Inwood Country Club has a storied history. Per the club’s website: in 1900, prominent tobacco merchant, Jacob Wertheim was engaged to wed Emma Stern of Far Rockaway. She wanted to indulge in the game of golf but had no place to play. Wertheim decided to build a golf course for her on a former potato farm. Early in 1901, Dr. William Exton, with the aid of Arthur Thatcher, laid out a nine-hole links that meandered around the property. Five years later, in 1906, the course was expanded to 18 holes by Edward Eriksen. Within a few short years, Inwood became one of the few courses to host two major golf championships: the 1921 PGA Championship, won by Walter Hagen, and the 1923 U.S. Open Championship, scene of Bobby Jones’ first victory in a major.
Since then Herb Strong and Jack Mackie have worked on the course. Tom Doak is the current consulting architect.
One of the reasons the PGA and US Open were held at Inwood, was that Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs, of Goldman Sachs financial fame were members.
It was Walter Hagen’s first victory in the PGA. During his early matches, on the eleventh hole Mr. Hagen would drive down the eighteenth fairway rather than the eleventh fairway as it provided a slightly shorter and better angle to the green. Some of the members of the club were incensed by this and had a tree relocated from the sixteenth hole to block this attempt before the 36 hole finals. For those who recall Lon Hinkle at Inverness during a US Open with the USGA deciding to place a tree close to the eighth tee to block Hinkle from using the seventeenth fairway which was a much shorter and better line, there was precedent at Inwood. As for Mr. Hagen, in his first attempt to play down the eleventh fairway he bogeyed the hole, but won the next three holes and never trailed. This win was the first of his five PGA championship victories.
As for Bobby Jones victory, he was one of the clear favorites to win. However, because he had been identified as a golfing prodigy at the age of 15, the expectations on him were always very high. Mr. Jones had a history of blowing leads in tournaments or simply not playing well enough in the bigger events. In the 1923 U.S. Open, he had a three shot lead entering the final day but promptly bogeyed the first hole, hit a ball out of bounds on the par 3 seventh, hit it out of bounds into the parking lot behind the hole on the par 4 sixteenth and also hit it into the water in the pond fronting the eighteenth for another double bogey. He shot 76 for the day. Bobby Cruickshank slowly closed the gap but double bogeyed the sixteenth. However, on the final hole he hit his second shot to five feet and made birdie to force a playoff.
In the playoff, they went back and forth and were tied on the eighteenth. Mr. Cruickshank hit his shot into the rough on the left and elected to lay up before the pond fronting the green. Mr. Jones hit into the right rough but hit a two iron 200 yards over the pond to six feet. Shaken, Mr. Cruickshank hit his short pitch into the bunker and then came out. Jones won by two shots for his first of thirteen major victories in 7 years before he retired.
Mr. Jones told his friends that had he lost the U.S. Open at Inwood that he would have likely quit playing tournament golf. That makes one think of the importance of that victory for without it, we would never had the only Grand Slam in golf history.
As to the course, it does meander along the water with the first six holes offering either fairway/green views or views from the tees. These holes remind me of the Lowcountry in South Carolina and Georgia. The back nine has holes thirteen – sixteen with views of water or the sense of water.
There are views of the Manhattan skyline and of course a few jets flying overhead as JFK airport is very close by.
The views of the clubhouse is nearly always present and it is a lovely one.
As to the course, while Inwood has never been at the level of Maidstone, it reminds of it because time/technology have substantially altered the challenge of the course. Both of these courses play much easier than when they were first built with the only real defense being a high wind day. Both courses are essentially flat although Maidstone has a few rises due to the dunes. Both are extremely fun to play with the walk being most enjoyable. Maidstone has some iconic holes, more length, some very good doglegs involving water, and a terrific par 4 and par 3 in the sand dunes whereas Inwood’s most interesting features to me were the quirkiness of the front nine and the relatively small greens. The front nine at Inwood has three consecutive par 5’s followed by two consecutive par 3’s.
The back nine at Inwood is much better than the front nine.
On my own personal rating scale, I do not rate Inwood very high and its final rating falls below a course that I would recommend playing if in the area. But for Inwood I would make an exception because of the lovely setting, enjoyable walk, history, and fun of the place. One of my friends said that it reminded him of playing Crail Balcomie in Scotland. I agreed as I do not think Crail to be a very good course, but one will very much enjoy playing it.
