. The green is a good one with three bunkers surrounding it and a strong movement to the front as well as a couple of micro depressions.
9. Par 4 - 421/394. This hole plays uphill to the green featuring a very wide fairway off the left. The fairway moves right with an inner corner fairway bunker. Like many holes at Century, there are two fairly deep bunkers on both sides of a green which is very slanted to the front but also has movement left and right depending on the location of the pin.
10. Par 4 - 453/387. The back tee is at the far end of the putting green making this the largest differential in tee distances. The hole falls then rises. The fairway tilts a bit toward the two bunkers on the left. At this point, I realized many of the green complexes have a long bunker on either side. This is another quick green to the front but also with movement left and right.
11. Par 5 - 563/525. The best par 5 calls for one to avoid the long fairway bunker on the right very much in play off the tee. There are scattered trees down both sides, but more pronounced on the right. About 100 yards from the green are two bunkers left and one to the right. They are likely in play for most players. The green is raised with the left bunker being more on the front while the right bunker is on the side. It is another quick green to the front.
12. Par 4 - 353/338. This is a gorgeous hole from the tee looking at the pond down the right side and the trees over-hanging the left side as well as a single fairway bunker on the left. The green is raised, long but thin with a front bunker and bunkers on the sides. The green does not cant as much towards the water as it looks.
13. Par 3 - 152/141. From an elevated tee, the smallest green is over a pond where balls landing on the green can sometimes back up and go off the green into the water. The green is squared off at the front with a left side bulge. It is surrounded by three bunkers including a rear bunker that would be frightening due to the green falling sharply away towards the water. The hole is not unique but it is one of the sharpest breaking greens one will play for this type of hole.
14. Par 4 - 467/405. This hole plays a bit longer as the tee shot is uphill. The hole bends slightly right with an inner right fairway bunker yet there is ample room to this fairway. The green complex has a bunker on the right about fifteen yards short of the green as well as flanking bunkers. This green seemed to be not as quick as some others.
15. Par 5 - 533/496. I liked this hole moving right and downhill to a green with a false front. Two bunkers flank the corner of the turn. Another bunker is short of the green on the left about 130 yards out. The green has two bunkers to either side. The front part of this green is very quick.
16. Par 4 - 473/430. The second longest par 4 features flanking fairway bunkers staggered with the right one a bit further up on this uphill tee shot. The green has flanking bunkers with the left side having a more unique shape. I,was,told this is the hardest hole on the course for members.
17. Par 3 - 233/201. We played a different tee set off to the left which brings the large left front bunker more into play as the green is also angled left. From the normal tees, both bunkers are very much in play. The hole has a gradual false front.
18. Par 4 - 407/366. The finishing hole goes uphill although not as steeply as the ninth. The fairway has flanking bunkers with the left side having two. The green has bunkers on the sides, with the left covering all of the side. The hole has a bit of a bowl in the front left and a tilt to the front and right.
We looked at photos inside the clubhouse from the course during the 1920’s. We saw some bunkers with internal islands and bunker shapes that are a bit more interesting. There are not many changes to the course one would recommend. But the eighth should be lengthened. Having more interesting fairway bunker shapes and variation in green side bunker placement either through differing sizes or shapes would add to the character of the course. With those changes, Century might move to the top twenty five in the best state for golf in the USA. But as it is today, one should treasure an invite to play here.
Westchester County is blessed with an array of top tier courses -- although Century Country Club does not occupy the top level with such giants as Winged Foot, Quaker Ridge, Sleepy Hollow and Fenway, it is a quality layout just behind the elite level. The architecture comes from the effort of Charles H. Alison and the design is replete with plenty of quality holes and bolstered by a routing that seizes every advantage the property provides.
A master plan was implemented in 2005 and the total length of the course was extended to just over 7,000 yards. The course is now a much stiffer test of golf. Interestingly, Ben Hogan was hired in 1938 as an assistant professional and actually became head pro for a short time in 1940 for two years before moving on and becoming the golf icon he ultimately became.
The opening hole at Century has you on your toes right from the start. The 444-yard par-4 is a strong driving hole but no less exacting is the approach. The green well defended and enough movement to force players to make the proper stroke. Century is not a brute of a course in the manner of Winged Foot / West -- it's quite beguiling and just behind the likes of Sleepy Hollow and Quaker Ridge. Tree canopies have been pushed back so that wider angles of attack are now doable.
The inward half is the stronger of the two and it commences with a trio of quality holes with the 443-yard 10th, the 563-yard par-5 11th and the fiendish par-3 12th at 152 yards with water awaiting those who don't select the proper club. The closing stretch simply mandates quality execution time after time.
Century is one of Westchester's true gems. For those who have the wherewithal when coming to the area it's best to see what one can do to play it because the recent master plan truly elevated what Alison so skillfully provided.
by M. James Ward