Charles Blair Macdonald designed Piping Rock in 1911, with Seth Raynor managing the construction. Right from the off, Macdonald was up against fierce competition because polo was the sport of the day back then here at Locust Valley on Long Island.
Macdonald’s routing was forced around the polo fields and consequently the layout is perhaps less fluent than Macdonald would have liked. Nevertheless, Piping Rock is a masterful design which is maybe less well understood than it should be.
We have studied from cover to cover his masterpiece of golf literature, Scotland’s Gift, expecting to find reference to Piping Rock Club, but sadly nothing is mentioned. Clearly the polo fields were a sore point for America's first official golf champion and one of its greatest golf architects.
However, George Bahto dedicated a full chapter to Piping Rock in his authoritative The Evangelist of Golf: "The Piping Rock name was taken from a large stone located along the ancient trail between Glen Cove and Oyster Bay. Legend has it that Indian tribal leaders conferred and smoked their legendary peace pipes at this site."
"As they would eventually include in nearly all their designs," continues Bahto, "Piping Rock was built around the positioning of the par 3 holes. At National, Macdonald built only three par 3s – a 'Short,' 'Eden,' and 'Redan' – chiefly because he did not have a suitable site to showcase a fourth hole he had long admired. Here, he also included variations of the three, plus what is now identified as a 'Biarritz,' which added significant balance to the set of par threes."
Tom Doak commented in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses as follows: "The golf is pretty strong, too, particularly after Pete Dye's renovation in the mid-1980s, which added several hundred yards to the course with room to spare. As with the 15th at St Louis Country Club, the top tier hole location on the par five 6th hole will move the scoring average by half a shot. You'll find many of the standard Macdonald/Raynor features here, but a novel addition is the snaky ridge that runs across the 15th green."
Even before the renovation work, Piping Rock was one of my favourite Macdonald courses in the country. It had been 10 years since my last visit, but as a testament to the superb layout (and my youth), I could easily remember every hole as if it was yesterday.
Piping Rock came soon after Macdonald finished NGLA further across Long Island and it was the first effort he attempted to transpose many of his concept holes in 1911 to an inland site. Piping Rock is pioneering in this regard, and opened the floodgates for many subsequent Macdonald/Raynor masterpieces.
The renovation work across 2015/2016 involved significant tree clearance, green expansion and increased width to the lined fairways. With the reintroduction of those fabulous cross-bunkers, the wide fairways have revived the emphasis on attacking the treacherous greens from the best angles. The opening nine has a much more spacious feel to it, although the visual lines are consistently sharp as they navigate around those famous template holes.
From the first tee, the property feels so vast and the golf seems far away given the massive expanse of the former polo field, but up close, the land has wonderful undulation and gets much tighter as you head into the elevated woodland for the closing half. The application of the Alps, Road, Redan, Biarritz, Eden, Short, Double Plateau and Knoll (to name but a few classics) are pure architectural genius with each greensite effortlessly fitting into the topography.
A day at Piping Rock is an incredible privilege and a lot of fun, but most importantly, it’s an opportunity to absorb many of the greatest holes ever built.
Piping Rock today retains the air of its founding days. Driving up to the Dutch Colonial clubhouse flanked by a stone wall gives the visitor a sense of being a country gentleman or lady. The entire scene is one of a leisurely enclave. Nearby the clubhouse are beautifully maintained grass tennis courts. Like the C.B. Macdonald-designed St. Louis Country Club, the visitor at Piping Rock is also drawn immediately to the prominence of the old polo field behind the clubhouse.
Piping Rock is a fun course to play and has an interesting and varied routing. It is beautifully conditioned and offers challenging greens. The front nine at Piping Rock plays on the property's more open terrain, the back through a more wooded area.
Darius Oliver mentions in Planet Golf USA that Piping Rock represents a significant course in architectural history because it was the first inland course Macdonald and Raynor built, immediately after the completion of the National Golf Links. Although he routed the course, Macdonald became irritated with the land he was given by the club and left most of the course's design and construction to Raynor. The course retains strong characters of Macdonald-Raynor designs including an especially good Redan hole. Another favorite is the 9th with its huge Biarritz-style green.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
Piping Rock Club, July 2016: Piping Rock was designed in 1911 by the great Charles Blair MacDonald, with Seth Raynor of course handling the details of construction. Apparently, MacDonald was somewhat frustrated by the allocation of land to golf. According to GolfClubAtlas.com, a large tract sitting right behind the clubhouse was reserved for Polo (which was the preferred sport of the members at that time) and try as he might, MacDonald was not able to wrestle that land for the course. He would be somewhat pleased to learn that the Polo field is gone-zo and is now a practice range. However, readers should note that MacDonald might not have known what a practice range was in 1911. Before Bobby Jones, golfers did not practice on “ranges” and no club would have allocated large tracts of valuable land to this use. Ranges at pre-1920 courses have them as a result of later land acquisitions or the availability of Polo fields (e.g. Piping Rock, Westchester, Dedham Golf & Polo). Think of the great old courses that do not or did not have free standing full size ranges (e. g., Quaker Ridge, Nat’l Golf Links of America…had a hitting net until about 20-30 years ago, Winged Foot… “range” is narrow and only about 180 yards deep).
Anyhow, getting back to Piping Rock, when it was first established, this was the premier “Waspy” family club on Long Island, with members such as J. P. Morgan, Percy Chubb, et al. Today it still is a premier club and boasts superb facilities (34 tennis courts including 15 grass courts, beach club, etc etc). And due to a restoration by Tom Doak, the course has been brought back to the brilliance of its initial design (I had played it once before in 1982 but hardly remembered it…more a reflection of my lack of knowledge than anything else). Most importantly, the fairways were widen to an average about 50 yards and some 20+ cross bunkers that had been removed through the years were restored. As a result, angles come sharply into play with the cross bunkers heavily influencing tee shots that end up in the fairway, but on the wrong side of the fairway (which changes depending on wind conditions and pin placements). The greens were expanded to their original dimensions, and all the playing surfaces now are very fast and firm.
The “Template” holes are showcased at PRC including a Principal’s Nose in the fairway of #1, an excellent Redan at #3, a superb Road Hole for #8, a very good Biarritz (valley fronting green) as #9, a tough Eden as #11, excellent Knoll #13, and one of the better Short holes I have played as #17. Great use of sloping greens and fairways, false fronts and the rolling terrain throughout…and even better variety and flow of holes throughout the 18. Used about every club in the bag. This is a wonderful course…playable day after day after day.
Piping plays to 6877 yards (par 71) from the tips. It is built on a huge tract of land (creating a wonderful feeling of isolation and tranquility a mere 22-23 miles as the crow flies from midtown NYC, and very close to the hustle & bustle of Long Island) and could easily be stretched to 7100-7200 yards, but this venerable club does not have touring pros in sight and the course is simply great fun for members and top area amateurs, so no such plans are in the works (but they are very doable). See pic from 15th green.