The Engineers Country Club dates back to 1917 and is located in the village of Roslyn Harbor, which enjoys a unique position on the Gold Coast of Long Island.
The Engineers championship golf course is routed across the former Willet Manor estate and was originally designed by Englishman Herbert Strong who was the professional at Royal St George’s before he emigrated from England to take up the post of professional at Apawamis Club at Rye, New York.
Two years after the course at the Engineers Country Club opened for play, the club hosted the PGA Championship which saw Jim Barnes beat the 1908 US Open champion Fred McLeod 6 and 5. One year later in 1920, Engineers also hosted the USGA Amateur Championships. Devereux Emmet remodelled the Engineers course in 1921.
Engineers Country Club is fabled for the quality of its greens, which in 1920 were summed up by one sports columnist: “The main nerve test will be on the greens. You will find strong men weeping as they finish a round.” Nothing has changed very much since then. If you can master the putting surfaces at the Engineers Club then you may card a great score.The par four 16th lays claim to be one of the Engineers signature holes, which is beautifully described on the club website: “A telephone number is a possibility if you're sloppy. On the right, as you come up and out of the teeing area, is OB the entire length of the hole. If your driver has been misbehaving, drop down and hit something straight up the left side. The green is downhill from the fairway and protected on all sides: a hidden ravine that requires a billy-goat to find your ball protects the front; you will find water on the right; there is deep grass on a cliff plateau on the left. So if you miss the green, just dial EMS. On top of it all, the green is among the tougher on the course with severe breaks.”
Some changes over the years at ECC have taken out a bit of the bite from what otherwise rivaled Augusta National as the trickiest and most severe greens in the Northeast.
Several of the original holes that existed when Engineers hosted the first international golf competition before the Ryder Cup began are nothing short of incredible. The dramatic run of holes from #11 to #15 are four of the best back-to-back holrd anywhere in the world which require a combination of power and finesse.
The 11th is a short par-4 that doglegs to the right with a deep and skinny green where any putt from above the pin is treacherous. The chances of birdie are equal to bogey and a slight misstep will lead you to a quick double bogey that has you kicking yourself asking, "how did that just happen".
The 12th is also a dogleg to the right and arguably the best medium length par 4 on Long Island. At just under 400 yards, you must keep your tee shot on the left side of the fairway to have an angle that works for this green that slopes hard from right to left (the opposite direction of the approach shot angle). Missing this green to the right leaves a lightening quick pitch that is nearly impossible to stop. Missing left and you could have a lost ball in the woods. The green is more than ample but unless you keep your approach shot left and below the pin, every putt on this green is quite challenging.
The par 4 13th is a slight dogleg left that is about 470 yards from the back tees. It’s a very challenging hole that has ruined many rounds. The green looks simple enough but hitting it is a whole different story. An inviting collection area is short and right of the green but getting that simple looking pitch close to the hole is so much harder than it looks as the green slopes away from you and from front-to-back. It’s a brilliant design where you pick up a shot on the field salvaging a par.
The 14th is called the 2 or 20 hole, a hole in which at only 115 yards has a mini-reverse Redan green. Unbelievably both Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazon in tournament competition scored double digits on this hole. The green is surrounded by fescue and a miss left ensures no chance of hitting the green on your 2nd and a miss right leaves you in a bunker that is about 10 feet below the green and super steep, even leaving the possibility of you having a lost ball if you don't wind up in the bunker. It’s one of the best sand wedge par-3s in the world by anyone's standards. Just as strong as the postage stamp at Royal Troon.
The 15th is a long and straight downhill par 4 with a wild gigantic green. The green is one of the best of all time, as it has so many ridges and slopes that it must take the maintenance crew an hour to cut it each day. Anywhere is a 3 putt possibility and the back right section is the most exciting as a well struck approach shot will often funnel close to the hole.
Just a few awkward holes is all that keeps Engineers from being top 15 in the state.
