Playing a very good course on Long Island leads one to an instant quandry…..where does it rank among all of the other great courses in the area? The Meadow Brook Club fits right in among the best on the island although not in the league of National Golf Links. Shinnecock Hills, Fishers Island and Bethpage Black. But one could make a case for it belonging in the second tier alongside Garden City Men’s, Friar’s Head, The Creek, Piping Rock, and Maidstone. It certainly is in no worse than the third group of Atlantic, Sebonack, Deepdale, Engineers, and The Bridge. I have not yet played St. George’s which I hear is also very good.
I am not including the courses in the greater New York City area such as Quaker Ridge, Winged Foot East and West, Fairfield, Fenway, Baltusrol, Plainfield, Sleepy Hollow, Bayonne, or Hudson National.
The Meadow Brook Club is very good as evidenced by the status of the events they have held such as the Metropolitan Open, The Metropolitan PGA, a LPGA event and a Champions tour event for 20 years.
The club originated as the Meadow Brook Hunt Club, established in 1881 in Westbury, New York and home of the Meadow Brook Hounds. Future President Theodore Roosevelt was a member of the hunt club, which met at his home in Oyster Bay in 1886. The members sometimes hunted foxes or follow a trail of anise scent. In 1881, the club built a nine-hole course in Hempstead.
The Hunt Club gave birth to the Meadow Brook Polo Club whose founders included the polo player and millionaire Thomas Hitchcock, Sr. Mr. Hitchcock was one of the founders of the Meadow Brook steeplechase races in 1883, and in 1889 became master of the Meadow Brook Hunt. The club in Westbury had eight polo fields, and was the leading polo center in the United States. During the first half of the 20th century the polo club was often the site for national or international polo championships. Golf obviously took a back seat to polo.
Two notable events occurred prior to the course designed by Dick Wilson. In 1895, the women’s first national tournament was held with Lucy Barnes winning with a score of 132 for 18 holes. By 1905, the original course was abandoned and a new 18 course was built by Devereux Emmet. In 1936, Sam Snead won $10,000 playing two competitions which afforded him enough money to turn professional full-time.
In 1954, urban development to extend and widen a parkway forced the club to abandon the Devereux Emmet course. At this time the club split the polo club from the golf club. The polo club moved to Old Westbury. The golf club relocated to Jericho where Dick Wilson designed and started building a course in 1953, opening for play on June 4, 1955.
Dick Wilson built a course with narrow openings into greens and many doglegs. He built a penal golf course and wanted players to fly their balls onto greens. His doglegs were severe, as much as 90 degrees. Mr. Wilson provided an advantage to longer hitters who could drive over the fairway bunkers at the corners of the doglegs. Average length or shorter hitters who could not drive over fairway bunkers had to hit hard draws or bigger fades so that they had to hit longer clubs into the greens.
After it opened, Herbert Warren Wind called it a “born classic” and “the finest golf course that has built in this country since Bob Jones and Dr. Alastair Mackenzie produced Augusta National back in 1931.”
Several of the original Dick Wilson holes were lost in 1967 when the club sold off land. Dick Wilson was brought back to design six new holes. In the 1970’s, Joe Finger was brought in to rework the course and did not change the character of the course.
But over time the course had more trees than when first built and some tees, greens and bunkers were in poor shape. The driving range and practice area was felt to be inadequate for the needs of the members. Brian Silva was brought it and re-did much of the golf course. He built seven new tees. He softened two greens at the ninth and fourteenth that were both too steeply sloped. He re-positioned many fairway bunkers from the rough into the fairway creating more challenge and drama. Mr. Silva continued to give the longer hitters an advantage but for other average length players the re-positioning of the bunkers leads to an easier approach shot if one can come close to the edges of the bunkers or perhaps even carry them. He widened the fairways on several holes to provide bailout areas, albeit still requiring longer shots into the greens.
As an average length hitter off the tee, I found many fairway bunkers that I thought about trying to carry even if I chose not to. For example on the downhill first hole, the fairway bunkers on a rise come into the fairway on the left. As the hole is a par five I choose to not attempt to carry them as I felt I would have a better chance at par or even birdie with a wedge into the green instead of trying to hit the green in two.
On the fifth hole, a severe uphill dogleg left the longer hitter can go directly at the green if they avoid the trees on the left and can carry a hill that has bunkers. For the shorter hitter the play is down to the right of a rise. Hit it far enough or to the right side of the fairway and one can see the green. Hit it too straight or not quite far enough up the hill and one will have a blind shot of 110-130 yards.
Mr. Silva also converted the short par 5 twelfth into a long par 4 and changed the par 4 eighteenth into a longer par 5.
I note in Fergal O’Leary’s review his comments regarding trees hanging over some of the fairways. Most of this is gone with a couple of exceptions. There are plans to continue to remove trees. The result is a course that feels very open with wonderful views across the course, particularly the front nine and the driving range. The back nine has most of its holes still tree-lined but the line has been pushed back.
