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?
I have been playing this course annually for the last 15 years, and have seen its transformation. At the time it was ranked 30th in the US, you had trees on the course and women were not allowed. Since then, the members have decided to open up (a bit). In turn that has led the course actually being played by selected outsiders. It’s ranking is now 11th in the world. Tthe course has gone back to a true links as all trees have been removed and the wind is a constant, and the ladies are truly welcome. The course itself is just incredible – the more you play it the more you appreciate it. If you do get to play it just once, take a caddy and ask Billy to get you a real good one, that will ensure you truly appreciate your round. As you play the course, you will be reminded that each hole is a ‘copy’ of an existing hole…don’t bother comparing. Enjoy the holes for what they are, incredible golf holes. A little advice: aiming at the pin is rarely the way to go and ask the caddy for the grain before hitting into greens. If the greens are fast, as they often are, you'll hit shots into the greens which you are unlikely to ever hit again (how often do you not try to land the ball on a green on a par 3...that will be the way to play the 4th hole)
C.B. Macdonald re-created some of the famous holes of Great Britain at the National. The Road hole from St Andrews (Number 7) and the Redan from North Berwick are his most well known designs. Many of America’s early golf architects frequently visited the National to study its challenging and enduring features. The redan, for example, is probably one of the most copied holes in history. You may have played one without knowing it: a medium-length par 3, the green running diagonally from front right to back left, with a large, deep bunker fronting it. The contour of the green falls away in the rear, so the forward right pin position is very difficult to reach. Number 10 is called Shinnecock, as it shares a fence line with its famous neighbor. I strained to see as much as I could across that fence line, not knowing if I would play there tomorrow or some day in the future. Larry Berle.