It took more than ten years from conception to delivery but seasoned commentators will tell you that Pete and Perry Dye’s course at Pound Ridge Golf Club was well worth the decade-long gestation period.
Having played so many courses in the region that are ranked higher, I can honestly say that Pound Ridge is arguably the best and toughest public course in NY. Very different than Bethpage Black, it somehow plays more viscous than the Black every time I play it. Pound ridge offers spectacular views, and almost every hole is memorable for one reason or another. Stop to take pictures at the "Tombstone" par 3 sixteenth; quite possibly my favorite par 3 of any course I’ve ever set foot on. Pound Ridge is undulate, strategic, and outright hard, but it is a must-play if you are in The NYC area. Blind shots, uneven lies, fast greens, and tons of hazards; it chews you up, spits you out, and makes you say "thank you sir, may I have another?"
Make no mistake this is top class course which takes no prisoners, Pete Dye must have really moved a lot earth to create this masterpiece of golf architecture. The course is carved from forested rolling hills on the New York- Connecticut border, with its remoteness and peace it’s hard to believe you’re only an hour’s drive from Manhattan. I played on warm and muggy day early in May; the course was still waking from winter which meant the rough wasn’t quite as tough as it could be but still costly for any careless shots you hit. Any player coming here should be very mindful of the tee they choose, the club helpfully suggests the appropriate box by handicap, you’d be advised to follow that advice, there are some very big forced carries and narrow landing zones, if your ego rather than handicap made the decision ensure you have plenty of balls in your bag. You need to drive the ball well here; punishment waits on most holes in the form of thick rough, huge rocks, deep bunkers or swampy waste areas, all too easy to rack up a big score from tee even before you have to thread your approach onto the well protected greens. The opening hole is great, a good drive needed into the right position for a blind approach to a green surrounded by sand and swamp, it sets the tone for the course and there is no let up on the SI1 2nd either, if you can walk off with no major damage to your card you’ve done well. Most of the greens have plenty of undulation and slope, tricky to read even when not especially fast and there are places where flags can really be tucked away. Even after heavy rain the night before the tees, fairways and bunkers were all in great condition, only a few places where water had collected. The final 3 holes are a real test; I’d been playing only a shot off handicap until I stepped on to the 16th tee, finished the round 6 off without losing a ball and finding the fairway with my drives!
I normally prefer to walk but a buggy came with the green fee, given some of inclines I’d advise taking that option unless you like a workout while you’re playing. As you’d expect service was great, small but fully equipped club house although a little disappointing the kitchen closes early (1700) so anyone hoping for a post round snack/meal should plan to go elsewhere. The early season fee of $141 was good value but now its $235 for eighteen at the weekend before 1300 which I think is expensive given the options in the tri-state area. Would I go back, absolutely because it’s tough but enormous fun , rewards and punishes you in equal measure. I'm giving it 5 a ball rating because its rare to find such a quality course in the New York area that's open for visitors, not just guests of members.
The name Pete Dye is one of the true giants in golf course architecture. Dye made his mark by going in the opposite manner of the man he replaced as the giant in golf architecture -- Robert Trent Jones, Sr.
Dye brought a resurgence for key features found on links courses which he had studied during different visits to the United Kingdom and Ireland such as pot bunkers, railroad ties, challenging internal putting surface contours and the reintroduction of the short par-4, to name just a few of his talents.
Among his most noted courses include Crooked Stick, Casa de Campo / Teeth of the Dog in the Dominican Republic, The Ocean Course at Kiawah and TPC / Sawgrass, to name just four.
Dye's only course in the greater NYC metro area -- is roughly 40-45 minutes north of Manhattan in Westchester County -- residing in New York State and just across the border from Connecticut.
Owned by Ken Wang -- the desire was to create a golf course that would rise to the level of the best immediate courses in the area. The genesis for the project was conceived in the late 1990's and took nearly ten years to complete.
Pound Ridge is literally squeezed into a site of just over 170 acres. The course features heavily wooded areas as well as various wetlands and water hazards which come into play throughout the round. Getting Pound Ridge completed was also no cheap ticket -- approximate costs were $40 million.
The key to enjoying Pound Ridge is selecting the appropriate tee boxes -- failure to keenly understand that can mean a day of immense frustration -- as well as lost balls. The course has plenty of narrow corridors in which solid driving is a must. Wandering off the fairways can mean immensely difficult recoveries will be needed. In sum -- Pound Ridge does not suffer fools gladly.
Getting off to a good start is essential at Pound Ridge.
The opening hole is one of the best at the course -- the drive zone seems to open up down the left side but it's really the right side which is the optimum location for the easier approach into the green. At the putting surface you have an array of different contours -- just a quality hole through and through.
