Laid out on a confined parcel of land at East Setauket, New York, in 1917 by Devereux Emmet, the course at St George’s Golf & Country Club extends to a mere 6,200 yards, indicating that hardly a thing has changed here in a century, apart from a sympathetic Gil Hanse restoration at the start of the new millennium.
St. George's came about in part as a response to C.B. Macdonald building the National Golf Links of America. Devereux Emmet and Macdonald were good friends who hunted, travelled, and worked together on golf course designs and when NGLA opened in 1911, Emmet was one of the founding members.
Emmet and Macdonald were not only good friends, they were friendly competitors, so Emmet set out to build his own special home course near his sprawling estate in St. James, gathering a group of wealthy businessmen in 1915 to discuss building a layout that would become his home course.
Almost a hundred years later, Gil Hanse was called in to advise on a master plan which would restore the course back to its original design intents. This resulted in a process of tree and cart path removal, along with fairway and green expansion, all of which helped to display the charm and character of the course that would have been in play when Emmet was alive.
Gil Hanse started visiting St. George’s in 1995 and he still comes by periodically as the club chops away at his recommended restoration project. Heavy tree removal began in 2008 with over 8,000 gone by now, which allows golfers to see several holes at a time from certain vantage points on the course.
The several changes include realigned holes, fairways widened slightly; green increased in size a bit, bunkers rebuilt, and rough in front of all bunkers removed. The emphasis was on letting members see the raw, crumply quality of the landforms that Emmet emphasized in his design.
The course is only 6,408 yards long, but that is misleading. It is just a par 70 that includes five par 3s, none of considerable length. In fact, the last par 3 (#17) is only 129 yards, but it can be a killer. Making the course play longer are some tees at ground level hitting into upsloping fairways. The tumbling terrain has some severe sloping fairways and uneven lies.
Despite the substantial tree removal, some of the remaining trees are strategically placed to significantly affect play, even around some greens. There is handsome but penal fescue grass in the far rough. There are some forced carries.
Emmet’s bunker shapes here are original and inspirational. All are grassed-faced and many are deep. His trademark cross bunkers are present, some rectangular, some “necklace style.” A 55-yard long strip bunker is on the 3rd hole. Getting to the 4th green the shot must carry a deep double cross bunker that acts like a moat in front of an elevated box-like putting surface. The total number of bunkers is about 100. Some are dual-use as adjoining fairways hug each other. For instance, #18 has 32 bunkers, but some also blend over to #2, #15, and #16.
The green sizes varied from small to fairly large. The 2nd green at 5,863 square feet is 25% larger than average. The 16th green is the smallest at 2,950 square feet but its slope is so severe half the green is unpinnable. Some greens have severe undulations and slopes, while others are only subtly difficult. Some of the greens are hidden from view on approach shots so a 10-foot flag pole is necessary.
Moguls are in some green surrounds. The only water hazard is a small pond on the fringe of holes 13 and 16. There is a deep ravine that guards the left side of the dog leg par-5 18th hole.
After returning home from the trip I had correspondence with club historian John Ammerman. Because of the excellent Hanse restoration project, St. George’s has become the go-to place for restoration research on Emmet courses (12 other course representatives have been here so far). John sent along the club history book published in 2018. It was written by Brad Klein (long-time architectural editor at Golfweek). Fortunately, Brad focuses on the golf course and is light in the member “hit and giggle” category.
If Long Island were a State by itself it would easily be among the 2-3 best in America given the considerable depth of private courses that are scattered about Nassau and Suffolk Counties respectively.
St. Georges made a major move in getting Gil Hanse to come on board and to bring back to full fruition what Devereux Emmett created.
Silly trees that were planted over the years needed to be removed. They were. Greens were restored back to their original dimensions. Another plus. The land forms Emmet accentuated were something that needed to be exposed and Hanse did a stellar job in doing so.
There's little question few people outside the immediate area really speak about St. George's. Part of that stems from how the course faded from view and how much of an exposure other key courses on Long Island receive.
I found it interesting how Fergal stated without equivocation that St. George's is "easily in the top 10-12 courses on Long Island. I did a bit of homework and have concluded the following courses are superior: Shinnecock Hills, NGLA, Bethpage Black, Friar's Head, Sebonack, Maidstone, The Creek and Garden City. That's a total of eight. For the remaining four spots for the top dozen you also have the following layouts worthy of inclusion: Engineers, Deepdale, Meadow Brook, North Shore, Piping Rock, Atlantic, East Hampton, The Bridge and Huntington. When one adds St. George's to that list -- you have a total of ten (10) courses battling for the final four spots. It's a close call and I don't know if Fergal has played all the others listed -- several of which have gone through major updating in the recent years. I would certainly say St. George's is a clear candidate for such a high position.
St. George's is a visual treat and to the club's immense credit they did not feel the compulsion to add numerous back tees simply to gain additional yardage. The combination of holes is done well and the routing maximizes the natural attributes of the property.
Long Island is a golfing gem and St. George's clearly merits attention for those who relish what the Golden Age of Architecture created.
M. James Ward
Devereux Emmet was a close friend of CB Macdonald and the influence of this friendship is hugely evident in Emmet’s work at St. George’s, especially with the mind-blowing throwback green shapes and bunker designs.
The club was established in 1917, and in 2008, the club embarked on a multi-year project to bring the course back to its Golden Age roots. Glorious aerial photos are on display in the clubhouse showing the property with no trees and incredible bunker shapes. More than 8,000 trees were removed in recent years, bunkers that were lost were restored, fairways were joined as a result of massive rough removal – and with the help of Gil Hanse, this course is easily in the top 10 or 12 courses on Long Island (stand back and appreciate what that statement actually means given the competition within a 50-mile stretch).
I was hugely impressed with this remarkable layout that flies tremendously under the radar and quickly gives you a glimpse of what golf courses looked like at the start of the last century.