Fenway Golf Club, or should we say “Little Winged Foot” as the course is frequently dubbed, is one of New York’s pre-eminent golf clubs which dates back to 1924.
Designed by A.W. Tillinghast, Fenway features wickedly sloping greens, cavernous bunkers and tricky landing areas. Those in the know say that Fenway is Tilly’s finest design and he was presented with 240 acres of varied, rolling terrain on which to route a course that would better its illustrious neighbours.
The result is a layout that features perhaps the finest and most varied green complexes in all America. Some greens are huge and others are tiny, some are raised on plateaux but all are perfectly contoured, lightning fast and true to every roll.
With one-shot holes that vary by 100 yards in length, no weak holes and a classical design, it makes us wonder why Fenway Golf Club does not feature more prominently in America’s Top 100.
Since 1997 Gil Hanse has been advising Fenway Golf Club on course restoration.
Fenway is a pleasant Tillinghast layout currently under renovation by Gil Hanse. Tree removal continues to bring a much better feel to the course. The opening five holes are relatively clustered together before you branch out to the far side of the property to holes that meander inside of a huge bowl. With the undulation in the land, the greens have a lot of slope that will expose any weakness in the short game. The routing is thrilling in places with multiple greens being really close to each other, or the iconic 15th green which is a tiny, thin, two-tier sliver of putting surface and it will no doubt get the attention of your camera! Tillinghast build a very similar (and magnificent) green at Ridgewood. I give a lot of credit to the greens here, which are without doubt the highlight.
So much of course ratings and overall rankings is greatly impacted on what key events a club has hosted. The awareness level is helped considerably by television exposure. In Westchester County the name of Fenway Golf Club is clearly known -- not so much aonce you leave the immediate NY metro region.
Fenway is another superb design effort from A.W. Tillinghast -- the gifted architect who also created the likes of nearby Winged Foot and Quaker Ridge.
Fenway doesn't have the total length and intense rigorous nature of Winged Foot / West but it does have some of the finest putting surfaces Tillinghast ever created. The other two aspects that bolster Fenway is the routing of the holes and the nature of the overall terrain. In both areas the course excels.
On the surface -- the 1st hole at 285 yards would seem to be a pushover. Think again. The small green sits above flanking bunkers. Want to try to reach the green? Sure -- go ahead. Just be sure to hit a superlative shot marrying sufficient length and accuracy. Go too long and you will be reloading from the tee as out-of-bounds awaits. What appears to be a birdie hole can inflict serious doubt just as one's round is getting started.
The challenge rises noticeably with the 2nd -- going uphill and playing a good bit more than the listed at 455 yards. Out-of-bounds hugs the left and the green is again flanked by deep bunkers. There is an opening to run the ball onto the green but must be hit with total precision.
The par-5 3rd hole at 520 yards provides a birdie possibility but not without earning it. Tillinghast provided a Sahara Complex that's beautifully presented. The longer the tee shot the greater the need to keep it in play as the fairway narrows appreciably. The green is another gem -- split between lower and upper halves -- allow your mind to wander for just a second and a quick three-putt occurs.
At the par-3 4th the total distance is just 143 yards but again the green complex sets a stringent test. There's a lower and upper tier. It takes nerve and high level execution to flight a ball to the upper tier area. Like the 1st hole -- the 4th on the surface looks quite gettable -- but it does not yield easily.
The next two holes up the stakes in terms of difficulty -- the 5th plays 480 yards going uphill with a fairway that becomes tighter. Watch for two pesky bunkers on the left side because should you land in either the probability for success diminishes rapidly. There's also a devilish false front -- a common Tillinghast tactic -- that befuddles players who simply don't hit the purest of approaches. The 6th is a bearish long par-3 -- playing 234 yards and again slightly uphill making club selection imperative. Anything hit too deep into the green will face a treacherous downhill putt.
The following two par-4's are not long -- both under 400 yards - yet require keen awareness on where to place the approach is essential. The concluding hole on the outward half is brilliant - a stream runs across the fairway so a likely lay-up is the smart play. The approach is top tier stuff -- uphill with deep bunkers pushed into the sides of the elevated target. Failure to hit deep enough into the green will mean another fallback towards the fairway. A classic hole that uses the terrain to maximum impact.
The inward nine begins with a demanding long par-4 with another superb green -- two tiers and sloped from back-to-front. The par-3 11th is one of Fenway's most underrated holes -- the false front eats into roughly a third of the putting surface. It takes a well-played with sufficient height and distance to reach the green. From the 12th thru the 14th you face a trio of solid lengthy par-4 holes and each is uniquely different from the other.
The gem of the back nine for many -- myself included -- is the seductive short par-4 15th -- playing a mere 301 yards. The hole turns left and the smartest of plays is to align your tee shot directly with the angle into the green. Why? Tillinghast created an hourglass green that's particularly narrow. Adding to the strategic qualities are two deep flanking bunkers. If a bold play is made from the tee and you miss either wide left or right you will face the most demanding of short wedge shots imaginable. There's literally no room to stop the ball. The 15th will yield birdies -- but it will clearly have players begging for mercy who cavalierly assume that just about any shot will suffice.
Fenway's final three holes provide players with some leeway to recover earlier lost strokes. The downhill par-4 16th plays shorter because of the pitch of the terrain. The par-3 17th plays over water and if the pin is placed in the front requires a gutsy play to get close. The closing hole - an uphill par-5 at 555 yards, is an opportunity to finish off the round with a concluding birdie -- so long as the two fairway bunkers on the left are avoided as the fairway pinches in at that point.
To the club's considerable credit a key development was the hiring of architect Gil Hanse to upgrade and restore the Tillinghast features. The course clearly benefited. Fenway would gain even more traction if additional trees were eliminated so as to accentuate strategic lines of attack without the unnecessary clutter.
The best way to handle Fenway's vexing greens is to keep one's approaches on line and if need be even short of the hole. Missing to either side will severely test your short game nerves. Golf at Fenway is mental chess -- being able to get to a certain position with a trajectory that's called upon. Prodigious length alone will not win the day at Fenway because the course has only two par-5 holes -- one coming early in the round at the 3rd -- the other at the final hole.
New York is likely the best State in America for its sheer depth of private courses. The competitive nature of The Empire State likely keeps Fenway for snaring a top ten position but the course has a solid case for a top 15 position. Those who venture to Westchester County need to place Fenway on their golf radar screen. When the layout is playing truly firm and fast the design elements shine ever so brightly -- making proper ball striking an absolute must. Fenway doesn't have the august reputation of Winged Foot or even other nearby notables such as Quaker Ridge and Sleepy Hollow -- but the hole diversity is top shelf. Bolstered by first rate putting surfaces cleverly angled and contoured magnificently. Fenway's winning combination is illuminated through key design details so abundantly clear and rigorous in the examination provided.
by M. James Ward