Situated just over a mile from Saratoga Race Course, the thoroughbred horse racing track that’s one of the oldest sporting venues in the country, the fairways of the course at Saratoga National Golf Club are laid out close to Lake Lonely on the south east side of Saratoga Springs.
Architect Roger Rulewich routed the course around a number of lakes and lagoons – water features most prominently at 13, 15 and 16 on the back nine – on a layout that makes great demands on just about every hole because sixteen of the tee shots played during a round require forced carries across wetlands or water.Opened in 2001, the course contains an exacting set of long par threes at holes 5, 7, 12 and 15, three of which measure in excess of 200 yards from the back markers. Suffice to say, golfers are advised to be extra careful at these not so short holes.
What an amazing golf course that demands precision and planning for every shot. Several times I took my 3 wood or a long iron off the tee for fear that I could not hit the narrow landing zone. On the day I played I met up with an old military buddy who I hadn't seen in years. He was going to take me to the track, but it was shut down from the heat. So we decided to take advantage of the empty course. It was pricey and kicked my tail, but a great experience. If I have one complaint, it would be the wetlands. On almost every hole it was 5-6' or higher, making for many blind shots. Otherwise, a true gem.
The name Roger Rulewich may not resonate with many people but for many years when Robert Trent Jones, Sr. was alive it was Rulewich who was his number one guy on the scene at the key designs. As Jones ultimately faded from the scene it was Rulewich who opened his own design practice and a number of his efforts have fared quite well.
One of the best is Saratoga National. Here Rulewich encountered a number of situations in which wetlands would need to accounted for throughout the design. The routing is quite efficient to the task required and there's sufficient bite in the design to keep low handicap types constantly on their toes.
Rulewich uses some of the Trent Jones design staples with large bunkers and sprawling putting surfaces. But, the key is being able to adjust constantly as the holes move in different directions and while there is water to cross at key moments -- Rulewich does provide options for players to ponder before executing.
It truly astonishes me how the course is not listed in the top 5 public courses in The Empire State. There are no weak holes per se and as I mentioned the smart routing provides for a quality array of different hole types.
The 1st is a superb par-4 starter at 416 yards. The fairway bottlenecks the further you attempt to hit one's drive. Players have to consider the choices carefully -- it's just not bang away with impunity. The par-4 3rd is a testing dog-leg right hole. The green is well positioned -- narrow in the from section but having locations to the far corners as well. There's a bit of a jumble with how the par-3 7th is squeezed but in doing so Rulewich provided for a dynamic 8th hole. Here the fairway turns right and narrows in the drive zone. At 422 yards this par-4 is no pushover and it's aided by a green well protected by a solitary frontal bunker and a green with plenty of internal contours.
The inward half starts brilliantly -- a par-5 that features a creek crossing at two different points. The pyramid designed green is very good and provides an array of different pin locations. The par-4 11th plays back the other way and again one has to watch for the pesky creek down the right side and by crossing it again during the approach.
The par-5 13th is also outstanding. Once again there's water to the more advantageous left side. Players can proceed cautiously along the right but the risk/reward component is marvelously done and it's completed with an angled green and the same water hazard just off to the left side.
The concluding holes are also done well. The best par-3 is the 15th -- playing 195 yards, over water and generally into the prevailing wind. The concluding 18th is a stout finished. Playing 470 yards and often into the wind -- the hole slides from right-to-left and features a putting surface just to the right of Owl Pond.
Rulewich does not provide the classical school of architecture and clearly having worked with Jones for so many years the philosophy he has brought forward is impacted by that association. Those enamored with only preferring a classic school of architecture will likely find Saratoga National too much of an overkill with how the holes are shaped and presented with wetlands and water hazards having to be circumvented in a host of ways. Saratoga National is a quality public facility and it's generally enhanced by a quality turf presentation. Anyone venturing to that area of New York State -- especially when the nearby racetrack at Saratoga is open during the summer -- will find a golf experience that you thoroughly keep you engaged on all fronts.
by M. James Ward