Crag Burn is an early ‘70s design from Robert Trent Jones near the city of Buffalo, which dedicates a healthy number of bunkers and ponds to challenging the accessibility of its greens.
No. 11’s fairway bunker is the largest sand hazard on the course, but the grass mounds that form a smiley face in the hazard seem like they should encourage those trying to hug the corner of the dogleg. Unfortunately, that “smile” is a frown when looked at from the tee. If, however, you are able to carry the wall of bunkers at the front of the green and find a birdie putt, you will certainly share a grin with the hazard when looking backwards.
Other holes back in the woodlands portion of the course — including Nos. 2, 5, 6, 7, and 14 — will challenge the approaching golfer with ponds...unfortunately there will not be a sympathetic bunker face to greet success or failure in these endeavors.
The club’s earliest founders (predating the golf course by almost 40 years) included Dorothy Knox, whose family is still one of the most prominent in Buffalo today. The family crest features the colors blue and gold, which remains the scheme for Crag Burn today. It’s also evident in the colors of the Buffalo Sabres NHL hockey team, which is owned by the Knox family.
I believe it's fair to say The Empire States has the greatest depth of private clubs in America. However, the bulk of them are in the greater New York City area and are often found either on Long Island or Westchester County. Many may not view Western New York as a golf haven but there are a few layouts of special note worth checking out.
Opened in 1969 and the handiwork of Robert Trent Jones, Sr., Crag Burn is not your typical Jones course with massive tees and bunkers ending with greens equally large and not particularly noteworthy. The work from Jones here is more subdued -- allowing the terrain to be the star and with the architect applying just a bit of design make-up to this natural beauty.
The fescue grasses provide plenty of separation between the holes and the routing from Jones keeps players on their toes -- never relying upon sameness makes for an entertaining day of club selection at all times.
If Crag Burn were closer to the New York City area it's likely it might get even less attention given the sheer number of heavyweight courses in that area. Unlike Oak Hill in Rochester which is the only upstate New York course to really make its mark among the State's top ten -- Crag Burn is far more than a sleeper and deserves a far better fate in terms of recognition and stature.
Anyone venturing through the Buffalo area had best be advised to keep the golf clubs nearby. Crag Burn is a private club but if an invitation can be secured you will find your time there well worth spending. Jones designed a good number of courses globally and Crag Burn will often be on the sidelines of the headline ones. But make no mistake the design Jones provided clearly is a bit beyond many of those other courses that have garnered way too much press at the expense of others -- most notably Crag Burn.
by M. James Ward