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.”
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.
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