What makes a golf course special? That’s a very personal question that every passional golfer must answer for themselves. For me, it’s quite simple, when you finish playing a golf course, do you have an emotional attachment that leaves you excited to come back and play the course again. I have been lucky enough to play Hudson National about 15 times and I can comfortably say, I fell in love with the place after the very first round and each and every time I play a round there, I pinch myself with the same level of excitement as the time before. Hudson National is very special indeed.
Hudson National offers the unique combination of dramatic elevation change, sheer beauty, and of course, great architecture, all the while demanding a championship test of golf that can hold up to golfers of any ability. If there were ever a course where a player needs to pick the proper tee box to ensure maximum enjoyment this would be the course to do so. Fortunately, there is a teeing ground for any distance your heart desires.
When I think of a course with this much elevation change, the first thing that comes to mind is sidehill, uphill and downhill lies. The genius of Tom Fazio’s work shines bright at Hudson National because in spite of all these dramatic elevation changes, you may find yourself with one or two uneven stances after a wayward tee shot, but for the most part you will have flat lies all day long, in spite of having plenty of uphill and downhill approach shots. The balance of holes on this layout is nothing short of spectacular; with long holes, short holes, doglegs left and doglegs right. With 5 par’s threes, you will surely hit 5 different clubs in nearly every direction imaginable, two are on the shorter side, one is medium length and two are long. Yet all of them have very receptive and large putting surfaces.
In spite of some intimidating optics, I find Hudson National to be very playable. What’s also great about the place is that it is designed for walking and in spite of the elevation changes, it’s an invigorating walk that is more than manageable for a person in decent physical shape. Don’t get me wrong, by the time you climb up the elevated 17th green and then walk up the steps to the 18th tee box, you will be a bit winded, but the dramatic views that await you are well worth it.
I could easily write 5000 words on all the things that make Hudson National great, but instead, to hold your interest I will share some highlights of the most memorable holes at Hudson and what I think makes them so great.
The 1st, 6th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 14th, 16th and 18th are my favorite 9 holes. When I started writing this review, I was convinced I’d only write about 4-5 holes that I thought were very special, but apologies in advance, this course is just too darn good to only talk about 4-5, keeping it at only nine holes was difficult enough.
What I love about the opening hole is that this long and demanding hole is right in front of you with one of the coolest greens to a long hole you will ever see. The 1st green is angled and very deep, yet narrow enough that a ball hit a bit too much off line will leave a tough up and down. There is no great place to miss except for coming up short for which your short game will still be tested to get up and down. Walking away with a par to start your round is a great achievement and right off the bat you see the beauty that greets you at Hudson National.
Fast forward all the way to the 6th hole, the tee shot to this uphill par-5 is quite intimidating. However, it is much more forgiving than it looks and while 95% of this hole goes uphill, the hole does not play quite as long as it feels, thank goodness! This hole makes you feel like you are deep in the forest, but you certainly don’t feel claustrophobic. The green is a site to be seen with lots of movement yet somehow, someway, you walk off this hole feeling as though it is one of the better birdie opportunities on the course.
Once you arrive at the 8th hole, you come to my favorite stretch of consecutive holes on the course. The 8th is a straight away very long par-3 that from the back tees will be a 3-wood for most players. The water you must carry to a multi-tiered green is just magnificent. This hole has all the beauty you could ever want in a par-3, and but for the 16th hole which I will describe shortly, this would likely be your favorite hole on almost any other course.
The 9th is a hard dogleg left par-5. A smart player who hits the ball long will more than likely be well served to hit a 3-wood that they can hit with a slight draw, otherwise the dreaded straight ball will likely go through the fairway into some thickish rough. I would say based on the angle of this hole, it is more than likely not reachable in two for nearly everyone, yet if you hit a 13th at Augusta like draw, you may very well have a crack at it. I think I have only hit this fairway twice out of the 15 times I have played here, but that is certainly no fault of Mr. Fazio, as I have nobody but to blame but myself for the greed of continuing to hit a driver that I know will not draw. The green on this hole is wickedly tough, yet totally fair and if you find yourself playing to a back pin on a small shelf, that adds to the difficulty of making a birdie here. I would say more often than not, take your par and run, because there are plenty of big numbers to be had on the 9th if you are not careful.
