The founding fathers of Monroe Golf Club made a wise decision when they appointed Donald Ross to design and construct their golf course in the early 1920s when a 16-year-old Robert Trent Jones was a member of the construction crew.
“Built concurrently with Oak Hill’s two 18’s, the neighboring Monroe is more of a family orientated club and not nearly as busy”, wrote Tom Doak in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses – Volume 3, “but it’s the best piece of ground for golf in Rochester. It’s a wonderful routing; from a corner clubhouse location, most of the front nine plays on a north-and-south orientation and the back nine more east-and-west, but the two finishing holes and the sensational par-4 17th play diagonally back to the north-west corner.”
Since Monroe’s early beginnings, thousands of trees were planted, including several thousand pines under a NY State program in the 1950s. In the late 1980s, Brian Silva was commissioned to upgrade and re-contour the fairways and he commented as follows:
“[Monroe] is surely one of the greatest Ross courses I have ever seen. I am aware of other Ross courses of greater renown than Monroe yet only know of one that is its match – and Pinehurst No. 2 had the distinct advantage of being the winter home of Ross for four decades.”
In 2008 a complete Gil Hanse bunker renovation programme completed. Gil Hanse commented as follows:
“We have been extremely fortunate to have been the consulting architects for Monroe Golf Club for the past decade, and it is my opinion that it is the finest Donald Ross course in New York State. The combination of the perfect terrain, sandy soil, and the genius of the Donald Ross design, makes it a must see for any player interested in golf course architecture. With the variety of golf holes, angles of play, and sublime green complexes it has challenged the finest amateurs in the history of golf over 70 years. With this history, tradition, and a chance to study some of the finest golf course architecture on the planet, the MIC is an opportunity that no amateur golfer should pass up.”
The Monroe Invitational Championship (MIC) dates back to 1937 and is one of the oldest amateur tournaments in the US.
The Rochester area has an amazing concentration of Ross golf courses in near proximity to each other just east of the city. The Monroe Golf Club has been recognised among the Top 100 classic courses in the country and it’s the epitome of an enjoyable member’s club for all abilities to enjoy.
The highlights for me, as expected, were the wonderful ‘back to front’ greens in immaculate condition. There’s plenty of strategy off the tee to avoid plenty of cross/fairway bunkers, which is a nice challenge that doesn’t involve using the driver.
This Ross course isn’t long on paper, which is essentially irrelevant as it’s all about the putting surfaces that serve as the course's defense. It’s a lovely walk across a property that members will never tire of – it keeps your interest from start to finish.
When golfers head to this part of New York State the likely "must play" on the minds of many will be neighboring Oak Hill and its much-heralded East Course. For the more discerning player the better choice in getting a complete and more faithful Donald Ross design rests with Monroe GC. The course has not been altered in the heavy-handed manner as Oak Hill's East Course. The terrain Monroe occupies is first rate for the variety of holes and the clever way Ross intersected all the key points. Ross excelled in a dynamic routing -- changing pace routinely happens at Monroe. One never sees predictability. The yardages change time after time and the land dictates a wide variety of skills in shaping shots at a high level.
In sum, the player must show total resourcefulness -- the mark of a stellar design.
When the course reduces the par of two par-5 holes the par-70 layout can be as fierce as any.
The closing holes on each side are tour de force. The long par-5 9th is just over 600 yards and plays uphill. Those able to hit two first rate shots can have a short pitch but the green is narrow and well-defended. This is one of those rare par-5 holes where par is quite an accomplishment. The par-4 18th also plays uphill and while the card lists the hole at 438 yards it's more than likely going to mean two more clubs to get to the putting surface. Here Ross allows the land to showcase brilliantly what is required. A textbook example of less equals more. The green on the home hole features two tiers with a swale running diagonally across. All sorts of short shots can occur for those unable to find the green. Walking away with a par is a clear success story.
Unfortunately, so much of course assessments is based on those few clubs able to host major championships or professional events of high stature. Monroe has been the host site for its own Invitational for 78 years which has been staged since 1937 with the format switching to stroke play in 1998. The event has been won by a number of top tier players including the likes of Dustin Johnson, Chris DiMarco, Jeff Sluman and the present Chairman of Augusta National Fred Ridley.
For those golfers enamored with Ross -- a visit to Monroe is a must see. Hats off to the club in not seeing any need to bolster the design through the clumsy insertions from people who would only sabotage what Ross provided. The recent work by Brian Silva and Gil Hanse is commendable in being so keen on enhancing what the grand master originally provided. Monroe shows that grand New York State golf is not the sole domain of the New York City metro area.
by M. James Ward