The front nine has the better land as the terrain moves up and down. It also has the best par five and par three on the course. The back nine has the more interesting routing even if much of the back nine is flat. The twelfth is the best par 4 on the golf course.
The greens are enormous for the most part. The first hole is one of the largest greens I have ever seen and is a definite three club differential depending on pin location. The eighteenth green is not nearly as wide as the first green but it is also a three club differential due to its length. The greens are excellently contoured. It would take very good knowledge of the greens and a good putting day not to have a three putt. I had five three-putts in my round of 84, with none of the long approach putts coming within 8 feet even though I judged the pace correctly. The slopes and contours create lines that are very confounding. They are good greens and they are not unfair.
The course is very well bunkered both in placement, size and look. I did not think of any changes I would make to the bunkers.
The course is well routed to take advantage of the terrain changes from the bigger rises and falls to the smaller movements. The back nine suffers from having its holes lined with trees. One truly misses the open views from the front nine. In addition, every hole is a dogleg with five of the holes being dogleg lefts.
Some of the tees could be put in better spots. I will comment in the hole-by-hole descriptions.
It is a challenging golf course despite wide fairways, a course that is right before your eyes and the large greens. I feel it correctly balances challenge and a chance to recover par unless one gets into the trees or out-of-bounds. From the back tees it is 7405 yards, par 72, rated 75.3/143. From the Red tees it is 6810 yards rated 72.8/138. From the Gold tees it is 6245 yards rated 70.0/132. There is a white tee and three sets of composite tees so a total of seven tees.
We played the Red Composite at 6473 yards rated 70.9/136. The ratings felt about right. I will list the Blue tees (back) and the Red composite tees.
1 – par 5 533/506. The first hole plays downhill as a dogleg left. As mentioned earlier, there is a rise that has three staggered bunkers on the inward corner with a lot of room to the right. Longer hitters easily carry all three bunkers with the second one being placed in the fairway. The line is over the second bunker. There are trees down the right to avoid for the second shot and another bunker right about 50 yards short of the green. At the green there is a bunker front left and another back right. There is a section of tall grass about 45 yards short of the green on the left. The green is sloped back to front and it is enormous. It is a nice gentle starting hole to the round as a par 5 as long as one can get their approach shot to within 25 feet of the pin due to the undulations within the green.
The first hole provides a good example of the test at Meadow Brook. The two better players and longer hitters in our group ran into some trouble while the other players had birdie putts. One player did make par after hitting his second into the tall grass on the left while the other good player hit his approach too far into a bank behind the green which has thick grass and a downslope. He left his chip short of the green which happens a lot at Meadow Brook (more on that later).
2 – par 4 417/389. This hole is a gentle dogleg right with mounding down the left fairway prior to two fairway bunkers and another bunker opposite on the right about 220 off the tee. There is another bunker right another 60 yards up. This hole plays gently downhill from the tee and the longer hitters can take advantage of a speed slot just over that right fairway bunker. At the green there is a fall-off and chipping area to the left while on the right is a fronting bunker and another halfway up. The green slopes back to front but not nearly as much as it looks. I came in from off the green to the left expecting a break of six feet towards the front of the green but it actually caught a swale and ended up twelve feet away. I was lucky to make the putt, one of only two one-putts on the day.
3 – par 4 456/389. This is rated the number one index but I felt the second hole was more difficult due to the green. This hole is a slight double dogleg with bunkers opposite but staggered with the left ones farther out. There is another speed slot just inside those left bunkers. Our longer hitter had 75 yards to a front pin. The approach shot is uphill to a green with two bunkers right and one left. While it looks as those you could run a ball onto this green, any ball with some height will not advance if short of the green. It is a good hole but not as strong as the second as the green is less interesting.
4 – par 4 470/389. This hole is visually very good, playing slightly downhill as a dogleg left with an inner bunker on the corner eating into the fairway. The line from the tee pushes one right which resulted in our longer hitter staying in the right rough. The green has two bunkers to either side and is angled left to right creating some more interesting pin positions. There is also good micro contouring near the green. I like this hole.
5 – par 4 350/330. There is a grouping of trees down the left side that they are considering taking out for better views. For now, it provides a good line into the green for those trying to drive it on this sharp dogleg left. The hole is uphill with a knob with four bunkers at its top. At the green are two deep, fronting bunkers, with two more at the rear. This hole is wonderfully filled with strategy. The longer hitter went for the green, likely 265 yards away and ended up just in front of the green as he missed his line slightly. The second longer hitter had a good unobstructed line into the green from the right side of the fairway while the two shorter hitters both had blind shots although with wedges. The two longer hitters made birdie while one of the shorter hitters missed a birdie from ten feet. I hit my “blind” approach too far left into the bank behind the green where it stayed with the grass going against me. I did not get my next shot onto the green and was fortunate to walk away with a bogey.
6 – par 3 265/190. A long downhill par 3 with a pond on the entire right side of the green. The green is substantially sloped left to right so balls landing off the left side of the green have a good chance of coming back onto the green. One can putt from as much as thirty yards short of the green. The green has ripples in it. However, for me this hole is the least interesting on the front nine.
