Glens Falls Country Club opened for business in 1912, with a Donald Ross-designed 9-hole course appearing two years later. The same architect returned eight years after that to add another nine holes to the layout and today– apart from an alteration to the 16th hole in 1985 – the course that’s now in play is largely the one that Ross laid out a century ago.
Feature holes include short par fours at the 5th, which plays to a wickedly contoured “top hat” green, and the 7th, where three bunkers cut into the front and left side of the green on a diagonal line at the top of a ridge. The par four 17th is regarded by many as the best two-shot hole on the course, routed downhill into a valley then up towards a false-fronted green.
Tom Doak speaks highly of Glens Falls in the Confidential Guide to Golf Courses book, volume 3: “There is a broad hill in the center of the property, perhaps 50 feet high, and the routing works around it and across it and twice up and over, so even though there are many parallel holes, you never have the sense of playing Army golf… I would put it comfortably in Ross’s top ten courses, and that’s a pretty special list.”
In the past several years, Glens Falls has received recognition as being the best golf course between Rochester and Westchester County of New York. The famous architect Tom Doak included it in his top ten designs of Mr. Ross. I would not include it in my top ten despite its many wonderful attributes. There are ten-twenty highly rated designs by Mr. Ross that I have yet to play or see so I cannot determine where it might wind up on my personal list, but I would be surprised if it was not in my top twenty five of his 400 golf courses. I hope this provides an indication of my high regard for Glens Falls.
It is easy to see why Mr. Doak rated the course so highly. The routing had to navigate a central hill with numerous valleys and small rises surrounding it. Instead of playing parallel alongside the central hill, the course goes up, over and down the hill resulting in more interesting holes. These holes offer character and interest. The greens are small with a mix of numerous undulations, slopes, smaller mounds and humps. In sum, the surfaces of the greens are a mix of terrifying and intriguing. The surrounds of the greens offer fall-offs, false fronts, mounds, and shelves. The fairway bunkering is never overdone, sometimes offering defense and other times a guideline.
The negatives to the course are primarily due to its lack of length, with many short par 4’s. The par fives are all reachable in two for the longer hitters. The course ends on a par 3 when it could easily begin with this hole. The club owns land surrounding a lake yet there are no holes that take advantage of playing alongside it. I assume Mr. Ross was not given permission to lay out holes here.
Yet if there were a top 100 simply based on fun and enjoyment, Glens Falls would easily be included. This is due to the many visually appealing fairways due to the change in terrain combined with the ever-interesting greens. Although described as a difficult walk, I found the walk not to be as difficult as many other courses such as Pikewood National. Maybe that is because I constantly found myself wondering what the next hole would look like and offer.
From the back tees, the course is 6505 yards, par 71 rated 71.5/138. The white tees are 6118 yards, rated 70.0/132. There is a combination tee of 6262 yards.
1. Par 5 - 497/484. As we walked to the first tee, I noticed the eighteenth par 3 to the right and immediately wondered why that is the finishing hole as it plays from in front of the clubhouse away from it resulting in a walk back to the clubhouse rather than directly to the first tee. The first hole plays sharply uphill with the longer hitters knowing that they can go over the trees down the right to shorten this sharp dogleg right. After cresting the high point of the hill the hole falls to a plateau followed by a sharp drop of higher grass of about 25 yards after which the fairway begins again. The higher ground continues down the right. The land rises and falls with only a single bunker on the left well short of the green in play for the shorter hitters. The green has a slight false front with two flanking bunkers and micro contouring around the green. The interesting feature of the green are the emerald green trees planted close to the green on the left side to prevent balls from going onto route 17, built after the golf course was established. The green seems to have a second tier with a break to the left and front. This should be a par hole if one hits a decent tee shot.
2. Par 4 - 399/379. You cross the road to an elevated tee with a thick line of trees down the right. The land falls away with a higher left side and a somewhat bowl to the fairway. A center-line bunker is out of reach for all but the longest hitters, serving more as a guide. The green is elevated with a sizable false front and a sharp break to the right. The green features a bunker off the front right corner with a five feet ridge going down the entirety of the left side. It is a visual delight from the tee to the green.