Things change big time with the next two holes. The 2nd is extremely challenging -- the tee shot is played to a blind fairway pinching in appreciably at 300 yards from the championship markers. There's little margin for error -- and frankly the demands can be overwhelming. I have always been a proponent for elasticity in terms of how a holes can be played. There's little available at the 2nd and that simply means a tough hole doesn't necessarily translate out to a great hole. The approach is fiercely protected by a pond that hugs the green like a child hugs a parent on the first day of school. Generally, the hole plays downwind during the playing season but the key is avoiding the big number -- because the penalties are swift and final.
At the par-3 3rd you need to carry one's tee ball in the area of 240 yards from the championship tees -- often into a headwind. The 3rd is less demanding than the 2nd because if you're able to get to the fairway the approach is much less demanding.
One of the better holes at Pound Ridges comes with the 317-yard 5th. The Dyes provided for a slew of bunkers -- small in size but ever ready to swallow the golf ball of the hapless player. The green is driveable by the strong player but without laser-like accuracy it's a cinch you'll be playing from an awkward position. The best aspect about the 5th is its sheer versatility. There's leeway -- just no give away.
The front nine concludes with a demanding long par-5 that climbs uphill for the final third of the hole. Again, there's a significant carry off the tee over water from the back tees -- in the range of 240 yards -- although the prevailing wind is usually with the player. The green is well-elevated above the fairway and like others found at Pound Ridge there are vexing contours that need to be carefully examined before any stroke is made.
The inward nine has four holes bunched up tight to one another. The sequence of holes #10 thru #13 is located in a corner of the property and while the Dyes should be created for masterfully getting the routing in and out the overall nature of the holes is a bit much on the claustrophobic side of things. This is readily apparent with the 480-yard par-5 13th. The hole blend slightly right in the drive zone but the fairway is as tight as Marilyn Monroe's waist. Those hitting the fairway can have a crack at the green in two shots but the landing area is well-protected on both sides. Regrettably, there's a cart path immediately adjacent to the left of the green. Just a poor location and clearly a sense in trying to do too much in a very confined area.
The par-4 14th used to feature extremely high rough on the right side of this dog-leg left hole. Thankfully, that grass has been appropriately cut to a more reasonable height. The 14th is a solid hole -- there's room for those who dare but there's no free pass granted.
When you arrive at the par-3 15th you encounter one of the really superb holes ever created by Pete and Perry Dye. The green is magnificently angled in front of ball hungry pond. Avoiding the water is crucial but going too long encounters a rock wall slab just a few paces off the back of the green. When the pin is located in the front half of the green the amount of landing area is noticeable. However, when the pin is placed in the far left corner the available width area for landing one's approach narrows considerably with both the fronting water hazard and rock slab pushing in from both sides -- making the hole play upwards of 195 yards. Selecting the right club is a daunting exercise and your heart is never out of your throat until seeing one's ball land anywhere on the putting surface. The 15th is truly a gut check moment of immense proportions.
The final three holes don't provide any reprieve. The uphill par-5 16th is similar to the 9th -- an elevated putting surface which repels all but the most finely executed of approaches.
The 17th and 18th are both long demanding par-4's of 460 and 477 yards respectively. The 17th is much more playable the final hole. The fairway at the penultimate hole narrows considerably the deeper the drive goes and the putting surface is well -protected -- most notably when the hole is cut on the far right side.
The 18th hole is somewhat contrived because of the proximity of trees placed smack dab in the fairing line of one's tee shot -- especially from the championship tees. Why they were left there or why the hole is angled so that they are in play baffles me to no end. The hole is especially grueling because the fairway is narrow with a series of bunkers just off to the left of the drive zone and then replaced with a pond that tugs near left side of the green. There's very little choice involved and the issue of unrelenting difficulty can be overwhelming to excess.
Slow play and endlessly either looking for lost balls or being forced to play from difficult position can prove most trying. Be forewarned Pound Ridge is aptly named -- unless you consistently execute you will be "pounded" mercilessly. When you have a course that can extract such a heavy toll it's hard to see if many people opt to return on a continuous basis. Pound Ridge has much which is laudable -- but getting a bit more playability into the mixture would make the course even more desirable.
By M. James Ward – images courtesy of Pound Ridge Golf Club
Everything described about every hole is spot on, except that the prevailing wind is actually the opposite of what is mentioned on several occasions. This makes the hard holes even more difficult. I play this course 40-50 times per year, but I secretly hate it due to excessive difficulty! (which is saying something as a golf-addicted 4 handicap).