Old Sandwich is possibly the second best course designed and built by the team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. It is a close call and would be a good debate between Old Sandwich and Friar’s Head, although neither approach the brilliance of Sand Hills. I think Friar’s Head has several holes that are better and more memorable, but Old Sandwich is more consistent and overall has the more interesting topography beginning with the first tee shot of the day. Possibly the only “weak” hole at Old Sandwich are two of the three short par 4’s at eight and fourteen. The other short par 4, the fifth, is one of the more brilliant short par 4’s I have ever played.
The fifth hole deserves special recognition. From the tee one is faced with a sharp dogleg left over a deep ravine of tall brush and grass while the fairway has a sizeable hill in its middle. On this hole, the long hitters dare to cut off as much as the dogleg left over the ravine to try to drive the green, while slightly shorter players will hit left of the top of the mound. Go too straight off the tee for the longer hitters and they will go through the fairway into trees, brush and tall grass. Shorter hitters will try to carry the rise in the fairway in order to have a view of the green. Yet even if short of the rise, the resulting blind shot allows one to land short of the green and potentially kick well onto it. To the left of the green is a sharp fall-off down into the ravine. The green itself is very undulating with spines, shelves and swales.
This was my second time around Old Sandwich having first played it in October, 2018. I played with three members whose indexes ranged from +1 with the highest at 2.4. The plus index had an eventful summer, qualifying both for the US mid amateur and the U.S. Senior Open held at Omaha Country Club in Nebraska. I loved this as I like to see how players much better (and longer) than me play a golf course, particularly a golf course they know very well as they have all been members for more than five years. Indeed the best player has four aces on the par 3 fifteenth hole with everyone asking him after his rounds whether he got another. On our day his ball was about five feet behind the pin rolling down a slant from right to left. He called it less than halfway there that he had hit it too far.
We played the member tees at 6415 yards given the recent amount of rain. The shorter tees presented a bigger challenge for the best player and the 1 index as they often found themselves between clubs on approach shots or hitting a bit too far off the tee even when clubbing down. For my part, I struggled at the beginning as I finally had my first day of sunshine, warmth, and no rain since Tuesday. I also got caught a bit looking at the course instead of playing it. The course is beautiful as it is, but on a glorious day of weather it is simply breathtaking despite a few instances where one can see the roof lines of some condos/townhomes over the line of the trees. It is one of the prettier inland courses one will play in the USA.
The routing perfectly fits the land resulting in at least one par 3, 4, or 5 playing uphill, downhill or level. There are not many courses that have that attribute. There are shorter and longer holes for the three different pars. There are doglegs both left and right. As such, one gets to play a mixture of shots throughout the round.
The green surfaces look fairly flat from afar, although often one can see a tilt. Yet when one is on them, the humps, spines, and swales all reveal themselves. This is a rare course where walking around the entirety of a pin before one’s putt will definitely help one avoid a three putt or worse. Several times I was surprised to see what I thought was a decent chip or putt find a ridge line on the green and wander off as much as 15 feet away.
For the members, they believe that Old Sandwich is better than The Country Club for one reason. If one misses a green at The Country Club, the recovery shot is limited to a wedge due to the thick rough that surrounds every green. At Old Sandwich, one can use a putter, different wedges, or any club they want to attempt to recover. One finds this attribute on most courses designed by Coore and Crenshaw, Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, David Mcklay Kidd, etc. as they attempt to replicate the courses in the British Isles. It certainly does increase the interest of those greenside recovery shots as it is a bit more fun. But for me, I liked the intimacy of The Country Club’s classic design and landscape as well as the well thought out green complexes. But at Old Sandwich, one has to be precise on many greenside chips or pitches making sure they carry the false fronts and inner swales. It is better to be safe and have an eight feet putt to try to save par rather than a 25 feet putt that needs to navigate the slope that sent one’s ball far away.
All of the holes at Old Sandwich are memorable although the five par 3’s stand out the most. They range from 238-131-244-169 -191 from the back tees although for us they played 214 -116-225–165–153. Each par 3 is unique with the first one playing downhill, while the next two play slightly uphill, then downhill, then up/level/down depending on the tee. All of them have well contoured greens as well as good greenside bunkering. My members favored the seventeenth the most. Indeed from the tee it is the most visually attractive surrounded by six bunkers and back-dropped by trees. Looking back from the green of the seventeenth one sees the various tee boxes on terraced platforms looking like a series of cascading “green” waterfalls. The fourth hole, the first of the par 3’s, has it ridge lines mirror the line of the tops of the trees behind it. Only the long eleventh par 3 is not as visually attractive as the others due to less bunkering yet as stated, the green has a lot of inner movement.
Likely the second most memorable on the course is the par 4 seventh playing as a dogleg left to an “island” green surrounded by sand as well as a sizeable boulder placed off the left middle. From the fairway one knows they have to hit a very precise shot given the slope along the edges of the somewhat smaller green that funnels balls into the sand. The second hole has two central fairway bunkers, bunkers on the inner corner and right side heading to an elevated tee of perhaps twenty five feet on this sharp dogleg right. The second is a fine hole.
The par 4’s on the back nine do not offer as much visual appeal as the ones on the front nine save for the finishing hole. The eighteenth is a dogleg right with the fairway dropping off resulting in the longer hitters having to consider hitting a shorter club or risk their ball dropping into one of the four bunkers on the right or even into the taller grass. From the end of the fairway you look downhill playing over the forced carry of about 130-150 yards depending on the angle. For the shorter hitters they have to carry the rise in the fairway and will likely face an approach shot of 185-210 yards, yet their reward is a view of a green sited well below them. Much like the very first hole, the par 5 with a false front on the front left, the green must be hit or one will be left with a delicate chip or putt having to navigate various levels and swales in this green.
As to the par 5’s, the opener plays slightly up as a dogleg left. One should go as far right as they can off the tee. Longer hitters can reach the green in two as long as their tee shot stays to the right as there is a thick tree line that juts into the fairway if they are too far left off the tee. The green is special with the substantial false front on the front left. The sixth, the longest par 5 at 562 yards, meanders back and forth following an uphill tee shot finishing with a green placed off to the right. There is a small central bunker about 40 yards short of the green. If one is coming into this green with a chip from the right side, the green will run away from you. It is a very well thought out hole that lays perfectly on the land. The tenth plays level off the tee but then downhill after a waste area of perhaps 20 yards in width crosses the fairway. The green is then back to the left with various small “slit-like” bunkers fronting it. This green is tilted with fall-offs to all sides and wonderfully placed into the side of higher ground. My member hosts favored the thirteenth as their favorite par 5 on the course due to the placement of bunkers along the fairway and another green nestled into the hillside.
Old Sandwich really has everything one would want in a modern-style golf course. It is routed wonderfully, even if a newcomer might get slightly confused and play the seventeenth instead of the eighth. As stated, there are not many courses where one plays each of the various par’s in all three ways – up, level, or down and the par 4’s/5’s also move left or right or straight. The fairway and greenside bunkering is very good due to both placement, size and shape. There are at least three very memorable holes on the course – the fifth, seventh, and seventeenth. The conditioning is excellent. The likely best attribute of the course are the surfaces of the greens.
If one has an invitation to play here, they definitely should do so.
Date: October 04, 2021