7 – par 4 433/374. This is a sharp dogleg left with trees on the left inner corner. The approach shot is uphill to a green fronted by two bunkers and another bunker on the back right. The green has interior mounding and tiers. I did not hit my drive quite far enough and was blocked by a tree branch from the left side which I felt to be unnecessary. However, hitting too far left but still in the fairway could leave someone with a downhill lie to an uphill green. The green complex is the best part of the hole.
8 – par 5 624/523. The best hole on the golf course as a dogleg right, then left with the green mainly hidden from view as it sits back again to the right. One needs to stay out of the bunkers on the inner corner on the right from the tee (I did not and took two to get out as I was too close to the lip about 3 feet above me). The hole goes downhill, then slightly uphill, then downhill to the green. There is another bunker about 100 yards from the green on the left near a grouping of trees with the ground sloped towards the bunker. If one can avoid the bunkers they will be left with a wedge into the green from the 523 tees. But there is another bunker about 40 yards short of the green on the right and then two fronting bunkers to a green that is sloped left to right and front to back. Compounding my mistake of two in the bunker, my fourth shot hit a “golf cart” directional sign and stopped it from going onto the green. There is a big fall-off both behind and to the right of the green. I loved the hole despite my double. It is hard to find many better par 5’s.
9 – par 3 217/145. The green is placed on the side of the hill where the clubhouse sits. It has a lengthy and very steep false front. There is a bunker right and two bunkers left that are long and deep with the front left one resulting in a blind shot. The green is angled right to left and is steeply banked back to front with a few mounds in it. My ball clung to the front and I was able to two putt from 75 feet.
Of the front nine, I felt only the first and the sixth to be average holes with the rest of the them being very good, particularly four, five, eight and nine.
10 – par 5 570/539. The tenth hole is a bit too similar to the starting hole in terms of both being a dogleg left and downhill. But the similarities end after the tee shot. The tenth has trees down the left and right and the fairway narrows as it plays alongside a slope on the right. There are two bunkers about 40 yards short of the green built into the hill on the right side. The line to the green is over those bunkers as the green is sharply canted right to left. There is a right bunker at the middle of the green which is very problematic given the slope of the green. There are also two bunkers on the left side of the green which is long. The “blind” shot over the bunker is an exciting one.
11 – par 4 420/365. A relatively sharp dogleg left with trees on either side follows with bunkers on both corners staggered in a way that if the longer hitter clears the first one on the left side there is a good chance they will go into the bunker on the right (our longer hitter did just that). At the green there are three bunkers including a bunker on the right that blocks a bit of the green. The green has a vertical ridge in it that makes a back right pin position especially difficult. It is a nice golf hole.
12 – par 4 480/413. Although it is listed as the most difficult hole on the back nine I think this is a function of its length. This is another dogleg left lined with trees on both sides with two bunkers on the inner corner and flanking, deep bunkers at the raised green. I did not find anything really special about the hole other than the length from the back tee.
13 – par 3 214/184. Possibly the best par 3 on the course hitting to a raised green with a bunker on the right and a bunker covering the front of the green which is also raised. It is a good golf hole.
14 – par 4 455/373. Another dogleg left follows from a tee placed close to the tree line on the left side. There is a bunker on the left that must be cleared. At the green there are two bunkers to either side to a bell-shaped green that has good inner countering and fall-offs right and back. I like the hole although I felt the tee to be in the wrong spot. It was previously more to the right and I feel that is a better hole as it would straighten the hole and provide a bit more variety to the endless doglegs on the back nine.
15 – par 4 421/363. We finally get to a dogleg right with two long bunkers on the inner corner that require a shot of at least 230 yards to clear the second one. The green has five bunkers surrounding it and is long and narrow with good interior mounding. It was one of the five three putts on the day and the one time my caddie got the line completely wrong leaving me a 12 foot putt to save par which broke far more at the hole than expected. It is a good green and my member host easily two putted it from what I thought was a more difficult position.
16 – par 3 189/171. Two bunkers right and one at the left back. Another three putt this time with my own bad read leaving me a ten feet putt to save par. The hole is pretty benign.
17 – par 4 378/353. The final dogleg left on a back nine filled with them. This hole is heavily tree lined with another bunker on the inner corner. At the green are five additional bunkers surrounding the green which has good inner shaping to it. It is a nice breather hole before the finish.
18 – par 5 513/465. This tee should be moved well to the left although it would mean likely fifty trees would need to come down. It would add both length and have people driving more towards the long bunker currently on the right side whereas now they easily play away from it. The hole rises to the a very long green that has three bunkers left and one on the right. The green easily has three tiers to it. I had another three putt and tried my first putt a couple of more times after the round ended and still could not figure it out until the fourth time. It is a good finishing hole but could be better.
Meadow Brook is a gem. If one has played the four-five better known courses on Long Island, this is very much worth seeking out to play. If this were located elsewhere, it would garner much more attention.
Date: July 20, 2020