Garden City Golf Club is very different to most courses that are regularly ranked in the World Top 100. The strict men-only policy of this exclusive club puts it in the limelight for all the wrong reasons.
In 1897, when the course first opened for play on the Hempstead Plain in Long Island Village, it was in the middle of rural countryside. Today, Garden City Golf Club is an oasis in the middle of suburban sprawl.
Devereux Emmet originally designed the course in 1896. In 1902, the 9th US Open was staged here – Laurie Auchterlonie was the eventual winner. Walter Travis made some modifications to the course in the Roaring Twenties and he can probably claim to have turned Garden City into the fascinating layout that it is today.
The ground is ostensibly light loam so many people classify Garden City as an inland links or a heathland course. Classifying Garden City as either a links or heathland course would be wrong, even though it does possess many of their characteristics.
Garden City is a course for the minimalists. There’s nothing bold or brash here it’s just a simple, natural course which does everything in a reassured but understated way.
The most noticeable dimension of Garden City is how quickly you disappear from humanity when you enter the grounds. This is so remarkable -- even though the chaotic outside world is just beyond the club's property line.
Garden City cements itself among the elite architectural wonders in American golf because it has eschewed the desire to "modernize" as so many other clubs have seem fit to do.
Simplicity does not mean rudimentary design. Far from it. The Devereux Emmet / Walter Travis layout quickly separates those who can play a wide range of shots from those who are primarily one-way oriented players. Knowing how to work the ball and to understand how to factor in the "bounce" of the ball upon landing is what makes the layout so perplexing but so rewarding when one's execution is carried out at a high level.
The key to scoring is getting off to a fast start. The first four holes work you into the property and if played smartly can yield good results. The 302-yard opener is one that requires some keen understanding. The best line is more to the right thereby providing a far easier pitch to the putting green. The short 2nd -- one of only three par-3 holes at the club, is quite devilish at just 137 yards. The 3rd is mid-length par-4 that is fairly ordinary. At the par-5 4th you clearly have a golden opportunity in making birdie if the first three shots are played well.
The meat of the course begins at the par-4 6th and runs through the remaining holes. What you have at Garden City is an American heathland layout with some parkland and quasi-links added to the equation. Much is spoken about the bunkers at Garden City and they can be utterly fiendish at certain points. But the soul of the course rests with the putting surfaces. Many of them are at ground level and often an extension of the fairway of the hole being played. They are truly vexing because the breaks encountered are ever so subtle. Approach shots are equally tested as various greens have fall-offs to different sides. Combine this with the daily firm and fast conditions and you have a stellar layout.
It's no less important to point out that the rough at Garden City is equal to the meaning of the term. Pity the hapless wandering player who cannot summon enough accuracy when playing. The depth and consistency can prove fatal for the player who needs a compass. With that said, there's sufficient room so that the fairways can be found but the placement off the tee is crucial so that proper playing angles into the greens can be attained.
I have personally seen a number of top tier players chuckle at Garden City because the course does not provide the visceral sensation like other Long island layouts such as Bethpage Black or Shinnecock Hills or with nearby Meadow Brook. These same players believe they should always score lower than they actually do and much of that is tied to the rigorous nature of the shots one must play. The mental side is a fundamental dimension at Garden City. The course is not brawny but it will not yield low scores from just having one set of golfing skills. At the same time, the course wonderfully allows for elasticity so players of varying handicap levels can manufacture shots and use the ground to propel their ball to the given target.
So much of modern design fixates on the "eye candy" dimensions -- the inane over-the-top circus show productions. Garden City is completely removed from those clownish sideshows. One cannot presume that the understated elements are therefore underwhelming. Quite the contrary. Anyone who ventures to Long Island and can secure an invitation to play should clearly do so because your education in golf design will surely benefit from the time spent there.
by M. James Ward
Entering the clubhouse at Garden City is like entering a museum. You enter and the locker room is to the right hand side through two saloon-style swinging doors. The old low-slung open metal green lockers are the originals, as is almost everything. There is a large moose head mounted high up in the arching ceiling at the far end of the room. The main part of the clubhouse is one of the more genuinely warm and cozy rooms I've been in. In this regard, Garden City is more like a traditional English or Scottish club. If you were filming a period movie about a golf club at the turn of the century, you'd use the inside of the clubhouse at Garden City without changing a thing. There is no indication in the room that you are still not in 1899. The place is right out of central casting, with green leather chairs and sofas, a fireplace and dark wood.
The course itself is a natural style layout on flat terrain. The first hole is short (302 from the tips) and quirky with a semi-blind tee shot. The second hole is a great par three of about 150 yards. It features a green set at a diagonal with a "bottomless pit" of sand set in front. It is not a long hole, but plays much tougher than it looks. What you see is what you get at Garden City. The course is all right there in front of you. Avoid the penal fescue and you will have an enjoyable day. Many of the approach shots to the greens are either flat or slightly up hill. The greens themselves are subtly contoured away from you or slope downhill. One of the secrets to playing Garden City is figuring out how to hit your approach shots to the greens so they don't roll off. A Scotsman would be right at home, bumping shots onto the green as well.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
Garden City is a terrific track, designed by Devereux Emmet. I don’t know if he ever designed another golf course, but he did a fantastic job on this one. The signature of the course is the thick rough and the grassy mounds. Many tees shots demand forced carries of more than 150 yards, camouflaging hidden trouble and proper line of play. Garden City was built to spur growth of a model community, and it has hosted the 1902 U.S. Open, four U.S. Amateurs, and a Walker Cup.