Engineers might be one of the most fun golf courses anywhere. The first three holes are solid.
Hole 4- A good dogleg right, uphill par 5 that is reachable in 2.
Hole 5- A great downhill par 4 with a bunker that fronts the green.
Hole 7- A driveable par four that rewards a great drive with a makeable eagle putt and the layup and approach with a good look at birdie. However, one who misses the green going for it in one will have a difficult time getting up and down.
Hole 14- "2 or 20" is a fantastic 120 yd par 3 and then the course has a strong set of finishing holes. If there was one course I've played that I would consider joining after one round. This is it.
Some of the courses that hosted the PGA long ago are simply not very good, no longer exist (Pecan Valley), or have been modified so much that they are barely recognizable (Shawnee, Seaview, etc.). Some of them are close to what one would expect such as Llanerch while some remain very good to excellent (Oakmont, Olympia Fields, Ross course at French Lick, Pinehurst #2).
I was pleasantly surprised by Engineers and very much impressed by the course. It is a mixture of challenging and fair. It can be a difficult walk due to the hills, but it is wonderful in terms of the routing, green complexes, and strategy. There are a few weaker holes but there are also a few holes that will stack up against any of the best golf courses on Long Island. While it will never be a top 10 course in New York due to the state having the best golf in the USA, it is certainly a course that should be right around eighteen to twenty-five, depending on one’s preferences.
Engineers was designed by Herbert Strong, a golf architect that is rarely mentioned as one of the greats but should be. Mr. Strong, born near Sandwich and a caddie at Royal St. George’s, became a clubmaker and an accomplished amateur player. He competed in the 1899 Open Championship held at Royal St. George’s, missing the cut by eight strokes. By 1902 he was the head professional at Go Magog Golf Club near Cambridge. He played in the 1903 Open at Prestwick and 1904 Open championships, missing the cut again. He came via boat to the USA in June, 1905 with $400, a large sum at the time and became the head professional at The Apawamis Club. He immediately re-designed Apawamis to incorporate more interesting and difficult land into the routing. In 1911, he moved to become the head professional at Inwood CC and was tasked with remodeling the course resulting in it hosting the 1921 PGA Championship and the 1923 U.S. Open. He can honestly say he designed courses that hosted many of the premier championships of the day.
As a player, Herbert Strong participated in three Open championships (three missed cuts), and nine U.S. Open’s, with his best finish being ninth place in the historic 1913 event at Brookline won by Francis Ouimet. At the 1913 event, Mr. Strong played only with a scorekeeper for all four rounds (two rounds each day). In three of the rounds, he bettered Mr. Ouimet’s score but a third round 82 left him too far back. He was known for being a long hitter despite weighing between 120-140 pounds, had a good short game, but was an erratic putter.
Rodman Wanamaker, the owner of the department store chain and a number of golf professionals, including Walter Hagan, gathered at the Martinique Hotel in New York City on January 17, 1916 and formed the PGA of America. Mr. Strong was invited to the event and chosen to be on the organizing committee. Later that year he was named the first secretary-treasurer. On April 10, 1916 Mr. Wanamaker offered to put up the trophy and the prize money for the PGA championship, with the first one held in October.
Mr. Strong was influenced both by his time spent at Royal St. George’s, known then for its many blind shots, and Apawamis, which was a course featuring hilly terrain, dramatic land forms, and blind shots. He designed approximately thirty courses of which the most noted are:
Canterbury – which has hosted all five of men’s championships, 1940 & 1946 U.S. Open, 1964 & 1979 U.S. Amateur, 1973 PGA Championship, 2009 Senior PGA Championship, 1996 Senior U.S. Open as well as Western Open and Senior TPC
Engineers – which hosted the 1919 PGA Championship and the 1921 U.S. Amateur
Ponte Vedra Inn – often credited as the site of the first island green in the USA in 1928 but Baltusrol, East Lake, The Creek, and Galen Hall all lay claim to having the first one. The course was selected to host a Ryder Cup in 1939 but WWII prevented it.