The 10th is a straight away par-4 that takes the cake for the perhaps the most beautiful view on the entire course. Surely you can argue the par-3 16th wins the beauty award but why argue, we can call them both simply majestic. The 10th is one of those tee shots where Fazio plays some tricks on your mind this hole is actually is a bit of a zig zagging hole, even though it really is just about straight away. You must focus on hitting your drive far enough to the right to not find a hazard that creeps up on the left side of the fairway. Have you ever played an approach shot to a huge green that seems very difficult to hit? The 10th here may be the most deceptive you will ever see as somehow this green is tricky to hit because if you know what the penalty is by missing this green left, you will have that in the back of your mind on your approach shot. It’s a huge fall off left that must be avoided. If you do find this more than ample putting surface, all putts are makeable as it’s a bit of a modified table top green that once you are on it, you should be in good shape. This is a hole that you just have to love. It gives you that perfect balance between optics, challenge and fairness.
The 12th hole is unique. From the back two sets of tees it plays as a 475 incredible par-4 and if you play the white tees, it plays as a 505 yard par 5. I can’t decide which way I like it better because both ways are a heck of a lot of fun. As a par-4 it may be tied for my favorite par 4 on the course with the 18th. As a par-5 from the upper tees, the average player has a great chance to make a par. This hole is another dogleg left, but a bit different than the 9th in that the dogleg here comes much further down the fairway and it’s more gentle, not nearly as sharp. With that said, at all costs you want to keep your tee ball far enough to the right to have a better angle to this green, yet if you hug the left side you can cut off a little distance. I believe I would call this the perfect risk / reward scenario. Plenty of times, my overly greedy tee shot has left me a bit blocked out trying to hug the left side and the more I play here, combined with the more intelligent golf I play, the more I realize you just want to keep your drive out to the right to have a nice angled approach shot. Another feature many would not notice on this hole is that the green is angled in a way that if you approach it from the right side of the fairway it is much more receptive than a hooking or fading shot from the left side of the fairway. Hard to describe without you being there and seeing it, but certainly a stroke of architectural genius by Tom Fazio on the 12th.
The 14th is a par-5 that in an even more pronounced way describes risk / reward. Even so, only the truly daring would attempt to reach this small green in two shots. The drive goes slightly down hill and is semi-blind. Finding the right angle off the tee is tough. A little bit of knowledge is dangerous, no matter how many times I play this hole, I keep hitting my drive just a little bit too far right leaving myself in the rough with no chance to go for this green in two. Perhaps, that is a blessing in disguise because this downhill approach shot baits you into going for it even though the target looks tiny and the penalty for missing this green is severe. The green itself is bigger than it looks but by no stretch anywhere near as big as every other green on the course. With water fronting the green and all the way around the right side, trouble lurks and your round can quickly go south if you are not careful. Playing this hole as a traditional par 5 gives you a great chance for a birdie. Enough said, when you get to this whole, play smart or consider yourself forewarned!
The 16th is one of the all-time most spectacular par 3s in the Tom Fazio portfolio. On a clear day you can see New York City in the distance and the view can easily distract you from the nearly 250 yard downhill hole in front of you. There is no water to stress you out on this hole, but plenty of ways to make a bogey or worse. The green is large and there is a nice collection area right of the green. It’s really well-designed relative to the length and there is nothing not to love here. Take out your camera and be sure to get a photo because if there was one hole to really remember Hudson National by, it would be this.
The 18th offers everything you could ever ask for in a dramatic finishing hole. From a super elevated tee you can swing freely as the fairway is more than ample up until about 290 yards away where it starts to pinch in. Missing far left off the tee is almost certainly a lost ball and missing the fairway to the right leaves just about no chance to reach this long par 4 in regulation. If you do find the fairway, you will have somewhere between a hybrid to a 9 iron depending on the wind and how long a hitter you are. This green is angled in a way that it plays very shallow, which may not feel too inviting if you are one of those players left with a long shot in. The good news is that with the elevated tee a solid drive ensures the hole does not play nearly as long as the distance and most will face a mid-iron approach shot. I’ve yet to see a single Tom Fazio course that was a pushover and certainly cannot think of an 18th hole that Tom designed that was a softy, so why shouldn’t you have to earn a par on the last by hitting a couple of great shots or making a really nice up and down to complete your round?
When you walk off the 18th you almost certainly will smile and be thankful that you just had the treat and privilege of playing Hudson National. As I said earlier, there must be something special about a course that gets you equally excited to play it each time you step foot on the first tee. I just can’t wait to return to Hudson National.
When it comes to Tom Fazio, you may hear most of the discussion about Wade Hampton, Shadow Creek and Gozzer Ranch, but trust me when I tell you that Hudson National is one of Tom Fazio’s very best designs. Congrats also go to Tom Marzolf who played a critical role architecturally on the ground in making Hudson National the great course that it is.
If ever given the chance to play Hudson National, drop everything and head to Croton-On-Hudson, New York for a great day of golf, fun and breathtaking views.
Date: May 28, 2021