3. Par 3 - 172/155. From an elevated tee one sees the green nestled between higher ground on three sides. There is a large bunker 10 yards short of the green on the right with additional bunkers on the corners and one off the left. Go long and you could end up on a sharp slope with a very difficult uneven stance. As compelling as the hole looks from the tee, the green itself is much more interesting with a defined plateau middle to back right although even the plateau slants to the left. Balls not finding this plateau will feed toward the front left of the green. It’s a terrific green.
4. Par 5 - 550/526. The back tee offers a view of the of the fairway while the white tee has a blind uphill shot. The fairway is wide but balls landing right will kick farther right. The four fairway bunkers begin about 100 yards from the green. Three more bunkers are at the tree with two on the left. The green has a false front for 75% of the green with a remaining shelf on the left even with the green. The green runs away from you so any ball with pace will go through the green where a four feet fall off awaits. The green goes right but with both subtle breaks and larger movement. We’ve played four holes with four very good greens.
5. Par 4 - 341/329. Two fairway bunkers are down the left but should not be in play followed by a unfortunately placed cart path crossing. The green complex is unique with a tiny green with a small plateau on the right. The green features a sharp 3 feet fall off on its right side to a sliver of green. This is one of the most unique greens I have played - very cool.
6. Par 4 - 420/392. You play gently uphill between trees on both sides. Three bunkers are down the left with a single one on the right. The fairway rolls with various humps until it ends for about seventy yards in a 50 feet drop. The green has a slight false front with a defined higher left side of about three feet. If the pin is left and you don’t quite make it, you will likely have a putt from the right of 40-50 feet. I loved the view from where the fairway ends and the green far below as well as the very cool green.
7. Par 4 - 292/261. This hole plays downhill with bigger hitters likely trying to drive the green. The key is to play slightly right of the three staggered bunkers from the left center to the left front of the green beginning about 40 yards out. A single long bunker is down the right front corner. The green is quick to the front with subtle movement. It might be the most fun hole on the course.
8. Par 4 - 362/351. This hole plays longer as it is uphill. We had a hole location about as far back as it could be placed. The only two bunkers are off the left. The green is very sloped to the front as well as moving left and one should always try to be below the hole. This hole is not visually in the same class as holes 1-3 or 6-7, but again it requires a well judged approach shot.
9. Par 3 - 150/138. From an elevated tee the hole plays slightly downhill to an almost volcano green with falloffs of about 30 feet. This so another small green with a single bunker right and trees behind it. The green slopes speedily to the front and right. This hole is likely either a par or a double bogey.
10. Par 4 - 367/352. I neglected to ask my hosts the line off the tee on this sharp uphill tee shot. I choose the middle but the line is off the right. There are two fairway bunkers down the left which I avoided but I drew a bad lie in the left rough. The green is tiny with 5 bunkers fronting the green, the first about 20 yards out. This green does not hold shots so a ball needs to land either just on or just short.
11. Par 4 - 436/409. This hole somewhat mirrors the sixth as it parallels it although the drop to the green is much more gradual. The hole features three staggered bunkers down the left and a single one on the right along with a line of trees. The fairway has an inner narrow channel to it before the decline which falls like a gradual waterfall. A single bunker is on the left about 50 yards from the green. The green appears to have a defined higher back half and a little less movement left or right. This hole has a lot of character.
12. Par 3 - 223/186. This hole plays uphill adding to its length. The right side has a defined false front. This is the rare green that is slightly angled, here to the right. It another quick green running to the right. To the least visually interesting par 3 on the course, but it’s a difficult hole.
13. Par 4 - 454/447. The tee shot is to a generous fairway with flanking bunkers. As you near the green there are two bunkers left side, one more central and another off to the right, all three well short of the green acting as a disguise as to the length of the hole. A fourth fairway bunker is on the right almost hidden under a tree. The green has bunkers on the front corners with another small green that runs away from the approach shot. It’s another confusing green as I thought the front moved left and it moved right. The left side of the greens has two tall mounds on the front left and two smaller mounds on the back left. One wonders why the mounds didn’t continue and connect. I thought this was one of the best greens on the course.