Saucon Valley Old – hosted the 1951 U.S. Amateur, 1992 and 2000 U.S. Senior Open, 2009 U.S. Women’s Open and several other notable championships.
Lakeview - site of 1923 and 1934 Canadian Open
Inwood CC – site of 1921 PGA Championship and 1923 U.S. Open
Nassau CC – where the “Nassau” was created.
As an architect, Mr. Strong was known for his routings that took advantage of topographical features no matter the difficulty of the land. His primary characteristic was building difficult large greens that were multi-tiered and aggressively contoured for their time. These greens were often surrounded by cavernous bunkers or cramped bunkers, also unusual for their time. Hitting a tee shot that landed on the fairway did not always result in a favorable approach shot as the greens were designed in a way to favor approach shots from one side of the fairway over another side; on many holes a ball could run through the green into trouble behind or end up far away from the pin due to the slopes he put on the green.
Like most of the best courses on Long Island, Engineers is built around substantial changes in elevation, in particular one hill. The routing takes prime advantage of the main hill, laying out holes to approach the hill or depart from different angles. This “main” hill spans the thirteenth green/fourteenth hole/fifteenth tee moving to the second green across to the third tee to the fourth green back to holes down to the seventh green. Holes nine and eleven utilize a smaller hill while sixteen and seventeen incorporate its own valley. The eighteenth green sits on the side of a separate valley off the side of the clubhouse despite its fairway and the first hole being flat. From the main hill there are holes that go straight up, fall straight down, or go across. As I have played Canterbury, I give Mr. Strong credit for building holes that challenge a player from tee to green and for taking on difficult terrain that would have led other designers to route holes in a different direction.
When first built, Engineers was considered to have too many holes to be overly difficult because Mr. Strong believed a poorly executed shot should be heavily penalized. Yet when the course was first opened, the yardage was only 6362, par 70, considered a short course for its day. It also did not have a high number of bunkers, with reference being made to Garden City Men’s where the bunkers outnumbered Engineers by “ten to one.” However, the bunkers he initially built were atypical to the time period and to the U.S.A. For example, the bunker he built off of the eighth green was long, deep (almost appearing as a small river), and rugged against a green that appears to be 30% larger than the one that is there today. (And the one initially built was severely sloped and mounded). The criticism of the course was not due to its length or bunkers, it focused primarily on the greens described as “a bag of tricks,” to denote holes where a good shot was not rewarded.
I found two holes at Engineers to be overly penal but the other greens have been softened or perhaps technology have made the holes play easier. Keep in mind, the sand wedge and other favorable wedges did not exist when he built Engineers. In addition, back in the 1920’s the height of grass on the green was much higher than today resulting in lower green speeds so the original greens must have indeed been very undulating and sloped.
The routing does an excellent job of placing the primarily large, undulating greens in near perfect spots to take advantage of the land. Some holes rise quickly while some fall quickly and some are more gradual. It is not the best land on Long Island, but the routing is very good for the land. The terrain reminds me of nearby Fresh Meadow, designed by Charles Hugh Alison, a gem of a course built around a hill and lower ground that has hosted multiple Metropolitan Opens and hosts an annual prestigious amateur tournament called the Sarazen Invitational. It makes one wonder if Mr. Alison was inspired by Mr. Strong’s design at Engineers.
It should be noted that Devereux Emmet remodeled part of Engineers in 1921 which did soften the course. Five other architects have also been involved in changing Engineers or partially restoring it, most recently
I played it on September 12, 2019 following an overnight rain. The course is par 71, yardage 6801 rated 73.3/129 while the Blue tees are 6627 rated 71.9/127. There are three other sets of tees going down to 5145 yards. The tees we chose for the day were 6627. One is not likely to lose a golf ball on the course other than two holes were out-of-bounds can come into play and two holes where there are trees. I think the slope is a little light, thinking it should be in the mid-130’s. Obviously, it is not the fearsome challenge today as it was when it opened.
