615 Ocean Avenue,
New York (NY) 11559,
- +1 516 569-0600
The Rockaway Hunting Club claims itself to be the oldest country club in the United States, in that it is the longest-operating property in the nation that is now a country club (it gained the latter title after the club at Brookline). It was founded as a club for horsemen, and boasted one of the best polo teams in history; founding member Foxhall Keene was the game’s best player eight years-running...but he was also an accomplished golfer. He competed in both the U.S. Open and was defeated in the U.S. Amateur quarterfinal by Walter Travis.
The golf course at the club is now the star attraction (the polo fields have long since disappeared). Such a historic club also has a significant history in the architects that have shaped it over the years. The list begins with Tom Bendelow, continuing in turn to Deveraux Emmett, A.W. Tillinghast, and Perry Maxwell. Most recently, Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner took their turn at restoring the Golden Age features of the club. One architect notably not featured in the roster at Rockaway is the aforementioned Travis.
The routing plays alongside the marshes of the Rockaways and the Woodmere Channel.
One of the sad elements that troubles me, and likely others, is when classic era courses opt to update and when doing so see fit to add mega-yards to the scorecard. Such knee-jerk reactions happen because either certain members or an ignorant consulting architect has opined that overall toughness must be strengthened in order to bolster a club's standing.
Sad to say, such an argument can win the day when ignorant ears are prone to such usual drivel. Staying the course -- no pun intended -- can often be the more prudent thing to do. Often time, the charge is led by misinformed people -- often club members, who shockingly may not realize that while a slight nip and tuck is fine -- but wholesale surgery is completely unneeded and nothing short of misguided.
Rockaway Hunt Club smartly improved itself by wisely bringing on board Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner in marvelously resurrecting a fun and thoughtful course. Advancing compelling architecture when a course is less than 6,500 yards from the tips and plays along generally flattish terrain is no small feat.. Unfortunately, the focus of much of modern design is having mega-length layouts often vapid in what's provided.
The elements are central to the golf experience at Rockaway Hunt Club. Wind velocities can be ever problematic -- from a mild zephyr to a howling gale. The scorecard lists the max total yardage under 6,400 yards and as a par-70 -- one would surmise that should be a prime candidate for easy pickings. Guess again.
The opening holes play alongside marshland that eventually feeds into the Atlantic. The wherewithal to adapt to changing conditions is part of the test when playing. The opening hole is a good introduction to the overall setting of the layout. At the 2nd -- the test intensifies. The par-4 of 376 yards is a clear test of nerve. The fairway slides to the right and the bottlenecking of the fairway will make players think very carefully on whether to take an aggressive or cautious line of attack. Losing a ball left can mean a fast reload from the tee and going too far right invites an introduction to one of the fine bunkers scattered about the property.
The routing is always a constant element. And, as I mentioned at the outset, the wind patterns will necessitate a real commitment from players on the type of club selection and trajectory to play when called upon.
When you arrive at the par-5 6th you come into contact with the Woodmere Channel which must be factored into one's play. The par-4 7th is artful in being a quality cape hole. Players have to decide how much the Channel to attack from the tee.
The short par-4 8th brings into play Brosewere Bay. Strong players can attempt a bold play for the green on the tee shot when favorable winds allow, but the slightest miscalculation will result in some high numbers on the scorecard.
The closing hole on the outwards side if the renowned 9th. In early years of golf course development in the USA the 9th was always regarded as one of the shining star holes. The long par-4 also involved a close encounter with Brosewere Bay and the scene is majestic. The hole turns to the right on the drive and the green is tucked near enough to the water but heaven help those players missing left with the approach as a deft touch will be needed to escape with a par.
The inward half works away from the water at the 10th and 11th holes. But one returns with a scintillating par-5 of 563 yards at the 12th. The hole works to the right and requires a quality tee shot in order to get things started in the right manner. What would make the hole even more engaging is the inclusion of a center-placed fairway bunker roughly 75-100 yards in front of the green to give players something to think about.
The par-3 14th is the club's strongest one-shot hole. Water crowds the entire left side and those bailing out right will again be thoroughly tested to escape unharmed.
The 15th and 16th feature a par-4 and par-3 combination and the holes are merely perfunctory. Fortunately, the rounds concludes with a stellar penultimate hole at the 17th. The par-4 turns right on the drive and is strenuously protected a series of bunkers on that side. The green also pushes up against marshland to the rear and when the pin is cut to the far-left side it takes a gutsy approach to nestle near the flagstick.
The concluding hole provides one last gasp at glory. Playing 382 yards the tee shot is fairly straightforward but the approach is tested because of the internal vexing contours found at the green.
The greensites are a good mixture - at times there are a number of greens which are fairly subtle and hard to decipher. Pin positions can vary and when placed in the far corners will require the steadiest of efforts to reap a reward.
Rockaway Hunt Club is often given little attention because Long Island is packed with an outstanding depth of top tier private clubs. But, like its nearby neighbor at Seawane – there's much to savor – and certainly respect.
M, James Ward