14. Par 4 - 368/360. I hit a poor tee shot down the left into a bunker that should be easily carried. The fairway bunker a little farther up on the right is more in play. I went from bunker to bunker finding another one on the left about 65 yards short of the green. There is yet another bunker short of the green on the right. Deeper flanking bunkers go down both sides. I thought this to be the simplest green on the course but everyone told me it’s the most perplexing. Indeed, a four feet putt that we guessed went left instead went seven inches to the right.
15. Par 4 - 394/380. There is a large collection of bunkers down the left side, shared also with the eleventh fairway very much in play with two bunkers on the right much earlier and not in play. There is a central bunker likely not in play about 120 yards out. Two bunkers are down the left with a single one on the right. It’s another small green with micro contouring off the right back. It’s also another green where a ball releases to the back.
16. Par 5 - 530/488. The hole features a short valley about where the hole begins to turn left. The three bunkers are near the green which sits on higher ground with a back to front tilt. This hole used to be straight before the road was built. The hole was both longer and the green also was on higher ground even better than the current location. It’s now used for a short game practice area. The hole was definitely better before the road changed it.
17. Par 4 - 401/338. It’s a very good hole from the back tee but not as compelling from the white tee. The fairway runs downhill before ending in a valley with the green sitting atop the other side. There are two bunkers left of the green and one well off to the right. The green is very tiny once again going to the front.
18. Par 3 - 149/143. It’s a terrific par 3 seemingly playing off to the right of the tee. Two bunkers are off the front left somewhat eliminating a bailout area. A single bunker is on the right making a right pin location difficult to hit to. The green is quick to the front. Nonetheless, after playing it I still thought it should be the opening hole.
Glens Falls is a gem of a golf course, quirky in spots but artfully designed consistently with the land movement. I very much liked the routing but the star of this course are definitely the greens. The members an be justifiably proud to play one of Donald Ross’s best designs.
The currently being discovered gem is nestled at foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. The Donald Ross design is the most eastern on his New York Thruway trail. The hilly layout hardly features a flat lie and is very typical of Ross designs. The par four second hole is deemed the hardest and starts with a tee box aimed directly out of bounds. The tee shot descends into a tight valley of a fairway and leaves an uphill approach shot to a plateau green, requiring a club up. The green slopes from back to right front and hardly sees a one putt. The eight hole comes across as fairly straightforward, as the elevated tee box gives view to green. A poor tee shot leads to a valley and a blind approach shot where the green is nowhere in sight. A good tee shot places an approach from the top of the valley and an excellent tee shot can clear the top of the valley and leave a wedge into the green. The diabolic green is evil even for Ross, as it slopes hard from back to front. Approach shots usually require a club up and when on the green, a three putt is the usual. Putts from above the hole, have a tendency to miss the cup and roll off the front of the green. The par four 17th hole is another typical Ross design, as the tee shot leads to the top of a valley and an approach shot goes into an uphill green. The fairly easy green sandwiched between two bunkers, making for a difficult approach. While this course has recently been receiving some recognition, it is most certainly a top course for the state, especially above The Island.
OK, let’s dispose of the negatives first. Yes, this course is not an easy walk. Neither is Bethpage Black, Yale or Crystal Downs. Yes, it ends on a par 3. A couple of times the walk after the green is a bit long. This happens at Bandon Trails and Castle Stuart. And yes, Glenn’s Falls needs to be on your radar just like all the courses I just mentioned. When I played it, the conditioning was outstanding. They have removed a number of trees that were choking a couple of the fairways so be aware that some of the photos you see online don’t accurately reflect how the course has opened up. Glens Falls offers a great variety of approach shots to the green. In some cases the greens were very receptive to a ground game approach. On other holes like #17 only an aerial approach will work. The fairway width was generous but being on the wrong side might result in a fairway bunker to navigate on your next shot. As a 12 index I accept that I will lose a ball or two every round but finished the round with the same ball I teed up with on #1. The course looks more intimidating than it plays and I never came close to losing a ball. At no time during the round was I ever bored. Not for one second. The greens, like #5 with the top hat feature, have significant interest and present just the right amount of terror. I found myself both physically and mentally exhausted at the end of the round and can’t wait to play it again. Most of the photos I searched out on the net just don’t adequately convey the elevation change and contours you experience. Drone videos might but there is simply no alternative other than experiencing it for yourself.
