200 Tuckahoe Road,
New York (NY) 11968,
- +1 631 283 3525
2 miles W of Southampton
Members and their guests only
Charles B. Macdonald/Seth Raynor and Howard Toomey/William Flynn
Shinnecock Hills Golf Club is an old club with old traditions and Scottish professional Willie Davis, aided by 150 Indians from the neighbouring Shinnecock Reservation, can take credit for what was probably the inaugural authentic US golf course design which dates back to 1891 when Davis laid out the first twelve holes. Head professional Willie Dunn added a further six holes by 1894.
When new land became available during the Great War, Charles B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor added six new holes and overhauled the course. The design firm of Howard Toomey and William Flynn built twelve new holes and altered Macdonald's design from 1929 to 1931. Some historians believe Dick Wilson should also be given some credit.
Not only was Shinnecock Hills Golf Club one of the five founding members of the USGA but also it was where one of the first specifically designed golf clubhouses was built. Stanford White designed the clubhouse in the shingled style of the region and it sits majestically on the highest point of the property. A few steps away from the white columned building is the first tee box from where you can see Peconic Bay shimmering in the distance and, in the foreground, lies the open, 300-acre expansive golf course which tumbles away from the clubhouse.
“Shinnecock Hills fully utilises the outstanding features of the area – the strong prevailing winds off the Atlantic to the southwest, the sandy and rolling terrain and the thick, reed-like grasses that border the fairways.” Wrote Charles Price in the New World Atlas of Golf. “While not truly linksland – the grass of the fairways and greens is more of an inland texture – the ambience and windy bleakness of Shinnecock Hills on an average day evoke feelings of the British seaside links.”
Ben Hogan was a fan of Shinnecock Hills and in a letter to a Shinnecock club member he once wrote: “Each hole is different and requires a great amount of skill to play properly. Each hole has complete definition. You know exactly where to shoot. All in all, I think it is one of the finest courses I have ever played.”
James Foulis won the first U.S. Open to be staged at Shinnecock Hills in 1896, but it was another 90 years before the club would host another. Raymond Floyd prevailed in 1986 and Corey Pavin in 1995. In 2004, Retief Goosen claimed his second U.S. Open title, beating Phil Mickelson by two shots in a controversial event. The tournament returned to Southampton for the fifth time in 2018 when (amid further controversy) Brooks Koepka successfully defended the title he won at Erin Hills in 2017.
The word "great" is often bandied about when discussion takes places concerning top tier golf courses. Often there's little in-depth analysis -- just a lumping together courses more likely very good or just good.
True greatness is limited -- standing apart from all others -- pushing the bar to heights never reached then -- or now.
When I hear the word "great" -- I think of other truly incomparable contributors -- Citizen Kane a great movie -- Frank Sinatra a great singer -- Sir Laurence Oliver a great actor. Greatness is certainty. There's an old expression -- whenever there is a doubt -- there is no doubt.
I have played over 2,000 courses globally and my travels have taken me to a multitude of destinations in searching for top tier golf options. And when I return to my home area in the greater New York City metro region I marvel at the depth of so many superior courses in my "neck of the woods." But there are two specific courses clearly "great" and amazingly located next to one another - Shinnecock Hills and The National Golf Links of America -- both in Southampton and located at the far eastern area of Long Island.
This review is about the former -- I will opine about NGLA in a forthcoming review.
Shinnecock Hills has an illustrious history. Founded in 1891 the club was one of the five original founding members of the United States Golf Association in 1894. The first clubhouse in the USA is attributed to Shinnecock Hills -- built in 1892 by the firm of McKim, Mead and White. The genesis of the course was a 12-hole layout by Willie Davis and expanded to 18 holes a short time thereafter. The course we see today was re-worked from the original and is the handiwork of William Flynn -- built by later successful architect Dick Wilson - from the firm of Toomey and Flynn. Flynn created many fine courses in his career -- but Shinnecock remains the quintessential result.
While the courses did host the 1896 US Open and a few other events of note -- such as the 1977 Walker Cup Matches - the club was frankly invisible to the outside world.
Fortunately, that changed through the desire of then USGA Executive Director Frank Hannigan in seeking to return the US Open to Shinnecock Hills. The challenge was far greater than many might realize now. US Open venues were ones with an active ongoing membership. Shinnecock Hills is a seasonal club and while its membership is active the club let it be known to the USGA to handle all of the myriad tasks related to the staging of the event -- most notably the recruitment of all volunteers and support functions.
