Friar’s Head is located at Riverhead, New York a short distance from Shinnecock Hills. Set in 350 acres, this rugged course was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and opened for play in 2003 with the philosophy that golf at Friar’s Head should be about options and creativity.
It is a private club where caddies must be used at all times. There are no yardage markers on the course and both members and guests are encouraged to walk the course as opposed to using buggies.
Friar’s Head is routed through rugged, wooded dunes and former farmland. The course starts in the dunes, holes 2 -7 and 11-13 are sited on an old potato farm then the remaining holes are back in the sand hills.
Some of the greens are enormous – they vary in size from 3,000 to 18,000 square feet. Many bunkers are both bearded and huge; others are long strips that are merely huge! To the north of the property, there are 200-foot cliffs overlooking Long Island Sound.
The signature, par four 15th hole is 460 yards long. From an elevated tee position, the tee shot must avoid a cavernous bunker which gathers in shots as the fairway slopes from right to left. The approach shot is then played to a green framed to the rear by trees which partially shield it from winds coming off the Sound.
The following article was written by the Golfclubatlas.com website co-founder John Morrissett and is an edited extract from Volume Three of Golf The Sands Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective. Reproduced with kind permission. To obtain a copy of the book, email Paul Daley at [email protected]
“What a great place for a golf course!” That innocent remark, made by a golfer on completion of his round at Friar’s Head, captures the tremendous thought and work that went into the course, as the finished course looks like an effortless creation preordained for that piece of land. In truth, however, the course presented a real challenge to its architects, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and the course’s evolution lends insight into their genius.
The property for the Friar’s Head course offered 350 acres on the north shore of Long Island in Baiting Hollow, a hamlet of Riverhead. It included bluffs of three quarters of a mile that rose steeply 150 to 200 feet above the Long Island Sound. There were 165 acres of tree-covered dunes – actually, hills formed by glacial deposits – sandwiched between the crest of the bluffs to the north and farmland to the south.
Although the wooded dunes – housing significant and wild topography with 50 to 75-foot steep elevation changes – stretched unevenly to the south, they uniformly ended abruptly when giving way to the farmland. The unbroken tree line dividing these two starkly contrasting environments served as an immediate warning that this would not be an easy site on which to build a golf course.
Yes, memorable holes could be built among the dunes. However, the dense woods and underbrush made it impossible to discern quickly just how many holes could be properly routed in that section of the property without markedly altering the landscape, which Coore and Crenshaw were philosophically opposed to doing.
The architects strongly believed that this diverse site deserved more than just another Jekyll and Hyde course, so much so that they delayed committing to Friar’s Head for well over a year until they were confident after numerous site visits that they had solved the puzzle and found a routing that would result in something better.
Coore was determined for the holes to flow together as a single course, with seamless transitions between the dunesland and farmland parts of the property. The result of this daunting task is a testament to his painstakingly thoughtful routing of the holes and his firm’s strengths with respect to the details and finishing work.
Eight of the holes are located entirely in the dunes, while four additional holes either start or finish in that section of the property. Each nine starts in the dunes, spills down into the farmland, and then returns to the dunes. The 2nd, 7th, 11th and 14th holes (all three-shotters) ease the transition between the dramatically different parts of the property during play of a hole.
Soon after completing Friar’s Head, Bill Coore was asked what was the best property, other than Sand Hills, on which he and his partner had worked. His studied reply was that, in hindsight, Friar’s Head had proven to be so. Having the natural qualities of a property shine through after tireless work to build the best course possible reflects the highest compliment that can be paid to a design.
Wonderful course that integrates old and new, manicured and native, for both design and environment. Coore and Crenshaw did a magnificant job. Be prepared to have multiple 3 putts. Huge undulating greens that are only surpassed by the quantity and vastness of the bunkers. It is a walking course and our caddy, Mike, was excellent. The signature hole is #15, a long par 4 heading north to Long Island Sound.
I had Mike last year and can attest that he had some wonderful knowledge that he shared with us. Great green reader, too.
This is a extensive recap so buckle up… First off, take at least 40 minutes before the round to take advantage of the practice facility. Beautiful range, new ProV1’s, and a putting green to die for. As well as three short game greens with excellent bunkers and the capability to hit 70 yard practice shots.
What Coore and Crenshaw did with this land is simply amazing. The course is beautiful and catches your eye at almost every spot. It is also deceivingly difficult and beautiful. You feel alone as you are all alone just off the Long Island sound. Although many compliment the back as being far more superior to its counterpart, I find them quite equal. With both having challenging holes that are also well designed. Having played it three times I now feel after today that I have my grasp on the course and understand it well enough to write this review.