I highly recommend Glens Falls for anyone seeking out the best experiences the game has to offer.
You can always tell when Donald Ross was on a property or not. Did he visit the land, walk the property, visualize the green-sites, experience the routing with his own eyes? At Glens Falls – the answer to each of these questions is absolutely Yes!
Expanding the course from a 9 hole to an 18 hole course circa 1920 is essentially the course we play today.
Prior to my arrival, I had little exposure to this course in terms of information or reviews. I walked away from it wondering how in the world it stays hidden from fame.
The setting for the opening tee box is truly spectacular with a wooden bridge taking you to the teeing grounds framed with beautiful trees and Round Pond meandering all around you. While the setting is stunning, the architecture is even better. I don’t always love par 5s as the starting hole, but this one is a beauty. It’s a raised dog-leg right with a blind landing area and the fairway is split into two sectional landforms. Your opening tee shot is across the pond and leads you into the framed dog-leg.
After crossing Warren County road, the presentation of the index 1 second hole will take your breath away. It’s a long par 4 that heads downhill from the tee before sweeping back up to the right. Bunkers short and adjacent to the nicely perched green-site are a fierce deterrent. Playing through the corridor of trees, especially with Autumnal colours is truly beautiful. In every direction, Glens Falls CC gets off to a blistering start. The par 3 3rd hole is set into the corner of the property and is framed quiet beautifully with the surrounding mounds and trees.
Upon reaching the par 5 4th hole, you get your first exposure to the many blind tees shots at Glens Falls. There is a very large ridge (hill) that traverses across the golf course with at least 7 holes running back and forth across of it (4, 6, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15). On each of these holes, the landing area is essentially blind until you reach the crest of the ridge and can see over the hill. Many of the views down to the greens are delightful, and it takes a lot of local knowledge to know where to land your approach shot on sloped terrain running away from you. You may think that almost half of the golf course is repetitive back and forth over the same hill, but that couldn’t be further from the truth given the shot-making variety that I felt you needed to hit the greens. The Ross design and angles on each of the holes is among the best I’ve seen, and holes 1, 2, 6, 9 and 17 (to name but 5) are on the short-list of the best holes that Ross has ever designed – anywhere!
The major area for improvement is the need to eliminate thousands of trees, especially along the parallel holes running over the ridge. When I think of the many other high-profile Ross courses around the US (especially in similar climates/growing conditions) of this same vintage, almost all of them have been restored – or at least a masterplan in progress. Glens Falls CC has never gone through a dedicated restoration, which would immediately eliminate trees. The potential on this site is bursting at the seams, and in my humble opinion, the justification for a restoration is sitting on their laps.
I understand that the par 5 16th green had to be moved, and I do agree that the walk to the 17th tee is much longer than it needs to be (especially having to cross a road), but this was really the only significant disturbance to the routing flow. Finishing on a par 3 back over the Round Pond is thought-provoking despite playing away from the clubhouse and walking back again. The land that Ross was gifted with at Glens Falls is superior than 90% of the Ross courses that we are all familiar with – and it’s with this basis, that I was blown away by this hidden gem. I fully agree with Ran’s inclusion of this club in the ‘147 Custodians’ and would further support the theory that no player’s education is complete without a trip to see this absolutely spectacular underrated golf course with endless possibilities for greatness.
Some Donald Ross courses open with a “play away” hole, a simple one that allows the player a bit of leeway to get the round started. Glens Falls is not one of them. On the opening tee shot, the golfer is faced with a forced carry over a lake. Though it’s not a long carry, it’s a challenge to remove the looming lake from one’s thought as the club is drawn back. The second shot may be blind and this challenge is repeated over and again throughout the course. I counted four blind tee shots and four more where the green was not visible on my approach. I understand that they’re only blind once, but the phenomenon does not enhance one’s round.