To follow are the description by holes:
1 – par 4 420/395. A flat, straight hole that shares numerous bunkers on its left side with the eighteenth fairway, most of which are not in play except for the two at the end of the sequence. There are two bunkers on the right. The green is surrounded by six bunkers and angled slightly right to left. It is a long green with two ridges in it and a fall-off from all sides, most noticeably back right. We had a back right pin and I was coming in from the right, did not catch the spine that would have kicked my ball to the right and the result was a three putt. It is a very good green for the first hole.
2 – par 4 439/406. One walks under Motts Cove Road down a valley to arrive at the next tee. This hole plays about two clubs longer due to the green sitting up on the side of the main hill about 40 feet high. There are numerous bunkers again down the left side that are shared with the fifteenth fairway. But the bigger danger for average length hitters are the three trees on the right. The green has a bunker right at the bottom of the hill and two on the left built into the hill that has the green. The green has a four feet tilt in it going left to right and a slope back to front. There are two bunkers off the right side of the green that are blind to the player’s approach shot. This is a very difficult, yet fun green. There is higher ground behind the green as the hill continues that if one gets their ball into the side of that it is a nearly impossible shot. I loved the hole.
3 – par 3 228/201 playing downhill but only one club less. There is a huge bunker left front of the green which is angled right to left. Trees are far behind the green but present a lovely view from the tee. This is a good par 3.
4 – par 5 534/500 going back up the hill so the hole plays 25-30 yards longer. Both the tee shot, the second shot, and the third shot for average length hitters are all uphill although the grade is never overwhelming. There is one large bunker on the left and six bunkers on the right squeezing into the fairway with the best play to lay back short of them although the longer hitters can easily carry them. The bigger danger is the thicker trees down the right side and left side for the second shot as you hit through a chasm of trees. At the uphill, raised green there are two bunkers on the right front, one short left and one blind one on the back left for those who put too much effort into their approach shot as the green is sloped back left to allow a ball to reach that bunker. There is a large swale in the green running somewhat diagonally. I really liked the hole and appreciated how in the first four holes we have experienced the three different pars.’
5 – par 4 475/455. Playing from nearly the same height as the fourth green, you are playing downhill but the land rises meaning only the longest hitters can take advantage of catching the fall in the fairway beyond the rise. When they do so they are likely hitting a drive around 350 yards. I do not have the length to carry the rise so the five bunkers on the right and the two on the left very much come into play. I found the right side of the fairway, the ideal line to the green. From this rise in the hole, the fairway now falls quickly down to the green and one has a lovely view of the golf hole. The green has a single tree on the left and the green is completely surrounded by six bunkers including a centerline bunker right at the front. There is no ability to run a ball onto the green. The green is not very big for the length of the hole but the bunkers are not overly penal allowing one a chance of recovery. The green has hollows and burrows in it and I could not figure out which way it broke. I thought this to be an excellent hole, perhaps a little too easy for the longer hitters but then again, they possibly have a hanging lie even though they might be hitting a shorter iron into the green as opposed to my 4 hybrid.
6 – 398/383 – this is one of the somewhat flat holes on the course but the fairway does have some rolling undulations to it. There is out-of-bounds down to the right due to heavy trees and housing so the miss is to the left but heavier grass and the valleys in the land mean that one can have a blind shot into this green. In addition, there is a single tree coming out on the left side about 45 yards short of the green but definitely in play. There is a single bunker front right that is deep to a green that has ridges and slopes in it of multiple directions. I thought this to be a good hole.
7 – par 4 292/287 – One of my favorite holes on the course, this short par 4 plays uphill to an elevated green with a 15 feet false front, perhaps more. The fairway near the landing zone has numerous bunkers on both sides of the green continuing to the sides and behind the green which slopes substantially back to front and perhaps is as quick as the second green. Saving par when entering the greenside bunkers is very unlikely. This is a really cool, clever, fun golf hole.
