How much remains of the original Brian Silva and Geoff Cornish 1991 co-design at the super-exclusive Manhattan Woods Golf Club? For all intents and purposes, Manhattan Woods became a brand new Gary Player layout in 1998. Why anyone would choose to discard a Silva/Cornish creation after only a few years is anyone’s guess.
In The American Private Golf Club Guide Daniel Wexler had this to say: “Located on high ground three miles west of the Hudson River, Manhattan Woods is a golf-only Gary Player design best known for its downriver views of the distant New York City skyline. Rated at 75.7 from the tips, it is an obviously demanding test, yet strategic holes abound and the aesthetic is a bit more classical than much of Player’s American work.”
The reason Manhattan Woods is “a bit more classical than much of Player’s American work” is largely due to the fact that Stephen Kay handled most of the design. Stephen contacted us in January 2021, confirming that Cornish and Silva did the routing and he commented as follows:
“The third owner Ken Lee hired me… I kept most of the routing but changed a few holes (a couple of tee angles changed and three or four green locations shifted somewhat). I did all construction drawings (tees, bunkers and green contours). We were 95% completed [when] Gary Player came into the project. He did not do much… he added the fairway bunkers at the beginning of the fairway on #1 and #14 and designed the 18th putting surface (which his young associate Tim Freeland did).”
The interesting thing about Manhattan Woods is putting on one's sleuth coat to figure out the exact order of the people who have played a role in the design of Manhattan Woods. The layout is done well although the course rating of 75.7 and slope of 149 is a bit on the exaggerated side. That's not to mean the course is a pushover - hardly.
The routing was put into place early on and the inevitable future additions from the various contributors have added a good bit to the strategic side of the equation.
The outward side starts slowly with the first three holes. Matters intensity when you reach the muscular uphill par-3 4th. Although listed at 198 yards -- the hole plays at minimum a club longer and if wind conditions arise it can mean even more stick.
The 5th hole is likely the most engaging hole on the front side. You face a dog-leg hole that finishes with an elevated green whose surface is completely hidden from view from the fairway. The hole requires a careful blending of precision and sufficient distance to secure the best angle for one's approach.
Three satisfactory holes follow before the quality long par-4 9th closes out the side.
The inward half is the stronger side for scoring purposes. The par-4 11th is very attractive. Turning right in the drive zone and the approach over wetland to a green ably defended. The artfully created par-5 13th is quite good. The hole features a drive zone that butts up against wetlands. The green is tucked tight to the right side so those entertaining a go for the green in two blows has to keep their tee shot to the far left and that's where the greatest precision is called upon. The 14th thru 16th holes feature two long par-4's bracketed in the middle by a short uphill par-5 that could easily play as a long par-4 when any serious golf event is staged.
The closing two holes are a quality combination. The par-3 17th features a green hugging a pong to the left. The pin can be placed as near as possible to that side and therefore one must be mindful of just how aggressive one should be. The finale is the club's second most difficult and strategic hole. The 18th turns left in the drive zone and features a series of bunkers that hold forth on that side. The fascinating aspect is the green itself. Three distinct levels await. The key is being sure to secure the proper spot because failure to do so is a likely certainty in a three-putt or worse. The uphill approach puts added pressure on players to gauge the proper club selection before pulling the trigger.
What adds considerably to the round at Manhattan Woods is the impeccable turf conditions. The greens have ultra-fast movement and at high speeds levels -- routinely over 12 -- one must be ever mindful in where one's ball finishes. Those with a balky putter will pay a stiff price on the scorecard. Tees and fairways are groomed to a razor's edge cut. While the architecture of the course can be best described as engaging at certain intervals -- it's the conditioning that adds to the time spent playing there.
M. James Ward