1 is a short starter that should usually leave you with a driver and a short iron. However, the wind was blowing consistently at 20 mph today so the first three were very tough starting holes. 2 is a beautiful downhill par 5 that takes you into the valley. 3 is a longer par 4 where 5 is an acceptable score. 4 and 12 are really the only 2 holes that you might not find as memorable as the rest. They are both pretty blatant one-shotters. Both give you plenty of options but just don't stand out like the rest.
5 is my favorite hole, a short par 4 that is difficult due to 3 pot-bunkers in the fairway as well as the green contouring. If the pin is front left you have to carry a little knob to get close(I succeeded and made 3). If the pin is on the right you have to be wary of how the green falls off into a difficult bunker that must be avoided by staying to the left. 6 is a dogleg left that has waste bunkers to avoid left of the fairway, plenty of room down the right all the way on this hole. Another hole with a green that falls off into the bunker on the left, must be avoided. 7 is the second par 5 and a beauty. Typically any easy driver, 3-wood, wedge hole if you avoid the wastelands. 8 is an uphill par three with a 2-tiered green as well as a false front. 9 is another great hole(catching on to my thoughts on this course yet?), Ridge on the left side of the fairway and a big waste bunker that must be carried to the right. Hit a ball on the right side of the ridge and you will catch a speed slot that will run your ball down to less than 130 yards from the hole. Beautiful views of the clubhouse from the tee. Another great green with a knob that you must stay short of if the pin is front right. There is a plateau on the back left side that you must be on if the pin is there otherwise 2 putting can be a challenge.
10 plays tough, really, really tough. Big mound front right and a monstrous green. It will make you think you are good with a GIR… until you 3-putt from 70 feet. 11 is the first par 5 on the back, another pot bunker in the middle of the fairway as well as two in a closely mown area right of the green. Bunkers left of the green are really tough to get up and down from. 13 is probably the longest par 4 on the course, today we had it easy with the wind at our backs. Unfortunately I found one of two pot bunkers in the middle of the fairway and was staring a bogey straight in the face. 14 is the end of the flatlands as it takes you up into the dunes. Found it similar to 7 that it is easy to get on in 3 without using the big stick. After 14, you walk on the stairway to heaven and find yourself on the 15th tee. Big downhill par 4 with the water off in the distance. Don’t get me wrong the view is beautiful, but i just don't love the hole all that much.
Walk to 16 is awesome as you overlook the sound. 16 is tougher than what meets the eye. Hit a tee ball, catch the speed slot left or go over the right hand side and cut a chunk off. However, the approach is a difficult uphill shot to a small green that runs off to the left. 4 is a good score here. 17 is a hole built right into the side of a hill. Miss it short of the front right bunkers and your in a valley. Miss it left of the left bunkers and your staring 20 ft down below to the putting surface. Short hole, but not an easy one. 18 is another decently long par 4. You can catch the speed slot on the left but there is a risk of not carrying the bunkers or pulling it OB. Right side of the fairway is the prudent play. Once you reach the top of the hill the view of 18 and the clubhouse is spectacular.
One of the best. Pot bunkers in the middle of the fairways really stood out and made this course extra challenging. I would also recommend taking a shower in the locker room before departure, it will be well worth it.
A unique opening hole presents itself to golfers at Friar’s Head with an elevated dance floor where you can’t run the ball into the green due to the heavy grass and scrub that climbs up the bank towards the green. Although not the longest hole on paper, it certainly packs a punch.
With the second and third holes playing downwind, the architects give us an opportunity to capitalize on a reachable par 5 and a mid-length par 4. The tiny, yet treacherous, “Jim Kidd” bunker protects the front of the second green – which was a delightful addition to the course in recent years. The 5th and 6th tee shots begin to introduce fabulous angles off the tee, with a sudden enormous emphasis on strategy and line off the tee. The short par 4 5th hole is most people’s favourite hole on the front side, with Coore’s green shaping as brilliant as ever.
The 6th and 7th holes provide a visual of how the natural ridges that cut across the property were perfectly integrated into the layout. The par 5 7th demonstrates the sheer width that the architects exposed as you climb the rumpled hill up to the green. This gigantic green has been raised and expanded carefully in certain places, and is heralded as the best on the course.
A menacing uphill par 3 8th hole surrounded with sandy scrub is a sight to behold, as is the view from the epic 9th tee towards the Long Island sound and the breath-taking beauty of the sandy rolling landscape that soaks up your imagination.
Do blind par 3s only exist in Britain and Ireland? The answer is clearly No as you stand on the 10th tee wondering if a flag can be found. The biggest surprise is that the 10th green is probably big enough to park a few private jets.
The next few holes meander back down to the end of the property (where you get a glimpse of the par 3 course) before making the turn for home. Is the 14th the best par 5 in New York? Yes, that’s a real question given the competition. It’s certainly on the short-list while marching like soldiers up to a roaring amphitheater of sand dunes. If anybody can independently find the fan that the club installed to assist with airflow around the 14th green, then I’ll buy you dinner.