Inwood is in the process of making further improvements. They are reviewing what types of bunkers they want. Do they return to the wild, often smallish, raised bunkers that were there during the 1920’s, or do they make them a little more finished? Do they raise more of them? I spotted areas where it looked like bunkers had been there before and I would recommend either restoring them or even placing new ones farther up the fairway to create more of a challenge for the longer hitters. The tee boxes are in the middle of a transition with my preference for the one continuous, long, wide tee box with rounded edges. They will be removing some of the taller reeds near the holes on the water to offer better views although it will not change the golf course. They will also be removing a few more trees that do not come into play in order to provide more air flow and enhanced views.
If the club has the money (tough to do during the pandemic), in addition to what the club is already planning, I would add a few more bunkers for defensive purposes as well as re-shape a few of the greens that I felt to be less interesting. I would also consider lengthening the ninth hole.
From the Green tees the course measures 6637 yards, par 71 rated 73.0/134. From the Blue tees the course measures 6297 yards rated 71.3/130. We played the Blue tees with the exception of fifteenth where we went back to the 463 green tee as opposed to the blue tee of 396 yards as the member host was correct in that it is a much better hole with more strategy from the longer tee. I scored a 77 but felt I would have had the same score from the Green tees as the tees vary by only 10-20 yards on all but two holes, both of which I bogeyed. With some regret, we had a lower wind and it was not coming from the normal direction (65-35 and we had the 35).
I did like the routing as only holes seven-eight and twelve-thirteen go in the same consecutive direction.
1 – par 4 345/322. A tree and bunkers on the left and a bunker on the right but a generous fairway. Bigger hitters hit it well past the bunkers about 220 yards off the tee. Flattish sand bunkers are on either side as you approach the green but do not present any real defense. I had 8 iron into a smaller green with some good mounding near the front and rear with three greenside bunkers but overall a hole that is an easy start. I think raising the green would enhance the hole.
2 – par 4 363/342. A sharp dogleg right with trees down the left. Bigger hitters go over the reeds and water down the right and could be left with as little as 40 yards. Even if they find the flattish sand on either side of the fairway it is not a difficult shot. The line for average length players is to favor the right side of the fairway, leaving one 130-145 yards into another somewhat small green that has a nice raised, back mound on the left. I liked the hole.
3 – par 5 514/500. The first of three consecutive par 5’s with this one moving to the right. There are fairway bunkers left and one much further down the right side. The tree line on the right just off the tee makes one want to hit to the left towards those left bunkers. There is a large bunker complex about 100 yards short of the green on the left. This might be the deepest bunker on the course. This hole ends in front of the clubhouse with a two tiered green that falls to the left and to the back where a rear bunker awaits. There is a bunker on the right that likely catches a lot of balls. It is a nice hole with a very good green.
4 – par 5 539/527. Playing back the other way this is a gentle dogleg left with flanking fairway bunkers. There is a large waste area as you near the green as well as trees on the left. At the green a bunker on the left eats into part of the green which is raised back to front. There is decent mounding just off the green. It is a nice hole.
5 – par 5 512/480. Reversing once again, this final par 5 on the golf course has nothing but sand down the right side with only two scattered bunkers off the fairway on the right. If one goes too far right there is out-of-bounds due to wetlands. At the green is a bunker left and two on the right. I felt this green could have used a bit more contouring as well as some mounding near the green.
6 – par 3 171/160. I felt this to be the best par 3 on the course as you reverse directions again and hit towards a green with a tree set at the left side and bunkers on both sides. There is a pond just off the tee which should not be in play. The green is small and has good inner contouring.
7 – par 3 219/207. The longest par 3 on the course reverses direction again toa green that is surrounding by five bunkers with a tier to a raised back green and a tilt to the left. It was probably my least favorite hole on the course as visually it was not as interesting as some others. I felt the hole would have benefited from a raised green.
8 – par 4 415/396. The best hole on the front nine is the eighth which offers flanking bunkers, out-of-bounds and trees down the right side. The hole bends to the left to provide a reprieve to the out-of-bounds. At the green are flanking bunkers. For championships, they could add a tee nearer the seventh green before one crosses the road in order to add twenty yards and provide a tee that would point players to the out-of-bounds on the right. It would require removing the tree next to the ninth green. This hole had the style of bunkering that I think best fits the golf course.