I recognize that this is a review of the golf course, but having a player cut in front of me on the 7th hole and then spend part of his afternoon wandering around a green talking on his phone while I was waiting to hit didn’t enhance the experience either.
The routing is not strong, with four occasions where there’s a long walk to the next tee. And the 18th finishes by taking the player away from the clubhouse. Glens Falls is an enjoyable enough course, with some strategic choices and some interesting greens, but there aren’t enough to make me think it’s anywhere near one of New York’s top couple dozen courses. There are more than that in Nassau and Westchester counties alone.
Always glad to have new folks come to GFCC. I do apologize for the cutter on 7. Bad form. I do have a question about the long walks to the next tee. The walk from 16 to 17 is long. Otherwise the walks are short. Plus, the drive on 6 is not blind. 2nd shot yes. But because you can’t see the green does not mean the tee shot is blind. I would guess that you saw your ball land. Blind drives on 4 and 10. If you prefer a nice flat course where you see every green from the tee look to FL.
One of the benefits architects had in the early part of the 20th century was being able to select land on behalf of deep pocket benefactors and not have to concern themselves with the slew of environmental rules and regulations that existing architects most routinely face.
Glens Falls will likely escape the radar of many. The course is near to Albany, New York's capital, but the course has maintained a very low-key profile and will likely be unfamiliar to many.
Ross faced a major challenge in getting a routing over and around a major hill that plays a prominent role in how the holes are featured. The 1st hole serves quick notice on what lies ahead as you face an uphill blind dog-leg right tee shot. The bold play can go for the corner and attempt to reach the par-5 hole in two shots. For many, the prudent play is taking the more conventional route.
The 2nd is a superb hole -- playing a good bit more than then 399 yards listed. Once again it's uphill but the challenge is entirely in front of you. The 6th and 7th are also very good. The former plays 399 yards and features a blind drive and then asks for a keen approach to a fine green. The latter is a drivable par-4 but that can only be accomplished with a marriage between power and accuracy. Failing that, the likelihood of birdie is far from a sure thing.
Glens Falls has one major weakness – the final hole. It's a quaint short par-3 hole that simply is lackluster. When courses opt to go with a par-3 closer, I think of such quality holes as the 18th at Garden City Golf Club or the finale at The Geronimo Course at Desert Mountain. The better option for Glens Falls would be to have the 17th hole serve as the closer since it's already near the clubhouse now. The existing 18th could be switched to the 1st hole and simply have it out of the way sooner than occupy the closing position it does now.
Ross did a fantastic job in creating a routing that maxes out the entire footprint of the property. Yes, the holes are close to one another but the separation between them avoids any claustrophobic impacts. The greens are also varied with all sorts of falloffs and a series of internal contours that will test one's ability to read greens and execute with precision. The same holds true when missing with one's approach shot – you’d best have a deft touch to leave unscathed.
Glens Falls was never really on my radar screen until I read Tom Doak's comments in his updated Confidential Guide series. I had to see firsthand if what was said of the course is anything close to his thoughts. I enjoyed the course immensely and urge anyone who happens to be in the neighborhood and can gain access to play it. Given the penchant for mindless slog courses with little more than formulaic designs Glens Falls is truly a special place.
M. James Ward
A below the radar design of Donald Ross that shines. The course features many blind shots starting from the first tee, which asks the golfer to hit his tee shot up a huge hill with no flag visible anywhere. The fourth, sixth and tenth also feature blind tee shots, and approaches to six, seven, eight and several more holes are also blind. Ross used multi-tiered greens in abundance and incorporated swales, hollows, dips and punchbowls into the putting services to great effect. The routing flows beautifully through the hilly property, with nary an uneven lie. Especially noteworthy is the stretch of holes beginning with the sixth and ending at the ninth which fit into the landscape perfectly. Although the last three of them are short (a par four of 292, a par four of 362 and par three of 146) because of the hills and the green designs they command total precision and respect. A course that you would be lucky to call your home and to play every day.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs