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 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.
The routing challenge here was significant, but Coore and Crenshaw managed to solve the puzzle with four holes (2, 7, 11 and 14) that transition the player back and forth between the undulating dunes near Long Island Sound and the flat former potato field farther inland. In so doing they created four of the finest par 5s I’ve played. Each asks the golfer to decide how much risk to take on from the tee to achieve the greatest reward on the second shot. And each second shot provides the same strategic challenge. My favorite is the 14th, with a green set in an amphitheater of 50 feet high dunes. The setting does require artificial air flow, though the greenside fan is hidden under a metal plate and only emerges when turned on.
Bill Coore almost failed to win the routing challenge on the following holes. He left one fall without figuring how to get from the 15th green back to the clubhouse, but came back in the spring with a solution that included a wooden bridge high above the dunes that brings the player to the 16th tee. Despite being a hundred feet above the Sound, the bridge was rebuilt after a winter storm made it unsafe.
This site’s new system, with its fractional ratings, makes a six ball a tough call. In the case of Friar’s Head, it was not at all difficult.
Friar’s Head leaves it all out there. The walk from 15 green to 16 tee, par-3 variety, greens and bunkers complexes, views of the sound (and Soundsides), subtle entrance, coupled with an all-star practice facility - I was completely blown away. One of the coolest places to play and hang out. Takes a lot to pull attention away from some of the giants out East (Shinnecock, NGLA, Maidstone), but this place just does it. 100% a “drop everything and go” type of invite.
Ken Bakst was a champion amateur golfer, and it was his dream to build a golf course at Baiting Hollow, New York- not far from Shinnecock Hills. Bakst knew good golf land when he saw it and had a vision for what needed to be done.
The site he acquired was right on the ocean but comprised some amazing undulating dunesland perfect for golf and some flat farmland that was not so appealing. He wisely appointed Coore & Crenshaw as architects fresh off their success at Sand Hills.
Although they took some time to work out a routing that would work with the different types of terrain, the end result produced by Coore Crenshaw is acknowledged as one of the great courses of America...
Coore & Crenshaw have done a wonderful job in blending in the holes on the flat farmland with the more dramatic sandy dunesland nearer the sea. The farmland holes are beautifully bunkered, strategic, and have clever green complexes. But is it the duneland holes that take Friar's head to an elite level..
There are 8 holes in the sand, and another four that transit from flat to dunes or vice versa. And while the flat land holes are good golf holes nearly all of the holes in the sand are world class. These are the holes that make Friar's Head one of the better courses in the USA
Notable holes include:
- hole 1, a cracking par 4 over sandy waste to an elevated green
- hole 5, a short par 4 with a wonderful green
- hole 7, a very attractive par as the course heads back into the sand
- hole 9, a delightful par 4 dogleg
- hole 10, a unique par 3 semi blind over a dune
- hole 14, a dramatic par 5 as the course heads back into the dunes
- hole 15, a lovely downhill par 4 heading for the sea
- hole 17, a ripping par 3
- hole 18, a strong par 4 finishing hole with a blind tee shot
I am a big fan of Coore Crenshaw, and Friar's Head is one of their better efforts And while the course is something special, the overall golfing experience goes beyond the playability of the course. It's set up as a walking course, and the caddies and overall service levels throughout are first class. Take a bow Ken Bakst!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Variety of shot making challenges, a good sand wedge will come in handy
When it comes to golf course architecture Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw are “bogey-free” with their design work. Their approach to golf course design is consistent each and every time; they make the best use of the natural land and move as little dirt as possible. The final result is almost always a course that looks like it has been there forever and one that is playable and fun for golfers of all levels.
With all that said, two of their courses are in a class of their own: Friars Head and Sand Hills. Today I will share my thoughts on Friar’s Head, one of my top 10 courses in the USA. Of all the highly rated courses I’ve been privileged to play, I have played none of them even close to as many times as I have played Friars Head; I’ve seen it mature greatly over the past 15 years.
What makes Friars Head unique and special? You can argue it’s the combination of great design work, a special piece of land, captivating interest throughout your round, the balance of fun and challenge, conditioning, and aesthetics, all of which are outstanding. But when you really give this question deep thought, you’ll conclude that the course has an X factor that is rarely rivaled in golf. That X-factor is a feeling you have during golf’s rare experiences where you leave the course saying, wow, that was unbelievable and I hope and pray to have the privilege to do it again. How many courses offer the perfectly flowing round of golf, where each relaxing breathe of air you take confirms you are in a peaceful oasis for which the outside world does not exist and once the round has ended you can’t believe it flew by that quickly. The Old Course at St Andrews, Shinnecock, National Golf Links, Chicago Golf Club, Fishers Island, and Sand Hills are some courses that come to mind where I have had a similar feeling. There are others for which you know you are experiencing a very special golf course, but you will not feel the same level of peace and relaxation that you find at Friars Head. Oakmont and Pine Valley are two great examples of courses that will deservingly so always be included on everyone’s list of the best courses in golf, but I don’t hear many of my friends or reviews I read describe their rounds there as relaxing and a peaceful oasis. The fun at Oakmont and Pine Valley is that a truly passionate golfer loves the exceptional challenge and championship nature that these phenomenal courses offer. Friars Head is on par with National Golf Links at the top of the list of the most playable, fun, scoreable, championship top 10 golf courses you’ll ever play.
Now that you have the setting for what makes Friars Head so special, let me bring the course to life for you with a few highlights. The views from every angle of the course are majestic. At the property’s highest points, you get a true feel for the awesome architecture that Coore & Crenshaw delivered as you can see the superb routing and a minimalist approach integrated into the holes perfectly fitting the natural land. Everything about Friars Head is done right and the course looks like it’s been there for 100 years or more.
After a solid opener that eases you into the round requiring preciseness not length, the fun really begins on the downhill par 5 second hole. Standing on the tee, one of the highest points on the property, it is obvious that Friars Head is a very special place for which the expansive views are seemingly endless. Strategic bunkering shapes nearly every hole and throughout the round at Friars Head you find generous, wide fairways that allow you to feel comfortable on every tee shot. Choosing the right lines off the tees will delivery proper angles into the greens which is the key to scoring well and having plenty of realistic birdie opportunities. If you are an average golfer where pars and bogeys make you happy, just swing away freely and enjoy Friars Head forgiving fairways that will offer lots of fun approach shots. It’s this awesome balance of playability and challenge that makes Friars Head so amazing.
The longest holes on the course offer easier entry ways to the greens, which are more modest in their undulation, another sign of Coore and Crenshaw hitting the mark in playability. A few great examples are the 3rd, 4th and 13th holes; the 3rd is a super long par 4, where you can shave some distance if you take an aggressive line hugging the left side of the fairway challenging a long bunker that will grab any tee shot that bites off more than you can chew. Whatever distance you approach this green from, there is a generous opening with a very modest false front that allows a run up shot. The 4th is a long par 3, that requires a fairway metal, hybrid or very long iron and also allows a generous entry way to bounce in a shot to a deep green that must be 50 yards long. Fast forward all the way to the long 13th hole and it’s the polar opposite of the 3rd; it goes in the opposite direction routing wise, and meanders a bit to the right, instead of a modest dogleg left like the 3rd, yet it also invites you to approach the green with an open entry way for any type of approach that you choose. Hopefully you get the drift here, even the three longest holes relative to par at Friars Head are totally playable for any type of golfer.
The 7th, 9th and 14th-18th holes are my 7 favorites, so let me share a little bit about them for you.
Friars Head has not one but two par 5s that you’ll remember for years after playing the course. Perhaps, that’s the true test of anything special in life, how long the sweet memories last.
The 7th hole looks grand standing on the tee as you have to carve your drive between a large fairway bunker on the left and sand dunes running almost the entire length of the hole on the right, all the up to the green. While this hole plays mostly uphill, it is reachable in two for a long hitter. The 7th green is what memories are made of. It is huge and has many different sections to it. Some sections are more generous to approach shot than others. In my 30 years of playing golf, I have never come close to a double eagle than I did on the 7th at Friars Head. A front left pin is your best chance at a rare Albatross (or hole out eagle, birdie, par, whatever it is for you). The front left section received a long shot that bounces into the green perfectly and one day the pin was just sitting there waiting for my ball. I had about 233 into the green uphill and hit a smoking pure hybrid that bounced along and seemingly was online. You can’t really see the landing from that far away so it’s a hit and hope scenario. Upon reaching the green my ball was about 3” directly behind the hole. This was the one time in my entire life that an eagle felt disappointing, only because I know the rareness of making a double-eagle. This green is my entire definition of fun! You have to see it to believe it.
The view on the 9th tee is the best on the course. You see the first hole to your right, the spectacular castle like clubhouse in the distance, and the Long Island Sound is in view as well. Once you take in the view, a wonderful dogleg right par 4 awaits. The 9th is not a long hole and plays downhill, but part of the Coore & Crenshaw art is that the shorter holes are usually every bit as challenging as the longer ones, and the 9th at Friars Head is no exception. The 9th green is one of the toughest on the course and has a whole bunch of little sections to it for which your only realistic chance at a birdie is to hit your approach on the right section. Further supporting the 9th being tougher than it looks is the dune like bunkering to the left and behind the green where often times a decent shot that winds up in this bunker, leaving yourself a brutally hard up and down. What’s great is that even if you wind up in this bunker, you won’t find yourself blaming the architecture just yourself for not being more precise with your approach shot.
Friars Head is a course where you just don’t really get “bad breaks”. Hit the right shots and get rewarded, get too greedy or misfire and get modestly punished.
The 10th hole is often talked about as being unique because a mound obstructs much of the view of the huge green. Some people love this and some not so much; for me it is not needle moving either way, its just another hole that’s part of an incredible golf course.
The 11th is a solid par 5, and 12th is a nice par 3 and I’ve already shared a bit about the 13th.