Every hole was unique and memorable. The Travis Invitational, one of the New York area’s major golf tournaments, was being hosted by Garden City the next week, and the course was being set up with high rough and fast greens to prepare for it. The rough was a real problem. I had a great front nine (5 over par) with several one-putt greens. The back nine was another story. I was in the rough too many times and ended the day with a 93. Larry Berle.
The moment I walked into the clubhouse I was struck by the history of the place. The clubhouse is a veritable museum of golfing history and the club history is taken so seriously that they even have an official historian. I was lucky enough to sit next to him at lunch, it was a real treat. The whole club is like one big family with friendly membership and staff who have worked there for over 30 years – the manager and the chef have over 70 years service between them. It really is a special place. I can’t begin to explain how generous and friendly the membership was, I really felt like I was being welcomed as a member of the family. It is a theme since they are a family there: with only 399 members they all know each other, and even though we were the only people on the course that particular day the dining room was still full for lunch. I got the impression that even if the course was covered in snow members would still be sitting in front of the open fire, enjoying a G&T before moving through to the dinning room for some delicious food.
So to the golf…the term ‘links’ is hugely over used in America, yet this was the first genuine inland links course that I have played in the States, and I include Sand Hills and Prairie Dunes in that list. About to head home to the UK after 2 years ‘stateside,’ I felt homesick for the first time when I left the club with pangs for golf by the sea. This golf course would not be out of place anywhere on the coastline of the UK or Ireland. Unfortunately, the greenstaff were still playing temporary greens when I played, but interestingly, and somewhat unexpectedly, it added to the charm of the experience. I felt like I had stepped back in time and imagined that I was playing golf as it was played hundreds of years ago! It was magical.
The first four holes offer a somewhat gentle start to the round: short par 4, short par 3, mid length par 4 and a short par 5. The second offers a glimpse of what is to come…some fantastic par 3s. Although ‘ gentle’ these holes remain great holes and offer challenges. Don’t think that they are pushovers, they are gentle in relation to what is to come! The first, for example, offers two choices from the tee: left is the easier drive but presents a tougher approach, or right which demands a lot off the tee but presents a straight forward pitch to the green. There are some fabulous holes at GCGC – the 8th and 9th are all that you could want from two par 4s. The 8th requires a arrow from the tee and a mid to long iron to a tough, slightly raised green. The 9th is a short par 4 which tempts a shot with the driver but the shrewd player hits an iron left and attacks with the approach over a waste area.
The last 6 holes are tremendous. Apparently, you can’t see the 14th fairway from the tee in the summer since the fescue is so long, the 15th is a very long par 4 (I think about 480 yards from memory) and has a hard sliding green running from left to right. The 16th is a par 4 which turns a corner to the left at the last moment with its green tucked away behind a small duck pond. 17 is a straight forward par 5 and then 18 a tough par 3 over a lake to a large and well protected green in front of the club house.
It is a sensational place and one of the very few clubs I’ve visited in the US at which I would love to be a member. I can say no more. Play it if ever you get the chance; I can’t recommend it highly enough.
GC Mens(as it is affectionately known) is a shrine to two greats of American golf, Walter Travis (a top amateur player in his day) and Devereux Emmet. Once you enter the club you are overcome with a sense of history, the clubhouse is like a museum and for all intents and purposes the Locker room still looks as though its th early 1900s, tremendous tradition. Once I settled down within the club I realised that it is a quite simply a club for men to socialise with one another over one common interest.....Golf! This is not the place to go and talk business, this is raw, pure golf at its finest.
The first 3 and last 2 holes play within an area directly in front of the clubhouse and are surrounded by houses on both sides, giving an almost modern feel to the place. But it is when you reach the fourth tee that your breath is completely taken away, it is almost like another planet, a huge expanse of heath type land and if one let the mind wander you could be mistaken for thinking you were on the Surrey sandbelt. The next thirteen holes are mind blowing, containing an exceptional mixture of challenges. Shot par 4's with small greens, par 5's which tempt the golfer to take chances which are one shot away from disaster(the 4th) and a great blend of par threes encompassing in my opinion an example of each type of veritable short hole. A medium length one over water(18), a short one to a small angled green(2) and a long one to a large green guarded by sand.
The course possesses no trick shots or gimmicks, good shots are rewarded and poor ones punished. The intelligent player should be quick to notice that many of the greens are open at the front and relatively flat, thus accepting a running onto the surface.
Gadren City Golf Club is a very special place, it embodies all that is central to the game of golf, camaraderie, respect for the game, dignity etc. It is a Club that doesn't look for praise or publicity and I feel we should respect this, but it doesn't need to, for anyone lucky enough to see this Club, its actions do the talking. Nick