Hannigan believed the inherent course qualities of Shinnecock Hills was long overdue in again playing a pivotal role in championship golf -- most notably the US Open. In returning to the world stage -- Shinnecock Hills opened the eyes of many.
Before delving into the course specifics -- the greatness of Shinnecock can be fully appreciated by an outline I have long ago developed in assessing courses. The four (4) key elements for me are the following: (1) -- How good is the land the course is situated? (2) - How thorough is the routing? (3) How well does the course test all the clubs in one's bag? (4) - How well is the course prepared on a daily basis so that inherent design elements flourish?
Shinnecock is blessed with ideal land -- rolling but never so abrupt as to distort shots to the point where luck, rather than skill, is the determining factor. The routing is second to none. You're taken too all corners of the property -- all the attributes of the land are brought to the forefront. The key with any routing is never allowing players to get too comfortable -- able to fall into a repetitious pattern and therefore keep players on their toes to constantly improvise. At Shinnecock the land is exposed to the elements -- the routing ensures the wind direction is always changing -- therefore players must be able to adapt to the various situations as called upon.
Testing the fullest range of clubs is a key barometer that often clubs that have the first two attributes fail to deliver. Golf is a game of dexterity with the various clubs in one's bag. It is not enough to be good with a few -- able to skirt by simply because the architecture at a design is not as thorough. Shinnecock mandates control with not only various clubs -- but with knowing when to shape shots and apply the appropriate trajectory to secure the desired result.
The final element is conditioning which cements the first three characteristics. Conditioning doesn't mean manicuring to the point of excess. Rather it means a linking of turf quality to what the game of golf calls upon. Firmness and fastness is the essential element in conditioning. Turf must be able to provide a ground game option - one where the bounce of the ball is no less a factor than flying a ball exact distances. The great courses accentuate the widest array of golfer skills -- such layouts cannot be tamed simply by commanding a few clubs or by the playing of one type of shot again and again.
When you stand on the 1st tee at Shinnecock the magnificence of the course is apparent. It is glorious -- you feel the rush of excitement just ahead. The 1st is the prototype for what a 1st hole should be. Long enough to stretch the muscles but not so rigorous as to be beyond reason. The dog-leg right asks the player to determine how much risk one wishes to take on at the tee. The green at first glance provides an ordinary look but there are falloffs on the sides so marrying the proper distance and trajectory is essential.
The outward nine provides an array of challenges. You face a long slightly uphill par-3 at the 2nd. The 3rd is a muscle length par-4 but often is played with a helping wind to a challenging green. At the mid-length par-4 4th -- you reverse course -- usually back into the prevailing breeze. At the par-5 5th you have a clear risk/reward hole. Strong players can reach the target in two shots but the need to gauge accurately the flight and bounce of the ball is critical in order to secure birdie.
The long par-4 6th is an epic hole -- matching beauty and toughness in a seamless manner. The 6th provides the only water hazard on the course. The 7th is a redan-like hole that gained much attention during the '06 US Open. The USGA stupidly decided not to water the green and, as a result, the surface became nearly impossible to hold the surface -- no more than 17% able to do so during the final round. The hole is marvelously designed and with the wind generally playing as a crosswind. The short 8th is a par-4 that gives the players an opportunity to rebound but only if played soundly.
When you reach the par-4 9th at 443 yards -- you will experience one of the great two-shot holes in all of golf. Named "Ben Nevis" -- after the tallest mountain in the British Isles -- the genius of the hole begins with the terrain. When you stand on the tee you can make out the putting surface - high on a hill with the majestic clubhouse just to the right. The tee shot must be shaped as the fairway moves left -- pushing shots in that direction. The putting surface is elevated and therefore gauging the proper club and trajectory is essential. When the pin is cut tight to the front side of the green it's very possible for short shots to be pulled back.
As good as the outward nine -- it is Shinnecock's inward half that's arguably among the best concluding series holes in golf.
Interestingly, the first four holes on the back nine are located on the easternmost section of the course -- it also means crossing a public thoroughfare - Tuckahoe Road -- at the 12th and 13th holes.
The par-4 10th is a solid follow-up to the 9th. The tee shot presents a high degree of uncertainty -- landing areas not immediately discerned. One can lay-up before a major dip takes places roughly 240 yards from the tee. Those opting for the more daring play can secure additional yardage from the fall-off but are then left with a short pitch to an elevated green with a pronounced false front area -- waiting for the half-hearted play and then pulling it back down in front of the green. As demanding as short is -- those going long will then face an even more exacting play as the green slopes away. In the 1986 US Open -- Jack Nicklaus lost his first ball in the championship when hitting far right off the tee during the 1st round. The ball was never found.