8 – par 4 355/350 Perhaps the least memorable hole on the front nine, this hole has scattered bunkers down the left side with two fronting bunkers at the green and two more to the right of the green. The green is elevated but this is a hole that is a potential birdie or should be a par. It is an okay hole, more visually attractive than challenging.
9 – par 3 193/188 – an excellent longer par 3 playing basically level with a single bunker right and a collection of bunkers off the left. The green is long and slopes left to right and back to front but with various micro shelves on it. The green is placed between the twelfth green and thirteenth tee which is a little awkward but it is still a really good par 3 due to the green and bunkering. There is a substantial fall-off to the right of the green down almost to the tree line.
Of the front nine, I do not think there to be a weak hole on it and it has a nice mixture of length and challenge. The greens are all very good.
10 – 551/541 – the sharpest dogleg on the course comes next. This goes to the left and the safe play is to play away from the five or six bunkers on the left which is also where the tree line is. Playing out to the right of the fairway leaves one with a view all the way to the green which sits up on a rise. There is a bunker right of the green and two to the left. There is taller grass off the left side of the fairway. In my score of 81 for the day, I took a very unnecessary double bogey on this hole as I played pinball with the trees on the left.
11 – par 4 360/355 – playing at the lowest point of the golf course and the farthest away from the clubhouse with heavy trees to the right and two trees to the left that pinch into the fairway, this is a sneaky hole due to the pitch of the green. The green complex shares the left bunkers of the ninth while the left side has two bunkers fronting the green. I had my second three putt of the day on this green as I under-rated the severity of the uphill putt I had, leaving it well short. I did like the hole.
12 – par 4 364/352 dogleg right playing uphill. Two trees block the approach from the right side so one must get to the left side of the fairway unless they lay way back of these tall trees and attempt to hit a heroic shot over them. Down the left side of the fairway is a long bunker followed by two smaller bunkers. The green is elevated with a bunker left center and one front right. There are fall-offs except on the back of the green. For a short hole, it is very strategic and I liked it.
13 – par 4 455/428 playing slightly uphill and dogleg left with two deep bunkers on the left corner. The green has a bunker left front and two small ones behind it at the corners. The green is large with an infinity look to it as the land falls away behind the green. The green has a lot of depressions and swales. At first. I did not like this hole, but later as I discussed the hole driving home I decided it to be pretty good.
14 – par 3 122/122 – the famous “two and twenty” hole, so named because in 1919 Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen both took a double bogey on this hole. This postage stamp green has a twenty-feet drop off of its back and right side. The green is long but thin and is very much in the category of “all or nothing.” If one hits the green and holds it, there is a high probability of a birdie (I lipped out), but if you miss a high score can occur (my playing partner took a 6). J.S. Worthington wrote in The American Golfer in 1923 “more malediction, praise, and lamentation has been bestowed upon this particular creation than any other short hole in existence.”
While I do not consider it to be in the same league as The Postage Stamp at Royal Troon Old, nor does it have the beauty of the seventh at Pebble Beach, this is an outstanding short hole. Perhaps it is overly penal, as it was even abandoned for many years before being restored, but I simply loved it. You play from an elevated tee looking down across the valley with a long view to New York City’s skyline in the distance (or perhaps that is Brooklyn these days), and you see this narrow, thin strip of grass that you must hit or you will be lucky to make a 4. Mr. Strong must have been so excited to have built this hole.
Oh, I have not even mentioned yet……this hole is completely surrounded by deep bunkers fronting the green and along the sides. The green’s widest point is the front, which is not very wide, and it narrows from there. Now think about that quote referenced above. How did my partner make a six? He landed in the bunker on the right, hit over the green into the bunker on the left (shades of Royal Dornoch #6), hit over the green and bunker on the other side leaving an uphill blind shot of about 40 feet, left it short of the bunker and then made a miracle up and down.