The entire routing of Friar’s Head is a master-class in course plotting and I can’t emphasize that enough. The glorious view and enticement from the elevated 15th tee which begs the golfer to whistle one down the speed-slot and who knows where the ball will end up. Another fabulous green-site surrounded by trees welcomes those who are brave enough to get it close!
A new man-made bridge guides golfers to the 16th tee, a bridge which is built on the exposed side of the sand dunes and dramatically overhangs the beach / waves below. Golf is a good walk spoilt? I don’t believe that complete nonsense for even a second.
The land has serious movement over the closing stretch as the fairways move up and down. Coore found the 16th hole by following an old deer track, which solved a potentially major problem of how to route the course back the clubhouse. The approach shot into the 16th is now to a newly positioned green which is a sliver of a surface angled away from you. Hitting this green in regulation is a tall order.
The par 3 17th sits on a bluff and I loved the variety in the tee markers. The closing hole is a par 4th with a somewhat blind tee-shot. You can play to the top of the plateau for a long (much more difficult) approach, or you can roll the dice and try to get it up over the hill to catch the steep downslope that will thunder your ball towards the elevated green.
With all of the Coore/Crenshaw courses I’ve played around the world, I usually marvel at the green-complexes and the beauty of the bunker design, but on top of all of this, I applaud the textbook routing at Friar’s Head. The experience feels more like an adventure than a round of golf, especially as the scorecard is lacking ratings/slope/index – or any of the other statistical metrics that golfers love to debate.
It’s a natural landscape where you tee it up and let fly!
Friar's Head was built by the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and it has all their signature design features including the natural blown-out bunkers and wildly undulating greens.
The Friar’s Head scorecard has no yardages, no hole handicap rankings and no hole names. The lack of hole handicapping is apparently due to the shifting winds; hole difficulty depends upon the direction of the wind. Keeping with the natural feel of Friar's Head, no cart paths, no rakes anywhere (like Pine Valley) and no frills. There is no slope rating on the card either. I had to look up the Friar's Head slope rating from the Metropolitan Golf Association's website in order to post my humbling score. The slope and course rating are 74.1/144 from the back by the way.
Also consistent with the Coore/Crenshaw design philosophy, there is usually a driveable par four on every course. At Friar's Head, the fifth hole is a short par four (280-290 yards if I remembered from the caddie correctly), with artfully placed, and difficult bunkers in the fairway in front of the green for those that dare go for it and miss.
The tenth hole starts off the back nine with a jolt. It is a very interesting par three that plays about 200 yards to a green that is semi-blind with a couple of very large sand dunes guarding the front. It took a great deal of imagination to design this hole. It would not be immediately intuitive that a hole would fit in this narrow corridor. The Long Island Sound is behind you when you are on the tee, and the wind is very tricky on this particular part of the course. This is exacerbated by the alley effect that is created between the rows of trees on either side of the green. It was also a brilliant decision to leave the over-sized sand dune on the left side, in front of the green. The hole is all carry. Being just a few yards short leaves you in serious trouble, as I can personally attest to. Do I hear seven, anyone?
I thought that the back nine was clearly superior to the front nine. I thought the front, which is on the flatter terrain away from the water, was not as interesting. I absolutely hate to say anything negative about Coore or Crenshaw, since they are such gentlemen, and I love their overall design philosophy, but the front didn't grab me.
The best stretch of holes on the course are numbers fourteen through seventeen. This brilliant succession of holes includes the par five uphill 14th, the downhill, signature par four 15th, the blind tee shot, par four 16th, followed by the postage-stamp, par three 17th.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
John, you must go back and play FH again. There is much more to the front nine than meets the eye. The par 5 2nd is a fabulous par 5 with more options than one generally sees with the typical stout par 5.
The drivable par 4 5th is quite unique in that it uses a knob in from of a partial boomerang green to defend.
The par 4 6th is a perfect example of what modern day golfers call a cape hole ending with a unique difficult green.
The par 5 7th is a fabulous short par 5 that features what Bill Coore says is one of his favorite greens that he worked on.
The uphill par 3 8th is cleverly placed in a sea of sand and exposed to the wind.
And the 9th is a fabulous way to finish the front nine. Even Stevie Wonder said it was a visually shocking hole with the fairway floating and a well crafted large green tying into the 1st and the putting green.
Yes, you must go back. Given your golf pedigree your front nine comments need to be revisited.
Friar’s Head is all about “WOW”. That’s the course which made me say that Coore & Crenshaw were the current number one in world golf architecture. I was fortunate enough to be invited by a member (just finding the golf course is a remarkable achievement) and throughout I was thinking this is real nice, comparing holes to other world class holes and courses. But then I got to the last 6 holes and I stopped comparing. I won’t say another word as the surprise will be worth it. I almost forgot, the practice area is like nothing you will have ever seen. If you are lucky enough to be invited it is worth the 80 minute drive from the city.