The par-3 11th is certainly in the conversation as one of the best short holes in golf. You tee within a cluster of trees and therefore the full impact of any wind is hard to gauge. The green is 160 yards away -- resting high on an elevated portion of land. There is no background border of trees -- the infinity look proves most unsettling in trying to assess club selection. There are several bunkers to be avoided -- anything missed left will likely have four or more on one's card. A grand hole exposing nerve and ability to rise to the occasion.
The next four holes are all par-4's -- each well done and quite varied. The long 12th generally plays downwind but requires good placement in the fairway for the best approach angle. The mid-length par-4 13th marches back in the opposite direction -- beginning from an elevated tee and generally into the prevailing wind. The par-4 14th is another of the grand holes at Shinnecock. Named "Thom's Elbow" -- the 444-yard hole moves to the right and again the player must decide -- hit less than driver and secure a wider landing area -- or push driver to get into the neck of a narrowing fairway for a shorter approach. Generally, the hole plays downwind and the wind can hamper shot control as the green is elevated and will reject all but the surest of plays. The par-4 15th plays from the highest point on the course -- a mid-length par-4 that provides a birdie opportunity with two well-played shots.
The final troika of holes at Shinnecock complete the 18-hole journey in a tour de force fashion.
The par-5 16th hole generally plays much longer than its 540 yards. The hole turns left in the drive zone -- staying on that side achieves a better angle for the remainder of the hole. There is a cluster of greenside bunkers needing to be avoided. The hole provides a birdie opportunity but getting home in two shots with the wind against is only doable for the strongest of players. Often the smarter play is securing the best angle for a short 3rd wedge shot.
The par-3 17th plays 179 yards and heads due west -- in a completely different direction. The championship tee is placed to the far left and forces a more severe angle that must avoid three bunkers on the left side. The toughest pin is the one used for the final round in the '04 US Open -- in the immediate front where the green narrows considerably.
The concluding hole at Shinnecock Hills is 450 yards and usually encounters a demanding cross wind from right-to-left. In the '86 US Open -- the hole played extremely long and winner Corey Pavin had to hit a 4-metal club to reach the putting surface. In the '04 Open the grounds were extremely firm and fast -- players able to hit short irons and even wedges into the green. No matter the approach club the 18th is a demanding closer -- knowing how to flight one's approach to the green is central.
The routing by Flynn is brilliant -- two loops that always provide constant change -- mandating adjustments by the player. In many ways -- Shinnecock is reminiscent of Muirfield's routing for being so thorough and precise for what the player must do to succeed. The role of Mother Nature is constant -- benign at times -- brutally unkind as seen during the 1st round in the '86 Open when no player broke par in the first round. Shinnecock Hills was recently tweaked by the accomplished architectural duo of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore and there may be a few additional nips and tucks prior to the '18 US Open.
It's rare to find a proven championship venue able to also reasonably test players of average ability. Wisely the USGA announced in '16 the club would also host the same event again in "26. The debacle in how the course was set-up for the '04 US Open almost caused the leadership at Shinnecock to pull itself out of future host roles. Fortunately, for all involved, the return of Shinnecock Hills demonstrates an understanding by the USGA on the superlative elements the course provides and that by not having it as a host site would be a true loss to the championship and to golf in general. In my 36 years in covering the US Open there are three sites that should always host America's national championship each 10 years -- Pebble Beach, Oakmont and that Long Island marvel -- Shinnecock Hills.
By M. James Ward
Shinnecock has one of the best routings in the game and there is a continual change in direction, an important consideration since the wind is typically a large factor in playing here. The greens are small and Shinnecock places a large premium on approaching the green from the proper angle in order to best hold the shot. Having played Shinnecock a dozen times in different wind conditions, I have yet to figure out how to properly play the sneaky hard and very difficult Redan prototype 7th hole. I also believe the 10th hole is too difficult for all but the most crack of golfers. Shinnecock is the ultimate test of a golfer's ability: hit good shots and be rewarded, mis-hit shots and be penalized. I am in a minority ranking Shinnecock Hills behind its two siblings on Eastern Long Island: National Golf Links and Maidstone. I love Shinnecock and have ranked it among the top twenty courses in the world, but prefer playing the other two given a choice.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
As we stood on the 12th fairway, Bobby said, “See that big mound on the left side of the green? You’ll never see a pin over there, because there’s a horse buried under there and it’s sacred to the Indians.” The course sits on the Shinnecock Indian reservation. When the club was founded in 1891, it signed a 100-year lease with the tribe. When I first played there in 1998, its renewal was still unresolved…
When we were done with the round, Bobby and I headed back to the 10th tee and played 10, 11 and 12 again. Shinnecock Hills is a wonderful place and playing it alone was a truly magical experience. Imagine having one of the world’s greatest golf courses all to yourself for a few hours. Larry Berle.