The only blight on the hole is the fairly unattractive housing and power lines off to its right but that is not the fault of the hole.
15 – par 4 465/440 - playing from an elevated tee downhill from the main hill all the way to the green. There are nine bunkers on the left with trees inside the first set of bunkers with another tree at the end. This is a slight dogleg right with eight bunkers at the green of which four are left, one at the back and three to the right. You can roll a ball onto this green as the front is open. The fairway falls off to the right. This is another good golf hole.
16 – par 4 360/350 – you cross over Motts Cove Road to get to the tee of this hole which is fairly level until you get near the green. There are two bunkers left shared with the seventeenth hole and a string of bunkers down the right with out-of-bounds beyond them. This fairway has higher ground to the left causing the fairway to tilt left to right but one has to stay as far left as possible for the better view of the green. This is the most diabolical green on the golf course, very sloped back to front with a shelf on the left side. The green sits down in its own bowl with rugged land leading down to the green. It has two small pot bunkers fronting the green but three feet below the green. There is a long bunker on the right basically going all the way behind the green also three feet below the putting surface. The left side of the green is a hill or ridge with taller grass. This green humbles you as you feel like the only chance to have to two putt is if somehow your ball stays within twenty feet below the hole, if the pin is not on that left plateau. Both my partner and I three putted the green but loved the hole. Many players likely view the green as unfair. Mr. Strong built the hole with a very large, almost waste area bunker fronting the green and I wish it were still there.
17 – par 4 350/340 playing uphill with higher ground also on the left and a fall off on the right. Fairway bunkers are down the left side with the ground sloped that way. At the green there is a small bunker on the right front, two smaller bunkers about 10 yards short of the front of the green and a large one to the left front. The green is sloped back to front and right to left and is very quick. The ground falls off behind the green and on the left side leading to a difficult recovery. It is almost better to go into the small bunker on the left or the small one behind the green. If this hole were 50 yards longer it would be extremely difficult but the club would have to buy a house and land behind the tee. As it is, it is a testing hole due to the green, one of the better ones on the course.
18 – par 4 405/400 playing level until the green. There are two trees on the left and a series of bunkers shared with the first hole. The land is rolling but tilted to the right. There is a large bunker awaiting the shot hit down the right side. The green sits down in a valley with trees and sharply higher ground to the left. The land falls off sharply to the right as well to another green with various tiers and slopes in it. There is a bunker left and two bunkers right of the green sitting lower than the surface of the green. There is a chance of recovery here which I was able to accomplish to save par. It is a very nice finishing hole, perhaps too easy for the better, longer players.
Although sixteen and seventeen have difficult greens, the negative of the final three holes is simply a lack of length for the better players.
Mr. Strong built a wonderful golf course although later softened by Mr. Emmett and at least five other architects. Yet the wonderful routing built around that main hill remains. There are holes here that will test the best of players such as two, three, eleven, fourteen and sixteen. The course lacks a little variety in terms of length as there are too many par 4’s on the back nine less than 400 yards, making seven in total. The green complexes and the greens themselves are outstanding. One would hope that Engineers would do a full restoration such as the bunkering that used to be beside the seventh, the eleventh, sixteenth and eighteenth. While there are too many great courses in New York for Engineers to ever break into the top ten primarily due to lack of length and space, I can see this being in the top twenty. I consider it to be as interesting and enjoyable as Maidstone. Herbert Strong deserves much credit for his work as a golf architect. Both Canterbury and Engineers are equally good.
Quirky and wild in spots. If you like interesting and wild greens, you'll love this course. It is a lot of fun with more memorable holes than higher ranking courses. #2, #5, #6, #7, #8 were great on the front. #14 is the 2 or 20, the hardest 90-120 yd hole on the planet. #16 is also a really good hole.