Soon after Hamilton Farm was established in 1911, the owners constructed an enormous 50-stall equestrian stable, turning it into one of the most important horse centres in the country. Indeed today, it serves as the headquarters for the US Equestrian Team, which uses the facility for Olympic competition training.
Adjacent to the stables lies a rather unusual golfing configuration that was crafted in 1998 and it features an 18-hole championship course, called The Highlands, and a short 18-hole layout named The Hickory, which is the only USGA rated par three course in the country.
With holes measuring between 127 yards at the 12th (“Evergreen”) and 229 yards at the 17th (“Homestretch”), the Hickory is well worth a play, even as a relaxing warm up for the main course.
On The Highlands layout, the best is kept until last on the front nine as the 559-yard 9th (“Waterjump”) is a wonderful par five that culminates in an approach across a wetland area to an offset green that slopes from back right to front left.
On the inward half, the 196-yard 17th, “Calamity,” emulates its namesake, the par three 14th hole on the Dunluce course at Royal Portrush, as pushing a tee shot into the severe drop off to the right of the green will almost certainly result in a scorecard disaster.
Had the great pleasure to play both courses at Hamilton Farm yesterday. From all indications prior I was feeling like The Highlands was the weak sister to an 18 hole par 3 course The Hickory. My experience was quite the opposite. The entire facility is all about customer satisfaction. A very accommodating and pleasurable staff. The Highland course rolls thru an expansive property and utilizes the terrain quite well. The fairways are wide when they should be and become narrower when that seems proper. The conditioning is excellent. The greens are sneaky. They roll with ever so gentle breaks which are difficult to read. This place really is a hidden gem so close to so much and yet you feel like you are so remote.
If one were to measure the greatness of a course simply through exclusiveness and total attention to customer service then Hamilton Farm would be high in the pecking order. The facility was created to provide a private oasis which would transport members and their guests from the 24/7 clutter world that operates beyond its high gates. In that sense - Hamilton Farm most certainly accomplishes that.
The layout is blessed with rolling land and a more subdued style would likely have worked even more so here. The former architectural partnership of Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry has created an impressive looking course but much of it resembles an overdosing of make-up. However, a less is more design approach would have worked even better.
The turf is generally impeccable with greens cut low and tight. But, the memorability factor is not tied to the most important dimension -- the architectural elements. That's not to say the course has flawed holes -- it's just that the holes do not really stand in a unified manner in which the round is a crescendo with varying emotions being brought to the surface. To use a baseball metaphor -- Hamilton Farm is a pitcher with one type of pitch. A bit more variety would have worked wonders. There's a healthy respect for the holes but really very little rapture.
For those who do get the opportunity to play the course -- be sure to head to the par-3 layout. It's arguably among the very best in America. Too bad the main layout could not be as thought provoking.
by M. James Ward