The course itself often resembles what you might find on a Scottish links even though conditioning is quite different. When I played it was a touch on the lush side although still fairly firm, of course not to be compared to hard and fast fairways found at most UK links. What Shinnecock does boast is some of the finest architecture and one of the all time great routings. No two holes alike and an amazing mix of short and long holes all moving in different directions with respect to the wind. As to wind there is plenty of it out on the east end of Long Island. On our day the average wind was about 25 mph (40 kmh). This added to the great challenge Shinnecock presents. My favorite part of the course came after the turn, the stretch of holes across the road were simply awesome. 10 offers up a blind drive and a tough approach in the wind to a narrow raised green with run-offs all around. Miss the green and you’re sure to find trouble. The par 3 11th better known as the shortest par 5 in golf presents you with an uphill tee shot into a cross wind to a raised green surrounded by run offs and huge bunkers. The green is about 10 paces wide and slopes back to front providing the smallest of chances to stop the perfectly struck tee shot. This hole would be worth spending a day watching players endure the great tragedy it presents. It ranks up there with the best par 3’s I’ve ever played.
Make no mistake, Shinnecock is a players course and extremely tough test of golf, it’s also one of the few routings that exist where it would be extremely difficult to imagine improving, the only suggestion I could make would be that I would love to see it playing as firm as a UK links. Truly one of the great masterpieces and an experience I will never forget!
The next days until the trip were so slow I maybe played the course 100 times in my mind (always breaking par, of course!). But this long wait I was sure it was going to be paid by a fantastic round of golf. After 6 days in Myrtle Beach, we flew to Newark and drove to Philadelphia to play Pine Valley and Merion, and then drove again to The Hamptons for one last night. It was the last night of the trip and we were really looking forward to it. Although we were supposed to get to the Club at 12pm, we did a little bit earlier (10.30am!) and we did a lot more than we had imagined: we were toured around the entire Club House (quite small and charming), we were showed trophies, photos, scorecards and plenty of the history of the Club. Then, around 11.30am we walked and took pictures of plenty of the holes around the Club House and what was really astonishing was the shape in which the course was, simply perfect! Towards noon we used the practice range for not more than 30 minutes, with very strong wind in our faces and then we smashed the ProShop buying everything we could: bag tags, shirts, sweaters, a flag, a golf bag, balls, it was a lot of money!! 20 minutes to 1pm our host arrived and we went directly to 10th tee (originally 1st) and started to play.
We had a small chat with Bob in which he told us the late news on the course, future plans for 2018 and that Rory McIlroy had scored 64 from the very back tees 2 days ago. He said the course was in its best shape ever, and believe me it was, greens rolling at 11 feet, fairways as carpets, the rough deep and dense and we were added a very strong wind in our face on 16th and 18th. Every hole has something special, although there are some that can be added some details: - 10th has a very deep downhill after the right side crossbunker, then up again, it is better not to get to the bottom as approach shot is very small (I did!). - 11th green is VERY small and tough. - 16th is one of the best par 5s I have played, with a very long green. - 18th if you go and stand on where Pavin hit that 4 wood, you will really see how tough the shot was. - 2nd played downwind 225yds and they expect to put a tee up to 250yds ... cruel!! - 6th is the nicest and toughest on the course, that hazard can eat balls. - 7th (REDAN) looks simple but that putting surface is diabolic. I had a 20ft for birdie and had to aim it 8 feet to the right of the hole. - 9th and that upright second shot are soo good! Into the wind the hole must be really yough, as the green is something like 15ft above from the fairway level.
It was a great round of golf, I scored a decent 78 from the tips but I remained virgin as it was 8 bogeys and 10 pars, no birdies at all. But we enjoyed it so much that I will be very greatful to the lady who made the call to make us play. If you sometime get the chance to play, just enjoy and try to get as much history of the course as you can from the Member, it really pays. One more: the folloing day Luke Donald played there (he tweeted some pics), how close we were of meeting him and Rory!! Click here to read Javier's article in full.