Siwanoy Country Club was incorporated in 1901, when a 9-hole course was also established. The club moved in 1913, engaging Donald Ross to set out a new 18-course layout, and this course hosted the first PGA Championship three years later, won by Jim Barnes.
“With an entire property occupying only 110 acres, the club long ago reached its limits of expansion,” commented Dan Wexler in The American Private Golf Club Guide, “but this diminutive track retains virtually all its original routing and remains a significantly stylish test. The front nine occupies the property’s northern half and features back-to-back par fives at the 4th and 5th, the latter’s fairway crossed by one of several brooks which occasionally wander into play.
The back nine is the stronger loop and boasts more of the layout’s best holes, including the 12th (requiring an approach over a recently enlarged pond), the 15th (a strong two-shotter crossed by a brook), the 16th (its right side guarded by another modern-era lake) and the closer, a twisting par 5 made interesting by one final brook angling across the fairway some 75 yards shy of the green.”
Mike DeVries completed a long-term restoration in 2007, which included reinstating lost green margins, renovating bunkers and removing tree clutter. According to DeVries: “Opening up the course to its original intentions has brought back wonderful views and improved agronomics. The waterways were restored in several places and now serve to better drain the course and to influence play angles.”
With the US Open being played -- hopefully this September at nearby Winged Foot -- the focus of golf in Westchester County will clearly take center stage, However, what few outside the immediate area often fail to grasp completely is the sheer depth of superior golf in the area goes far beyond the 36-hole Tillinghast masterpiece in Mamaroneck.
Interestingly, while Winged Foot is located on fairly benign land -- a number of top tier layouts throughout Westchester originated where land movement plays a pivotal role. It also helps that golf's explosion in Westchester came during the Golden Age of Architecture in the United States and the involvement of several legendary architects was critical in bringing about such marvelous courses.
Among those drawing scant attention is a course that played host to the first PGA Championship held in 1916. Siwanoy. The layout is the only Donald Ross course in Westchester and over the years was badly mangled with various architects intent on leaving their fingerprints on the design. The net result? A hodge-podge of styles that only served to obscure the original creation.
Fortunately, Siwanoy became aware of architect Mike DeVries from his efforts at nearby Sunningdale and a well thought out master plan was put into motion. In short order -- DeVries has been piling up one success followed by others -- creating new courses and bringing back to life the core qualities of classic era layouts.
Siwanoy starts with a benign opener. Meant to stretch the muscles and provide a glimpse of what golfers will face as the round progresses. During my most recent visit, the rear portion of the teeing area was being finalized for usage. Matters intensify upon reaching the challenging par-4 2nd. The hole moves slightly downhill and turns right in the drive zone. Fairway bunkers adroitly positioned on the right side and the approach must be played to an eye-catching elevated target. The grandeur of the hole is the first salvo on what lies ahead for the next several holes.
The routing of Siwanoy during the stretch of holes #2 thru #7 is constantly changing. Constant adjustments is a central feature for players to overcome. The par-3 3rd is played from an elevated tee to a large green with sufficient contours. The long par-4 4th plays back parallel to the 2nd but this time with movement in the drive zone from right-to-left. DeVries deftly reinforced the role of a pesky creek which rears its head in the drive zone at the par-5 5th -- with the hole reversing course in the routing from the 4th.
The par-3 6th was smartly improved with DeVries creating a hole of substance. The green sits below the teeing area and is well-defended by a series of bunkers. The most noted is right of the green and sits considerably lower than the green. Golfers making a visit to it had best demonstrate a keen talent with the sand wedge. The green also narrows when the pin is placed in the far rear area. Short par-3s can play a meaningful equalizing role for all types of players and the 6th is done quite well with that in mind.
The long par-4 7th that follows once again bring into play the same creek encountered at the par-5 5th. This time the creek runs perpendicular to the line of play and requires a considerably tee shot -- in excess of 285 yards to clear. Golfers can also play short of it but then face a longer and more difficult second shot.