9 – par 4 417/403. The inward nine finishes with a straight hole that offers fairway bunkers down the right and then flanking bunkers at the green preceded by a large bunker on the right. I felt the green complex needed better mounding near it as well as a more contoured green which slopes back to front. The only other improvement to the hole would be too expensive as it would require removal of the maintenance building and possibly land acquisition. It could be really cool to do so as the green would have a pond at its back side and the hole would be 40 yards longer and require crossing the road with an approach shot.
10 – par 3 106/96. The tee was set at 86 yards for us. One hits over a fronting pond with a horizontal tier in the green. The green is fairly large for the length of the shot. There is a long bunker left side and two bunkers right that seem continuous. It is a fun hole but I felt there should have been more mounding around the green and the bunkers a bit deeper to provide a more severe penalty for missing the green. There is a large mound front right that should be replicated in other areas surrounding the green. I was somewhat surprised there was no bunker on the back of the green.
11 – par 4 433/418. This hole plays as a dogleg left due to the tee placement wedged between the pond and the eighteenth green. The tee points you at the bunker and trees on the right while there is a line of trees down the left. 25 yards short of the green are two bunkers creeping into the fairway while the only greenside bunker is on the right. This has a good green with a tall mound on the center and right of the green. Any shot from the right on center of the green has to navigate that mound for a hole placement on the left. Yet if one is on the left side of the green there is very little slope at all. I felt this to be the third best hole on the back nine.
12 – par 4 456/437. This hole plays slightly downhill to a green that runs away from you and balls can collect into the side of small grass mounds at the back. There is out-of-bounds down the right and trees down the left. There are flanking bunkers. The fairway narrows to the green which has no bunkers. This is one of the few holes where one can run a ball onto the green although my ball landed short and ran all the way through to those mounds where the front pin seemed very far away from a lie in deep grass. It is a good hole but not visually interesting. I felt that cross bunkers 60 yards short of the green would enhance the hole.
In the tree area to the left side of the eleventh and sixteenth fairways there is room to put the maintenance facility.
13 – par 4 341/325. My second favorite hole on the back due to the sand that is everywhere making the fairway a narrow target. Even bigger hitters have to be aware of the sand. From the tee this is a visual delight. The green is small and flanked by two large bunkers. A raised green would enhance the hole.
14 – par 3 155/140. Playing with the water to the right and a bunker fronting the green on the right that hides the entire right side, there are also three bunkers on the left. It is a nice par 3 with a par being a good score. Most would likely say this is the best par 3 on the course.
15 – par 4 463/396. From the back tee it is the best hole on the course playing as a dogleg right and requiring one to avoid the bunkers on the right side as the left side one should not be in play. The tall reeds down the right provide another out-of-bounds. There is a set of flanking bunkers for longer hitters. Near the green are four bunkers on the left side and one at the back rear with another bunker 15 yards short on the right. This is a very good hole. But from the forward tee the dangers of the tee shot disappear. The thin green has a nice horizontal spine in the middle of it.
16 – par 4 376/363. A sharp dogleg right where the correct play is to play center left. The hole seems to play about 15 yards longer than the yardage. Bigger hitters cut the dogleg over the reeds and leave themselves 80 yards. On the left there is a single bunker and trees. There are two long sandy bunkers about 50 yards short of the green going nearly to the green. The green has two bunkers on both sides. This is one of the holes where it looked as if bunkers had been removed on the left side of the fairway.
17 – par 4 405/377. Playing from the only slightly elevated tee on the course, this hole plays straight. There is a large bunker about 70 yards short of the green on the left. The green is ringed by five bunkers and has a big rise on the back center-right. The green is slightly elevated. I liked the hole.
18 – par 4 408/398. The finishing hole has scattered trees on both sides and two staggered bunkers on the left side. Average length hitters likely have 175 yards to the green and likely lay up as the pond is essentially against the front edge of the green. The green is large and rectangular so if one hits over the pond they have to avoid the two flanking bunkers at the back half of the green which narrows. There is also some decent mounding on both sides of the green. The green slopes gently back to front and could use better interior mounding.
Inwood as presented is very enjoyable. One should play it if they want to have a fun and enjoyable round of golf as well as for the history. With continued enhancements, it could be very good given the views from its setting along the water.
Date: July 17, 2020