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
Date: May 02, 2018