On the shore edge of Peconic Bay at Southampton on Long Island is the National Golf Links of America. “I will not describe that delightful spot again.” Wrote Bernard Darwin in Golf Between Two Wars. “It is one of the best and most enchanting of courses.” Known simply as 'National', this is the ultimate design creation from the father of American golf course architecture. Charles Blair Macdonald apparently coined the term 'golf architect' and his National is a complete masterpiece.
Macdonald’s ambition was to create the greatest course in the United States and he started his mission in 1902 by making the first of five annual summer trips to the UK. He complied details of important features of golf holes analysing why weak holes were often dull and what really made good holes good. In 1907, using his extensive knowledge, he set about creating the greatest golf course of its time. The National Golf Links finally opened for play in 1909 to a rapturous standing ovation.
This is a golf course of monumental historical importance, it’s a “Bear’s Best”, or “Blair's Best” of the early 20th century. Each hole at the National is named and the 2nd, called “Sahara” is based on the 3rd at Royal St George’s. The 3rd, called “Alps” replicates the challenging blind approach shot taken from the brilliant 17th at Prestwick, where a confrontational hill and a huge bunker protecting the undulating green front must be carried. The 4th, called “Redan” copies the 15th at North Berwick where the long green is set at an angle. The 7th, called “St Andrews” uses features of the famous “Road” hole and the 13th is indebted to the “Eden” hole of the Old course.
The National is set in more than 250 acres of gently rolling Long Island landscape. The varied topography is not only beautiful but it’s dramatic too, holding you captivated from the opening tee shot to the last putt. With theatrical green complexes that are extremely varied, putting at the National can be the ultimate challenge. Many greens undulate wildly while others are flat as pancakes but they all share a common denominator and that is their size… they are simply huge. The routing is ostensibly nine out and nine back, but somehow the holes seem to zigzag up and down making the wind an ever-present obstacle.
If you haven’t played the National, you need to hold on to the “six degrees of separation” theory, which proposes that anyone can be connected to a member of the National Golf Links of America through a series of acquaintances that has no more than four intermediaries. Keep that thought in mind. Who knows? One day perhaps?
November 19, 2008