Unfortunately, just as the momentum for the round is rapidly building the series of holes from the 8th through the 12th is adequate but hardly inspirational. The 8th and 9th are both satisfactory short par-4s and thankfully the 10th -- which DeVries cleverly added fairway bunkers at different locations in the drive zone -- players must think carefully on how to proceed from the teeing area.
The 11th and 12th provide for a par-3 and par-4 combination with both playing a bit part in the overall scheme of things.
Siwanoy then shifts gears noticeably for the final stretch of holes and like cold water hitting one's face after you wake-up from a sound sleep the par-3 13th is both jolting and riveting. Playing 221 yards and uphill to a large contoured green is a mega-challenge of the first order. DeVries brought back the overall scale of the green and a series of internal movements makes placement a central a feature. Sad to say, uphill holes have receded from a prominence in modern times -- ditto that of the crucial role long par-3s play in the sport -- and much of it tied to providing golfers with predictability when a sense of adventure is called upon. The 13th may not be the lucky number for all but for those who relish a stout challenge be sure to bring your "A" game when doing so. Amazingly, the 13th shows plainly how Ross was not averse by including such holes in his day when clubs and balls were far different than the implements used today.
The par-4 14th is engaging -- a quality mid-length par-4. Reversing its direction from the preceding 13th, the hole starts from an elevated tee. A creek runs parallel to the line of play and golfers have to decide if carrying it is worth the risk. The carry is approximately 260+ yards but attention must also be paid to large trees flanking the drive zone located on the far side of the creek. Miss too far left or right and the approach will be severely impacted. The uphill green is quite large and, like other greens at Siwanoy, contain a riddle of contours that can be hard to discern. Mid-length par-4s of substance are hard to find in golf today because the need to challenge golfers of varying skill levels can be quite hard to accomplish. The 14th is a superb example of this type of hole.
Raising the intensity bar comes with the par-4 15th. Playing 477 yards and swinging right-to-left in the drive zone, the 15th is a stout challenge. Working the ball off the tee is a must and failure to find the fairway means having to account for a creek that cuts roughly 40 yards in front of the green.
The par-4 16th one finds today is the handiwork of DeVries. Over the course of time a number of changes were made by an earlier architect and the net result was a finished effort that sapped critical momentum in the round. The 16th that exists now is an eye-catching delight. Playing just over 400 yards this mid-length par-4 is another winning example in how such holes can play a leading role for all types of handicap levels. DeVries added two well-positioned fairway bunkers -- one on each side and at different intervals of length from the tee. Golfers have to decide the line of play and then execute accordingly because a pond is set . DeVries completely changed the previous bland green to the one found today. It is appropriately contoured and, more importantly, fits into the presentation found from the other holes played at Siwanoy.
The par-4 17th heads back in direction from the 16th and provides a tapered fairway bracketed in the drive zone by a solitary fairway bunker on the right side and a rock outcropping to the left wonderfully exposed for players to see.
The finishing hole is a par-5 of 542 yards and provided one last opportunity to end the day in sterling fashion. The hole turns right in the drive zone with three threatening bunkers lying in wait to claim those who overplay their hand from the tee. The fairway narrows as one attempts to go longer but the reward can be considerable for the boldest of plays. The land does plunge a bit and can add yardage for such a prodigious effort.
During my recent visit, DeVries was finishing work on a creek that cuts across the fairway on a slight diagonal roughly 75 yards in front of the green. The putting surface is slightly elevated above, and like other greens at Siwanoy, presents an assortment of internal movements not so readily seen. Elasticity is clearly presented with the 18th. There are a series of challenges and marrying placement through successful execution, determines if the 19th hole libation is either a celebration or a dousing of one's frustration to perform accordingly.
Kudos to the club's leadership in bringing on board DeVries. Far too many clubs in the USA have seen fit over the course of time to permit a range of different architects sadly unable to resurrect the magnificence of their founding pedigree. Over time the haphazard hiring only obfuscated matters even more so. Siwanoy today is clearly embarking on showcasing what was clearly present by rediscovering its original character. When all work is completed, a return visit to see how matters have concluded could well mean an even higher assessment.
M. James Ward