Owned by potato farmer Pete Bistrian, the 123-acre site for the East Hampton Golf Club course received “concept approval” back in 1978 but another two decades would pass before the 18-hole layout was finally constructed then opened for play in 2000.
Holes 1 to 7 are laid out on flat, open terrain, with fairways flanked by wispy fescue in a very links-like golfing environment. The remaining holes are then routed through an undulating, wooded landscape, which some commentators have likened to Pine Valley.
Highlight holes include the short par four 2nd, with a small central bunker cut into the front of the green and the signature par five 5th, where a large waste bunker forms the strategic interest on this hole.
On the back nine, heavily bunkered, raised greens feature at the doglegged par fours on holes 12 and 13, another sandy waste area threatens between holes 15 and 16, and players putt out on the home green at the 18th on the course’s smallest putting surface.
With the two nines on either side of a main road, both looking completely different from each other in topography, surroundings and design, it is understandable to ponder that it’s really more like two 9-hole courses rather than one complete 18-hole layout.
The current opening nine is wide open on a relatively compact piece of land. I offer kudos to Coore/Crenshaw for routing the opening 4 holes along the boundary to keep a constant change of direction, but also to make the most of the remaining land on that side of the road for the rest of the front side. With the land being pretty flat for the first 8 holes, it was of no surprise to see so many pushed up greens, often with steep slopes on either side to add to the challenge.
Upon crossing the road, you are immediately in a different world of golf. The fairways are tree lined, the topography moves up and down, and the ability for Coore to design large bunker/waste areas was prevalent. Certain greens (e.g.: par 3 11th) don’t get enough sunlight and it shows in places. There is a case for cutting down a few hundred trees to open up views and give the land a chance to flourish. You quickly lose the freedom of the front nine and now navigate many holes running back and forth through heavily wooded terrain.
The course finishes with an exciting short downhill par 3 17th, and a tricky short par 4 dog-leg left finisher. It was enjoyable to play another of Coore/Crenshaw’s portfolio. The personality of the two nines tries its best to maintain some level of consistency with the situations you face around the greens. I was sincerely grateful for the opportunity to play at such a high-end modern club in one of the country’s most sought-after zip codes.
One of the most demanding aspects in being a golf course architect is fitting all 18 holes into a very small amount of acreage. Often times, there will be clear instances when the routing is compromised in order to get everything completed. East Hampton has less than 130 acres of land and the design duo of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore have provided a fun layout with two contrasting nines.
The outward nine used to be used for the final nine holes and the switch to what is present now works very well.
The layout features the usual assortment of design elements that C&C have used at other layouts. The bunkers are well presented - from an appearance and strategic perspective.
The two nines are totally distinct from one another. The outward side is quite expansive -- the inward half is tree-lined and features a bit more terrain changes.
The aspect that elevates Crenshaw and Coore is that they understand thoroughly how a routing must be comprehensive and avoid banal holes that simply offer little to nothing in the round. East Hampton is a first rate member's course. When I say that it is by no means a pejorative. The accent is on playable golf with an array of twists and turns that keep players involved mentally and physically. After the demanding opener -- a dog-leg right of 455 yards -- you then face a possible driveable short par-4. Just be sure to avoid the pesky center-placed bunker that fiercely protects the green.
East Hampton includes a number of green where the falls-off are quite pronounced for any approaches failing to be hit properly. Recoveries are possible but they are anything but automatic.
One of my favorite holes is the par-5 8th at 509 yards and like the opener it also turns right. Strong players can reach the green in two but both shots have to be played with the utmost care as trees pinch in and the fairways does taper down the closer you get to the green.
You cross a road for the inward half and it’s quite amazing how Crenshaw and Coore were able to fit 9 quality holes in such a limited amount of available land. The separation of the holes by trees avoids the claustrophobic sense and the nature of the land is also a plus in giving various different looks throughout the side.
The par-4 13th demonstrates how a mid-length par-4 just beyond 400 yards can be a real treat to encounter. Once again you face a dog-leg right hole. Fairway bunkers hug that side and while playing away from them may be appealing at first glance -- it's really more advantageous to play as near to them as possible for the best approach angle.
There are a series of good holes that follow and the closer is a beguiling short par-4 -- max length at 281 yards. However, the hole turns left abruptly in the drive zone and unless the tee shot is played with utter precision you will quickly find that what seemed like a probably four can quickly turn into a likely bogey or more.
East Hampton will not be in the upper realm with such area courses as Shinnecock Hills, National Golf Links of America, Sebonack and Maidstone. Each of the aforementioned are among the finest not only on Long Island but also in America and globally. Crenshaw and Coore showed great dexterity in taking advantage of what they were given to work with. The course is a fun layout and for those lucky to be members a grand place to call your home course.
M. James Ward