As you stand on the 14th tee, an uphill par 5, you know that you are about to play one of the most spectacular par 5s in the world. The tee shot looks more intimidating that it is since again you have a more than ample wide fairway awaiting your approach shot. A few yards can be shaved off if you challenge the right side off the tee, but be careful, miss way right and you will be looking at one of the only lost balls opportunities on the course. The approach shot to this green, whether it’s a long hitter attempting to reach in 2 shots or a wedge approach from a short distance is simply spectacular, one of the greatest non-ocean views in golf. The bunkering and sand surrounding the majority of the green is a site to be seen and the green itself is one of the most severe on the course where a deft touch is required when putting.
As you take the walk to the 15th tee, you climb a charming staircase built into the dunes that will get your heart rate pumping as its pretty steep. The reward for making that walk is another spectacular view before your strike your next tee shot. It’s one of the two spots on the course you can see the Long Island Sound in the distance and this hole is simply breathtaking. The tee shots plays downhill, the approach shot modestly uphill and it’s a challenging approach that leaves most short and right of the putting surface. The 15th is part of a very strong finish to the course.
Perhaps, the most unique feature at Friars Head is the unrivaled walk from the 15th green to the 16th tee along the Long Island Sound. This walk comes at the perfect time of the round offering a chance to sell the water, appreciate what a special experience Friars Head is and gear up to enjoy the three holes that remain.
As you stand on the 16th tee, you are faced with a par 4 that has a great deal of risk/reward and strategy. A huge benefit awaits a tee shot that successfully takes on the right side peril as your ball will spring forward leaving just a wedge into this extremely difficult and small green. A tee shot down the left is the safe route, but leaves a much longer approach shot that is quite challenging to hit the small target. The 16th is a hole you will remember for its approach shot and challenging green. What’s nice is that if you can put your approach on the middle of the smallish green, you will never be that far from the pin. I just love this hole and you should too.
The 17th is a just what you would hope for in a shorter par 3. Golfers of nearly all abilities have a great chance at making par here and the two tiered green requires precision to have a realistic birdie putt. The green isn’t huge, but relative to the length of the shot, it’s more than ample, enough so that you’ll always be disappointed not knocking your tee shot on.
The 18th is a very strong finisher as you would expect from any top rated course. Here we have a modest dogleg left, where a long hitter wants to hug the left side of the fairway to have the shortest shot in. You must be careful, because a pulled tee shot easily can lead to a lost ball and that would be a pity to end your round that way. Once you successfully find the fairway, the approach shot to the 18th is dramatic. Unless you really hit a long tee shot, you’ll find at least a mid-iron approach to a green that is all carry with a substantial false front for any shot that lands short. Add to the challenge a moderately sloping green from right to left and you have much to navigate to give yourself a good birdie look. Like most great holes, a solid approach shot is rewarded and the 18th here is no exception. The green is plenty deep to hold any length shot and once on the green, a two putt should be achieved with relative ease. Missing the green left is a big no-no, and missing right, leaves a hard up and down. I’ve made everything from a birdie to a triple bogey on 18, just the way a strong finisher should be.
As you walk off the 18th you’ll smell and see the salt water of the Long Island Sound to your left and if you are lucky, you will enjoy one of the most relaxing settings on the planet for a delicious lunch and cold drink outside behind the 18th green. After lunch, be sure to allow yourself time for the most powerful and best shower in golf. Those who have experienced it know exactly what I am talking about and it’s the most fitting ending to truly perfect day.
If ever offered the chance, drop everything to experience Friars Head, you will remember it for the rest of your life. Thank you to Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw for this unbelievable gift to golf course architecture and to Ken Bakst the owner / operator for having the Friars Head vision and making it a reality.
Great review. I too am an admirer of Coore & Crenshaw’s work, but not all their designs are bogey free. One reviewer (regripped) eloquently said in his Talking Stick Piipaash review: “Where there is a top, there is a bottom and after having played half of their courses, this course is at the bottom.” I haven’t played Friar’s Head, but I agree with regripped about Piipaash and also the other course at TSGC, the O’odham. However, it’s all too easy to criticize, as the vast majority of C&C designs I’ve played at We-Ko-Pa, Cabot, Streamsong, Sand Valley and Bandon are all pretty much bogey free and I’m sure much of Friar’s Head is largely par free with plenty of birdies and maybe a few eagles here and there.
Hugh - that's a fair comment. Perhaps, a better choice of words would have been "Coore & Crenshaw rarely make a bogey with their design work". Thanks for reading it and your feedback.
Friars Head could be one of the best routed top courses on a property that is only half good. Perhaps the strength of the course is the wonderful work Coore & Crenshaw have done on that back side of the large dune you cross after the first green. To be fair, that property behind the dune ridge is a potato field, flat as can be. Part of the brilliance is in how they utilize the side of the dune/hill to maximize the only significant feature in that area of the course.
Is it C&C's 2nd best routing and 2nd best course? I'm not so sure, it's definitely great but they have some excellent courses and perhaps on better properties. The dune system on the inward holes makes for excellent golf and that is where C&C continue to shine. After all they had some great practice with that type of land at Sand Hills.
This is certainly another course that splits opinions in terms of its greatness. It certainly holds it's own against very strong company out on Long Island.
Regardless it's a must play if you ever have the opportunity. It's one I'm really keen to return to one day and certainly deserves much deeper study.
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 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.